Get smart: Reasons why Sox fans should move back from the ledge

August 10th, 2006 → 8:58 am @ // 23 Comments

The Red Sox have lost four games in a row, two to the Tampa Bay Devil Rays and two to the Kansas City Royals. Those teams have a combined record of 87-141; their combined payrolls are $83 million, compared to $120 million for the Red Sox. This is pathetic. Despicable. Unacceptable. Right?

Wrong. Here’s why.

***

Theo Epstein’s resignation last October was — and usually is — portrayed as a result of a personality clash with team president and CEO Larry Lucchino. As I detail in Feeding the Monster, personal animosity had something to do with what happened, but just as important was Epstein’s frustration with the PR approach of the team. Epstein — and Lucchino and John Henry and Tom Werner and everyone associated with the team — is thankful that the Red Sox are successful enough financially to allow them to compete with the Yankees even though Boston’s payroll is only about 63 percent of New York’s. (In percentage terms, this is roughly equal to the Tigers’ payroll in relation to the Yankees’. In pure dollars, the difference between New York’s and Boston’s payrolls is more or less the same as the difference between the Red Sox’s and the Royals’ or the Pirates’.)

I’m sure some folks will say that that’s exactly the point: the Tigers, with an $82 million payroll, have 11 more wins than the Red Sox, as well as the best record in baseball. But 2006 will be the Tigers’ first winning record in well over a decade; twice in the past five years, Detroit has lost more 100 games. If that happened in Boston, there’d be riots in the streets.

Epstein and the Sox’s baseball operations crew have focused, over the last several years, on developing the team’s minor league talent. That’s meant not only holding on to prospects but teaching developing players how to deal with success and failure, how to handle the media, and how to develop (and maintain) good working habits. “We’re going to need a lot of patience,” Epstein told a meeting of the team’s senior staff last October, “because there’s going to be a lot of failure. It could get rough.” Epstein warned about telling fans the Red Sox were an “uber-team.” “Sooner or later we might need to take half a step backward in return for a step forward. … What if we win 85 games [in 2006]? We’re bringing up some young players that are going to be better in ’07 than they will be next year. And they’ll probably be even better than that in ’08.”

Right now, the Red Sox have three players — Curt Schilling, Manny Ramirez, and Jason Varitek — whose combined salaries ($41 million) is greater than the payrolls of the Colorado Rockies, the the Devil Rays, and the Florida Marlins. That kind of spending power is both a blessing and a curse. Players that get huge contracts — the Jeters, the Randy Johnsons, the Pudge Rodriguezs and Barry Bonds and Miguel Tejadas — are players who have reached free agency (and therefore have six years of MLB experience), and demand long-term contracts. It’s rare for players to break into the majors before they’re 22; it’s therefore safe to assume that most players who reach free agency are at least 28…which is more or less the age, historically, at which players reach their peak. That means that those same free agents will likely see a decline in their performances at the exact moment they seem an exponential increase in their salaries.

The entire Red Sox organization thinks (and hopes) that by using the money the team does have judiciously to pay for high-priced free agents and also developing its own talent, the Sox should be one of those rare teams that can compete for the playoffs year after year after year, and not just once a decade, like the Tigers. But that won’t always happen. Some years, a team with a lot of older players will also have a lot of injuries. Some years, the young players will have growing pains. Some years, the free agents who pushed the team to success one year (like Keith Foulke in 2004) will be salary drains another year (like Keith Foulke in 2005 and 2006). And some years, fans need to be patient enough (and smart enough) to realize this.

