McAdam: It could be a Field of Dreams again

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McAdam: It could be a Field of Dreams again

BOSTON -- Leaving behind the obvious question of "Why did the Red Sox pick the eighth anniversary to celebrate the virtues of the 2004 championship team?'' there were another couple of reasons to question the wisdom of Tuesday's on-field pregame ceremony.

First, the presence of the 2004 club was a stark reminder of how things used to be at Fenway, when baseball was fun, the players were likeable and winning was norm.

Never mind the 86-year gap that was erased when the Sox finally won it all; the eight years that have passed since the first of two 21st-century titles now seem like a lifetime ago.

Secondly, the presence of the '04 team is a reminder of the value of "team.''

Sure, that Red Sox team had its share of superstars, players big enough to be known by one name: Nomar, Pedro and Manny included. But there were important pieces, too. What made the 2004 team more successful than past Red Sox clubs was the mix of All-Stars and role players.

Without discounting the contributions of big-name acquisitions such as Curt Schilling and Keith Foulke, there was the undeniable input of lesser lights such as Bill Mueller, Mark Bellhorn, Mike Timlin and Kevin Millar.

Beyond his success at drafting and developing, it could be argued that Theo Epstein's real talent was finding genuine value in the free-agent market.

On the field Tuesday night, then, was a blueprint which the Red Sox can use to dig themselves out of their current mess. To say nothing of serving as a reminder that the road back to respectability and, eventually, contention, may not be as long and winding as some have forecast.

In 2001, recall, the Red Sox were a mess. Jimy Williams was fired in August, replaced by Joe Kerrigan, leading to a disastrous final six weeks in which the Red Sox splintered, tripped and fell. The same team which was a wild-card contender in midseason embarrassed itself in the second half, both with its play and off-field problems.

Sound familiar?

And yet, two years later, the Red Sox were in the American League Championship Series. A year after that, they were the champions of baseball.

Epstein himself has famously cited "the Monster'' -- the internal, self-generated pressure to sign stars in order to make the Sox more marketable -- as part of the team's downfall. But a less-publicized change of philosophy also contributed to the downward spiral.

Worried that the "Cowboy Up'' and "Idiot" personas were overtaking the clubhouse, the Red Sox made a conscious decision to avoid players with personality and instead focused on those whose behavior was deemed more "professional.'' The latter, it was argued, wouldn't be distractions and could be more effectively managed over the course of a long season.

Thus, out went Johnny Damon, Millar and Martinez. In came the likes of Carl Crawford
and Adrian Gonzalez, who came to view the game dispassionately and seemed overwhelmed by the Boston environment.

While the Red Sox wait for their best prospects (Matt Barnes, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr.) to arrive in 2014, they'd do well to remember that character and personality count for something.

Signing someone like outfielder Torii Hunter to a two-year deal could do wonders for the clubhouse. Hunter is a respected leader, a sunny presence and, not incidentally, a close friend of David Ortiz. Though he lacks a championship on his resume, Hunter is no stranger to winning: he's taken part in the postseason six times and counting.

Eight years removed from the 2004 World Series, the camaraderie and joyfulness with which those Red Sox teammates regarded one another was on display at Fenway Tuesday night. It helps that they won, of course -- few losing teams are happy teams.

But their obvious bonhomie is a reminder that baseball can be fun, an element not enough found at Fenway this season.

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

Are Red Sox entering spring training with fewer questions than ever?

BOSTON -- Every year it seems like there are major issues or question marks to start spring training where the answers are up in the air.

In 2015, the Red Sox lacked an ace, had Hanley Ramirez moving to left field and Pablo Sandoval coming to town.

In 2016, Ramirez was moving back to the infield, but at a new position, and his bat was in question. Sandoval was coming off a year where he couldn’t hit his weight (he hit .245 and he last weighed in at 255 pounds). How would the starting rotation look after David Price?

This year, there seem to be three questions, but in a way, they’ve already been answered.

How will the Red Sox make up for David Ortiz’s absence?

Well, for one, the Red Sox have three Cy Young-caliber starting pitchers (Price, Chris Sale and Rick Porcello) in their rotation.

And two, Hanley Ramirez is coming off a career year with his highest career output in RBI (111) and second-highest home run total (30). And while Mitch Moreland isn’t the greatest hitter, he’s good for 20 or more home runs. Plus, it seems he’s holding a spot for a certain Red Sox prospect who’s bouncing back well from an injury.

 

Will Sandoval earn the starting third base job back?

The weight loss is a good sign, not only for the physical reasons, but it shows he’s mentally committed to being better.

However, that doesn’t guarantee he gets his job back.

“I’m not going to say [third base] resolved itself,” John Farrell told CSNNE.com, “but you know Panda’s done a very good job of committing to get himself in better shape and we’re looking forward to seeing that play to in spring training.”

Even if Panda can’t put it all together, Farrell told reporters before Thursday’s BBWAA dinner, both Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge would be competing for the job as well.

Holt as plan B -- in the infield? Who wouldn’t take that?

Who’s going to start at catcher?

Sandy Leon, Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart each have their pros an cons.

Leon did it all last year, but went from hitting .383 in his first 39 games to .242 in his last 39.

Vazquez has Ivan Rodriguez-esque abilities behind the plate, but couldn’t keep the staff under control last year and cannot hit.

Swihart, who turns 25 April 3, is the youngest of the three, has the most potential at the plate, but is far and away the worst of the three defensively at the most important defensive position -- excluding pitcher -- on the field.

They all have their drawbacks, but they’ve all shown at some point why they can be the Red Sox starting catcher in the present and future.

Everywhere else, the Red Sox seem to be in a comfortable position as pitchers and catchers reporting to camp draws ever nearer.

“I think the fact that we’ve got veteran players that have done a great job in staying healthy [and] young players that are getting more establishing in their return, we’re in a pretty good place in terms of the overall status of our position player group,” Farrell told CSNNE.com.

And it seems some players are confident in the team’s options as they ready for camp.

“We’re looking good in a lot of areas,” shortstop Xander Bogaerts told CSNNE.com. “Especially the pitching staff, [since] we just got Chris Sale one of the best in the game.”

“Pablo’s definitely going to bounce back, especially with the weight he’s lost."

Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

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Francona, Epstein receive grand ovations at BBWAA dinner

BOSTON -- “I didn’t feel that love after I made a pitching change in the sixth inning,” Terry Francona said after a 45-second standing ovation from Boston fans upon receiving the MLB Manager of the Year award from the BBWAA Thursday.

It’s without question the love for Francona runs deep in the city. Why wouldn’t it? He was the leader in breaking the 86-year old curse, and wound up winning another World Series title for Boston three years later.

Actually, he was more of a co-leader, working alongside the same person who won the MLB Executive of the Year honors from the BBWAA for 2016.

Theo Epstein -- who received an ovation 17 seconds shorter than Francona, but who’s counting -- reminisced about the Red Sox ownership group that took a chance on a young kid who wasn’t necessarily the ideal candidate to take over as GM of a team, but now that’s helped him build the Chicago Cubs into a winning franchise and establish a great working environment.

This October marks 13 years since the ’04 championship, 10 years since ’07 and six years since the pair left Boston. Without question they’ve left their mark on the city and forever changed Red Sox baseball.

And while the fans showed their undying gratitude for Francona with an ovation almost as long as his acceptance speech, the Indians manager recognized the favor the current Red Sox brass has done for him.

“I’d like to thank Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox for getting Chris Sale the hell out of the Central Division,” Francona said.