The Boston Red Sox came into the 2006 season a hopeful bunch. They had qualified for the postseason in 2005 but failed to win a game. The whole season felt a bit like a hangover from 2004. Curt Schilling made just 11 starts, Kevin Millar stunk, Mark Bellhorn’s productivity cratered, Keith Foulke had an ERA up around 6 and who could forget Edgar Renteria? So much seemed to go so wrong in 2005, but there they were right in the mix as always. It shouldn’t take too much to put them over the top in 2006, or so it went.
After the White Sox dismissed Boston so easily in the 2005 ALDS just one year removed from one of the great all-time postseason runs, chaos ensued. Theo Epstein left Fenway in a gorilla suit, Jed Hoyer and Ben Cherington took the reins, and then ultimately Theo returned. There was great turnover on the field. Damon left for the Yankees. Millar and Bellhorn were gone. Center was now Coco Crisp’s, first base Kevin Youkilis’s and second base Mark Loretta’s. Boston also ditched the Edgar Renteria project in favor of a defense-first tandem of Alex’s, Gonzalez and Cora. Bill Mueller was gone. And most notably, the Red Sox sent Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez to the Florida Marlins for Mike Lowell and Josh Beckett. Joining Beckett in the rotation were Schilling, Matt Clement, David Wells and Tim Wakefield.
It was a promising plan. Crisp and Loretta were both two of the more complete players at their respective positions when they arrived in Boston. According to Baseball Reference’s Wins Above Replacement, Crisp had been better than Damon and indeed the American League’s 8th best outfielder in 2004 and 2005, just his 24 and 25-year old seasons. From 2003 to 2005, by the same metric, only Marcus Giles and Luis Castillo were better than Loretta at second base in the Senior Circuit. Sure he was aging, but it was believed he would offer much-needed stability at second base. Youkilis had waited his turn and was ready for an everyday job, while Lowell was an accomplished player himself and a promising bounce-back candidate, even if billed as a necessary salary dump to make the Beckett acquisition possible. And, of course, mainstays Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz, Trot Nixon and Jason Varitek would return in place.
With these ostensible improvements to the starting nine, the Red Sox now just needed to patch up a run prevention unit that allowed 810 runs in 2005. Adding Beckett and returning a healthy Schilling seemed like a great way to achieve just that. The Red Sox had won 95 games in 2005 with their 5 leaders in Games Started Wakefield, Bronson Arroyo (who was dealt for Wily Mo Pena), Clement, Wells and Wade Miller. It seemed like the Red Sox recognized at once that they had both a base of talent coming off a 95-win season and also a need to transition if they were once again to be World Series caliber. The plan they executed before the 2006 campaign appeared to improve the team across the board and optimism reigned by the time Opening Day rolled around.
Well just about everything went wrong. Beckett got hit hard and finished the season with an ERA north of 5. Wakefield missed time, but still finished third on the team in innings pitched with 140. Clement and Wells combined for 20 bad starts. Jon Lester held his own over 15 starts and 81.1 innings but he was never really supposed to factor to the extent he did in 2006. He ended up 5th on the team in innings, and was diagnosed with cancer in September. 14 Red Sox made starts in 2006, and the bullpen ERA of 4.51 was symptomatic of a unit called upon too often.
Offensively, Loretta had the worst season of his career as a regular. Crisp OPS’d .801 in 2004 and 2005 combined, only to see that figure tumble to .702 in 2006. Nixon had a tough time staying healthy and his power stroke faded. Varitek hit worse than he had since 2000. The Alex’s hit as expected. The end result was 86 wins, a third place finish and the first time since 1997 that the Red Sox finished a season with a negative run differential.
As hopeful as the start of 2006 was, the aftermath of 2006 and the beginning of 2007 were dark days around the Red Sox.