Speaking to the media before Tuesday night's game against the Twins, John Henry didn't exactly sugar coat the state of the Red Sox. You can quote the owner: the first 50 games of the 2015 season have been "terrible" and "painful to watch."
But he's also not ready to make major changes just yet. For as bad as the Red Sox have been, Henry still believes that this is the right team, that Ben Cherington is the right man to put them together "for a very long time," and that John Farrell is the right man to lead them.
There are other takeaways to be had from Henry's many comments--he doesn't, for instance, think the Red Sox are being aggressive enough at the plate--but the major story here is that John Farrell and Ben Cherington's jobs seem to be safe.
Of course, these comments are not unusual around sinking ships. There are many votes of confidence that do not precede firings, but relatively few firings that are not preceded by votes of confidence. Here, for instance, is a John Henry quote from three years ago:
"To blame Bobby Valentine for the Red Sox being .500 at this point in the season is simply wrong. A lot has been written about injuries to key players this year. The impact of that on the Sox this year should not be discounted.
In baseball, managers often get too much credit and too much blame for what happens on the field. That seems to be a constant. There is often the thought in organizations, "This isn't working so the manager needs to go." But an organization is much more than the field manager. We all share responsibility for the success and failure of the Boston Red Sox. We are not making a change in manager."
Still, there's reason to believe that this is more than just the formality before the firing. In large part because Bobby Valentine happened. Before Valentine, Fenway Sports Group's experience with truly costly managing was one dreadful pitching decision in October of 2003. Terry Francona did not always make the best in-game decisions, and there are some particularly bad moments that come to mind (Josh Beckett in 2008 features heavily), but he kept the ship sailing smoothly until September 2011, at which point he was more-or-less scapegoated for a collapse that stretched far beyond any manager's ability to rein in.
Bobby Valentine was a new sort of disaster. Under Bobby Valentine, the Red Sox became a bad soap opera rife with secret meetings, backstabbing, text messages sent from phones but not by the phone's owner and--you get the point. It was comical how bad it got.
We don't really have any of that here. Not yet. We had a "veterans meeting" which may or may not have been focused on Hanley, but until that slightest bit of smoke turns into a raging Bobby Valentine inferno, Red Sox ownership will likely just be happy that this 22-29 team isn't trying to eat its own tail.
As for Ben Cherington, there's no denying his moves aren't working as planned. He put his faith in a staff of ground ball pitchers and a strong infield defense behind them. But somehow, even with Xander Bogaerts exceeding expectations with the glove, this hasn't played out at all. Part of that is because Justin Masterson was a complete disaster, and the Red Sox are still getting away from Joe Kelly, starting pitcher. Part of that is because Rick Porcello is having home run issues for more or less the first time in his career. And part of that is because this defense which was supposed to have two weak links in left and short has had something closer to seven or eight, with no real clear indication what's taken some normally reliable gloves and left them incapable of making plays.
Some of this you can fault Cherington for, some of it you can't. Pablo Sandoval should be better with the glove than he has been, particularly since he seemed his usual self before May. The same is true for Mike Napoli. Hanley Ramirez being a complete catastrophe, however, was predictable, and at this point it seems like the Red Sox are too willing to let that situation play out with few signs of improvement.
What's really baffling, though, is just how bad the offense has been, particularly this past month. And while we seem to judge general managers on their ability to predict the future, really all they can be expected to do is make the best decisions with the resources and information available to them. Again, in some cases Cherington has failed at that, but in others his only fault has been a lack of omniscience.
Red Sox '12 draft review: Cherington's first draf
Ben Cherington's first draft as Red Sox general manager looks like it's stuffed with future big-league players.
If you want to punish him for 2014 and 2015, then perhaps Ben Cherington should lose his job (though, in that case, 2013 should probably speak volumes as well given any team's chances to win a World Series). That, however, shouldn't be the point. That's not the question we should be asking. What we should be asking is whether or not this team is best served by having him in charge going forward.
2014 and 2015 (so far) are not irrelevant to that question by any means. But their failings are not as bad as they might seem when viewed in that context. If nothing else, Cherington works with a plan. His 2015 gambit with the rotation has failed, but it was never expected to be perfect out of the gates. The hope was to find a few arms to stick from the five assembled, and then throw the minor leaguers or a trade pickup at it in mid-season. If Buchholz - Porcello - Masterson - Miley - Kelly looks pretty bad, Buchholz is making strides, the rotation has made strides in recent weeks, Masterson has been crossed off as a failure, and Kelly seems likely to head to the bullpen before long. Meanwhile, Steven Wright has offered solid innings, and Eduardo Rodriguez looks like the real deal through all of one start. If you tilt your head just right and squint, you can see how this was all supposed to work out...if the defense could just act like it's expected to.
That's the thing, you can't at once proclaim your shock at how bad everything is going and call for the general manager's head in the same breath. Sure, plenty of folks had reservations about the pitching, but if the offense had won all the games where their pitchers allowed even just two runs or less (y'know, the way they were expected to by everyone who saw that lineup), then we're talking about a team that's over .500 and needs only Eduardo Rodriguez and a trade to push them over the top.
Instead, we're here on June 1st, listening to John Henry talk about just how bad this Red Sox team is. This season isn't what it's supposed to be, and everyone's to blame. But it might be that no one person is to blame so much that they should be out of a job for it.