Red Sox fans entered 2012 with an understandable level of apprehension. They had just witnessed their team endure one of the greatest collapses in the history of baseball, after all, and the offseason had been, at best, a mixed bag.
After the collapse of 2011, the Sox were in need of a manager, a closer, and starting pitching. There was only one problem: money was tight. In retrospect, it was even tighter than the fanbase realized heading into the offseason. The dreams of legitimate offers to the likes of Hiroki Kuroda and Roy Oswalt went by the wayside, but incredibly slowly as the team tried to sneak in with low bids hoping the rest of the league had decided to pass.
Ultimately, the Sox would turn to creative gambles. Daniel Bard switching to the rotation, trading from some of the team's less certain young talent to fix up the bullpen, and hoping to utilize a platoon to fill the outfield hole opened up in the trade.
As for the manager, the Red Sox turned to the controversial Bobby Valentine, hoping that a manager with a disciplinarian bent could help the Sox avoid the clubhouse issues that had been publicly blamed for what, frankly, was simply a failure of pitching in September 2011.
For most of the moves, a reasonable thought process can be worked out for it. Ben Cherington had determined that he could not win with what he had, and did not have the resources to get what the team need to compete through conventional methods. Faced, then, with the choice of a hopeless season or a bold gamble, he went with the bold gamble. If these moves had worked out, then they had the potential to dramatically improve the team.
Of course, it did not take long to learn that not only had most of his moves not panned out, but that there was even more rotten in Fenway then we could have imagined.
Daniel Bard's transition was a colossal failure, leading the Sox to turn towards the minors and bullpen to replace him. Andrew Bailey was on the disabled list before the year started, not to return until it was halfway gone. Mark Melancon imploded brilliantly as though he were the worst reliever to ever take the mound. Meanwhile, Adrian Gonzalez got off to a terrible start, Jacoby Ellsbury found himself injured in a hurry, and Carl Crawford had his recovery time lengthened dramatically by a setback with murmurs of the dreaded Tommy John flying everywhere.
The result would be a start to the season much like the team suffered through in 2011, with a lengthy period of time devoted simply to the task of getting back to .500 after the terrible first couple of weeks.
Meanwhile, the worst aspects of Bobby Valentine would begin to shine through. It had not even taken until the end of spring training for talk of mutiny to seep out of the clubhouse, and early failures of bullpen management (infamously a baffling over-reliance on career minor leaguer Justin Thomas) served only to light a fire under his seat which he personally saw to making worse by inexplicably throwing Kevin Youkilis under the bus after a rough start, questioning whether the third baseman was still "physically or emotionally into the game."
In the end, this would not be the outlier for Bobby Valentine, but the rule. What we received in April was just a sneak preview of the disaster to come. Bobby Valentine would fight with the media as often as with his players, continue to cost his team games with his decisions, and ultimately earn the loathing of Red Sox Nation, becoming the face of the season's failures.
Still, the worst would not come immediately. Despite the complete failures of so many offseason moves, and despite the struggles of some of the team's biggest stars both on the mound and at the plate, the Sox somehow stayed in the picture. It's easy to forget now, but the team did rally. Repeatedly, in fact. After making it back to 10-10 on April 28, the Sox would endure a nasty losing streak leaving them at 12-19. That many of these losses came against Baltimore and Oakland seems a lot more reasonable now than it did then. They responded, however, with a 9-2 run to reach 21-21, and then eventually 40-35.
At that point the team was actually on a pretty great roll, and it was hard to ignore the contributions of Will Middlebrooks in getting them there. Promoted from Triple-A to fill in for an injured Kevin Youkilis, Middlebrooks took the opportunity and ran with it, eventually winning the job away from the struggling veteran with his wide range at third and power swing at the plate.
The Sox would ride Middlebrooks' wave to 42-37 before the third baseman injured his hamstring and missed a week of games in Oakland and New York. The Sox lost the first five, falling right back to .500.
