With the Winter Meetings now firmly in the rearview mirror, it's time to get back to what's important: lamenting the awfulness that was 2012, and on occasion using that reflection as a lens to look at 2013 and beyond. Today we're lucky enough to come upon a player who fits perfectly with the present goings-on: Darnell McDonald.
Darnell, we all remember, came to the Red Sox on a minor league deal back before 2010. In recent years we've had a string of minor leaguers stepping up to provide surprising if underwhelming production given the opportunity by injury after injury after injury. Depending on how you view the ultimately poor performance of Nick Green, Darnell McDonald was the first of this bunch. It's hard to forget his first game, tying it up with a homer in the eighth and then picking up the walkoff hit in the ninth. Any game that ends with a minor league free agent being mobbed at second base after his second at bat in the uniform is pretty great.
While McDonald would end the season with a .270/.336/.429 line--solid production for a guy making the veteran minimum who nobody expected anything from entering the year. More than that, though, he brought a certain level of appeal to the Red Sox as part of the last really fun team in Fenway. While we were left behind in the A.L. East thanks to a truly heinous string of injuries throughout the season, this was rarely a team that was a chore to watch. Remember Daniel Nava's first-pitch grand slam? Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre's head? Adrian Beltre in general? The incredible second half of Jed Lowrie?
Admittedly there's a lot to liking or disliking a team that comes from winning and losing. Even if Alfredo Aceves and Bobby Valentine and their drama had been taken away from the Red Sox at the end of the season, leaving them relatively drama-free, it's hard to imagine being terribly happy to watch a September game from the 2012 Red Sox featuring Ryan Lavarnway striking out helplessly, James Loney still pretending to be a corner infielder despite not having brought a bat to the game, and Jacoby Ellsbury saying goodbye to his trade value one at bat at a time. All we had this year with Will Middlebrooks out to end the season was the feeling of freedom that followed the Punto deal. Anything actually happening on the field was so much depressing aftermath.
For 2013, though, it seems like the Red Sox are trying to recapture some of the fun from 2010. Or, at least, some of the personality. That Bobby Valentine is gone is frankly the most important piece to the puzzle. But bringing in Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes certainly seems in part to be about who they are as people, if both moves still make sense in terms of baseball. The Sox aren't aiming to be the lovable losers, but trying to strike a balance where Boston is once again a place where players can have fun with the team. If we are similar to the hated Yankees in many ways, at least in this we can be their foil.
Which brings us back to Darnell McDonald, and one more sad connection to the present. Because when we finally got rid of Darnell McDonald--or, rather, let him go before this sinking ship finally broke up in the whirlpool of disgruntlement and suck that was the 2012 team--he was signed as a minor league free agent by the Yankees, and this became this.
It's too late to save Darnell, and we can't really do this by ourselves, but please, Kevin Youkilis, for all that is good and right in this world, don't let them take the beard.