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Red Sox underwent major changes in 2012

BOSTON -- The cloud that hovered over the Red Sox throughout September 2011 and into the offseason was supposed to be lifted with the rebirth of another season. But in the cruelest twist of fate, the '12 season felt like a six-month continuation of the end of '11.

There was a change in the front office (Ben Cherington taking over for his longtime boss Theo Epstein) and in the dugout (Bobby Valentine replacing Terry Francona), but the sense of rebirth the club hoped for never materialized. It turns out that a season-opening 1-5 road trip was a tone-setter for what would follow.

Following a 69-93 season -- Boston's worst finish since 1965 -- Valentine was relieved of his duties.

Perhaps one prolonged winning streak could have improved the vibe around the team. Sadly, there never was one.

By Aug. 25, Cherington felt he had no choice but to drastically change the core of the team and, in essence, start playing for the future.

In perhaps the boldest waiver period trade in baseball history, the Red Sox sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Dodgers for four Minor League prospects.

"Yeah, you can't take it in a negative way," said right-hander Clay Buchholz. "I think this organization is trying to take a step, make a couple changes that they think need to be made. That was the starting point."

The trade alleviated more than $250 million in salary commitments, while also changing the dynamic of the team.

For whatever reason, Gonzalez and Crawford -- the ballyhooed acquisitions of December 2010 -- couldn't seem to embrace the fish-bowl culture that comes with playing baseball in Boston. Beckett, who once thrived on the big stage, became a polarizing figure.

Beckett was once a beloved postseason hero, but Red Sox fans turned on him, viewing him as the poster child for the beer-and-fried-chicken atmosphere that engulfed the clubhouse during the '11 collapse.

If Beckett had pitched well, he might have been able to shift the perception of him. Instead, he responded with a mediocre season that included health problems.

"It was a large enough sample performance going back to last year that we felt like, in order to be the team that we want to be on the field, we needed to make more than cosmetic changes," Cherington said. "So as we look forward to this offseason, we felt like the opportunity to build that we need, that the fans deserve that we want, required more of a bold move to give us an opportunity to really reshape the roster, reshape the team. It was a difficult thing to do, to trade away four players like this."

Record: 69-93, 26-46 in the American League East

Defining moment: After the Red Sox spent weeks piecing together the pitching staff and figuring out who fit best in which roles, closer Andrew Bailey underwent right thumb surgery the day before the season started. Alfredo Aceves was thrust into the ninth-inning role, one that he was entirely unfamiliar with. And he faltered badly in two of the first three games, as Boston opened the season by being swept in Detroit. In hindsight, this was an omen of how things were going to go the rest of the way.

What went right: Will Middlebrooks was summoned to Boston on May 2, when Kevin Youkilis was sidelined with back problems. The highly touted prospect proved immediately he was ready for the Major Leagues and became one of the stories of the season, until he broke his right wrist in Cleveland. Middlebrooks made Youkilis expendable, and the latter was dealt to the White Sox in June. ... Though he had a prolonged late-season slump, lefty Felix Doubront showed enough good things to make you think he can be a member of Boston's rotation in the coming years. ... Pedro Ciriaco, relegated almost exclusively to the Minor Leagues for several years, became an invaluable and versatile member of the Red Sox. ... With the Red Sox falling out of contention, prospects Ryan Lavarnway and Jose Iglesias got the chance to get regular playing time in September. ... After a woeful opening month, Buchholz bounced back strong to be the ace of the pitching staff.

What went wrong: Injuries, injuries and more injuries. Bailey's was first. The good vibes of the home opener were overshadowed by center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury separating his right shoulder. He would be lost for three months. ... Most painful was the right Achilles injury to David Ortiz, who would play just one game for the Red Sox after July 16. ... The starting rotation performed well below expectations, and Jon Lester didn't duplicate his dominance of years past. ... Aceves got into a nice rhythm as the closer for more than three months, but he imploded in mid-August and never recovered. His behavior also became an issue, creating a debate about whether he will be retained for next season. ... Daniel Bard's transition to the starting rotation failed so miserably that he was sent back to Triple-A in early June, and he remained there for nearly three months. Bard's confidence suffered to the point that he completely lost his command, and a return engagement to the bullpen didn't work well either.

Biggest surprise: That the Red Sox didn't even do so much as contend for a postseason berth. Nobody could have predicted that at the start of the season. Cherington will spend the offseason trying to put together a team that is far more representative of what Boston fans are used to. He has promised to make disciplined decisions while putting together the roster for 2013 and beyond.

Boston Red Sox, Andrew Bailey, Daniel Bard, Clay Buchholz, Pedro Ciriaco, Felix Doubront, Jacoby Ellsbury, Ryan Lavarnway, Will Middlebrooks, David Ortiz