When asked about his thought process for enthusiastically recruiting ex-teammate Justin Turner to the Red Sox this offseason, Kiké Hernandez gave an answer that rocked the Twitter accounts of thousands of Red Sox fans that were just desperate to read anything interesting about the team.

“(Turner’s) a guy that’s going to help turn around that clubhouse, man …We’re going to look a lot different this year, and we need it. I felt that we needed some guys that were not just good on the field, but had the ability to change the culture in the clubhouse. And I know for a fact that’s a guy that can do that.”

Obviously, Hernandez didn’t go into any detail regarding what was so bad about the culture in the clubhouse last season. Was he talking about the culture that comes with just knowing that it’s not going to work out that year? A culture where so many guys got injured and everyone just sat around dejected, waiting for the next good player to hit the IL?  

Or was he talking about something bigger? Something more nefarious? Something more toxic? 

It’s no secret that a lot of important Red Sox were in contract years in 2022. Several have moved on during the four and a half months since the season ended, and most of their departures were met with staunch criticism. Bogey, JD, Vazquey, Evo … even Kevin freaking Plawecki’s ride into the sunset generated some crocodile tears from the contingent of Red Sox fans that wake up in the morning scouring the internet for something to blame on Chaim Bloom, John Henry, Tom Werner, Sam Kennedy, Lebron James, Sidney Crosby, Liverpool Football Club, and everyone else even mildly associated with Boston Red Sox management. 

Few Red Sox fans gave a moment’s thought to the possibility that one or more of those dearly departed players may have had a bad attitude that could have hindered the proliferation of a positive, winning atmosphere in the locker room. Kiké’s recent remarks, however, now put a new slant on certain elements of the 2022 Red Sox season. 

Xander Bogaerts’ pending opt out was a constant topic of conversation among fans and reporters throughout the year. After Chaim Bloom assured him that he would not be traded at the deadline, X said that he felt a huge wave of relief.

Consider this: Prior to this conversation, could his anxiety and frustration over his contract status have bled into his attitude on the field and in the clubhouse?

Bogaerts’ offensive production clearly nosedived from June through August (even more so than it usually does during the summer months), although his numbers did bounce back nicely following a garbage-time hot streak long after the team was out of playoff contention. Could X really be the type of guy to slog around the locker room wearing the boo-boo face out of resentment for the front office not extending him before spring training?

JD Martinez seemed to wear his best public face leading up to the deadline. However, his comments to the media did not exactly synch up with what you would expect from one of the leaders of a team struggling to keep its head above water in a brutally tough division. Rather than giving the rah-rah, gung-ho, “it ain’t over till it’s over” type response you’d expect, Martinez pretty much just laid all the blame for the team’s recent struggles at the feet of management. 

“Everybody feels like you’re fighting for your life, fighting to keep the band together,” Martinez said. “I think that’s what has hurt us, honestly. But it is what it is.”

Pay no mind to the fact that Martinez had an abysmal 2022 by his standards, one that matched up pretty closely with the second half of his 2021 regular season. Apparently JD felt it was more important to keep the incumbent committee of oft-injured, underperforming incumbents than it was to try to improve the future of the team.  

In the waning days of the regular season, Nathan Eovaldi helped fan the flames of discontent over backup catcher Kevin Plawecki being designated for assignment, a blah transaction that should have amounted to a trash can fire on a cold night in Philly. Yet Eovaldi, along with fellow free agent Rich Hill, opted to lob a few Molotov cocktails on top of the situation until it ballooned into a forest fire that leveled a couple hundred acres.

To hell with letting Reese McGuire and Connor Wong get some more regular season innings under their belts so management can evaluate the future of the team, right? After all, as Eovaldi said, “…you want to build a championship around guys like (Plawecki). Guys who are going to do what it takes to win ballgames and do whatever they have to do to help the team win …” 

Plawecki hit .217 with a .287 slugging percentage, a .545 OPS, and a -1.2 WAR with Boston in 2022. 

