Red Sox

Dancing in the Dark

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Dancing in the Dark

On Thursday afternoon, I left Boston for a bachelor party down in Hilton Head. Although, the destination isnt nearly as important as the fact that, upon arrival, I quickly realized that cell phone service on the island was shakier than Daniel Bard. Actually, scratch that. The service was more like John Lackey completely useless but still infuriatingly present. The kind of thing where every once in a while youll see a random bar or two pop up on the phone, but by the time you open your email, the connections long gone.

Anyway, for obvious reasons, I freaked out. No cell service meant no calls, no texts, no Twitter, no e-mail, no Words or Scramble With Friends. No letting co-workers borrow my phone to coordinate secret meetings with my boss. It meant an instant, unexpected and involuntary removal from society, and in turn, an anxiety attack . . .

. . . which of course subsided after a few hours.

It always does. At least for me. Ill find myself in a place where my phone doesnt work and after a brief panic, Ill embrace it. Ill feel liberated and start saying annoying things like: Aaahhh, no phone. This is FREEDOM! So, by Thursday night, Id made peace with my weekend off the grid. Granted, it helped that Boston was about to embark on one of its most quiet sports weekends of the year. No Bs. No Cs. A Pats preseason game and a series between two of the worst teams in the American League. It was actually the perfect time to escape; to re-charge my brain for the start of football season.

Ha!

The next day, everything changed.

The Red Sox pulled off one of the largest, most historic and franchise-altering trades in their 112 years of existence. The Internet caught fire. Twitter exploded. I assume sports talk and Sports Tonight ratings went through the roof. All things considered, it probably turned into one of the most inspired and memorable weekends in recent Boston sports history.

Meanwhile, I was in South Carolina pacing around like Chris Farley in Black Sheep, killing myself to find a signal that didn't exist. Eventually, I had to give up, and accept the fact that I wasn't going to get a handle on everything that happened until returning on Sunday night. It hurt, but there was nothing I could do, and by Saturday, I had once again settled into my non-existence and committed myself to enjoying what was left of my time off the grid.

So here I am on Monday morning. Back in reality, with my cell phone glued to my hand and the new look Red Sox staring me in the face. To be honest, I'm still catching up. Still wading through stories, tweets, quotes and analysis from all the parties involved and coming to grips with the reality of this most unrealistic development. But the show must go on.

For our first order of business, lets give a quick paragraph to the four most recent ex-Red Sox:

Josh Beckett: I was looking at Becketts Baseball Reference page this morning and noticed that hes only finished in the Top 10 in Cy Young voting twice in his career. The two years: 2007 and 2011. Pretty fitting, right? The season that left us forever indebted to his greatness and the season that will leave us forever loathing his arrogance. Thank God the Sox traded for him in 2005, and thank God they shipped his ass out of town on Saturday.

Adrian Gonzalez: In May of 2011, Gonzalez delivered one of the most dominant and enjoyable hitting displays that Ive ever seen in a Red Sox uniform. Not since the best days of Manny or a young Nomar Garciaparra had a guy been so locked in in so many ways. At the time, I (and the rest of New England) couldn't have been more excited about what the next seven years would bring. But at this point, here's a statistic that's more telling than anything the All-Star first baseman did last spring: Adrian Gonzalez, a former No. 1 overall pick with more talent than all but a few players in the world, has now been traded four times in his career. There's something off about that, in the same way that there's just something off about Gonzalez.

Carl Crawford: On August 19, Crawford came to the plate in the ninth inning of an eventual 4-1 loss to the Yankees, and at that moment we all knew that it would be a while before we saw him again. However, we never imagined that instead, his lead-off single would mark the last at-bat of the most disappointing stint in Red Sox history. But despite the enormous let down of watching one of the game's most exciting and impactful players repeatedly fall on his face, it's almost impossible to hold the same contempt for Crawford that we have for Beckett and, to a lesser extent, Gonzalez. To steal a quote from the Belichick Files: "It just didn't work out." And now that the Sox are essentially free from the burden of Crawford's ridiculous contract, there's not much else to do but shrug our shoulders and move on.

Nick Punto: You know that scene in Waynes World when Wayne and Garth are standing in front of the blue screen? If not, here you go. Also, in the scope of this trade, Nick Punto is Delaware.