A few weeks back, at a game in Fenway, I sat next to someone who spent most of the game griping about how much the Sox sucked. He was jabbering on to anyone who would listen: Fuck this, screw that, this team is awful, the front office is stupid, I’m a better pitcher than Matt Clement. When Jason Varitek tried to lay down a sacrifice bunt in a late-inning situation, this guy starts telling all his buddies how that move demonstrates how stupid Terry Francona is. “See, if he’s going to have Jason Varitek bunt, he should just send in Willie Harris.” His friend was impressed: “I don’t even know who Willie Harris is.” “He’s our best bunter,” the guy said. “And he’s fast.” He also was playing for Pawtucket that day. He also isn’t a catcher, and the Sox would still need someone to receive pitches. (And no, it wouldn’t have been a good move to put in Doug Mirabelli.) Losing is painful. Part of the reason rooting for the Red Sox can be so wonderful is because our emotional connection to the team is incredibly strong. But let’s not become knee-jerk naysayers.

These last few weeks have been frustrating. Without David Ortiz (or without their 16-2 record in interleague play), it’s frightening to think where the Sox would be right now. While it’s possible the Sox will sack up, come back, and rip off a string of wins reminiscent of their late-August, early-September run in 2004, it doesn’t seem hugely likely: there are a lot of injuries, a lot of older players, and a lot of pitching woes. Red Sox fans have been cited as the most passionate fans in baseball; it’s a good time to show we can be the smartest ones as well.

***

I watched a couple of innings of last night’s game from a sports bar in Delray Beach, Florida. It made for grim viewing: even though the Red Sox were leading, the team looked dispirited, exhausted, and overwhelmed. It’s hard to imagine that Javy Lopez ever knew how to catch a baseball; last night, he seemingly was unable to get to any ball more than a couple of inches out of the strike zone. Even Gabe Kapler, a player Terry Francona loves for his hustle and attitude, looked miserable after he got caught in a rundown.

Last year’s August series with the Royals was pretty brutal, too: Schilling got shelled in his return to the rotation, and the Sox lost 2 out of 3. And plenty of good teams go through miserable stretches: the Yankees, remember, started last year 11-19. Let’s hope that, whatever happens this postseason, the Sox can get back to making games fun to watch. That, at least, is not too much to ask.


Post Categories: Fans & Losing streaks & Preparing for the future

23 Comments → “Get smart: Reasons why Sox fans should move back from the ledge”


  1. Retire_Number_14

    11 years ago

    The future, you say (are you related to Theo, by any chance?) is bright for the Red Sox, and I agree. Our young pitchers will mature, and some bad contracts will soon be off the books (i.e. Foulke). But this year may be the only chance for some of these guys, like Lowell and Loretta. Is the team resigned to its fate? Was 2006 always a “rebuilding” year? I agree that not mortgaging the future for the present is a wise business plan, as the non-activity at the deadline proved. But not bringing some much-needed help tells the players something like, “well, we need to think about next year. It’s a long-term plan.” Next year? Tell that to Mark Loretta, who holds a one-year contract, who’s never really had a sniff at the World Series, toiling for the Brewers all those years. This year may be all he’s got! Honestly, I don’t think he cares what happens to the Sox next year when he’ll likely be in another uniform or out of the game.
    I haven’t given up on 2006…but have the Sox? That was one poor, dispirited effort last night.

    “Are you related to Theo, by any chance?” Not technically — but we are both part of the vast Jewish conspiracy that controls baseball, the media, and Hollywood. Oh, and we’re also responsible for all the wars in the world.

    — Seth

    Reply

  2. deversm

    11 years ago

    I read what retire_number_14 had to say, and it got me to thinking… Pedroia sure has been playing good for the PawSox this year. Is it September yet? I like Loretta, but the 1 year contract was a great deal for the Red Sox.

    Reply

  3. zoowah

    11 years ago

    I will not waste my time watching the Sox.
    I will not waste my time watching the Sox.
    I will not waste my time watching the Sox.
    I will not waste my time watching the Sox.
    I will not waste my time watching the Sox.
    I will not waste my time watching the Sox.
    I will not waste my time watching the Sox.
    I will not waste my time watching the Sox.
    I will not waste my time watching the Sox.
    I will not waste my time watching the Sox.
    I will not waste my time watching the Sox.