By this point the trade deadline was drawing near, splitting Red Sox fans into two camps: those who wanted to sell, and those who wanted to buy and try to make a run at the postseason. As the deadline neared, the question continued to be asked: is this a team that is just a couple players away from winning games? And if it is, have they already dug that hole too deep given the impressive performances of other AL teams?
Ultimately the team would reach July 31st just one game above .500, and the front office decided that this was not a team that deserved further investment. They would be proven right. What momentum the team had entering the trade deadline quickly dissipated, and then came the injuries. Will Middlebrooks went down with a broken wrist, and David Ortiz' achilles issue (which came in mid-July while scoring on a rare Adrian Gonzalez homer) quickly proved to be much worse than initially feared. Daniel Nava, one of the unexpected positives that had kept the club afloat, had his strength robbed by his own wrist injury, while Carl Crawford, despite a decent return, was finally shut down to get surgery. Franklin Morales, who had finally provided some quality in the rotation, found himself on the disabled list as well, while he one player actually getting healthy in Daisuke Matsuzaka made the Sox regret his recovery with awful performance after awful performance.
The team simply crumbled. From two games over .500, they dropped four straight to start August, then went 6-11 to leave them floundering at 59-66, 13.5 games back of the division lead.
And then, frankly, a miracle happened, and the front office actually made something good come of this season. First came the news that Adrian Gonzalez had been claimed off waivers--a routine move that largely just signaled that someone out there was interested in trading for him if the Sox actually wanted to make a deal. It seemed, in all likelihood, that nothing would happen.
And then the Dodgers claimed Josh Beckett and all hell broke loose. Nobody, after all, was going to simply take on the disaster that was Josh Beckett. Something larger had to be in the works. And sure enough, it was. Before long, Carl Crawford's name made its way into the conversation, and by the end of business, the entire landscape had changed for the Red Sox. In exchange for surrendering Adrian Gonzalez and his reasonable contract (albeit one made to look much less so by his struggles during the season), the Red Sox were allowed to free themselves from the albatross contract of Carl Crawford, as well as the remaining money on Josh Beckett's deal.
Before the trade, the Red Sox were looking at another year of trying to fill massive holes with almost nothing in the way of financial flexibility. Ultimately they would be left trying again with the same bunch, the only major difference likely in the cheap depth signed to try and hide how thin the team was on talent. The scary question was how long this would last. Cheap assets like Dustin Pedroia were fast becoming expensive; how long would Carl Crawford's contract (and perhaps even Adrian Gonzalez) keep the Sox from filling the holes they needed to fill. How long would they be the ball and chain dragging the Sox down?
Now, with all that money gone to the Dodgers, the Red Sox enter 2013 with the ability to make huge changes. The real question is whether they'll be able to restrain themselves and avoid the lure of going big on players like Zack Greinke and Josh Hamilton who would provide a short-term boost and put the team right back in danger of finding themselves in the same old situation.
Still, the trade having been made, Red Sox fans had to live through a month following the worst baseball team in the game, and oh what a month it was. Historically poor offense, awful starts from Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Cook, incredible blowouts suffered at the hand of just about every opponent. Dreams of playing spoiler were dashed, and the Sox went from simply a bad season to their worst in 50 year. By the time the last out was recorded, leaving the Sox at 69-72, it was a mercy just to have it over with.
The 2012 Red Sox will go down in history, but for all the wrong reasons. Their dysfunction was legendary, thanks largely to lingering tension from 2011 and the disastrous performance of Bobby Valentine as the manager. Never before have so many stars--Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Carl Crawford--come up so completely empty for a team. And rarely has a team so completely changed their future as the Sox did with their megatrade.
Red Sox fans would be better off simply forgetting 2012. 2011 as well, in fact. Right now this team looks about how it would if it had simply stopped acting after the 2010 season. Unfortunately, we had to actually live through these awful times, and it's that awful stretch which let's us know we're lucky to have the chance for such a reset. The Sox will take the next couple of weeks to clean house and then, when all is said and done in the playoffs, they'll start building a team which can hopefully make Red Sox baseball worthwhile again.