BOSTON — It was the worst season for the Red Sox in 47 years.
But it taught so many lessons.
When general manager Ben Cherington took the reins from Theo Epstein last October, he inherited a team that had collapsed down the stretch and missed the playoffs last season. Yet he famously said the team was like a car that needed only a few minor tweaks under the hood in order to run smoothly again.
Turns out, it needed far more.
And the process of remaking the roster will involve more than merely finding a replacement for manager Bobby Valentine, who was fired Friday after leading the team to a 69-93 record, its worst since 1965.
Pitching remains the top priority. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and possibly Felix Doubront will return to a rotation that posted the majors’ fourth-worst ERA, and John Lackey is expected back after missing this season while recovering from Tommy John elbow surgery. But while Cherington focused last winter on adding depth to the pitching staff, the Red Sox must find another top-of-the-rotation starter, more likely through a trade than via a weak class of free agents.
The lineup will need an infusion of power, too, especially after Adrian Gonzalez was jettisoned. And re-signing David Ortiz and Cody Ross likely won’t be enough.
“We’re nowhere where we want to be,” Cherington said. “I’ve been here 14 years, and we’ve had some highs and some lows, and this is certainly a low. I take it personally. We all take it personally. But as long as I’m here, I’ll do whatever I possibly can to help restore the team to what our ownership and fans deserve.”
Cherington maintains the backing of ownership. Although principal owner John Henry, chairman Tom Werner and president Larry Lucchino had twisted like pretzels when asked to endorse Valentine beyond 2012, they haven’t been shy about their support for Cherington, who also received praise last week from Hall of Famer Carl Yastrzemski.
But the buck stops with Cherington, and he finally has the bucks to make more impactful moves after saving a quarter-billion dollars in August in the white-flag trade of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and Josh Beckett to the Dodgers.
Across baseball, one of the burning offseason questions will be how the Red Sox will spend that money. If Cherington makes wise choices, the Sox could be next year’s version of the Baltimore Orioles, a team that went from 93 losses last season to the playoffs.
“That’s the plan,” second baseman Dustin Pedroia said. “We have the money to spend. (The front office) can do, basically, whatever they want. We want to win. We’re the Boston Red Sox. I never thought in my mind we’d lose (93) games.”
Said Cherington, “I’m confident we’re going to be better. I don’t know yet whether that’s going to be April 2013 or beyond or when, but I know we’ll be back. This team will be back.”