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Mudville: April 13, 2024 4:06 pm PDT

A New Curse

BY KEVIN KERNAN

Just call them the ClusterSox.

For the third straight season, the Red Sox could finish in last place in the AL East. What can go wrong, has gone wrong.

And just to be clear, according to an article from Quartz in 2018, the term “cluster’’ dates at least as far back as the Vietnam War, military slang for a doomed decision resulting from the toxic combination of too many high-ranking officers and too little boots on the ground info; and the “cluster’’ part refers to officers’ oak-leaf cluster insignia.

Essential, big decisions gone terribly wrong from the top down. And that is the Red Sox of recent vintage.

I tried to warn everyone before last season that there was nothing the Red Sox did that looked overly promising. When I was asked about the signing of Japanese outfielder Masataka Yoshida to a five-year deal in December of 2022 – a move that excited some Red Sox fans – I pointed out that scouts told me Yoshida was not as talented as the Red Sox made him about to be and please don’t get carried away, this player is not a star player.

But the Red Sox thought they knew better.

This past offseason came the signing of veteran pitcher Lucas Giolito, and scouts warned me again this would not go well; and on Tuesday the Red Sox learned that Giolito, who was supposed to be their Opening Day starter, their horse, might miss the entire season with a UCL injury and that he may have to have his second Tommy John surgery.

I could not fathom how in the world the Red Sox gave Giolito, who showed massive signs of decline last season, a two-year deal worth $38.5 million.

Lucas Giolito #54 of the Boston Red Sox warms up before a Spring Training game against the Minnesota Twins at JetBlue Park at Fenway South on February 25, 2024 in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

“A terrible signing,’’ one top talent evaluator told BallNine on Tuesday. “And I said that from Day 1. People tried to paint that as a genius move by the young GM, to unload Chris Sale and use his money to sign Giolito. And from what I’m hearing, Sale is throwing pretty good this spring for the Braves.’’

The Red Sox needed an innings eater and Giolito threw 184 innings in 2023, they boasted. The Red Sox top innings man last year was Brayan Bello with 157 innings. But I guess no one from the Red Sox noticed that Giolito was 1-5 with a 6.89 ERA after being traded to the Angels and followed that up with a 1-4 mark with a 7.04 ERA with the Guardians.

Hey, maybe his spin rate was great though, who knows what the Red Sox were looking at in their analytical view of the baseball world as new Chief Baseball Officer Craig Breslow basically told former CBO Chaim Bloom to “hold my beer.’’

I’m guessing the Red Sox were so focused on Giolito’s metrics, no one bothered to notice that he stunk his final 62 innings and that he gave up the most home runs in the American League last season with 41 over those 184 innings. But those are not the important numbers, it’s all about spin rate and velocity and who knows what.

Real numbers don’t seem to matter.

When the Red Sox traded often-injured Chris Sale to the Braves they got Vaughn Grissom back, who is supposed to be their second baseman. He’s out with a groin injury.

Just a few days ago Breslow said of this Red Sox pitching plan: “We’re trying to build out an infrastructure and trying to understand what we have with guys like Tanner Houck, and Garrett Whitlock and Josh Winckowski and Kutter Crawford.’’

When I hear comments like “trying to build out an infrastructure,’’ that is an immediate red flag.

What you should be trying to do is build a rotation and a baseball team.

But that is all part of the ridiculous corporate-speak world that baseball lives in these days. Teams continue to suffer massive pitching injuries as they build their infrastructures to nowhere. The owners fall for the BS over and over again because that’s the world they live in and so many go along with the word salad.

Perhaps what Werner meant to say is that the Red Sox were going to go “full throttle’’ over the cliff into the Atlantic Ocean. 

Here is some straight talk, forget about the 2024 season Red Sox fans, just be happy putting on your pink Red Sox cap, going to Fenway Park, enjoying your beer and lobster roll and hoping these pitchers can get the job done.

If you are keeping a financial ledger at home, the Red Sox will be paying Sale and Giolito $36.6 million this year not to pitch for them.