Christian Vazquez was one of only two veterans with expiring contracts that seemed to have their heads on straight and say all the right things publicly last season. A veteran backstop through and through, Vazquez’ only public acknowledgements of his contract status were cries of family and pulling together as a team no matter what. Of course, he was also the only key cog to actually be traded at the deadline. 

The other key veteran who never strayed off the reservation last season? Kiké Hernandez.

Kiké had a wretched 2022 due to a hip ailment that nagged at him all season until he had it surgically repaired. But even after enduring surgery and a lengthy recovery, only to return to a failing team engulfed in upheaval, he opted to stay. It would have been simple for Hernandez to play off 2022 as an inconclusive year wrecked by injuries, then seek a new beginning elsewhere for a couple years at seven or eight million dollars per. Yet he decided to stick it out in Boston for one year at $10 million to help usher in the new regime. 

Regardless if one or all or none of those outgoing core players brought toxic energy to Fenway every night, Kiké Hernandez’ comments reverberate around New England like a gunshot fired in an industrial shipping container. After determining that the attitude in the locker room needed to change, Kiké strove to bring in guys like Justin Turner and Kenley Jansen to help him cultivate a fun, loose environment that is evidently the antithesis of the clubhouse aura from 2022. 

With these actions — acknowledging the old on-field leadership’s shortcomings while endorsing management’s movement toward the future — Hernandez has positioned himself as the guy in the Red Sox clubhouse. Bogaerts unofficially took over after Papi’s retirement and the tragic degeneration of Pedroia’s body. Now Kiké, as fervently and charismatically as ever, has planted his flag firmly into Fenway’s outfield; a lightning rod with a sick glove and a resume of late-season heroics. 

By all accounts, he’s always been the kind of teammate players love. Always happy, bristling with energy, willing to play all over the field, and great at barreling up fastballs. Alex Cora specifically targeted him in the offseason before 2021, after which Kiké established himself as an elite center fielder and enjoyed a postseason that will be remembered by Red Sox fans for quite some time. That playoff run (.408 BA, 5 HR, 9 RBI, 9 R, 1.139 OPS, a handful of postseason records) cemented Hernandez as a fan favorite in Boston. It’s also the main reason that every fan will embrace the idea of him as the new alpha dog in the locker room. 

When you think about it, he’s the only true candidate for the job. Rafael Devers hasn’t yet mastered the intricacies of the English language. Chris Sale hasn’t yet mastered the intricacies of riding a bicycle. John Schreiber has only played one above average season. Nick Pivetta is too nuts. Garrett Whitlock and Tanner Houck are too young. Alex Verdugo is too dumb. Justin Turner, Chris Martin, and Kenley Janson are too new (Christ, there are a lot of Dodgers on this team). 

Being the leadoff hitter and center fielder of a team that makes the ALCS in your first year on the job buys a considerable amount of cache with ticket buyers. Throw in the insane postseason, the dirt-doggery, and the fact that he’ll be moving from center field to shortstop, the same hallowed ground that Saint Xander just abdicated, and it almost makes too much sense. 

Kiké is the only guy on the team that Red Sox fans could forgive for admonishing the outgoing leaders. He’s still technically new to Boston, and he’s only had one strong season here. But he’s made enough noise on the field and garnered enough good will in that short time for his style of play, his charisma, and his apparent love for the team that he is, somehow, the perfect fit.

He’s John Farrell replacing Bobby Valentine in 2013. He’s Paul McCartney playing the Super Bowl halftime show the year after Janet Jackson showed off her nip to football fans of all ages.

He’s the safe choice. And he’s embracing it. 

And Red Sox fans will embrace him for it. However they feel about the departures of Bogaerts, Martinez, Vazquez, Eovaldi, and (I guess) Plawecki, they will all back Kiké Hernandez as the emotional leader of the 2023 squad.

That makes a total of one person in a leadership position at 4 Jersey Street that is universally supported by the fans. 

Hey, that’s a start. 


By Luke

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