With Spring Training getting under way and my precious Terps falling off the men’s basketball radar, my mindset is starting to shift towards baseball.  Which is kind of weird – usually this happens immediately after the clock runs out on the last Patriots game of the season. After wasting a whole bunch of time thinking about this and discussing it with friends, I’ve come to the conclusion that I just have no reason to be excited about this year’s Red Sox team.

If you’re a Cubs fan or someone else tortured by their team’s lack of championships, navigate away from the page right about now. We’re about to dive into the world of a spoiled sports fan, and this isn’t a place you want to be.  For the sake of simplifying things, I won’t drag you through my “meh” attitude towards the Pats losing the Super Bowl or my strong desire for Danny Ainge to blow up the Gerieltics (I know that nickname doesn’t work, but my funny juices don’t start flowing til later in the day).  We’ll keep this to the Red Sox and how the past year or so has destroyed the potential for excitement for a fan.

1) This same team was supposed to win and didn’t. The slow start and the end-of-season collapse in 2011 don’t hurt me nearly as much as they should.  The byproduct of those events is what really kills me.  That team was supposed to win the World Series, and they couldn’t even make the playoffs.  It’s not a team built around young talent or exciting personalities like in 2007 or 2004 – this team was structured to do one thing: win baseball games.  And somehow, they found a way not to do that last year.

Yeah, they won a whole bunch of games (they won as many games as the World Series champs did during the regular season, if any of you want to be an idiot and claim they had a bad season – or worse, if any of you want to be an idiot and claim the Cardinals were the best team last season).  They were 72-37 between May and the end of August.  That’s a championship pace.  So when a team that’s pegged by most analysts to win the World Series (I know that means nothing, but just go with it) doesn’t even make the playoffs, how am I supposed to get excited about that very same team the next season?  If the 2011 Red Sox couldn’t put it all together when they had no excuses not to, what hope is there for the 2012 Red Sox?  And if they do put it together and make the playoffs, is it even that exciting?  Oh, they met their lowest expectations, and it only took them two years.  Hooray!

I can’t get excited about a team that I already know can miss its baseline expectations of “make the playoffs” with its biggest excuse being that…uhh…Dice-K was hurt? Woof.

2) Prospect City has moved elsewhere.  Not too long ago, the Red Sox had a deep and exciting farm system.  Heck, in 2010, ESPN’s Keith Law had seven Sox prospects ranked in his top 100 MLB prospects (and one more, Nick Hagadone, had just been sent to Cleveland that season with Justin Masterson in exchange for Victor Martinez).  What happened?!

Well, let’s cover the good part of what happened first.  The Sox traded the unknown, the excitement, and the potential of three very good prospects for a known MVP-caliber player in Adrian Gonzalez.  That’s a good thing.  With a team that was already structured to compete for the World Series, it’s almost a no-brainer to deal top-level prospects for the increased opportunity to win right now.  So while Casey Kelly and Anthony Rizzo could be very good major league players in a few years, it was totally reasonable to ship them off to San Diego for a big piece to the World Series puzzle.

Wait, but those are only two of those seven prospects…

Well Lars Anderson we can just presume dead.  In 2009, Law ranked Lars as the 7th best prospect in baseball due to his advanced plate presence for his age (other notables from that top 20: Matt Wieters, David Price, Jason Heyward, Neftali Feliz, Madison Bumgarner, Buster Posey, Tommy Hanson, Carlos Santana, Eric Hosmer, Andrew McCutchen – it’s not like Law doesn’t know what he’s talking about). It just never panned out forAndersonafter that (some injuries to blame, I guess?)  He’s still only 24 years old, but he hasn’t developed power and is now considered a non-prospect.

Ryan Westmoreland underwent surgery in 2010 to treat a “cavernous malformation on his brain stem.”  I’m not going into that any further.  He was on the fast track to being a major league outfielder at the time, but who knows if that can ever happen.  He’s back this spring, so maybe we’ll have a better idea of it this season.  For now though, I have zero expectations for Westmoreland.

“Ryan Kalish is going to be the Sox’ starting right fielder this season!” is what I would have written if his shoulder healed properly last season after having surgery in April.  But instead – more surgery! He should miss at least half the season, and let me just say the thought of watching Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross man right field this season in his stead doesn’t exactly get my juices flowing.

Jose Iglesias was the big story last spring for Sox prospects – a slick-fielding shortstop who already plays the position better than most major leaguers.  Too bad he can’t hit.  He was only 21 last year, but forgive me for doubting his bat after posting  a .235 batting average and .285 on-base percentage in Triple-A.

Junichi Tazawa pitched three games last year after elbow surgery.  Is he even still in the organization?  Is he a reliever now?  I have no clue, and I couldn’t really care less.  His most famous moments thus far are giving up a walk-off homerun to Alex Rodriguez in extra innings in his debut and causing a bench-clearing brawl by hitting Miguel Cabrera on the hand (and provoking the opposing pitcher to throw at Kevin Youkilis, which, of course, caused a fight). Miss you, Juni.