What a great deal for the fans and the ever-escalating price of watching baseball – at the ballpark and at home.

This is a team that has finished in last place in three of the last four years, about to be four of the last five years. It’s another Draft Pick year for the Red Sox. Maybe that is the plan, taken from the Orioles playbook. Load up on draft picks.

Alex Cora is saddled with managing this crew, good luck to him.

One of the Red Sox owners Tom Werner promised the Red Sox were going to go “full throttle’’ this past off-season in putting together a team and going after free agents.

Perhaps what Werner meant to say is that the Red Sox were going to go “full throttle’’ over the cliff into the Atlantic Ocean. That is where they are headed and for all the success the Red Sox had from 2004 to 2018 with World Series wins in ’04, ’07, ’13 and ’18, it looks like it will be a long while before they become an impactful team again in the AL East.

The Yankees can breathe a sigh of relief.

Red Sox owner John Henry does not seem all that interested in baseball these days with all the other sports entities on his plate and it also seems that Henry and Werner are not getting along like they once did when the Red Sox were winning World Championships.

Fractured ownership leads to fractured results.

In 2004 the Red Sox broke The Curse of the Bambino, this is now The Curse of John Henry.

Vaughn Grissom #5 of the Boston Red Sox takes a photo during a Spring Training team workout at JetBlue Park at Fenway South on February 22, 2024 in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

If the owner doesn’t seem to care about the Red Sox, why should the Red Sox fans care about the Red Sox? Cora is a lame duck as manager, and I don’t think that situation will age gracefully. The Red Sox figure to be running a tryout camp this 2024 season.

Pitchers Blake Snell and Jordan Montgomery remain as free agents but even one of their additions would not help much at this point – and why would either pitcher come to this team?

Why sign Montgomery or Snell when you can sign Lucas Giolito and his 4.88 ERA last season and lifetime 4.43 ERA.

The Yankees and Red Sox once had the greatest rivalry in baseball, and now that is completely gone. Both teams missed the expanded playoffs last year but at least the Yankees went out and traded for a one-year rental of superstar Juan Soto to help Aaron Judge and the offense.

Aaron Boone has one less thing to worry about with the Red Sox being dead in the Back Bay.

Here is why I’m putting this all on John Henry. He got rid of Dave Dombrowski who was the GM in 2018 when the Red Sox won the World Series – and in each of the last two years Dombrowski’s Phillies have gone deep into the playoffs. Just as important, Dombrowski has created an exciting, fan friendly team in Philadelphia. That counts for something; he has a superstar in Bryce Harper and just signed his ace Zack Wheeler to a three-year, $126 million extension.

After the 2019 season Henry hired Chaim Bloom as his Chief Baseball Officer and I panned that hiring from the start. Henry and Werner cut the payroll, which didn’t help but it didn’t work out for Bloom and so far it is not working out for Breslow  – who became CBO with Henry saying one reason Breslow was hired was “his highly strategic philosophy.’’

Don’t give me a “highly strategic philosophy,’’ give me a baseball philosophy centered on the art of winning. Stop falling for all the BS. What baseball is doing across the board is not working. They are not keeping the players healthy, especially pitchers, for all their science experiments and pitch labs.

Boston Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Craig Breslow takes to the media before a Grapefruit League Spring Training game against the Tampa Bay Rays at JetBlue Park at Fenway South on March 5, 2024 in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Maddie Malhotra/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)

They all talk about “The Process’’ yet the process isn’t working. For some reason, the Red Sox process meant getting rid of Mookie Betts, who is doing cartwheels now with the Dodgers whose top three hitters are Betts, Shohei Ohtani and Freddie Freeman.

Now that’s a process.

In 2024, keeping players healthy is more difficult than ever.

As one baseball man told BallNine on Tuesday, teams don’t “look backward to the days that players stayed healthy and on the field by going out on the field and working hard, running, stretching and developing flexible, durable strength.’’

