When a season goes down the drain for a sports team, there's often a need to place blame. On an executive who set the team up to fail, a manager whose decisions cost them close games, or a player who dragged the team down with non-performance or being a clubhouse problem.
While the Red Sox may seem to be a unique case, beleaguered as they are by injuries, there are some obvious scapegoats to be found, though.
Theo Epstein has long been the celebrated wunderkind GM of baseball, but it's hard to say he did not err this offseason. His big signings-John Lackey and Josh Beckett-have both failed to follow through on their big contracts (more on that later). His failure to build up a shallow bullpen created one of the biggest problems the Sox faced this year, and his best acquisition of the season, Adrian Beltre, was a one-year deal.
Still, it's hard to put the blame on Theo for Beckett and Lackey. While both seemed to be long-term risks, the idea that they would both be this bad right out of the gate was not exactly predictable. Beckett would have been under contract anyway, too, so judging the extension by this year's performance doesn't make much sense either. That leaves the bullpen, and really, it is conventional wisdom that spending a lot of money on a bullpen isn't necessarily the best of ideas, and were the starters living up to their potential, it might not be such an issue. Still, definitely an oversight.
As much as Terry Francona has been credited with getting a lot out of very little this year, many of his moves have been fairly baffling. As depleted as his bullpen is, there's rarely been an excuse for playing Okajima as much as he has. He has been slow to trust rookies, with only Felix Doubront really getting any significant run of late despite the possibility of finding a new piece in a call-up. And Eric Patterson? Really? I know we were depleted, and he did alright when he did play, but with any other options available (Nava, Kalish, even Hall), 29 games played is pretty inexcusable.
Again, though, even if he didn't make the absolute best decisions with regularity, he didn't necessarily have good options that he passed up. Daniel Bard has been used a ton as is, so at some point someone else has to take a few innings. Some blame for Francona, but mostly just bad situations.
Then there are the players. For the most part, injury isn't really in the players' control-sorry, Ellsbury-haters, but it's hard to blame him for his broken ribs, even if you think he should have been back. There haven't exactly been any major clubhouse problems aside from that either, so the only guys really open to criticism are the two aforementioned starters and the bullpen. It's not really fair to expect much out of the parts of the bullpen that did so little, either-Ramirez, Delcarmen, and Okajima let us know well enough in the second half of last year that they weren't exactly dependable.
That leaves Beckett and Lackey. Beckett has dealt with injuries himself, but Lackey doesn't really have any such excuse. He's no longer saved by a good record either (though that would never make his performance good, it might at least suggest it hadn't been directly damaging to the team), with a 3-5 showing the last two months dropping him to an unimpressive 12-8. So let's give him some of the blame too.
So there are your potential candidates to take the fall for the 2010 Red Sox, and perhaps uniquely amongst disappointing teams it's really hard to say anybody deserves even a majority of that blame. After all, injuries happen, but not in the way they have to the Boston Red Sox, who struggle to field even half of a major league lineup on a day-to-day basis. And to the organization and fan base's credit, there don't seem to be many calls for blood, either. Sure, the people who disliked Theo and Francona before are no more supportive of them now, and I'm sure few fans would be reluctant to see Lackey dealt. But there's no real witch hunt underway. Terry Francona is getting manager of the year nods, for crying out loud!
Maybe that's because the Red Sox are not in such dire straits on a larger scale. Even if Beckett and Lackey don't perform up-to-snuff next year, the rotation is still incredibly strong at the front between Lester and Buchholz, and much of the lineup should be back, and healthier come 2011. There's no great anticipation of losing seasons to come, or that someone has really destroyed the franchise for the foreseeable future. Instead of playing the blame game and dwelling on what could, and perhaps should have been, Sox fans can look at what will be next year when we get a look at a hopefully similar team-just without the misfortune.