SBD/April 1, 2013/MLB Season Preview

Bradley, Other Offseason Additions First Move In Red Sox Changing Fans' Perceptions

Bradley's talents have been widely debated in the baseball media
Red Sox LF Jackie Bradley Jr. will make his MLB debut this afternoon, and he is the "perfect antidote for the infection that’s poisoned the Sox” since September ’11, according to Dan Shaughnessy of the BOSTON GLOBE. Starting Bradley in the majors “means that unless the kid spends 20 days in the minors at some point this season, he’ll be a free agent after the 2018 season.” If the Red Sox had “waited until later this month to promote Bradley, they could have assured his place in the organization until after 2019.” But “given the Sox’ 69-93 record in 2012 (worst since 1965), and the disgruntled fan base, it would have been a public relations disaster to send Bradley to the minors.” In a “potentially dull season, Bradley gives the Sox the sizzle they’ve been seeking since NESN ratings started to plunge” in ’09 (BOSTON GLOBE, 4/1). But Yahoo Sports' Jeff Passan said that Bradley "has been oversold ... as a super-duper-star when the talent is just not quite there for that.” He said, "I think he’s going to be a really good everyday player. I just hope he doesn’t fall victim to the media hype that can ensconce a player in Boston and New York when he arrives to great fanfare as the savior. Jackie Bradley is not the savior. Everyone needs to get that through their head: Jackie Bradley is not the savior. He is not going to turn this team from a 75-win team into an 85-win team" ("Dennis & Callahan," WEEI, 4/1). Meanwhile, in Boston, Michael Silverman reports agent Scott Boras, who reps Bradley, “sounds as if he accepted the likelihood the Sox will be creative enough to figure out a way for Bradley to get the 20 days on a minor league stint this year so that free agency occurs after 2019.” Boras: “Clubs put themselves in a position to make decisions based on economic concerns instead of performance. Every boundary becomes the focus of strategic decisions. Every team does it. I don’t think it’s necessarily in the best interests of baseball. ... But I suppose the argument could be made that that decision is in the best interest of a team, long term” (BOSTON HERALD, 3/30).

NICE GUYS FINISH LAST? In Boston, Christopher Gasper noted the Red Sox rarely have been “this disregarded and disliked" in their home town, and the ‘13 team is “carrying the considerable baggage of their deplorable predecessors.” But while fans were “seething, the Red Sox have actually constructed a likeable, rootable team.” This year’s team is “professional, accommodating, and amicable, capable of not only winning games but winning back hearts and minds.” Red Sox GM Ben Cherington “knew his clubhouse needed an extreme personality makeover.” That as much as “raw numbers drove the decisions to bring in players” like C David Ross, CF Shane Victorino, P Ryan Dempster and LF Jonny Gomes (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/31). ESPN’s Manny Acta said, “They brought in nothing but high-character guys. … The whole bad atmosphere they’ve had the last couple years is going to be out of the way” (“Baseball Tonight,” ESPN, 4/1). In Boston, John Tomase writes the Red Sox have “very quietly begun making the changes" beyond hiring manager John Farrell that “suggest the darkest days are over.” The clubhouse is “already a much better place" thanks to newcomers with "no ties to last year’s horror.” It has “become so easy to rip the Red Sox over the last year and a half that it’s almost counterintuitive to feel anything positive.” The Red Sox have “no one but themselves to blame, thanks to poor play on the field, entitled behavior off of it, and an ownership group that probably crossed the line into tackiness with every brick, Beanie Baby, and Red Sox Nation membership it has sold since 2007.” But here is “a prediction: When this season ends, you won’t hate the Red Sox anymore” (BOSTON HERALD, 4/1). Tomase writes the “hope is that the new faces inject a new life and attitude into a moribund franchise, with the resulting harmony reflected in the standings.” The “early returns this spring were certainly encouraging, with the clubhouse giving off a welcoming vibe for the first time since the days of” Pedro Martinez, David Ortiz and Kevin Millar (BOSTON HERALD, 4/1).However, the GLOBE's Shaughnessy wrote, “I hate to break it to everybody, but chemistry in a baseball clubhouse is way overrated.” Winning “requires talent, pitching, and three-run homers” (BOSTON GLOBE, 3/31).

CULTURE CHANGE NEEDED
: In Providence, Bill Reynolds writes there is “a different vibe” about the Red Sox, the feeling that "something got lost, something as important as the affection of what’s arguably the best fan base in sport.” Maybe it is “simply inevitable, the reality of two disappointing seasons in a row.” But there is “little question that for the past two years the Red Sox have been an unlikable team.” It also is the “perception that for the past two years the Red Sox have failed the popularity test.” Those issues are “what we have here now with the Red Sox, a team that has managed to disappoint its huge fan base, a team that has to earn our affection back.” That “will be the real work of this Red Sox season, at least in the beginning.” The team “has to prove to us that it’s worth rooting for, worth watching, worth caring about” (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 4/1). Also in Providence, Tim Britton writes the Red Sox brand “has been damaged.” Red Sox COO Sam Kennedy said, “We have a very good sense of how people are feeling about the club day in and day out. It can change very quickly. … It’s our responsibility to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to earn that good reputation” (PROVIDENCE JOURNAL, 4/1).

EMBRACING THE PAST: In Boston, Scott Lauber writes the Red Sox “always have been mindful of keeping former players involved in the organization, especially during spring training.” Johnny Pesky was “a mainstay, almost until his death last year,” while Jim Rice, Luis Tiant, Dwight Evans, Tommy Harper, Frank Malzone and Carl Yastrzemski “spend time in Fort Myers each year.” But the “alumni influence only has gotten more pronounced, with Martinez and longtime catcher Jason Varitek recently taking positions” as special assistants to Cherington. Tim Wakefield “dropped by spring training for a few days to work with” P Steven Wright, and Mike Lowell “made a cameo to offer defensive pointers” to 3B Will Middlebrooks. The idea is to “surround the current players with as much experience as possible.” And the “mojo created by the presence of a few World Series champions doesn’t hurt either” (BOSTON HERALD, 4/1).
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