Assuming for the sake of this article that the Mayans are wrong and the world does not end on December 21 -- it's time for Red Sox fans to turn their attention to the future of the franchise.
The 2012 team sits 5.5 games back of the final Wild Card spot, behind five teams, all of whom seem better equipped for the stretch run of the season. If the other teams in the race maintain their current level of winning, it will require 88 wins to claim the final playoff spot in the AL.
While I wasn't a math major in school, that means that the Sox, who are currently 55-58, would need to finish 33-16 the rest of the way. In other words, a team that has been unable to win half of their games thus far would need to start winning 2 out of every 3. It's just not going to happen.
So what next? What does Ben Cherington have to do between now and Opening Day that will help end what is about to become a three year playoff drought? Of course, no one knows for sure, decisions that seem like slam dunks at the time can turn out to be massive failures (I'm looking at you, Eric Gagne) while minor moves can transform an entire franchise (I give you David Ortiz). But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try and get to the bottom of what plagues this franchise. Here are the 10 things that the Sox should do to get back to being the perennial contender they were last decade:
1. Fire Bobby Valentine: I put this first, not because it is the single most important thing, but because it is one of the few that can happen immediately. Valentine was the wrong choice last off-season. Valentine, a coach 10 years removed from his last big league game, has shown incredibly poor communication skills throughout the season. From publicly questioning Kevin Youkilis' effort, to refusing the medical staff's playing time plan for Carl Crawford, to nearly causing a mutiny after sarcastically criticizing Will Middlebrooks, Valentine has consistently showed that he cannot keep clubhouse issues from reaching the media. And in this town, that's a death sentence.
2. Move Cody Ross: One of the brighter spots in an otherwise dismal season, the 31-year-old Ross has been a constant force for the Sox with a .279 Average, 17 homers and 56 RBI. Not only that, but he plays hard every day and is a positive impact in the clubhouse. So why deal him? Because he is one of the few players that have value, and he's not part of the future. When the Sox signed him, they gave him just 1 year and $3 million. That leaves contending teams salivating over the opportunity to add a middle of the line-up threat for so cheap. Ross could fetch a few good prospects and open the playing time door for Ryan Kalish, who is part of the club's future.
3. Dump Josh Beckett: It's time to go, Josh. On the heels of last season's collapse, there seemed to be no player with more to prove than Beckett following the beer and chicken fiasco, and his apparent role in it. After all, one thing that has been a staple of Beckett's career is shutting people up. Whether it's 60,000 Yankee fans in the 2003 World Series or the critics in the media following his disastrous 2010 season, Beckett has always thrived on proving people wrong...until now. The Sox former ace has answered the criticism to the tune of a 5-9 record and a 4.97 ERA, not to mention his 6.75 ERA since the All-Star break. With rumors around the trade deadline that the Braves, Dodgers and Rangers were interested, it seems clear that someone will take Beckett off the Sox' hands and it is imperative that the team allows that to happen.
4. Re-Sign David Ortiz: Give Papi 2 years at fair market value. He leads the league in OBP, SLG, and OPS, and has represented the organization as well as anyone throughout the last few seasons. There are two good seasons left in his bat.
5. No More Stop-Gaps at Shortstop: Do not bring back Mike Aviles as the starter. Do not sign a Marco Scutaro-type. Do not break the bank for a Julio Lugo. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. While I do not believe Jose Iglesias, the all-field, no-hit shortstop for the PawSox will ever be a viable major leaguer, the Sox did give the 23-year-old nearly $15 million, it's time to see what the kid can do.
6. Infuse Some Youth: This goes hand in hand with #5, but it's worth it's own section. Over the past three seasons, the Sox have rounded into an entitled, aging bunch and it's time to infuse some young guys who play hard each and every day. Not that playing hard is the only thing that matters, this is the big leagues after all and the ability to play at a high level is the most important thing. But there is something about young players and the consistent passion they exhibit that can shoot some energy into the team. Middlebrooks and Doubront were a nice start. Next season, Lavarnway, Iglesias and Kalish, among others, should make an impact.
7. Don't Ditch the Core: There are a lot of fans and media types that seem to want a complete and total re-build of the team. As frustrating and disappointing as this team has been, giving up on players like Dustin Pedroia, Adrian Gonzalez, Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz is not the right choice. Pedroia and Lester are both having the worst seasons of their respective careers but their track records and relative youth (both are 28) indicate that they will bounce back in 2013. Meanwhile Gonzalez and Buchholz are having fantastic second halves. Keep these guys.
8. Let Carl Crawford Have Tommy John Surgery: This may be the most perplexing situation on a laundry list of perplexing situations for the 2012 Red Sox. The team is hanging by a thread in the playoff race, and Crawford's UCL is hanging by a thread inside his elbow, however the team has thus far delayed Crawford from having his the damaged ligament repaired. For those unfamiliar, Tommy John surgery usually takes anywhere from 6 to 9 months to recover from for positional players. In other words, every day that the Sox wait, they are losing Crawford for a day in 2013. Considering that they still owe him over $100 million, you would think they would want to protect their investment.
9. Get Lackey Healthy and Trade Him: First thing first, nobody in their right mind is trading for John Lackey with 3 years and $31 million left on his deal before he proves himself healthy. If they would, he would be gone already. If, and it's a big if, Lackey can complete his rehab from Tommy John and prove that he's ready to pitch, he will regain some value -- not $31 million worth of value, but some value. At the very least the Sox should be able to eat some money and end the John Lackey experience. Lackey had an ERA of over 6 in 2011, constantly showed up teammates and his manager on the mound, and was a member of the now infamous beer and chicken gang. The cleansing of the clubhouse must include Lackey.
10. Who's the Boss?: The most important issue of all. Larry Lucchino has slowly but surely gained control over baseball operations, and it has not been pretty. He hired Ben Cherington but didn't allow him to pick his manager. He hired Bobby Valentine but didn't allow him to pick his coaches. Not surprisingly, this has resulted in a level of organizational chaos not seen since the Jimy Williams era. It's time John Henry steps in and shifts Larry's responsibilities back to big picture items, and away from the on-field product.
So there it is. The bottom line is that the Sox are at a crossroad, stuck in baseball purgatory, loaded with bad contracts and unable to compete. If difficult decisions aren't made this off-season, and the organization continues with its "stay the course" spiel, Sox fans may end up wishing the Mayans were right come Spring 2013.
Let us know in the comment section what you think the Sox should do to contend in 2013.