As if often the case with an unpopular player who wears out his welcome in Boston, the smear campaign has already begun with players anonymously feeding behind-the-scenes anecdotes of Pierzynski’s questionable behavior to veteran beat writers, such as Pierzynski’s habit of scrolling through his smartphone in the locker room during games – you know, important stuff that almost certainly correlates to a team with the fifth-highest payroll in baseball falling 11 games below .500 before the All-Star break. If he had only had the decency to limit his transgressions to drinking, eating fried chicken and popping pills in the clubhouse instead of Tweeting, the Big, Bad Wolf of Boston might've lasted the entire season.
The Red Sox can cut all the clubhouse cancers they want and drag their names through the mud on the way out the door just to convince the pink hats this has nothing to do with the gritty, gutty dirt dogs they’ve grown to love, but dumping Pierzynski does nothing to solve this team’s most pressing issues, such as its maddening inability to hit, field or pitch.
Since returning to Fenway Park earlier this month following a 10-game road trip, the Red Sox have been shut out twice, allowed 16 runs in a game on 19 hits against six different pitchers, and have had an outfielder take a fly ball to the face, only to recover and somehow record an outfield assist in the process. Pierzynski may have been part of the problem, but no team as laughably bad as this year’s Red Sox has only one scapegoat. The problem is they can’t cut everyone, so they eliminated the most expendable piece, a declining player with a one-year contract making only $7.5 million who wasn’t going to be back next year anyway.
Seeing as though they’re suddenly willing to admit they made some mistakes this winter, they might as well dump Stephen Drew, who’s slugging a mean .238 since rejoining the team five weeks ago. Then they can blame Drew’s return to shortstop for Xander Bogaerts’ batting average plummeting from .304 earlier this season to just .237 entering Thursday since Drew’s presence forced the 20-year-old infielder to move to third base.
This isn’t the first time a sputtering team has cut a player midseason either to make an example out of that player or send a wakeup call to the rest of the team. Even the Yankees, who are still in the hunt despite multiple injuries to their pitching staff and a lineup cluttered with declining, aging vets, found their scapegoat in Alfonso Soriano, whose woeful .611 OPS earned him a permanent spot in the unemployment line. It’s just that it’s a bad precedent, or a sign of desperation, as if the team thinks one minor transaction will turn everything around and provide some beacon of hope for the remaining 24 players who’ve been lousy all year.
As bad an influence as he was both on and off the field, Pierzynski had nothing to do with Clay Buccholz’s ERA more than tripling from 1.74 last year to 6.11 entering Thursday, Dustin Pedroia’s power outage or David Ortiz’s magically disappearing on-base percentage. When he’s not busy griping about Fenway scorekeepers or analysts complaining about him getting a free pass for his alleged steroid use, the 38-year-old Ortiz is conveniently getting a free pass for his declining production despite signing a $16 million contract extension in the offseason.
When Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter told John Lackey to make sure his own “backyard is clean” following Lackey’s not-so-subtle “no comment” regarding Nelson Cruz’s 2013 suspension for steroid use, he might as well have been talking to Boston’s front office, too. Before the Red Sox make one player the poster boy for this year’s failures, they need to examine the other issues that unceremoniously dragged the defending World Series champions into the American League East basement.
That includes taking a long, hard look at their once highly-rated farm system, a rose that has lost some of its bloom with the struggles of Boegarts, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. For a team considering a multi-year extension for its 30-year-old ace Lester, who will inevitably decline within the next three years, the Red Sox have a lot of work to do to ensure Lester’s last remaining years won’t be wasted on a team in an awkward youth movement transition.
Cutting Pierzynski only scratches the surface. The Red Sox have a lot of questions to answer regarding this year’s meltdown, and that doesn’t even include whether or not to be buyers or sellers at the trade deadline. Someone other than a veteran stopgap catcher has to answer to this mess.
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