The Red Sox’ recent spending spree tells us one of two things. Either they never really believed the rhetoric they spewed last year about not having to throw money at free agents to win, or they’re finally admitting 2013 was a fluke, not the new blueprint for long-term success.
Or maybe it’s both. Maybe after finishing dead last in the American League East two of the last three years, the Red Sox now realize their best bet is to flex their muscles on the open market and scoop up all the talent they can and hope it all somehow fits come Opening Day.
Around this time last year, a smug John Henry told anyone who’d listen how the Red
Sox don’t have to do what the Yankees do, a response to New York signing Jacoby Ellsbury, Brian McCann and Carlos Beltran in a span of weeks to boost its sagging offense. Look at our 2013 team, they said. No long-term contracts destined to drag the franchise into financial hell down the road, just small, low-risk, high-reward signings based on finding the right mix of leadership, skill and savvy. Clubhouse guys. Dirt dogs, not self-absorbed superstars who threaten to poison the clubhouse.
It appears now it was all a ruse, another marketing ploy disguised as cleverly-worded PR in order to convince fans that not spending money and not acting like the Yankees was the way to go. Had the plan worked again, it’d have been more of the same this year. Instead, the Sox bottomed out in 2014, a byproduct of baseball reality slapping them in the face after a magical season in which everything went
right, so they opened their wallets again this week in search of a quick fix to appease what is suddenly an impatient fan base no longer under the influence of the 2013 World Series Kool-Aid.
In a matter of days, the Sox signed former Giants’ third baseman Pablo Sandoval and maligned Dodgers’ shortstop Hanley Ramirez to contracts of five and four years, respectively, with a total payout of $183 million, a far cry from the bargain-basement shopping spree during the winter of 2013 and a philosophy more in line with what the Yankees tried to do last year (keep in mind New York’s strategy failed miserably; the Yankees actually scored fewer runs in 2014 and failed to make the playoffs for the second consecutive season).
Spending it if you’ve got it is never a bad thing, but the Red Sox look like a franchise unsure of what it’s long-term plan is supposed to be. The truth is the 2013 signings – guys like Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, etc. – were meant to be stop-gaps until their highly-touted farm system was ready to produce major-league talent. Turns out the minor league reinforcements were vastly overrated. Jackie
Bradley never panned out and it appears Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts could be on the move as well.
When the stop-gaps rallied around each other like Rick Vaughn and Jake Taylor in Major League and pulled off the impossible, the Sox spun their success as some kind of newfound formula for winning, as if they had suddenly reinvented the wheel despite their limitless resources and financial advantage over 95 percent of the rest of the league.
Then they failed. Again. The 2014 season was another disaster, though far different than the pitfalls of the 2012 team that never quite seemed to buy into what Bobby Valentine was selling, so they canned the manager and retooled the roster hopingthe kids at the Double- and Triple-A levels would be ready to assist by at least 2015 to avoid further angst from the fan base.
Spending all this money on Ramirez and Sandoval might wind up working. Maybe they’ll be a great fit in the clubhouse and the Sox will soar back to the top of the AL East and back into the playoff picture. On the surface, it appears they signed them based on the fact they were two of the best players available, not because they filled a particular need. The Sox now have a surplus of outfielders and DH-caliber players who might need to be shipped elsewhere, yet remain thin on pitching.
This looks eerily similar to what the Yankees did last year, but that’s no guarantee it’ll turn out the same way. All we can gather, based on what’s unfolded and what’s been said the past few years, is the Red Sox really don’t have a plan at all. Whatever works that year is the new plan, and if that fails, it’s onto Plan B, C, or D, depending on how many other blueprints get torn up along the way.
This year’s trip to the Major League equivalent of the Nordstrom Rack smells a lot like 2010 when they dumped a ton of money on Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and others, and fell apart amidst the fried chicken and beer scandal in September of 2011. Believe what the Sox are selling you at your own risk. Just don’t write it in ink.
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