Wednesday, March 20, 2013

For the Red Sox, it's time to "Cowboy Up"
Red Sox manager John Farrell (AP)


      That's the number of playoff wins the Boston Red Sox have since 2008. 

      In a city that lives and dies by their beloved baseball team, the Fenway Faithful are clinging on to any last hopes they have of the Red Sox becoming not only an elite team, but a "likeable" group that they once had. For a better part of the decade, the Red Sox were the team to beat. They won two World Series in four years, they competed for a division title every year, and there was limited drama surrounding the team. Since 2008? It's been the complete opposite in the Dirty Water. 

      From the 2011 September collapse, to the horrific Bobby Valentine experiment, the Sox have lost their identity. They're no longer the "blue collar" ball players that Bostonians connect with so well. After the 2007 World Series championship, the Sox organization tried to become someone that they're not- the New York Yankees. They adopted their most hated rivals way of doing business by the owners handing out blank checks to Theo Epstein, where he took "undisciplined spending" to new heights.

      Instead of sticking to their roots of blue collar, "Cowboy Up" type of players, the Red Sox front office decided to bring in "sexy" players in hopes of creating a dynasty and increasing revenue. While they assembled a team that looked great on paper, what truly mattered was how the team looked in the clubhouse. Were they actually a team or just a collection of high priced, self centered individuals? I would argue the latter.

       This years club has the unfortunate yet exciting challenge of gaining the respect back from a depleted fan base. With just under two weeks left before Opening Day, the Red Sox have some final decisions to make, most importantly on what to do with the Man, the Myth, and the Legend, Jackie Bradley Jr.
       At a time where young talent is at a premium in Major League Baseball, the Boston Red Sox have an opportunity to jump on the bandwagon with Bradley Jr. From the likes of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, and Manny Machado, baseball has seen young players flourish in the game over the past few years. There aren't many things more exciting for an organization and a fan base than to see one of your young prospects tear it up in the big leagues, which is exactly what Bradley is capable of doing.
          Bradley is having one of the most impressive springs in all of baseball hitting at a sizzling .439 mark with a .561 SLG%. Batting averages can be deceiving at times, especially in the spring, but with Bradley, there is nothing deceiving about his numbers. You see some players batting .500 or better on the stat sheet, but don't realize that it's only a small sample size. Those players have only had two or three at-bats where with Bradley, he has the third most at-bats on the team with 41.

Jackie Bradley Jr. sliding into third (Photo credit: Matt Stone)

      What does this mean? He's not a fluke. It's not luck. He hasn't just had a few solid games to get his average to where it is. He's been doing it throughout the entire spring. He's a legit Major Leaguer who should be on the Opening Day roster for the Boston Red Sox.

      Ben Cherington and Co. have a tough decision to make with their young star. Will he start the year in the minors, or will he be on the Major League roster on day one? If      Bradley makes the club right out of spring training, he would become a free agent after the 2018 season. However, if he spends the first 20 days of the season in the minors, Bradley won't become a free agent until 2019. The Red Sox should not be worried about when his free agent clock starts. They are the Boston Red Sox and have one of the top five payrolls in baseball. Worrying about when he becomes a free agent should not be a factor in deciding whether he should make the team. The bottom line is, if Jackie Bradley Jr. is one of your top eight position players (which he has proven to be), then he should be on the field. It's not rocket science. The best players should play, and he is one of the most talented players the Sox have right now, with a seemingly unlimited up side.

        Due to Bradley's stellar performance at the plate, his defensive ability has been overlooked at times where he is an outstanding outfielder. He has a strong arm, gets great jumps on the ball, and has impeccable instincts. He's played a total of 110 innings defensively with 98 in center field, and 12 in right. Everybody knows (at least for now) that center field belongs to Jacoby Ellsbury, but some scouts have mentioned that an outfield trio of Bradley, Ellsbury, and Victorino could be the best defensive outfield in the league. With David Ortiz out for at least the first month of the season, the Red Sox could slip Jonny Gomes into the DH spot, which would compensate for Gomes' defensive woes that everyone's been worried about. 

       Here's something to think about if you're a Red Sox fan: after not winning a playoff game since 2008, and coming off of a 69 win circus-like season in 2012, are the Red Sox in any position to keep Jackie Bradley Jr. off the Fenway grass? Bradley is exactly what this organization needs. He's a young, energetic, talented player who would bring excitement back to the team and rejuvenate "The Nation."

       The 2013 Boston Red Sox have an opportunity to do something pretty special. The expectations are lower than normal, but the ceiling for success is about as high as it's ever been. Coming off of one of the worst seasons in the teams history, just sneaking into a wild card spot would bring the city of Boston back to life.  If all 25 guys are on the same page, watch out for a fun, enjoyable, and winning baseball club.


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