There's a belief out there that the Red Sox cannot help but be a bad team in 2013. That 2012's 69-93 record is too far off the pace of where we want to be to possibly make the jump. That our suspect pitching cannot be improved enough or our hole-filled lineup completed to such an extent that the Red Sox become a legitimate threat for a playoff run.
To anyone who thinks that, I say there were two Red Sox teams last year: the one with Adrian Gonzalez, and the one with James Loney. And to shove the two together and claim it means something is simply not the way to go about it.
As bad as the start of the season was, and as bad as the Red Sox often looked, they were not, in fact, a completely terrible team as assembled. Oh, sure, they had big problems that looked even worse through the lens of Bobby Valentine's three-ring circus. But for all that they still managed to start July with a 42-37 record. That's hardly the indication of a bad team.
No, it wasn't until David Ortiz and then eventually Will Middlebrooks went down to season-ending injuries that things really got bad, and when most of the team was shipped off to Los Angeles, well, the ensuing disaster on the diamond was wholly predictable.
Let's get back to the subject at hand: James Loney. He is the perfect example of how the end to the Red Sox' season was not simply bad, but in fact so bad that it failed to really reflect the potential quality of the team. Oh, sure, you can turn to Ryan Kalish or Ryan Lavarnway and point out how bad they were, too. But Loney, as a one-month rental with no emotional attachment, is delightfully uncomplicated.
Loney, after all, is the guy you hope never to see in your lineup as a contending team. While he has a reputation of just being sort of a solid player who shouldn't cause you too much trouble, he's really only that with the glove. His bat would be acceptable at some positions, but it simply isn't at first. A career .319 wOBA is just so very far from cutting it.
With the Red Sox, however, he wasn't simply unacceptable, but preternaturally bad. That .319 figure is a good 66 points above the .253 mark that he finished with, leaving him somehow worth -.6 wins with the bat in barely over 106 plate appearances. This is the kind of awfulness we had to put up with thanks to the team's decision to quit the season and retool. It was certainly worth it, but let's not confuse the cost to the end of the season with the cost for an actual full year like we have coming up.
The team needs to improve on what it was to start the year, of course, and that can come from a combination of players returning to form (Lester, Buchholz), health (Ortiz, Middlebrooks, Ellsbury), and offseason acquisitions. But so long as the team doesn't completely miss out on filling holes, it should be building on the base of the team that was solid in the first half rather than decrepit in the second half.
All they have to do is get back to that basis in addition to adding on, and that's not such a tall task. Remember, the reason Loney was terrible was not that he was replacing a world-beater, but because he was simply unbelievably awful at his job. Adrian Gonzalez, the best of the players sent away to Los Angeles, produced only a .348 wOBA in his time here. We don't need to replace the All-Star Adrian Gonzalez or Cy Young contender Beckett, just the weird middle-of-the-road 1B and implosion-happy righty who played here in the first half last year. Unless the team goes out and gets Carlos Lee and Jonathan Sanchez, that is the bottom level that the team can then build up from.