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Looking Back: The Reshaping of the Red Sox

12.31.09 at 8:57 am ET
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(WEEI.com is counting down the “Top 10 Things We Couldn’t Shut Up About In 2009,” with the dramatic offseason overhaul of the Red Sox ranking at No. 4. Here is a written, visual and audio look at the team’s decision to replace Jason Bay’s middle-of-the-order thump with a club predicated on elite defense and dominant starting pitching.)

No. 10: Bruins getting bounced by the Hurricanes


No. 9: Garnett’s knee injury alters Celtics’ fate


No. 8: The drama between Crowley and Gates Jr. and No. 7: The downfall of Steve Phillips

No. 6: The Red Sox reshape at the trade deadline

No. 5: The Manny/A-Rod steroid controversies

No. 4: Goodbye, Bay; Hello, Lackey, Cameron and Scutaro

123109_redsox_ljIt shaped up as an offseason that might feature little more than a couple tweks to the status quo. Naturally, the Red Sox would re-sign Jason Bay, a hand-in-glove fit in Boston since his arrival in the deal that spelled the end of Manny Ramirez’ career as a Red Sox.

With a rotation that ran plenty deep – with returning co-aces Jon Lester and Josh Beckett flanked by Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and the emerging Clay Buchholz – the Sox, coming off another 95-win season and their sixth playoff berth in seven years – seemed like they would face little need for overhaul beyond defining the shortstop position.

The day after the season’s conclusion in a three-game sweep against the Angels, Sox G.M. Theo Epstein suggested that it would be difficult to predict the direction of the offseason. He identified defense and road performance as deficiencies that the team would like to address. At the same time, he was reluctant to say whether there would be minor or major overhauls to a 2009 roster that suffered a jarring and unexpected sweep in the Division Series.

“I think [the offseason] could go a number of different directions,” said Epstein. “I think we’re always open to change because I think you need change to improve as part of the natural cycle in baseball and in life.

“Sometimes the market doesn’t bear that out. Sometimes there aren’t the right fits, sometimes it’s not the right free agent market and sometimes you end up with more status quo than you want. If that’s the case, if we look back three or four months from now and say, ‘Wow, there weren’t major changes,’ then I think next year will be perhaps the last year of this main group of players, we have a lot of players going into contract years next year, I think it might be one more chance with this group to go out and win the whole thing.

“If we are able to make changes, maybe that transition we talked about will happen earlier than some people expected. I think it could go one of both ways. I think we have a nice set of about 10 pre-prime or prime players that we’re going to build around and eventually we’ll get more. Whether that happens this winter or in subsequent winters or when that group of really talented 18-to-20 year-olds is ready, that remains to be seen. We’re open to all possibilities. We’ll see how it develops.”

The Hot Stove season ended up proceeding in a fashion that would have been difficult to foresee, thus setting the stage for a far-reaching conversation about how to build a winning franchise.

The early stages weren’t shocking. The Sox made a move to acquire outfielder Jeremy Hermida, a player who, at 26, remains long on heretofore-unfulfilled potential, but whom the club views as a high-upside lottery ticket.

Then, after free-agent shortstop Alex Gonzalez agreed to a deal with the Blue Jays the night before Thanksgiving, the Sox were left having to make a counter-move to acquire Marco Scutaro. Of course, that was hardly a disappointment to the Sox, since the term of the contract (two years) is far short of the four-year pacts with Edgar Renteria and Julio Lugo that turned into disasters. Moreover, Scutaro – whose career path is virtually unprecedented in the post-World War II era – is almost certain to represent a significant improvement on the Sox’ 2009 productivity at shortstop.

With the shortstop position having been settled, the real haymakers of the Red Sox offseason were yet to come. From the time that Epstein had said he’d like to improve the team’s defense and road performance, Mike Lowell’s future in Boston became cloudy. Thus it came as only modestly surprising when the Sox agreed to send Lowell – and $9 million – to the Texas Rangers in exchange for potential slugger Max Ramirez at the Winter Meetings.

Though the deal was ultimately canceled due to the need for Lowell to undergo surgery to repair a damaged ligament in his right thumb, the Sox’ willingness to move on from the 2007 MVP spelled the start of a dramatic makeover.

The team and Bay had worked unsuccessfully since spring training to negotiate an extension. On Dec. 12, Bay’s agent, Joe Urbon, said that his client was “prepared to move on” after rejecting the Red Sox offer.

The claim seemed like it might be little more than posturing. But the Sox did not treat it as such. Instead, the club acted boldly, first approaching Matt Holliday to see if he would accept a five-year deal in the vicinity of $82.5 million. Told by Holliday’s agent, Scott Boras, that the left-fielder was looking for a Mark Teixeira-type deal, the Sox presented the same money and years to right-hander John Lackey.

Lackey accepted, and in something of a stunner to the baseball world – particularly after Sox manager Terry Francona had suggested that the Sox would be “uneasy” about making the commitment necessary to sign the pitcher – he received the biggest free-agent contract in club history.

With Lackey having become the Sox’ big-ticket item of the offseason, the team moved swiftly to acquire Bay’s replacement. Rather than going for another thumper, the team jumped at the possibility of signing outfielder Mike Cameron – a three-time Gold Glove winner – to a two-year, $15.5 million deal.

Thus, in one 24-hour period, the Sox had redefined themselves as a team built on the idea of elite run prevention, but that seemed likely to experience a step back offensively (albeit perhaps an exaggerated one), given the likelihood that Cameron, Scutaro and Casey Kotchman could be replacing Bay (who agreed to terms with the Mets on a four-year, $66 million deal that includes a vesting option that could push the value of the contract to approximately $80 million), Lowell and the team’s ’09 shortstop merry-go-round.

Even after the Lowell trade was canceled by the third baseman’s need to undergo surgery, the remake was complete and far-reaching. While the hot stove season is not yet over, the Sox’ bold strategy is one that will continue to be dissected for months to come.

AUDIO

Hall of Famer Peter Gammons appeared in studio on Dec. 23 to talk about the Red Sox offseason overhaul.

Curt Schilling joined the Big Show on Dec. 17 to discuss the Sox offseason moves, Lackey’s 5 year deal and Mike Cameron’s defensive ability.

Red Sox Manager Terry Francona talked with Dale & Holley on Dec. 17 about the acquisitions of Cameron and Lackey, Scutaro’s impact and his feelings on Casey Kotchman starting at first base.

John Lackey chatted with Dale and Holley on Dec. 16 in his first radio appearance as a member of the Sox. John talked about the factors that led to his signing with the Red Sox.

Mike Cameron also made his first Boston radio appearance with Dale & Holley to talk about his previous relationship with Terry Francona, his perceptions of the Sox as an opposing player, and how there is a lot more to his game than just defense.

Read More: jason bay, Jeremy Hermida, john lackey, marco scutaro
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