September 29, 2011
Boston Red Sox
Kiss 'Em Goodbye is a series focusing on MLB teams as their postseason dreams fade—whether in September (or before), the league division series, league championship series or World Series. It combines a broad overview from Baseball Prospectus, a front-office take from former MLB GM Jim Bowden, a best- and worst-case scenario ZiPS projection for 2012 from Dan Szymborski and Kevin Goldstein's farm-system overview.
Today we bid farewell to the Boston Red Sox, who still have a promising future despite an ugly end to the 2011 season.
Signs of hope: Despite losing the first six games of the season and 10 of its first 12, Boston heated up and reached first place by late May. Although the Sox could never quite shake the New York Yankees, as late as Aug. 31 they were in first place and on pace for 100 wins. David Ortiz had his best season since 2007. The Red Sox had three realistic MVP candidates in first baseman Adrian Gonzalez, second baseman Dustin Pedroia and center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, the last of whom had the best season by a Red Sox center fielder since the days of Tris Speaker, never mind Fred Lynn.
Signs of disaster: The Opening Day starting rotation didn't survive May. Daisuke Matsuzaka dropped in the middle of that month with an elbow injury that would require him to undergo Tommy John surgery. At the same moment, John Lackey hit the disabled list with an elbow strain. He would miss almost a month, a blessing given that his final 6.41 ERA ranked among the 20 worst ERAs of modern times (min. 150 IP). He belongs to Boston for another three years at $45.75 million. Clay Buchholz went down almost exactly a month after Dice-K and Lackey, succumbing to a stress fracture of his L2 vertebra. Despite extensive rehabilitation, he was not activated until Wednesday and did not pitch again. As was inevitable, July 31 acquisition Erik Bedard missed more than two weeks in September with multiple injuries. Even Beckett and Lester missed the odd start during the season, which wouldn't have been significant if not for all the other injuries. The result was far too many starts for Kyle Weiland, project Andrew Miller and sentimental favorite/has-been Tim Wakefield. When Beckett (ankle) and Lester (1-3, 5.96 ERA heading into his solid final start) struggled in September, there was nobody either good enough or healthy enough to pick them up. Throw in a rough month for Bard that a thin bullpen could not withstand, and the Sox had cooked up the perfect recipe for a 6.35 ERA in the final month and a 7-20 freefall that saw them bow out on the last day of the season.
Signs you can ignore: Sadly, it isn't Carl Crawford, whose inability to catch Robert Andino's season-ending liner was symbolic of the $142 million misfire that was signing an impatient turf hitter to play in a grass stadium. As hard as it will be for Red Sox Nation to accept, the thing to ignore is the September crash itself. A recurrence is unlikely—the degree of failure was nearly unique, but even were it not, either the front office will find more reliable collaborators for Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, Bard and Jonathan Papelbon (should he be re-signed) or the Sox won't be in a position to crash again. —Steven Goldman, Baseball Prospectus
Bowden's Bold Move
The Red Sox will not be pursuing the game's best free agents in first basemen Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder. However, they'll have to be interested in chasing C.J. Wilson, Jose Reyes, and either Papelbon or one of the other top closers on the market such as Francisco Rodriguez or Heath Bell.
Boston's farm system is not fertile enough to make another Gonzalez or Victor Martinez-type deal, so it is more than likely they once again indulge themselves in the free-agent market.
If I were running the Red Sox, I would sign Wilson and Bell or Ryan Madson (or both). They should stockpile a first-round and sandwich pick for Papelbon—and possibly even let Ortiz walk to collect additional draft picks—to help rebuild the farm system. The 2011 season is Boston's most disappointing season since 1978, and the Red Sox have to make sure they don't make the same mistakes in 2012. —Jim Bowden
Hopes and Fears
Worst-case scenario: 83-79
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .
Steven Goldman is an author of Baseball Prospectus.