    Reply

  4. kml1258

    11 years ago

    Well, I can see both sides of the coin, I do live here in Kansas City, They have been rebuilding their farm system for the 9 years(WOW, 9 years to the day). Young talent has never panned out for them, but they do not spend any money on scouting, player development, coaching, or for that matter ownership.
    The Sox, IMOP, don’t seem content to “rebuild”. It just seems to me that they look lost without Varitek.(example: 8th inning last night and Timlin is pretty much telling Javy these are the pitches I’m going to throw. If ‘Tek is in there, those conversations never happen. The same hpeened in the 9th with Pap.) I think Terry Francona has tried everything, he can’t execute at-bats with the bases loaded for them, he can’t call every pitch, he can’t tell Kapler not to run when Wellemeyer hasn’t made any move at all. At some point in time, the players have to execute. For all it’s worth, they are awesome defensively, but some of the other fundametals seem to escape this team. That I think is a bigger reason for what’s happening, rather than just having young kids pitching.

    Just one aside for this, I bought my ticket for last nights game 50 minutes before the 1st pitch, section 106, row H, seven rows behind home plate for $27. That is the biggest travesty in sports, that no one “owns” that seat year round. I’ll see you all tonight, going for round 3 of masochism(Come on Schill!).

    Reply

  5. Kevin

    11 years ago

    Make note of people who say they are done with the Sox for the year. These same people will be the ones trumpeting that deep down they knew the sox would make it. Bull. This happens every year. This 4 game losing streak is tied for the longest this year… the Cardinals just lost 8 and they’re leading that division! It ain’t ovah.

    Reply

  6. sfcrotty

    11 years ago

    Where’s the fire? Where’s the spark? Where’s the guy going around in the clubhouse saying quietly (or loudly depending on what’s required), “Stay solid guys. Grind it out. We’re still there.”

    Oh yeah, I forgot. The #1 and #2 veteran starters are going six innings and handing out home runs like candybars.

    These Sox play great defense, but you can’t catch a ball that’s going to land in the centerfield bleachers. I’m fine with the rookies stumbling (and I think the Sox have a great crop), but the way that the veterans are playing is inexcusable.

    c

    Reply

  7. lcavanagh820

    11 years ago

    Tell that to Mark Loretta, who holds a one-year contract, who’s never really had a sniff at the World Series, toiling for the Brewers all those years. This year may be all he’s got! Honestly, I don’t think he cares what happens to the Sox next year when he’ll likely be in another uniform or out of the game.

    Are you referring to the same Mark Loretta who hasn’t hit a ball hard since May? Since when are the feelings of Mark Loretta more important that the future of the organization?

    But this year may be the only chance for some of these guys, like Lowell and Loretta.

    Tell them to start hitting like it’s their only chance, then.

    Reply

  8. CT

    11 years ago

    Here is the problem. Taking a step back this year does not mean we are taking a step forward next season and beyond.

    Yes, we have some nice looking kids in the majors (Papelbon, Lester, Delcarmen, Hansen, Youkilis, Wily Mo at times). Next year we have Pedroia coming up. That’s the only guarantee. David Murphy might be a 4th OF type player, and Bryce Cox is a terrific looking reliever who might be up mid-season at best.

    Those couple guys aren’t going to come up and turn this thing around.

    With Schilling going into his final season in 2007, and Manny and Ortiz getting older, I don’t know how the Red Sox can take any more steps back while these guys are playing at such high levels. What are we going to do, step back for 2007 also and then wake up in 2008 realizing that Schilling is retired and we don’t have a #1 starter? Then we have to sign a Type A free agent and give up draft picks, or trade top young talent to get a replacement starter. How does that fit in with the “long term plan”? It seems to be just the opposite.

    As far as I can tell, the Red Sox need to come out this winter and put together a team that can play at a high level for 2-4 years, until the lower levels of our minor league system have bubbled to the top. More important is trying to accomplish this without sacrificing premium draft picks, or trading off our top young talent.

