BOSTON (AP) - When the Boston Red Sox dumped fried chicken aficionado Josh Beckett on the Dodgers along with Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford and more than $250 million in impending salaries, the message could not have been clearer if they had raised a white flag of surrender from the centerfield pole where the 2004 and `07 World Series pennants had flown.
They were giving up on 2012.
Although there were some loose ends to tie up - namely, the final three dozen meaningless games of the season - the year effectively ended on Aug. 24, when Gonzalez was scratched from the lineup of a game against the Kansas City Royals. The next day, the three high-priced but underperforming players were shipped to Los Angeles and general manager Ben Cherington explained, ``It gives us an opportunity to build the next great Red Sox team.''
Cherington's work can begin in earnest now that the regular season is over and the Red Sox have missed the playoffs for the third year in a row. And the first decision for him is whether to bring manager Bobby Valentine back for a second try after things went so miserably wrong in his first.
``Obviously it wasn't what I set out to do,'' Valentine said last week before the home finale at Fenway Park. ``When you don't accomplish what you set out to do, you don't feel like you've done a good job. Simple.''
A year after a 7-20 September cost the Red Sox a chance at the postseason, the club went 7-22 in September and October to put a punctuation mark on its worst season in almost 50 years. But unlike 2011, when the team took a nine-game lead into the final month, Boston was never competitive under Valentine.
What was supposed to be a season of celebration for Fenway's 100th anniversary was instead the worst at the ballpark since 1965. And though injuries probably doomed the Red Sox anyway, Valentine's clumsy handling of his players - and it may have just been that he was honest when no one expected it - forced him into frequent apologies that undermined his authority in the clubhouse.
``We didn't have it. That's for sure,'' Valentine said. ``I feel bad that we didn't have it.''
The Red Sox had not had an extended string of failure since owner John Henry bought the team in 2002, winning two World Series and making a two more trips to the AL championship series since then. They were poised for another playoff run in 2011, with the AL's best record on Sept. 1 before an unprecedented September collapse left them out of the postseason.
Terry Francona, who led the Red Sox to Series titles in 2004 and again in 2007, was let go after admitting that he had lost his touch in the clubhouse. To replace him, the Red Sox picked Valentine, who took the New York Mets to the 2000 World Series and won a championship in Japan but hadn't managed in the majors in 10 years.
The move was seen as an intentional and abrupt change from Francona's hands-off style, an attempt to change a culture that enabled pitchers to drink beer and eat fried chicken in the clubhouse during games on their off-nights.
On that, Valentine delivered immediately: He banned beer from the clubhouse, and didn't hesitate to criticize his own players publicly - something Francona took pains to avoid. But players bristled at the new accountability, with Kevin Youkilis objecting when Valentine said he wasn't as ``into the game'' as before and Dustin Pedroia coming to his teammate's defense, saying, ``That's not the way we go about our stuff around here.''
``He'll figure that out. The whole team is behind Youk. We have each other's backs here,'' Pedroia said. ``Maybe that works in Japan.''
Valentine spent seven seasons in Japan, winning the championship in 2005 with Chiba Lotte. But he had returned to the states and was working as an analyst for ESPN when the Red Sox went looking for a manager to shake up their complacent clubhouse.
Valentine said he was lured back into uniform by the chance to work with a star-laden roster and a payroll that virtually guaranteed that the Red Sox would be competitive.
But even before the season began, injuries began tearing that roster apart.
Crawford missed much of the season, joining pitchers John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka on the disabled list before opening day. Potential closers Andrew Bailey and Bobby Jenks had offseason surgery; Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, Clay Buchholz, Pedroia, Beckett and Youkilis also spent time on the DL.
And Valentine managed to anger - if not alienate - many of those who remained.
He took issue with Beckett playing golf two days before he was scratched with shoulder stiffness. An unknown player ratted him out after he said, ``Nice inning, kid,'' to Will Middlebrooks in what Valentine said was actually an attempt to cheer the rookie up after he committed two errors.
In July, ownership met with players to discuss Valentine but denied reports that players called for him to be fired. Two weeks later, Henry emailed reporters to say Valentine was not to blame for the team's record and said he would finish out the year; Pedroia agreed, saying, ``It's on the players.''
In August, management gave up on 2012 and unloaded several of the team's most burdensome salaries on the Dodgers. Los Angeles also missed the playoffs.
Although Cherington openly conceded the season, Valentine refused to do so. Asked during his weekly radio show if he had ``checked out,'' Valentine jokingly said he should punch the host in the nose. (He showed up for their next interview with boxing gloves.)
In mid-September, with Boston's Triple-A team in the playoffs and reinforcements scarce, Valentine called the Red Sox ``the weakest roster we've ever had in September in the history of baseball.''
Again, he was forced to backtrack.
(But, again, he was probably right.)
Ultimately, Valentine will be judged on his record.
And it was dreadful.
The Red Sox started the season 4-10 and didn't reach .500 until after Memorial Day. By the time the contenders were setting their postseason rosters for the Aug. 31 deadline, Cherington knew the Red Sox were not among them and unloaded some of the more onerous contracts on the books.
In the final weeks, the Red Sox weren't even able to play spoiler, losing 12 of 13 against Tampa Bay, Baltimore and the archrival New York Yankees.
In what may turn out to be his farewell to Boston, Valentine again pointed to the injuries that obliterated the roster but acknowledged he should have handled the setbacks differently.
If given another chance in 2013, he said, he will do better.
``When I come back next year, I think I'm prepared to handle it. Hopefully we'll have better results,'' he said on at the Fenway finale. ``Not much I would have done differently, I don't think, other than I think would have kept the beer in the clubhouse.
``I think I could have used one after a few of those games.''