A high school teacher of mine once informed us that in pre-20th century English literature, something along the lines of 90% of the literary allusions are to either Shakespeare or the Bible. I did Shakespeare a few weeks back (and will again, because damn, has this season been all manner of Shakespearean), so I suppose it's worth a bit of Old Testament. In the Book of Daniel, the prophet Daniel was called to a banquet held by the Babylonian king, to translate words that had been inscribed upon the wall by ghostly hands. The words read "Mene mene tekel upharsin," which translates roughly as "Josh Reddick will destroy the last of your hopes on Labor Day weekend."
2012's over and done. If a 20-loss August and a franchise-transforming trade hasn't made that clear, getting swept by the banjo-hitting Oakland Athletics by a combined score of 33-5 certainly does. Boston would now have to go 17-8 in their remaining games to even finish at .500, and their once-promising run differential has finally dipped into the negative. At this point the major concern for the remainder of the season is draft positioning and making sure Jacoby Ellsbury doesn't crash into anyone.
On the other hand, acknowledging that this season has run down the curtain and joined the bleedin' choir invisible lets us get a head start on looking toward the offseason. And oh my, is there a lot to be done this offseason. Starting with:
Clarify the managerial situation.
And frankly, at this point, I don't care how. Alex Speier covered this in his traditionally brilliant manner over at WEEI.com yesterday, so I won't rehash it too much. But the Red Sox have been sitting on this pot a while, and it's decision time. If the Megatrade (I've decided to capitalize it, as though it's a bad SyFy Channel creature feature) was in part about giving Bobby Valentine a stronger hand, then continue that process. Announce formally that he's the manager for the duration of his contract, and make certain the players understand that ownership has picked a side, and they'd better fall in line. Otherwise, just fire him and be done with it. Letting him twist like this does nobody any good, and doesn't exactly scream "come work for us, it's great" to any potential replacement managers.
Toss out the bad apples.
Mostly this is the "find a taker for Alfredo Aceves" section. Aceves, of course, got into a shouting match with Dustin Pedroia on Saturday, after an inning in which he decided that his relief job included dictating defensive positioning. Coming on the heels of his three-game suspension for voicing his displeasure at being demoted from the closer's role (a role which he had done absolutely nothing of late to earn), it's instantly made Aceves the latest guy with a target on his back. And in this case, he appears to have brought it on himself. It's one thing to blow off the press after a lousy outing or a demotion, it's quite another to show up your manager or take out your frustrations on your teammates. It's a shame, because Aceves has, his recent struggles notwithstanding, been a huge asset to the Red Sox in his two seasons here. But the top priority for Boston right now has to be getting everyone in the organization on the same page, and it's pretty clear Aceves isn't even in the same book.
Find the good from this year and build on it.
There's a bunch of stuff involved here. Some are pretty straightforward, I think we can all agree that Cody Ross has been a bright spot, and that keeping him around for another year or three of bat-flipping is a worthy investment. Boston seems to have found a pair of immensely valuable relievers in Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa, and can go into next year with that to build around. (One stat brought up last night by Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal: Tazawa's got 31 K and 4 BB in his 32 innings of work this year. The only other Red Sox ever with a 7.5 K/BB in more than 30 innings: Pedro Martinez and Jonathan Papelbon. Tiny sample, of course, but kind of cool.) Clay Buchholz was better than he's ever been for a few months mid-season. Figure out what he was doing, and how to get him doing that every month. The same is true of Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales, who are potentially two immensely valuable starters, provided Boston invests a bit of time in improving their pitch efficiency and building their durability.
Decide what 2013's goal is.
Ben discussed a little while ago that the second wild-card opens up the possibility of contention next year. It's an excellent point, and brings into focus the big question Boston faces: what's the priority for 2013? With an immense amount of money suddenly freed up, and a host of enticing prospects on the farm, the Red Sox are equipped to make some big splashes on the trade market this winter. Ben mentioned Jake Peavy as a possibility, Cliff Lee's name has been tossed around elsewhere. Elvis Andrus would look pretty good in Boston, and may need a new home with Jurickson Profar arriving in the bigs. Given the incumbent talent on the club, one more big-name player might be all the team needs to go from having a shot at a wild-card berth to serious pennant contention.
Of course, that's what we all figured in the winter of 2010, and look where that's gotten us. Maybe Boston just happened to get the wrong players that time and Lee or Justin Upton would be the right players. Maybe it was all just crummy luck (when one's season is ended by Dan Johnson and Robert Andino, clearly the gods are messing with probability), and there's no reason to draw bigger teambuilding lessons. But it does appear that the front office is serious about getting away from big free agent splashes or prospect-draining trades. And if that makes 2013 a bit tougher to watch, then so be it. But the sooner the club decides whether to make the 2013 playoffs a priority, the better.
Make life miserable this month for Tampa, New York, and Baltimore.
I don't ask for much at this point, guys. But if you could find some way to kill the hopes and dreams of at least one of these teams in the final week of the season, preferably via a Pedro Ciriaco homer, it would do a lot for my sanity. I can't have jubilation this year. I'll settle for schadenfreude.