Some might say that the Red Sox are at the end of an era.
It's not unusual, certainly, to see the end of an era come on a low note. Disaster tends to lead to change, and Boston's situation is no different. The collapse of 2011 did not spark an immediate revolution, but within a year the rosterhad been gutted, the budget opened wide up, and the Red Sox clearly changed. That we finished at 69-93 is just to be expected.
But can you call it the end of an era? Or are we still in the process of bringing that to a close? It all depends on how you define it.
For those who draw a line in the historical sands in the post-2010 offseason, there's no other way to look at it. If the additions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez changed the team, ushering in a new age of extravagance, then certainly it had to end when those players left.
Except that doesn't really hold muster. Did anyone feel the same way headed into 2012 as they did heading into 2011? To be certain, there were some who were optimistic and hopeful, but that's a ways removed from the certainty we felt in 2011 right up until that last couple weeks, where the collapse was clearly on and denial was slowly eroded. It's hard to claim that we didn't have a shadow golden age in those heady days of summer, but sadly if that was an era it was all too short, lasting only from mid May to the beginning of September.
When we actually look at seasons as a whole, it's easier to see this as the end of an era of contention. 2012 was the first year in a decade (depending on how you see 2006--to me that year didn't really end until a week or so into September) where the Sox simply weren't in it. Come the end of July we were simply hoping the team wouldn't dump resources into a lost cause rather than simply taking the loss on the chin and moving on. When is the last time we greeted a trade deadline in such a state?
That's the results-based way of looking at things. From 2002 to 2011, the Sox could not be ignored. In 2012, they could be tossed aside with so many other teams playing out the string (though, of course, the media did not pass up the opportunity to harp on the circus story).
Just because we like to divide things up so nicely, however, doesn't mean that the story unfolding on the field, in Fenway's offices, and on the roster is willing to oblige us. Things don't always happen all at once, or on a year-by-year basis. At some point we'll look at the team and realize there's nobody left on it from the 2004 World Series, or nobody from 2007. That all those exciting moves from the offseason of 20XX are gone, that the draft pick you remember being thrilled/upset about is now in his fourth year with the team, or that the very young rookie from so long ago looks a lot closer to 40 than he does to 20.
That's a decent argument against the idea of eras, but one way or another someone is going to have to stitch together a section on Wikipedia or whatever it is that's replaced it ten years from now (at the moment there's a section called "2012: The Bobby Valentine Era". To that I say "no"). At least based on current sensibilities, then, I think we should mark next year as the end of an era, and not this one. Right now, after all, we are admittedly in transition, but it's one that started before now. One that was shown as a necessity by the awfulness of 2012, but one which won't be finished for a little while yet.
After 2013, Jacoby Ellsbury will be gone. Jon Lester will have one year left on his contract. Dustin Pedroia still has a couple years left before he hits his option year, but even now he's expensive (if not for his level of production) at $10 million a year. These aren't the kids anymore. Pedroia will turn 30 at the end of next year, and Lester won't be too far behind. I'm not sure when it happened, but somewhere along the line they became the veterans. And, if the Sox are a bit late in getting there, they do have that next wave coming up in Will, the Three Bs, and anyone else who emerges on the scene or makes a statement (I'm looking at you, Felix) in the years to come.
Unfortunately, there are no guarantees to be found in this new era. Recent MLB history is not wanting for massive payroll clubs finding themselves on the bottom of the division for years at a time. No prospect is a sure thing, and obviously contention in 2013 is entirely speculative at this point. In three years' time that earlier division--between contending and disaster years--could seem the obvious choice.
For now, though, we can only hope that the story we've sold ourselves about the next wave of prospects and a future built on measured spending and a once-more productive farm system will prove to be the one that wins out over all others down the line.