Published in The New Hampshire, Oct. 8, 2015
I was haunted by the banners of ’04, ’07 and ’13 up until Aug. 14 this summer.
Red Sox manager John Farrell’s announcement of his lymphoma diagnosis seemed to put things into perspective: It’s not all about wins and losses.
It just wasn’t in the cards for the Sox this season, and that’s alright.
The 2015 schedule ended with acceptance rather than disappointment, as the team’s descent was a steady downfall, perhaps leaving less of a nasty sting. But with the combination of a complete ball-club makeover and a few exciting late-season wins, fans were left with something savory: a little bit of hope for next year.
The transition period began at the end of July when the Sox cut ties with two ’13 champions, sending Shane Victorino to the Angels and Mike Napoli to the Rangers. A concussion diagnosis for Mookie Betts would give Jackie Bradley Jr. a chance to step up, and Rick Porcello’s spot on the disabled list would bring up young left-hander Henry Owens from Pawtucket.
The next three weeks in August would prove to be some of the most shifting and unpredictable in baseball management. The clubhouse would essentially be rebuilt.
On Aug. 18, it was announced that veteran executive Dave Dombrowski would become president of baseball operations. After a long stint with the Detroit Tigers, Dombrowski would rejoin Sox owner John Henry, with whom he won a World Series in 1997 as the general manager of the then Florida Marlins. Much of Dombrowski’s celebrity has stemmed from his ability to recruit young talent, as well as his “old school” managerial ways.
On the same day as the Dombrowski deal, Sox general manager Ben Cherington went public with his resignation. Slowly, Sox Nation saw the inner-workings of the 2013 championship team disappearing with new faces taking the reigns.
It was announced in September that Mike Hazen would replace Cherington. Hazen has been with the Sox since 2006 and was named assistant general manger back in January.
Early August would also see CEO Larry Lucchino stepping down at 70 years old. Since Lucchino’s partnership group took over in 2002, he oversaw three World Series wins, seasons in the AL East cellar and everything in between. Executive Vice President Sam Kennedy would be named as Lucchino’s replacement, and Lucchino himself labeled as “his choice” for the job.
On the diamond, nearly every single player in the ball club finished the season batting less than .300, except for Xander Bogaerts who tapped in at .320 with 196 hits.
Once again, Clay Buchholz did not fill the shoes of the No. 1 ace and the Sox are expected to exercise the option on his 2016 contract. Many of Rick Porcello’s starts were deemed laughable, but after some gained momentum, some wonder if he’ll earn the No. 2 spot next season. In order to trade for that ace starter, the Sox will likely have to sacrifice Eduardo Rodriguez. At age 22, there’s no doubt the left-hander’s 96 mph fastball will have teams interested in making a trade.
There’s definite talk that Dombrowski will build the new team around young talent like Blake Swihart, Bogaerts and Betts. And with this mentality, what will happen to the Panda?
Arguably his worst season yet, batting .245, Pablo Sandoval simply didn’t perform. He and Hanley Ramirez made $36 million combined this year, and what did the Sox get in return? Sandoval’s future in Boston remains uncertain, but also begs the question, will other teams want him? It was just announced this week that the team has asked Ramirez to lose 15 to 20 pounds before his move to first base, assuming he makes it there.
Player of the Year here goes to Betts. His shutout-saving catch on Sept. 25 against the Orioles was the perfect cap to his noteworthy season. Rich Hill owes him a big thank you.
While hopes for game performance were diminished, the ousting of Don Orsillo was perhaps the most disappointing move of the season. The beloved voice of Fenway will move cross-country to the broadcasting booth of the San Diego Padres, without any explanation from NESN. After nearly 15 years as the signature narrator of every game, it’s safe to say the booth will never be the same. For many, this change was worse than the games the team was losing.
Sox radio voice Dave O’Brien will join Jerry Remy for play-by-play of the 2016 season.
Despite the guesswork, one thing is for certain: Fans will return to Yawkey Way on opening day in April with renewed hope for the ball team that has a lot of work ahead of it this offseason. This isn’t a romantic Fever Pitch ending, and Kevin Foulke isn’t launching himself into Jason Varitek’s arms.
But perhaps that’s what’s romantic: That no matter the wins and losses, for some of us, the Sox will always be our first love.
See you in April.