So, that's what's gone, But what's left here in Boston? Well, first of all, a new-found respect for Ben Cherington. We wanted bold. We wanted decisive. We wanted to unleash a bombshell that would shake that clubhouse to its core. Well, BC did that and then some. In the process, he took an enormous step towards resuscitating a nearly-unconscious fan base and giving us all reason to believe that the darkest days of this stretch of Red Sox baseball are firmly in the rear view.

But it's only one step. Despite all the skill, determination and creativity that it took to even get this far, there's no question that Cherington's most difficult task still lies ahead. After all, it's one thing to dismantle a franchise, it's another thing to build it back up. Especially, when we're still not exactly sure what's going on behind the scenes.

Will Lucchino still have a heavy hand in player personnel or is he finally ready to let Ben loose? How much will ownership want to spend? Will the departure of Beckett and Gonzalez actually right the ship in that topsy-turvy clubhouse? Who's the manager? Does this move set the wheels in motion on Fenway Sports Group finally answering our prayers and selling the team?

Those are five questions, but we could go on. And there's no doubt that we will over the course of this last month of the season. It's going to be a crazy, confusing and cathartic experience for everyone involved.

In many ways, it will be a lot like my cell phone and Internetless experience down in South Carolina.

From now until the start of this offseason (and even beyond that), the wheels will be turning behind the scenes at Yawkey Way. Conversations will be had, plans will be made, the future of this franchise will be taking shape in real time. But we won't have a clue what's really going on. We'll be stuck in the dark. In the meantime, we'll scramble around like Farley in Black Sheep trying to pick up a signal, any ounce of information that can help clarify the situation and provide some insight into where this thing is headed.

It will be stressful. It will be frustrating.

And most likely futile.

But at the same time, it will be liberating. Thanks to this trade, in many ways, we're now free. Free from the non-stop insanity and drama that surrounded Beckett. Free from the limitations that came with the more than 200M that was tied into Gonzalez and Crawford. Free from the fear that the Sox were not only stuck in this debilitating rat race, but that there was no end in sight.

Sure, it's only a matter of time before the insanity starts again. Once the World Series ends and the offseason begins, we'll all be thrown right back into the madness. But for the next month, despite being in the dark, we can at least find some peace and perspective in our time off the grid, in the aftermath of what might be the first step in finally restoring order at Fenway.

Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrich_levine

Red Sox can be thankful for a successful past and a bright future

Red Sox can be thankful for a successful past and a bright future

For the glass-is-half-full folks, there are those back-to-back Eastern Division titles. For the glass-is-half-empty folks, well, there are those two first-round playoff ousters (though both their conquerers made it to the World Series, and one of them won it). But, here on Thanksgiving night, there's plenty for Red Sox Nation to be thankful for, starting with . . . 


YOUR GOOD HEALTH

We know you don’t need the Red Sox to know you how important the most basic elements of life are. But sometimes, the typical fantasy land of baseball can grab our attention. The death of 17-year-old Sox prospect Daniel Flores (above) this month from complications because of cancer didn’t take away only a potentially great baseball career. It took away a beloved, hard-working young person from the people who loved him. He had just made millions of dollars in July for his talent on the field, but what does such a windfall matter compared to one’s health? His cancer was both rare and fast-moving, per the Boston Globe.

MOOKIE, JACKIE, XANDER, BENINTENDI, DEVERS

The kids deserve some love. They probably won’t be together on the Red Sox forever. Heck, the group could get broken up this winter. But while any of the Killer B’s (plus a D) remain on the Sox, there should be a sense of optimism. Two straight 93-win seasons may have resulted in a first-round exit, and 2017 didn’t meet expectations for some individual performances. But you know what? The youths are still damn good, and there’s time for them to show us they can be even better.

INSANELY GOOD PITCHERS IN CHRIS SALE AND CRAIG KIMBREL

Neither hogs the spotlight once the game ends or says too much. Sale doesn’t even have Twitter. But the righty closer and lefty starter both do two things exceedingly well: make batters swing and miss, and prevent runs. When both pitch, your seat at the park may well be worth the price of admission. (But we won’t ask what you paid for those seats.) Sale didn’t take down Pedro Martinez’s Sox single-season strikeout record this year, finishing with five fewer than Martinez’s 313 in 1999. But he could have done it. And with a little more rest next year, one can envision him plowing his way through playoff opponents too.

