On September 1, 2011, the Boston Red Sox were sitting pretty in the American League East with a half game lead over the New York Yankees and what would have been a nine game lead over the Tampa Bay Rays in the American League Wild Card. 32 days later, that same exact team sits at home, on their couches watching the Yankees and Rays compete in the 2011 MLB Playoffs.
During the month of September, the Red Sox turned in an abysmal 7-20 record in the month of September while Tampa Bay turned in a solid 17-10 record in September to steal the 2011 Wild Card berth away from Boston. The final day of the 2011 MLB season summed up exactly what the month of September was like for the Red Sox; disappointing losses along with exciting Rays wins.
Instead of gearing up for the playoffs, the Red Sox will instead prepare for another eventful offseason that will most likely bring a lot of changes around the clubhouse. The ownership team of John Henry, Tom Werner and Larry Lucchino have gotten this offseason kicked off with a bang.
Last Thursday, it was announced that the team would not pick up manager Terry Francona's two-year option, thus signifying the end of his time with the team. While some may or may not agree with this move, there is no doubt that Francona has established himself as arguably the best manager in club history. While Francona's 774-552 record and two world series titles in Boston proves a phenomenal track record, it wasn't enough to cover up his role in the team's historic collapse.
With Francona out, the Red Sox will have to find a new manager to run the team in 2012. While it is unclear who the new manager of the Red Sox will be, this isn't the only problem facing the Red Sox this offseason. They also have questions about the 25 men that make up the actual team roster.
Among the players that may not be back with the team next season are closer Jonathan Papelbon (free agent) designated hitter David Ortiz (free agent), right fielder J.D. Drew (free agent/retirement) catcher Jason Varitek (retirement), shortstop Marco Scutaro (free agent), starter Erik Bedard (free agent), starter Tim Wakefield (retirement) and reliever Dan Wheeler (free agent). While it is likely the club will let Drew walk, they will most likely at least monitor the status of players like Ortiz and Papelbon.
If all of these players chose to either retire or sign elsewhere, the Red Sox will likely be in the market for an upgrade at designated hitter, right fielder and pitcher (starting and relief). Not your typical walk in the park.
If the Red Sox do decide to once again spend big like they always do, they will have to proceed with caution. In the past, the front office has chosen give the likes of Drew, John Lackey and Carl Crawford gigantic contracts. While Crawford still has time to prove himself, the additions of Drew and Lackey have been pretty close to an utter and complete disaster. With Drew's contract coming off the books this offseason, the Red Sox still have three more years of Lackey to deal with.
Another cause for concern for the Red Sox is rumors that the Chicago Cubs could be interested in hiring current GM Theo Epstein to fill their vacant general manager position. With Epstein gone, the Red Sox will have to not only find a new manager and players, they will have to find someone to hire to go out and fill those needs.
The good news in all of this is that All Stars Adrian Gonzalez, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Beckett and Jon Lester will all be back with the Red Sox next season. In addition to this, the Red Sox will have a progressing Jarrod Saltalamacchia and rising star Ryan Lavarnway behind the plate next season. Not all is lost.
With that being said, the Red Sox have three major tasks to attend to: Finding a new manager, filling the holes on the roster with current or new players, and making sure that 2011 does not repeat itself. Time will only tell if these three tasks can be accomplished.