Last July, the Red Sox were widely praised for a trade deadline deal that sent aging right-hander John Lackey, prospect Corey Littrell and $1.75 million in cash to the Cardinals for high-upside major-leaguers Joe Kelly and Allen Craig. By acquiring major-league talent in Kelly, Craig and Yoenis Cespedes by trading away Lackey and Jon Lester, Boston seemed to have bucked the trend of teams acquiring minor-league talent for veterans, and were showing that a rebuilding effort could center around players who could make an immediate major-league impact.
Flash-forward eleven months. Lackey has a 3.41 ERA in fourteen starts for the division-leading Cardinals while making $500K, and Kelly and Craig are now both in Triple-A after horrendous starts to their 2015 seasons. Kelly's 5.67 ERA is the third-worst for qualified starters in the American League this year (in front of only Jeremy Guthrie and Chris Tillman) and among the five-worst in the majors. To make things even worse, the right-hander proclaimed before the season that he would win the Cy Young award this year (via WEEI.com):
But there it was. Kelly, unannounced, strolling over to our WEEI broadcast setup during the Red Sox' Winter Weekend at Foxwoods, grabbing one of the headsets and then letting out the words, "I want your listeners to know, I’m going to win the Cy Young this year. Just letting everyone know so when I win it you heard it here first."After the radio interview, Kelly went upstairs to the media room and reiterated his stance to the assembled group of writers."Yeah, I'm going to win this year," the pitcher said when asked about his Cy Young prediction. "That's what I told the radio guys. They didn't believe me -- [stinks] to be them."
Of course, Kelly's prediction was likely a tongue-in-cheek comment at the time, but in today's world, athletes have to know that context is lost in print and that comments like Kelly's will immediately grab headlines and turn heads. Kelly, by all accounts, is a smart and social-media savvy guy, meaning that he would have had to recognize the potential for his remarks to go viral. They did, raising expectations to an even higher level for a revamped Red Sox team that was widely-predicted to be a World Series favorite before the season.
Kelly's remarks speak to a larger problem with this Red Sox team: the growing perception around baseball that the team's overestimation of its talent has led players to taking their feet off the gas pedal en route to a 32-41 record that is currently the sixth-worst in baseball.
Just last week, Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports wrote that Hanley Ramirez's antics are "irking" some of the team's veterans, leading many to believe that there is discord in Boston's clubhouse. Add that to Pablo Sandoval's Instagram controversy and David Ortiz's repeated issues with umpires and it seems, at least to this close observer, that this team thought a championship would be handed to them on a silver platter.
No, Kelly's comments weren't the end of the world back in January, but it's a pretty bad look as the right-hander takes his bus ride to Pawtucket in just the third month of this long season. In hindsight, Kelly had absolutely nothing to gain from a bold prediction at an early juncture, especially considering how he was projected to be a back-end starter for the Sox and that Felix Hernandez, Corey Kluber, Chris Archer and Chris Sale all call the American League home.
Backing up a Cy Young prediction with a 5.67 ERA and 5-9 team win-loss record in your starts has to be humbling, and it should be. Maybe this Red Sox team needs to take a lesson from its Foxborough neighbors by talking less, doing more, and eating a big slice of humble pie.