ALEX CORA'S NEW DIRECTION

A first-time manager’s not a sure thing, but as Sox owner John Henry noted, there was a feeling it was time for a change. It’s a little early to be thinking ahead to a New Year’s resolution, but a manager who better connects with his players and brings a different vibe to the day-to-day scene is reason to feel the Sox are following the right road map. Plus, if nothing else, Cora took that awesome picture walking toward Fenway.

A CHRISTMAS SHOPPING SPREE MAY BE AROUND THE CORNER

We don’t want to be too materialistic. But Uncle Dave Dombrowski couldn’t let you buy everything you wanted last year. The credit card companies needed him to step back for a year. Now he’s ready to spend. He might not close down Bloomingdale’s for the day for you to do your private shopping, but if you need a couple great jackets to complete your look, it sounds like he’s ready to get you some designer threads. He probably feels there won’t be too many chances to have a moment like this with you, at this stage of your life, and he wants to make the most of it.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

 

Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

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Why the Red Sox should sign not one but two relievers

BOSTON — There is a world outside of Giancarlo Stanton. 

Stanton, at this point, simply doesn’t appear likely to end up in Boston. That should feel obvious to those following along, and so should this: it can change. 

But there are other pursuits. Besides their search for a bat or two, the Red Sox have been actively pursuing left-handed relief options. Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski is a fast mover, but this year’s market has not been.

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Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad are both free agents, leaving Robby Scott as the lone incumbent southpaw from last season's primary group. Brian Johnson is bound for the pen, with Roenis Elias as a depth option too.  Still, even if Johnson’s transition pans out, the Sox still have an opening for a late-inning reliever with the departure of free agent Addison Reed. 

Reed is a righty, but between Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Heath Hembree, Carson Smith, and Craig Kimbrel, the Sox have more right-handed choices than left. Coming back from surgery, Tyler Thornburg, should be in the mix eventually too, but it's difficult to expect too much from him.

What the Red Sox should do: sign one of each for the bullpen, one righty, and one lefty. And then trade a righty or two. Turn some of that mishmash into an addition elsewhere. Be creative. 

Because inevitably, come midseason, the Sox will want to add another bullpen arm if they sign just one now. Why wait until you have to give up prospect capital when you can just add the piece you want now?

Go get a near-sure thing such as Pat Neshek, a veteran who walks no one and still strikeouts a bunch. At 37 with an outgoing personality, Neshek also brings leadership to a team that is looking for some. He walked just six guys in 62 innings last season. Entering his 12th season in the majors, he’s looking for his first ring.

All these top of the market relievers may be handsomely paid. But relievers are still something of a bargain compared to position players and starting pitchers. One of the key words for this winter should be creativity. If there’s value to be had in the reliever market, capitalize on it. 

Comeback kid Mike Minor, Jake McGee and Tony Watson headline the crop of free agent lefties available. Brad Hand of the Padres could also be had by trade but his market isn’t moving too quickly (and he won’t come cheaply).

Minor, 29, who posted a 2.55 ERA in 2017 after health issues kept him out of the majors in 2015-16, is expected to be paid handsomely. He is also open to the idea of potentially starting if a team is interested in him doing so. The Royals reportedly could give him that shot.

McGee’s American League East experience could be appealing.

He's 31 and had a 3.61 ERA with the Rockies in 2017 and has a 3.15 ERA lifetime. He’s not quite the strikeout pitcher he was earlier in his career — he had an 11.6 K/9 in 2015 — but a 9.1 K/9 is still very strong, particularly when coupled with just 0.6 homers allowed per nine.

For what it’s worth: McGee has also dominated the Red Sox, who have a .125 average, .190 on-base percentage and .192 slugging against him in 117 regular-season plate appearances. 

McGee throws a mid-90s fastball with a low-80s slider. He can operate up in the zone, and he actually has been even more effective against righties than lefties in his career, including in 2017. McGee’s been a closer, too, with 44 career saves.

The Sox had the second-best bullpen in the majors by ERA in 2017, at 3.07. Yet, come the postseason, there wasn’t a sense of great confidence or even a clear shape to the pecking order behind one of the absolute best relievers in the game, Kimbrel.