The Red Sox just put their fans through an excruciating two months. About the only thing worse would be Spork In The Pee Hole Night at Fenway, and even that would be over after a few hours. You know, not counting doctors visits. It wasn't enough that the Red Sox blew a ten game lead in a month's time, they had to go and detonate the visible components of the organization as well. Manager Tito? Gone. GM Theo? Gone. It looks like Pitching Coach Curt Young might be following them out the door and I wouldn't bet on him being the last either.
There are surely more changes in store in the coming weeks as the Red Sox under Ben Cherington, who is 106% likely to be the next GM, attempt to find and hire a new manager and coaching staff. Just as the new GM is getting his feet wet free agency will hit like a folding chair to the face. Stuff is going to happen fast and there might not be a whole lot of time to catch your breath.
In all the upheaval, with all the uncertainty that change brings, all while some of us still haven't gotten over the collapse itself, it's important to remember this: the 2012 Boston Red Sox are going to be really good at baseball.
The way the season ended combined with the off season's blood-letting has served to obscure that fact, but let me reassure you, dear reader, this is one heck of a talented team. Whether John Lackey stays or goes, whether the pitching staff learns that "lite beer" is to beer what stick drawings are to fine art, whether the Sox resign David Ortiz or not, this will be another in a line of incredibly talented teams. Ellsbury, Pedroia, Lester, Beckett, Buchholz, Adrian, Bard, and Youk. That's not a guarantee, but it is a championship core.
With that in mind, here are a five reasons to be excited about the 2012 Red Sox:
1. Jacoby Ellsbury - Ellsbury went from being league average or injured over his first four years to a bonafide MVP candidate. Lest you gloss over his accomplishments in the wake of the collapse, gander at this: a .321/.376/.552 slash line, 212 hits, 46 doubles, 32 homers, and 39 stolen bases. All that in a down year for offense. Ellsbury will be 28 next season so, much like myself, he is still in his prime.
Will he improve? Is that even possible? I can't wait to see what he does next year. I wouldn't doubt if it involves homers, stolen bases, videos of honey badgers, and maybe some meat ice cream. Dude is that strong. Strange as it is to say and unlikely as it would have been to read such a sentence just a season ago, Ellsbury may just be the best player on the Red Sox. If you can't get excited about watching Ellsbury next year I suggest you turn up the power on your heart pump, Mr. Cheney.
2. Change Is Good - Can't say watching Theo Epstein and Terry Francona leave filled me with the warm 'n fuzzies. More like the pissed 'n breakies. The feeling wasn't remotely like when Dan Duquette was finally fired or when Grady Little was mercifully dragged to the Boston city limits and given a ten minute head start before the dogs were let loose. Not only did Theo and Tito bring two championships to Boston, they were stand-up guys. Both intelligent, capable, and hard working, they were the kind of people you want to root for regardless of what team they worked for. The fact that they wore the good laundry was like one of those happy dreams where you discover a secret room in your house full of bags of money, a pristine pool with a chocolate slide, and worker monkeys you can fashion into your own worker monkey army to overthrow the state or just send out in search of the perfect biscuit.
Yet, sometimes change is good. Sometimes new eyes see can things old eyes glossed over. Forget the media and fans, nobody can deny the last two seasons the Red Sox haven't met internal expectations. Mistakes were made, occasionally of the hugely expensive variety. The new GM will bring with him some new ideas on how to do things. Maybe after two down seasons, that is something the organization could use.
3. Carl Crawford - Crawford's season was the Ford Edsel of baseball seasons. He was New Coke, Crystal Pepsi, and whatever the next highly billed disaster is rolled into one. When people tasted New Coke and noticed it's strong resemblance to cat litter with corn syrup, that was the ball game. When people looked at Crystal Pepsi and thought, "Why...?" while grabbing normally colored colas off the shelf, it meant no more Crystal Pepsi.
But, unlike those failures, Carl Crawford will have the chance to redeem himself. Sure, that's primarily a function of his seven year contract, but in the spirit of this article, recall what Crawford did just a season ago with the Rays: .307/.356/.495 with 19 homers and 13 (!) triples. As bad as his 2011 was, Crawford will only be 30 next year. It's pretty difficult to believe a player with as many skills as Crawford possessed when he arrived in Boston lost them all. There is some pretty huge bounce-back potential here, and when you combine it with another season of New & Improved Ellsbury, that kinda gets the blood pumping, huh?
4. Potential Appearances By Some Top-Flight Minor League Talent - As we noted yesterday on the podcast the Red Sox minor league affiliates aren't exactly crawling with pitching talent at the upper levels. What they do have though is some pretty impressive position players. (Yes, pitchers play a position too. I know. Go with it.) Whether he starts in Boston or Pawtucket, Ryan Lavarnway may be getting regular ABs and crushing bombs in the big leagues before long. On the other end of the spectrum, when he gets to Boston Jose Iglesias may become the best fielding Red Sox shortstop most of us have ever seen. It's a spectacle that could arrive in Boston by the end of 2012. Ryan Kalish and Josh Reddick will battle it out for the chance to become the regular Red Sox right fielder. Beyond that, pitchers like Felix Doubront and Kyle Weiland will get the chance to contribute meaningful innings.This won't be the most extravagant sentence I've ever written but here's something great about watching minor leaguers graduate to the big club.
5. If Nothing Else, It's Baseball - In five months we'll learn the answers to the above as well as to questions we haven't even thought to ask yet. But if nothing else the 2012 Red Sox will be a baseball team that plays baseball at a baseball field in front of baseball fans. Baseball, and Red Sox baseball in specific is in and of itself something to look forward to. I can't wait.