Boston Red Sox Problems Deeper Than John Farrell
The Boston Red Sox start June at 22-29, adrift in last place in the weak American League East.
With a payroll near $200 million, Cot’s Contracts estimates the Opening Day number at $184,345,996, much was expected from a team winning the World Series two years ago. Signing Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, two of the most sought after free agents this past winter, was supposed to bolster the offense. Adding Rick Porcello, Wade Miley and Justin Masterson were designed to shore up a starting rotation led by Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly.
You would think there was absolutely no way this powerful offense and solid rotation of starters could ever duplicate 2014’s basement performance, right?
Boston’s offense has sputtered. The team OPS+, a measure of average offense adjusted to their ballpark is 91. League average is 100. The slugging sox are 14th in slugging percentage, last in doubles and 12th in runs scored in the AL. Oh, that OPS+ is 14th in the league, just ahead of Toronto.
Boston’s 4.53 ERA is 14th out of 15 in the league. Add 14th in runs and 13th in hits allowed and you start to understand why the team is in last place. Perhaps the scariest statistic of all is their ERA+, adjusted for league average and ballpark. Try 89. Remember, 100 is league average. That horrible figure is good for 14th in the AL. Only the Chicago White Sox are worse.
Boston has already let go pitching coach Juan Nieves. Hitting Coach Chili Davis and Manager John Farrell are facing intense scrutiny from a press corps smelling shark blood and a fan base not content with bad baseball. Although Farrell is a weak in-game manager making adjustments on the fly, the ire should be directed at a front office that comes across as cold and distant.
Allowing General Manager Ben Cherington to sign Ramirez and use him as a left fielder is malpractice. Ramirez is a decent power bat, signing him for his offense was not a huge mistake. Placing a career infielder into the demands of playing Fenway Park’s left field, on the other hand, is a decision that should have never been. In signing World Series folk hero Sandoval with Ramirez, essentially the Red Sox signed the same player, a decent hitting power bat ready to settle either at first base or as a designated hitter. The trouble with that plan was Boston had an incumbent first baseman with Mike Napoli and a potential Hall-of-Famer at DH with David Ortiz. With the young student Xander Bogaerts learning at shortstop, Boston had to plug the pair elsewhere.
Sure, Sandoval is an agile fielder for a large man and can still handle the hot corner. Why then would you stick Ramirez in a position he never played in? Because Manny Ramirez, no relation, learned to read how balls bounced off the Green Monster with his limited range, does not mean you can stick anyone out there in left with a glove and tell them to have fun.
How bad has it been in left? If you are a believer in the Wins Above Replacement system of assessing a player’s worth, Ramirez’s work in left field rates him at -1.4. A zero WAR is an average Triple-A replacement player. His defense has been so bad, the system says he has cost them a game in a half, or been as productive an outfielder as I would be. Mind you, I am 43 and cannot walk. That is whom Boston has in left.
You cannot pin that solely on Farrell. Someone signed off on Cherington signing Ramirez to a deal that pays the slugger more than $19 million this year. Seriously, were the brains running the business operations so concerned about selling tickets and $8 watered-down Bud Light’s that they made a move to appease fans and not sign players to fit the squad?
Since purchasing the team from the Yawkey Trust in 2003, the ownership group of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino brought the Red Sox three championships. Most of us spent a lifetime waiting to see one championship and now we have seen three. In reality, this group of businessmen should be as revered as the park, Carl Yastrzemski and the Charles River. Alumni are now cherished and no one, outside New York, does pageantry like the Red Sox.
Yet this group is, at best, tolerated and at worst mocked. Henry, an aloof man who rarely shows emotion is matched with a television producer in Werner who cannot make a program worth watching on the team-owned NESN and Lucchino who does all the team’s dirty business. Remember the hatchet job in the papers after Terry Francona left and ex-GM Theo Epstein escaping Fenway in a gorilla suit?
Year after year, the delicate balance between the Red Sox as a profit-making business and a baseball team trying to win is on public display. The team chased out Jon Lester then all but promised fans he would return. Lester, by the way, is enjoying the friendly confines of Wrigley Field with Epstein and not grimacing over the back page of the Boston Herald. The front office moved stubborn pitcher John Lackey, on the books this season for $500k to St. Louis. We do not need to rehash that decision.
When looking at these moves individually, Allen Craig and Joe Kelly was a nice haul for the petulant Lackey. Lester’s seven-year deal with the Cubs would have been considered a massive overpay by Red Sox Nation. Hanley Ramirez and Sandoval are good hitters. They make sense.
Considered as a group, however, the strange hug as Lester leaves for Oakland or placing an infielder in left field. You start to see where the fault lines are between the business and the ball club. Where the Sox continuously come up short is in the battle of perception. Somehow, they got away with what won them a championship to begin with, build a team that wins and the fans will follow.
When you are nearly dead last in pitching, batting and fielding, and spend an obscene sum to be that bad, we have a problem. Managers and coaches come and go. General Managers can be let go, but in the end, it is ownership’s best interest to put a competitive team on the field. All fans want to see is effort and hustle, not Twitter polls and endless commercials.
As other owners have painfully discovered, money only goes so far.