When Ben Cherington pulled the trigger on the deal which sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, and Carl Crawford to Los Angeles, he freed himself from the shadow of Theo Epstein.
It's all too easy to see how his Red Sox tenure would have gone without such a bold stroke. Trying to patch holes in a leaky ship $10, $15 million at a time as contracts ran out, never able to really open up financially except to undo the losses of the past offseason.
Simply put, Theo Epstein had left him with no room to maneuver, holes to fill, and the only hope of doing so lying in the farm system. Cherington was at the complete mercy of player development, and if the system failed to produce in a hurry, then it would be his head served to the Red Sox fans in a few seasons' time.
What's worse, with every passing year the situation would get more dire. If Crawford's contract looked bad this year, and Gonzalez' first-half struggles concerned, what about in 2013? Every year their salaries would stand static as their talent was sapped by age. In almost every conceivable scenario, Cherington's only salvation would be the advent of players like Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts, Matt Barnes. Anything else he could do would be simply peripheral.
Now, Cherington is a man in control of his own destiny, and what's better, he gets to work with a clean slate that the Red Sox desperately needed. As easy as it is to find reason for some of the team's underperformance these past twelve months-run differential suggests they are better than their record, their record in close games is as bad as Baltimore's is good, they have been historically injured, and there is no explaining the consistency of the best players in having down years-there is likely something to be said for the chaos surrounding the group. The 2011 collapse was not a quiet event, and with the media pouncing on the team like a pack of sharks smelling blood in the water, the situation in the clubhouse could not be one that promoted success, much less help the team in bringing in talent.
Josh Beckett alone was not the source of all evil in the clubhouse. Adrian Gonzalez was not a leader of rebellion despite his role in textgate. There will still be problems, as there are in any clubhouse. But with the major shake up there's at least a chance for the Red Sox to heal. The media can take Beckett as the sacrificial lamb and give this team a chance to gel. And perhaps most importantly for all, expectations are lowered. Pressure is lowered. There's plenty of chance for this team to compete in 2013, but there's no gun to their heads so that anything short of dominance will result in another inquisition from the press.
What really counts, however, is silverware, and the Sox have put themselves in the best chance to find their way back to the World Series on a regular basis as well. With the farm system undergoing something of a renaissances courtesy of Matt Barnes, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Xander Bogaerts, the Red Sox are going to see a new window opening in the immediate future where they should be able to receive a great deal of production from young, cost-controlled players.
Now they have not only given themselves the financial flexibility to make the best of that situation, both by putting a real team around their young talent and by locking up said players to long-term contracts, but also brought in new names such as Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster, and Jerry Sands to help lead the charge.
The immediate future for the Red Sox is hazy. While contention is entirely possible in 2013, Ben Cherington will have to make the right conservative moves to both give the Red Sox a chance and not throwing away the gains they made. In the long term, however, the outlook just gets better and better. Now the Sox can return to the focus on player production and smart, conservative purchasing that lead them to be perennial contenders in the last decade, and with the impressive direction of the farm system, perhaps climb even higher than they did then.