By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
It’s a fair question. Most of the offensive production has come from the “kids,” but even they have had their struggles. Mookie Betts is still struggling with life after Lovullo, who was his rock. Andrew Benintendi is going through the motions of which most rookies do, but has weathered them well. I have never seen a player completely lose his mechanics like Jackie Bradley Jr always does, but he eventually seems to find the right adjustments to go on a torrid hot streak as he has this time around. Xander Bogaerts is the lone exception and is utterly thriving at the plate despite his lack of power.
So the common theme for all of our younger players is that they are working hard to overcome their struggles. Undoubtedly their willingness to do so is a key factor in why the Red Sox are on top of the American League East.
On the other side of the team, we have our veterans. Pablo Sandoval is essentially dead to Red Sox fans, figuratively speaking of course. Hanley Ramirez won the trust & admiration of most Red Sox fans last season, but is well on his way to a hard fall from grace in 2017. David Price still has not endeared himself to everyone in Red Sox Nation since he even first put on his uniform. Rick Porcello is following his 2016 Cy Young campaign in the worst way imagineable. Only Dustin Pedroia and Mitch Moreland have remotely pulled their weight among the veterans.
It’s easy to put the onus on the veterans for Boston’s struggles this season. Many of you might respond by saying, “Well what about the 2013 World Series team? That was extremely veteran laden!” Which is absolutely true.
The difference between 2013 & 2017 is chemistry & balance. In 2013 chemistry was almost immediately apparent. In hindsight many of those signings were short term. Napoli, Victorino, and Gomes had success in their careers, but they had the big-time benefit of NOT having to come to Boston with the highest of expectations. Each of them flew in under the radar with no pressure at all, which helped them greatly exceed expectations. So much so, that it landed a highly improbable World Series win. The lower the expectations, the lower the pressure, the better those players actually thrive. Mitch Moreland is a classic example of these circumstamces.
Sandoval & Ramirez came in with the highest of expectations and have fluttered greatly. The “elephant in the room common theme” for both players is unequestionably an immense lack of effort.
My other concern is what the clubhouse environment might be like with all these veteran players, and what effect can it be having on the kids? Pedroia threw his entire bullpen under the bus in the wake of the Manny Machado incident. David Price has had, and continues to have several legendary battles with the Boston fans & media. Porcello has had some minor spats. Hanley takes the cake. In 2015 he was so useless, by mid August he was literally sent home. Red Sox officials didn’t want him anywhere near this team. He has the most baggage of anyone in the clubhouse pertaining to attitude and performance, and its hard to imagine that its not a distraction amongst the younger players.
Pablo Sandoval will likely never appear in a Red Sox uniform ever again. They will simply eat that money since he has no value whatsoever. Hanley still has performance value, but no trade value. His unwillingness to play anywhere in the field causes problems throughout the lineup.
There is no single perfect solution for the Red Sox roster issues. It’s all very complicated. We are handcuffed by too many large contracts. We can’t acquire certain players since that will push us over the luxury tax. Our farm system is semi depleted as it is.
My favored solution would be to simply let our kids play. In 2015 the Astros & Cubs weren’t expected to perform very well. But despite their inexperience, they ended up being strong playoff teams. If Hanley can’t be traded, bench him or send him home. Rotate Sam Travis & Mitch Moreland at 1B/DH. Let Devers play third, and we will simply hope for the best.
The Red Sox aren’t getting anything out of Hanley, nor are they getting anything out of third base. If nothing else, what the Red Sox would gain with this strategy is a lot more effort. No more prospects get traded. The clubhouse culture will have far less distractions, and the culture will be improved with many young players who have the willingness to get it done.
I would love to see it.