Directionless Red Sox hope for addition by subtraction

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Make no mistake about it: this is a pretty nasty storm the Red Sox have had to weather.

The team has already had to use 41 players. The left fielder and the closer have missed the entire season so far. The All-Star center fielder has missed most of it. At one point, the team’s top five outfielders were all on the disabled list. Two members of the rotation are currently on the DL. The No. 4 starter and the expected eighth-inning guy both blew up. The All-Star second baseman was dealt a nasty thumb injury that limited his production. The All-Star first baseman has failed to produce.

That the Red Sox are 38-34 anyway is actually quite impressive and a testament to all of the talent on hand.

Still, if any word sums up the Boston franchise these last two years, it’s directionless. It’s constantly running through new plans, often abandoning old ones at the drop of a hat.

That’s how a team ends up paying someone to take its former All-Star third baseman and getting only a couple of question marks in return.

The Red Sox probably had no choice. Will Middlebrooks obviously needs to play regularly, which left Kevin Youkilis without a role. The offers weren’t exactly poring in, that’s for sure. Zach Stewart and Brent Lillibridge probably was the best they could do.

Still, the point is that the Red Sox left themselves with no choice yet again. It’s a recurring theme. They let the luxury tax rule their offseason, and in their attempts to save money, gave away Marco Scutaro and parted with Josh Reddick and Jed Lowrie in order to rebuild their pen.

When they let Theo Epstein go to Chicago, they did so without working out compensation beforehand. In the end, all they ended up with was a soon-to-be injured reliever in Chris Carpenter.

The Red Sox probably aren’t through backing themselves into corners. They’ll have to figure out an outfield once Carl Crawford and Jacoby Ellsbury return. The pitching staff, too, could get overcrowded in a hurry if Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz return in early July and Daniel Bard gets things turned around in Triple-A. If they fail to reach the postseason, they’ll face questions about whether they should blow up the whole team this winter or carry on with the talented but overly expensive group of stars around now.

In the meantime, they’ll just have to hope Middlebrooks keeps producing despite his troubling strikeout-to-walk ratio. They won’t get any immediate help from Stewart, who will be a part of the rotation at Triple-A Pawtucket. Lillibridge, who was hitting just .175 this season, will serve as a fifth outfielder and occasional backup for Middlebrooks.

And they’ll carry on without Youkilis. He surely wasn’t going to be happy in a backup role, and given his history, he shouldn’t have been. Youkilis is definitely past his peak, but from 2008-10, he had a three-year run as one of the AL’s top three hitters. Even last year, he was still well above average at .258/.373/.459. Odds are that he’ll be a quality regular for the White Sox, and my guess is that he’ll outhit Middlebrooks over the rest of the year, though he’ll probably be good for at least one significant injury along the way. Even so, the Red Sox will end up missing him when all is said and done.

Don’t let Rob Manfred pass the buck

Rob Manfred
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Yesterday morning, in Ken Rosenthal’s article, Rob Manfred made it pretty clear what his aim is at the moment: throw blame on the union for the sign stealing scandal getting to the place it is. It was clear in both his words and Rosenthal’s words, actually:

In fairness, Manfred was not alone in failing to see the future clearly. As far back as 2015, the Major League Baseball Players Association (MLBPA) expressed concerns to MLB about the rise of technology in the sport. The union, however, did not directly focus on the threat to the game’s integrity.

Then, in his press conference yesterday, he went farther, saying that the union refused to allow a situation in which punishment might happen, going so far as to claim that the union refused to make Astros players available for interviews without blanket immunity.

The union, both in its official statement last night and in Tony Clark’s words to Yahoo’s Hannah Keyser earlier this afternoon, is basically saying Manfred is full of it:

“We were approached with respect to their intentions to not discipline players. Our legal role and responsibility is inherent in accepting that consideration, which is what we did.”

Which is to say, it was Rob Manfred, and not the union, which started from the presumption that there was immunity for Astros players. Manfred is the one who settled on that at the outset, and he’s now trying to make it look like the union was the side that insisted on it so that people who are mad will get mad at Tony Clark for defending the indefensible as opposed to getting mad at him for creating a situation in which there was no legal way to punish Astros players.

And, as we have noted many times already, he did create that situation.

It’s undisputed that Manfred never attempted to make rules or set forth discipline for players stealing signs. Indeed, he did the opposite of that, saying over two years ago that GMs and managers, not players, would be held responsible. If he wanted to discipline players now, he’d have a big problem because he specifically excluded them from discipline then. I’d argue it was a mistake for him to do that — he should’ve said, three years ago, that everyone’s butt would be on the line if the cheating continued — but he didn’t.

Some people I’ve spoken to are taking the position that the union is still to blame here. I’m sort of at a loss as to how that could be.

It is the union’s job to protect its members from arbitrary punishment by management. It is not the union’s job to say “hey, I know our workers were off the hook here based on the specific thing you said, but maybe we should give them some retroactive punishment anyway?” If someone in charge of a union proposed that, they’d be in dereliction of their duties and could be fired and/or sued. Probably should be, actually. A lot of people might be mad about that, and I know fully well that unions aren’t popular. But then again, neither are criminal defense attorneys, and they don’t go up to prosecutors and say “well, there isn’t a law against what my client did — in fact, the governor issued an order a couple of years ago saying that what he did wasn’t prohibited — but we’re all kind of mad about it, so why don’t we work together to find a way to put him in jail, eh?” It’d be insane.

That doesn’t make anyone feel better now. The players are certainly mad, with new ones every day finding a camera to yell at over all of this. I get it. What has happened is upsetting. It’s a situation in which some members of the union are at odds with other members. It’s not an easy situation to navigate.

They should take that anger, however, and channel it into telling their leader, Tony Clark, that they don’t want this to happen again. That, to the extent Rob Manfred now, belatedly, proposes new rules and new punishments for sign-stealing or other things, he should get on board with that. They should also — after the yelling dies down — maybe think a little bit about how, if the facts were slightly different here, they would never argue that Rob Manfred should have the power to impose retroactive or other non-previously-negotiated punishment on players.

Either way, neither they nor any of the rest of us should take Manfred’s bait and try to claim that what’s happening now is the union’s fault. If, for no other reason, than because he doesn’t have much credibility when it comes to this whole scandal. Remember, he’s the guy who issued a report saying that, except for Alex Cora, it was only players involved despite knowing at the time he said it that the front office had hatched the scheme in the first place. Which, by the way, similarly sought to make the players out to be the only ones to blame while protecting people on management’s side. He’s not someone who can be trusted in any of this, frankly.

At the end of the day, this was a scheme perpetrated by both front office and uniformed personnel of the Houston Astros. To the extent nothing more can be done about that than already has been done, blame it on Rob Manfred’s failure of leadership. Not on the MLB Players Association.