By Rich Levine

Okay, so Year One's a bust.

We now know that for sure.

In a way, it doesn't come as much of a surprise. I mean, we've been unimpressed by John Lackey for the better part of the last six months.

That's not to say Lackey's been awful. In fact, it's a stretch to even say that he's been bad. But, in his first season with the Sox, it goes without saying that Lackey's been average. He's had a few memorable starts like the near no-hitter in Seattle but he's never allowed us to build any consistent trust or confidence that he'll come through. He's found pockets of success, but never sustained it. He's just sort of rolled along. Not bad. Not great. Just average.

That's OK when you're Scott Atchison. Not when you're on the hook for high eight figures.

But much like last year's Celtics, with Lackey, we never felt comfortable rushing to judgment. Despite all his early-season inconsistency, we always held onto the fact that he was brought here to win in late AugustSeptember (and hopefully October). He was Schilling-lite. It didn't matter what he pitched like over the first few months if Lackey was winning meaningful games at the crucial moments, then all would be forgotten. Ridiculous amount of money well-spent.

Of course, now we can't say that. After last night's plop at the Trop, all we can say is that John Lackey's first season with the Sox is a failure.

There's no more waiting for the right time to evaluate his year, because that was it. That was the moment we'd been holding out for on the road, in prime time and Lackey with the ball and the Sox season in his hand.

That was his shot, and he didn't take it.

The funny thing is, as usual, Lackey didn't even pitch that poorly. He threw five solid innings against a very good line-up, had one rough inning and lost the game. He wasn't bad; he just wasn't good enough.

And he wasn't alone. Where was his offense, you wonder? Wasn't this more than only an important game for Lackey? Wasn't everyone's season on the line? Where's the criticism for David Ortiz and J.D. Drew going a combined 0-for-8? Or Boston's No. 1-5 batters going a combined 3-for-20? Isn't James Shields having a rockier year than Lackey? Why couldn't the Boston bats step up?

Fair questions. No doubt that everyone in the lineup (which only scored a total of nine runs in three games) deserves some heat, but when you bring in a guy for the money that the Sox did John Lackey, it's also fair to assume that when the season's on the line, three runs is enough. It doesn't matter if you're playing the '27 Yankees (which shouldn't be bad now, since they're all dead), a top pitcher in a playoff atmosphere needs that W.

Maybe you're a little more flexible if the guy has a body of work (in a Sox uniform) that you can look back on and stay optimistic, but because Lackey never truly fulfilled our expectations during the season's earlier months, he had everything riding on the home stretch. It wouldn't be enough to just pitch okay. He needed to be great. That was his penance. That's how he'd earn everyone's admiration, and really earn that cool 18 million check.

Well, maybe next year. For now, all Lackey's earned is a Nation full of concerned fans, half hoping that their 82 miilion man will turn it around next yearhalf terrified of where this team will be if he doesn't.

Rich Levine's column runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on CSNNE.com. Rich can be reached at rlevine@comcastsportsnet.com. Follow Rich on Twitter at http:twitter.comrlevine33

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

New photo surfaces of noticeably thinner Pablo Sandoval

When it comes to Pablo Sandoval and his weight, a picture is worth a thousand words.

During spring training it wasn’t a good thing. Sandoval made headlines when a number of photos revealed significant weight gain for the Red Sox third baseman.

But the last two images have been more positive for Sandoval.

In October, a noticeably thinner Sandoval was photographed at an FC Barcelona game.

On Monday, Dan Roche of WBZ tweeted a more recent picture of the new-look Sandoval.

Sandoval, 30, is entering the third season of a five-year, $95 million contract. In his lone full season in Boston, 2015, Sandoval hit .245/.292/.366 with 10 homers and 47 RBI.

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

Red Sox taking stricter luxury tax penalties into consideration this offseason

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- The newly agreed upon Major League Baseball collective bargaining agreement features higher taxes and additional penalties for exceeding the competitive balance threshold -- and don't think the Red Sox haven't noticed.

The Red Sox went over the threshold in both 2015 and 2016, and should they do so again in 2017, they would face their highest tax rate yet at 50 percent. Additionally, there are provisions that could cost a team in such a situation to forfeit draft picks as well as a reduced pool of money to sign its picks.

None of which means that the Red Sox won't definitively stay under the $195 million threshold for the upcoming season. At the same time, however, it remains a consideration, acknowledged Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski.

"You would always like to be under the CBT (competitive balance tax) if you could,'' offered Dombrowski. "And the reason why is that are penalties attached for going over, so nobody likes to (pay) penalties.

"However, the Red Sox, if you follow history, have been up-and-down, right around that number. We were over it last year and the year before that. So I would prefer (to be under in 2017). However, a little bit more driving force in that regard is that there are stricter penalties now attached to going over. And some of them involve, for the first time, differences in draft choices and sacrificing money to sign players and that type of thing. So there's a little bit more drive (to stay under).

"But I can't tell you where we're going to end up. Eventually, does it factor (in)? Yeah. But until we really get into the winter time and see where we are, will I make an unequivocal (statement about staying under the CBT)? Maybe we won't. But there are penalties that I would rather not be in position to incur.''

Dombrowski stressed that he's not under a "mandate'' from ownership to stay under the CBT.

"But I am under an awareness of the penalties,'' he said. "Last year, I would have preferred to be under, too, but it just worked for us to be above it, because we thought that would be the best way to win a championship at the time.''

He added: "I think we're going to have a good club either way.''

But it's clear that the CBT is part of the reason the Red Sox aren't being more aggressive toward some premium free agents such as first baseman/DH Edwin Encarnacion, who is said to be looking for at least a four-year deal at an annual average value of more than $20 million.

Currently, the Red Sox have nearly $150 million in guaranteed contracts for 2017, plus a handful of arbitration-eligible players, some of whom (Drew Pomeranz, Jackie Bradley Jr.) will see significant raises.

Together, with insurance premiums and others costs tallied, the Sox stand at nearly $180 million, just $15 million under the 2017 tax.

"I've said all along I've wanted to stay away from long-term contracts for hitters at this point,'' Dombrowski said of the current free agent class, "(especially) with some of the guys we have in our organization coming. I just haven't felt that that's a wise thing to do.''

The Sox saw two potential DHs come off the board over the weekend, with Carlos Beltran signing a one-year $16 million deal with Houston and Matt Holliday getting $13 million from the Yankees. Either could have filled the vacancy left by David Ortiz's retirement, but Dombrowski would also be taking on another another eight-figure salary, pushing the Sox well past the CBT.

"I figured we would wait to see what ends up taking place later on,'' said Dombrowski, "and see who's out there.''