Other injury news popped this week, just like hamstrings in the spring.

“Look at the injuries already, my gosh we are going to have a banner year,’’ the talent evaluator said. “We are a little more than a week in, we’ve played 10 games.’’

Beyond Giolito and Grissom, the Cardinals Sonny Gray is out with a hamstring injury and will not make his Opening Day start. Toronto’s Alek Manoah is dealing with soreness in his throwing shoulder. Toronto’s Kevin Gausman has general fatigue in the shoulder and discomfort, never good. Top Blue Jays prospect lefty Ricky Tiedemann is dealing with hamstring soreness. The Astros Justin Verlander, who showed up at camp two weeks behind because of a right shoulder issue, won’t have enough time to build up for the Astros by Opening Day. The Giants are facing significant pitching injuries with Tristan Beck having surgery to repair an aneurysm and is shut down for eight weeks. Sean Hjelle has an elbow sprain. Robbie Ray is working back from Tommy John surgery. Yankee reliever Tommy Kahnle has yet to pitch in a game because he is coming back from shoulder inflammation. Pirates closer David Bednar is battling soreness in his right lat and has yet to get on the mound in an exhibition game. The A’s Luis Medina was pulled from the game after a knee injury on the mound.

And there are so many others.

What’s going on?

“It’s like if anybody exerts themselves on the field, they get hurt,’’ the evaluator said.

“When I played,’’ the former pitcher explained, “in the morning we would do a team fundamental that you did at 100 percent for an hour, and then you had BP for an hour and 10 minutes. You had to shag. Then you did your running, your sit-ups and your pickups and all this other conditioning, then you went and got a cup of f—— soup and a cracker and if you were a minor leaguer, you’d have to watch the game.’’

It seems now like everyone has a fitness guru, a velocity guru and launch angle guru, yet staying healthy has never been more difficult.

Giolito felt soreness in his elbow after his last start.

Maybe these pitching nerds should get a Hawkeye for the elbow.

They talk technology all day long but nothing about cleaning up a delivery or as one former pitching coach noted, this question should be asked: “Hey, what are you doing to get your guys healthy.’’

Evidently not much.

But the pitch shaping is going great. They’ve come up with a lot of new terminology for things that have been done in the game forever.

For the Red Sox these are hard times in New England, and in a just released poll, the Red Sox continue to decline. In 2013, 33 percent of the New England fans polled, said the Red Sox were the No.1 team in New England. This year that number has declined to 19 percent. Maybe it is a small sample size.

John Henry and his Fenway Sports Group are not winning the hearts and minds of Red Sox fans – and Breslow, who revamped the Red Sox pitching development since taking over, is off to a bad start. At the time he made changes, including bringing in Kyle Boddy of Driveline fame, Breslow said,  “My honest answer is that our pitching development is lacking.’’

With the Giolito injury, Breslow and the Red Sox are going to have to lean on that pitching development even more, unless they go out and sign a free agent pitcher. The Giolito gamble has failed and now there is a huge hole in the Red Sox rotation.

Earlier in the day Tuesday when addressing reporters in Ft. Myers about the Giolito situation, Alex Cora said, “Not a good day for us.’’

Another bad day for the ClusterSox.

45+ years, columnist at NY Post for the last 23 years prior to joining BallNine. Elected to the NY Baseball Hall of Fame. Former SportsTalk Host (KFMB), ESPN’s First Take and Cold Pizza contributor. Frequent guest on radio shows and podcasts nationwide. Author of seven books. Seen in episode 10 of ESPN’s “The Last Dance” (the one with Dennis Rodman). First baseball interview he conducted was with Thurman Munson. Now you know why he is America’s Most Beloved Sportswriter.

Comments
  • Joe McIlvaine

    Kevin—Remember how Tom Werner pulled the purse strings in SD in the early 90,s when you and I were there? Wellhe’s doing it again in Boston and turning the rabid fans off! History is simply repeating itself.

    Joe McIlvaine

    March 12, 2024
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