Even Red Sox folks in Fort Myers seem to be embarrassed by the offseason

By | February 18, 2024

Even Red Sox folks in Fort Myers seem to be embarrassed because it originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston this offseason

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Greetings from a week of training in Florida, where the Red Sox begin their search for… what exactly? To exist? John Henry want to save some money? Fill Fenway Park with tourists? As Ned Martin used to say, “Mercy.”

Let’s start with the atmosphere. That’s a subjective concept usually applied to the clubhouse, but in this case it’s more educational to zoom out to an organizational level, where the word that comes to mind is “embarrassed.”

Talk to enough people on the team and it becomes clear that they know they haven’t done remotely enough to compete during an uninspiring offseason. Some of it is behavior, reflected in a sheepishness to discuss their hopes for the season. Some of it is what’s not being said: everyone claiming – even in the background – that this group will surprise us. And some of it is more explicit, suggesting that fans aren’t the only ones frustrated with the franchise’s direction.

It’s not hard to read between the lines, even if we’re just analyzing public comments. Chief baseball officer Craig Breslow declined to say the team will make the playoffs, which initially came across as a leadership failure but now looks more like someone choosing not to lie. Manager Alex Cora declined comment when asked if he wanted to be here next season. The best conclusion Kenley Jansen could muster about the club’s postseason chances was: “You never know, right?”

Even potential savior Theo Epstein, the only ray of hope in an otherwise bleak winter, arrived conveniently after he could do something about 2024.

Hope is eternal unless it is smothered by the palpable malaise that envelopes your spring training complex. Breslow admitted that the offseason didn’t pan out the way he hoped or expected, especially in the starting rotation. After promising to rebuild, the Red Sox somehow entered the spring at a net loss, replacing questionable veterans James Paxton and Chris Sale with questionable veteran Lucas Giolito.

Meanwhile, both World Series winner Jordan Montgomery and reigning National League Cy Young Award winner Blake Snell remain unsigned, with no indication the Red Sox plan to make a move. It’s just par for the course for an offseason that no one is defending because it’s indefensible.

If anything, the past four months have made it clear where exactly the problem lies, and it doesn’t lie with the chief baseball officer. When Breslow achieves similar results to predecessor Chaim Bloom, we should place the blame higher up on the masthead.

That’s owner John Henry, and there’s no replacing him. Although CEO Sam Kennedy and Chairman Tom Werner have publicly worn it, this is clearly Henry’s show. He wants to build from within, avoid the high demands of free agency and, most importantly, reduce costs while competing with the mid-market payroll.

That’s why it’s unlikely the team will even surpass last year’s $225 million figure, and it’s why persistent rumors have dogged Jansen and his $16 million salary all winter. Such a move wouldn’t improve their current situation, but that’s not really the point, right?

I have the distinct feeling that if it were mainly up to Werner, the Red Sox would have put in more effort this winter. Why claim that the team plans to go ‘full throttle’ when he knew it was a lie that would only boomerang in his face?

He is a TV guy who wants to sell an attractive TV product. He recently emphasized that the ownership group is still “in step,” but after twenty years together we should not be surprised if such a profound change in organizational philosophy is not embraced unanimously.

The inability to inspire has trickled down to the clubhouse, where the stakes are as low as I’ve seen in 25 years of covering the Grapefruit League. Remove the uniforms and move JetBlue Park to Arizona, and the Red Sox could be the Royals, to whom they fittingly just traded a useful member of their bullpen (John Schreiber) for a pitching prospect who won’t help this year. (To be clear, I like the deal.)

Spring training is traditionally a time of hope, but also with underlying tension. Players fight for jobs, contracts, attention, respect, safety, etc… There is very little of that here. Outside of younger Ceddanne Rafaela pushing for the starting job at center and a group of interchangeable arms vying for the last few spots in the rotation, the roster is both mediocre and settled. That’s a terrible combination. If Trevor Story hadn’t been there to rally the troops, the Red Sox might be the most anonymous team in baseball.

That’s what words are for when you’re a fan. “Disgusting,” “disgraceful,” and “demoralizing” come to mind. But if you work for the team and are honest about the current state of affairs, there’s really only one way to describe it:

Embarrassing.

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