So there they are – the corpses of the Sox’ once fruitful farm system.  I’ll still be watching some things in the farm system this season, besides Westmoreland:  Xander Bogaerts, a 19-year-old hot-hitting shortstop; Brandon Jacobs, an Auburn football recruit who just had his first season fully dedicated to baseball and could be a big-time slugger; Anthony Ranaudo, the top pitching talent from the 2010 draft who slipped to the Sox after a forearm injury.  Ranaudo could push his way onto the roster in 2013, but that’s as close as any of them are.  Pretty tough to get excited about young guys who aren’t very well established and are that far away from the Majors.

3) Bobby Valentine is a dope. I hope you all agree with me on this one, but just in case Bobby Valentine Is an Idiotyou don’t, here’s some food for thought.

  • He’s already trying to create drama by saying Jeter was out of position on that iconic flip play from 10+ years ago that everyone knows Jeter was out of position on but nobody in the world could possibly still care about because it was an awesome play and you’re obviously insane if you still waste your time thinking about things like this.  Jeter put it pretty perfectly when asked about Valentine’s comments: “We do practice it, but not the flip home,” Jeter said. “But who cares? Why are we talking about this? He must be bored over there, huh? I don’t understand.”
    I don’t understand either, Derek. Nobody does.
  • We have to call him “Bobby V.” Why does this bother me? I don’t know him. Why do I have a nickname for him?  I think we’ve all met someone in our lives who introduces themselves, then follows it with, “but you can call me Patches (or whatever stupid nickname their friend gave them while they were getting high and watching Super Troopers for the 80th time in high school)”.  Well, this is the grown-up version of that. You don’t have a nickname yet, Patches. We didn’t give you one. You’re Bobby Valentine until we tell you otherwise.
  • No beer in the clubhouse. You serious, big guy?  You barely even know these guys yet, and you’re already making potentially major changes to their routines. There’s a pretty strong chance that Josh Beckett has been drinking in the clubhouse on non-game days since he was eight years old, and now you’re going to tell him he can’t?  Get to know the guys first, and find out what approach would get the best results from them. Maybe it’s no beer in the clubhouse. Maybe it’s some beer in the clubhouse. Maybe it’s more beer in the clubhouse. Let’s wait ‘til you step foot in the clubhouse on game day before making this call instead of imposing your own agenda to appease the media.
  • He supports the new MLB playoff format. If you’re not up to snuff, the new format adds an extra Wild Card in both leagues, then makes the two Wild Card teams in each league face off in a one-game do-or-die playoff for admission into the Divisional Series. Personally, I think it’ll be exciting and fun and blah blah blah. From a member of a baseball team though, you don’t want this at all. The only way you can support this rule, if you’re a baseball player/manager/whatever is if you think your team is going to be the second Wild Card.  So, I guess Valentine thinks the Red Sox will take the second Wild Card spot in the AL this year. Very exciting!
Editor’s Note: After a long discussion with my friend Brendan, I need to clarify this point a little. I do not think there is an advantage to the new Wild Card format for the #1 seed because with the new format, the #1 seed plays the winner of the Wild Card play-in. My thinking is that if the Wild Card winner is in fact the team with the second best record (think Sox-Yankees as an ALDS in 2004), then that’s definitely not an advantage to the #1 seed.  Now, there are plenty of ways this CAN be a good thing for the #1 seed (the other team’s rotation gets messed up, the play-in winner is the lesser of the two teams, and other such valid points brought up by Brendan), but the existence of the chance that the #1 seed’s World Series hopes decrease through this structure, to me, means they don’t get an advantage. Probability lies in their favor, but possibility is now added into the mix. The previous playoff format guaranteed that the #1 seed play a team with no better than the 3rd best record in their league in the Division Series. With the new structure, they might end up facing the second best team in the league in the Division Series.  It’s not probable that this puts them at a disadvantage, but it might – and that’s good enough for me to frown upon it.

Realistically, I see no reason the 2012 Red Sox can’t win the World Series. They have three MVP-caliber players (Ellsbury, Pedroia, Gonzalez). THREE MVP CANDIDATES!  They have two other All-Star caliber regulars in Ortiz and Youkilis. Oh, and then, if he’s healthy, they have this Carl Crawford guy, who you can stack up against any one of those guys when he’s on.  The top three in their rotation (Lester, Beckett, Buchholz) is very strong – an above average top of the rotation necessary to complement that offense and make the postseason.  The bullpen is solid, and the rest of the starting rotation and lineup are good enough for a supporting role.  I expect them to win, and I expect them to win a lot.

Their off-season moves haven’t blown anyone away, but the Sox have made some very nice additions to solidify themselves as a contender.  I just can’t get excited about them.  Valentine’s taking away their personality and making this the “Bobby V Show,” there’s no new youth to get excited about (they’ve all been here a while), and they’ve already proven they can squander high expectations without any cause.  This year feels no different than last year, and last year was totally bogus.

Maybe I’m just still sour from last season. Okay, I’m definitely still sour from last season (but I think that’s more about my nerdy half being upset about such a statistical improbability coming true).  But if virtually the same team, full of established major leaguers, couldn’t put it all together last season, why should I think they will this season?  Because of minimal roster changes?  Because the guy who managed the team to two championships in four years is gone?  Because there’s absolutely no help in the minors if a significant player gets injured? Because the new manager is already conjuring up unnecessary reasons for people to talk about the team? How about you just have people talk about the team being awesome at baseball? Let’s have the media talk about that, Bobby.

Yeah, this season is gonna be a blast.