BOSTON, MA - Bobby Valentine #25 of the Boston Red Sox leaves the field to the sound of booing after he removed Franklin Morales #46 of the Boston Red Sox in the 8th inning against Texas Rangers at Fenway Park (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)
Within about two months of each other, I'm pretty sure I wrote one article titled "What's Wrong With the Red Sox?" and another one that included the sentence "The Red Sox are clearly the very best team in baseball." The first article was probably filled with panic about the Red Sox' 4-10 start in 2011 -- exactly the record they have this season going into Monday.
The second article was probably written toward the end of June -- between June 8 and June 20 last year, the Red Sox scored 10 or more runs in six different games, and they only allowed more than four runs twice. They looked like the most complete team in baseball, and it wasn't especially close.
There's a third article I'm not mentioning -- "Boy, That Sure Didn't Work Out Well For The Red Sox" -- but it's the start and the middle that's important. The Red Sox had a horrible start. The Red Sox looked like the best team in baseball just about a month later. There's a lesson there. Overreacting in the first two week of the season is always, always, always silly.
But here's the difference: Last year, the Red Sox were supposed to be invincible world-beaters. They struggled at first, but then they turned into invincible world-beaters. Until, you know, September. But when the Red Sox struggled in April, it was a stunner. A complete shock. This year, the Red Sox had some concerns about their pitching entering the season, and it's the pitching that's been abysmal. If you thought the Red Sox would have problems, this is what you though the problems would look like. Only more so.
If the Red Sox don't turn it around -- still a big if -- the Red Sox will make some moves. I'll define "turn it around" as getting to .500, and "make some moves" as the front-office running around the Fenway offices like the passengers in Airplane after Julie Hagerty asked if anyone knew how to fly an airplane. Here's my guess at how the Red Sox will proceed if they keep losing.
Step One: Revamp the bullpen (end of April, early May)
Demoting and releasing relievers is a pretty easy step. It's the first thing every struggling organization tries -- it's the unplugging the modem of the baseball world. When your internet goes out and you call support, the first thing they ask is if you've unplugged your modem. Same thing goes with bad pitching staffs and middle relievers.
It's worth noting that not a single reliever on the team has over 10 innings pitched. We're still in the small-sample swamp. But if the Red Sox keep struggling, it's the bullpen that will see the first wave of changes. Mostly because the fans aren't going to care too much about Vicente Padilla vs. Clayton Mortensen. They only care if one of them can get outs. It's an easy way to look busy and try for different results.
Step Two: Put Daniel Bard back in the bullpen, and trade for (or sign) another starter (middle of May)
This ties in with the first step, actually. The last time Daniel Bard started games, he flashed electric, amazing stuff; he also couldn't throw strikes. Years later, he's back in the rotation, this time at the major-league level, and he's doing the same thing. Bard has an unquestionably elite arsenal of pitches, but it seems like he has an Oliver Perez button that's on the fritz, turning on and off at will. You can hide that better in the bullpen, and you can even sell it as a one-man cavalry coming back to wrest the closer's role from the usurpers.
And what would get Bard back in the bullpen is another starting pitcher coming over. Wandy Rodriguez has started the season well for the Astros, and an overwhelming offer might also convince them to part with Bud Norris. John Lannan hasn't taken well to his demotion, but he could be had for a song (and a few million dollars). Roy Oswalt is probably a long shot, but he needs to be mentioned here by law. If the Red Sox keep allowing almost two homers for every nine innings they pitch, they aren't going to wait until July to get another pitcher.
Step Three: Fire Bobby Valentine (if not at .500 by the All-Star Break)
It could have started worse for Valentine. He could have gotten a tattoo of the Liberty Bell to show his appreciation for Boston. He could have drunkenly crashed a snow plow into the side of a hospital. He could have said something like "I love Derek Jeter … I respect Derek Jeter. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to get him out for the last 15 years, but that (expletive) is still here." Things could have been worse for him.
As is, though, things are pretty bad. Amazingly bad. About as bad as could reasonably be expected. The fans were chanting the previous manager's name during the Fenway Park anniversary, as devastating as hearing a significant other mutter an ex's name in bed. The Red Sox are worse than expected. Things were said that shouldn't have been. More things were said that shouldn't have been. There was jackassery all around.
And if the season doesn't improve quickly, Valentine is an easy fall guy. He wasn't the manager the fans were clamoring for. He was never especially beloved in Boston, meaning it's not like we're talking about Wade Boggs here. And so far, Valentine hasn't done a single thing right. He's not solely responsible for the awful start -- I'd argue that he's barely responsible. He's not the one allowing home run after home run. But as an effigy to burn, he'd do quite nicely.
It's early. Really, really early. Last year at this time, three of the eventual playoff teams (Arizona, Detroit, and Tampa Bay) were scraping the bottom of their respective divisions. The Red Sox will probably snap out of this. But if they don't, they'll start tinkering. It starts with the bullpen. It ends with the manager. In the middle, they're hoping there'll be wins.