BOSTON -- Let me be the first to make this prediction: The Red Sox will be in the playoffs in 2012. And it would not shock me if they won it all.
If I'm wrong, I'll walk from Fenway Park to my hometown of Lunenburg, a stroll of 45 miles or so, wearing a T-shirt that reads, "I'm the Idiot Who Picked the Red Sox.'' Click and save.
Sweep away the chicken bones, recycle the beer cans and fire up the treadmill. Bid adieu to Tito and Theo, make way for Ben Cherington and a TBA manager, relocate John Lackey in the witness protection program, and tell the "team sources" in the executive suite to put away the sharp knives and clean up the blood they've left behind.
The next time Sox players are invited onto John Henry's yacht, it will be a victory cruise (headphones optional).
Lost in the shock, awe, righteous anger, disgust, contempt and nonstop harpooning of the Red Sox in these past few nausea-inducing days is this: The core of a very good baseball team remains. I know, that's hard to swallow right about now, but believe your lying eyes: The team that went 81-42 from the time it opened 2-10 until it collapsed in September was no mirage.
And the 2012 edition, playing in the 100th-anniversary year of Fenway Park, has a chance to be as good, or better.
Here's what the Red Sox do to make things right:
1. Red Sox owners buy a full-page ad in the Boston Globe, the same instrument they used anonymously to shred the reputation of outgoing manager Terry Francona, and publish an apology to their fans, signed by all three owners, for allowing the franchise to implode on their watch, both on and off the field. They've taken many bows, and rightfully so, for all the good they've done in this town, winning two World Series, transforming Fenway Park and playing a vital role in community service, but they need to fix this, and fast, or risk throwing away the legacy they so painstakingly worked to create.
For good measure, CEO Larry Lucchino should schedule one of those round-table discussions of which he is so fond, televise it on NESN, and have Josh Beckett and Jon Lester sit down with a group of informed fans (I'm sure the Sons of Sam Horn would happily round up a representative crew) and answer to their conduct in September. Light refreshments only.
2. Make every effort to sign Jacoby Ellsbury to a multiyear contract extension. He's a Scott Boras client, so it will be tough, but Ellsbury clearly has taken the next step to superstar level, the fans love him and he has the potential to be face-of-the-franchise material. And if the Sox succeed in locking him up long term, the way they did Lester, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, call in Ellsbury and remind him that when he was younger, he was a leader on every team on which he played and he was proud of that fact. Urge him to step up and take a similar role on this team rather than retreating inward. He has the skill set to do so.
3. Squash any talk of trading Beckett, who had a terrific season until the last month. One of the stars of this October's postseason is Miguel Cabrera, who drank the Tigers out of a playoff spot a couple of years ago, then was arrested on a DUI charge en route to spring training this year. Cabrera straightened out his act and had an MVP-caliber season.
Beckett, whose transgressions register on a far lesser scale, clearly took advantage of the trust Francona placed in him, but he is not beyond redemption. Beckett is 31, a new father and a man eminently capable of reclaiming his role as a force for good among the starting pitchers. I'm betting on Beckett, although I might advise the Sox to do nightly drive-bys of the Chick-fil-A in Fort Myers, Fla., to make sure he remains on the straight and narrow.
4. One of the first things the new manager should do is call Carl Crawford, introduce himself (if the Sox name Rays bench coach Dave Martinez, no introduction will be necessary), and tell him that he will be batting No. 2 in the order from the first day of exhibition games and that won't change come hell or the first 0-for-15. The new manager also should remind Crawford that the left fielder isn't the new guy on the block anymore, and if he wants to get in somebody's face the way he did with Pat Burrell on the Rays two years ago, don't think twice about it. Crawford will have a bounce-back season: Book it.
Pedroia? Bat him third, behind lefties Ellsbury and Crawford, and ahead of left-handed slugger Adrian Gonzalez, who is being ridiculously targeted as a problem on this team after a season in which he hit .338 with a weak shoulder. He'll have a full offseason to work out the shoulder this winter, so you can add 10 to 15 home runs to the total of 27 he hit this past season. Gonzalez is a tremendous gamer, not a malcontent, and should be regarded as such.
5. Trade Lackey, of course. There have already been rumblings out of San Diego that the Padres might be willing to take him and reunite him with manager Bud Black, his pitching coach in Anaheim. Given the airplane-hangar dimensions of Petco Park, Lackey, a fly ball pitcher, might actually win some games there, especially in the offensively challenged National League West. The Sox still owe him $45 million, but the Padres were willing to pay just less than $5 million for Jon Garland when nobody else was interested, he gave them a good year, and maybe they'd be willing to pay $5 million a year for Lackey. Or perhaps they'd be willing to move salary in switch-hitting third baseman Chase Headley, who would give the Sox some insurance in case Youkilis can't play third base every day.
6. Make Daniel Bard a starting pitcher. And either re-sign Jonathan Papelbon, or dip into what is a buyers' market for closers, and for the money it would take to re-sign Pap, sign two guys, such as Ryan Madson and Heath Bell. With Alfredo Aceves, that would make the Sox very strong from the seventh inning on, and Kyle Weiland, Franklin Morales, rookie Alex Wilson and perhaps even Bobby Jenks should add bullpen depth.
With Bard joining Beckett-Lester-Clay Buchholz, that gives the Sox a strong starting quartet, and patch and fill the No. 5 slot with Felix Doubront (admonishing him to show up in camp in shape this year or else) and a couple of cheap-to-sign veterans.
8. Bring Ryan Lavarnway to camp as one of your two catchers with Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who ran out of gas at the end of the season but showed great improvement, especially defensively. Lavarnway has a chance to be the big right-handed bat the Sox were missing this past season.
9. Decide whether Youkilis, who will be 33 in March, can stay healthy at third base after years of taking a physical pounding. That could affect the team's decision to re-sign David Ortiz as DH. If you can't be sure on Youkilis, make a play for another third baseman (David Wright) and let Ortiz walk. That's a tough one, although Ortiz might have made it a bit easier when he suggested he'd be open to wearing pinstripes next season.
10. And if you have another $100 million to $140 million or so lying around and want to make a big splash, take a run at free agent shortstop Jose Reyes, the type of move that could keep that sellout streak alive.
Do some or all of these things, and this team will be playing in October. Otherwise, I'm hitting the pavement.
Gordon Edes covers the Red Sox for ESPNBoston.com.