    Will they step up and sign Matsuzaka, who is 25 and will cost them no draft picks to retain? He seems to be a perfect fit for the “long term plan”, and at the same time gives the Red Sox another avenue of marketing. He’s the pefect guy to satisfy both Theo and Lucchino. But will they post $20 million to earn his negotiating rights? I won’t get my hopes up. Of course, he will be a Yankee.

    The fact right now is that, outside of Pedroia and perhaps Bryce Cox, the Red Sox do not have any impact players coming up to the majors anytime soon. What will they do between now and 2009-10 when their stacked lower minors start getting ready to break in?

    Will they find a way to retool this team while Schilling, Manny, and Ortiz are still playing this well? And will they be able to do it without giving up premium draft choices, thus hurting the “long term plan”?

    This team needs a premium starter and a couple of big offensive upgrades. How are they going to do that without effecting the long term plan at all?

    Reply

  9. Mike Greenwell MVP

    11 years ago

    “‘We can be both a large revenue club [that can afford to sign high-priced free agents] and have a strong farm system. But it’s not going to be a seamless transition. This year we had a great year. We will probably be worse next year.'”

    This excerpt from Seth’s book is a quote by Theo in a front office meeting shortly after the sox got swept by the Chi Sox in last year’s playoffs.

    To me, this is the most telling bit of information in the book about the 2006 season. Many times I had heard about Epstein’s beliefs and views about how a team can compete for a world series for a year or two, and then needs to take 3 or 4 years off to “retool.” I never however, believed that he would be able to implement this philosophy in a market like Boston and in the same front office as Larry Lucchino. This as much as any ill feelings stemming from the A-Rod negotiations or the Nomar trade was likely a major cause of Theo’s departure from the team. When he came back this issue was obviously one that had been resolved.

    What I’m trying to say, is that our own front office came into this season not expecting to compete for a world series. What they did was get a couple players with short contracts, (loretta, gonzalez) that could make the team at least bearable to watch (its becoming unbearable) to dignify the highest ticket prices in the game, but at the same time keep the spots open down the line for young players they have coming up.

    Just like Epstein’s quote says however, this doesn’t mean that the team’s ability to have a high payroll won’t be utilized or won’t help. If they have the ability to go out and out bid or out spend a smaller market team on a young player who will both help now and help down the road I’m certain Theo will pull the trigger. At the deadline, had Theo been given the opportunity to acquire a Dontrelle Willis or a Jake Peavy, I imagine he’d be more willing to part with a Craig Hansen, or a Manny Delcarmen, or a Jacoby Ellsbury. As it stands, he didn’t make a deal for a pitcher, and it hurts the team this year. But I’m glad he didn’t trade away those guys for a Jason Schmidt (probably wasn’t available anyways), or Livan Hernandez, Tony Armas or even a Corey Lidle, the Yankees can have him, he might help this year but honestly, does Corey Lidle really make you feel warm and fuzzy inside? Does anyone really think he’d be a solid pitcher at Fenway for a few years?

    I love the Red Sox as much or more than anyone I’ve ever met, and watching the way they are playing now is painful, but I truly believe that this team is headed for greener pastures down the road. I also believe that for the rest of this season, and at least one more season, we, as Red Sox fans, should really not be expecting a playoff appearance, and much less a deep run in the playoffs.

    Hang in there people…. Boston Red Sox World Champs 2008!!

    Reply

  10. tonyc

    11 years ago

    Very thoughtful analysis. The thing I have always hated about George and his Yankees is the refusal to accept anything other than complete success. Excellence should always be the goal. But people who demand first place as a birthright are immature. It’s inhuman. The aspiration is very human. But only babies expect to win every time. I laugh my ass off when the Yankees lose precisely for this reason. I think the Sox are right in their general approach. I hope they can put together a good string this year and come back, but rejecting them for a subpar year is a bit like shooting your wife because she got a pimple. Who wants to be an insufferable Yankees fan and weep and wail over anything less than first place?

    Reply

  11. CorduroyKCK

    11 years ago

    It’s very simple. All of this jargon and complaining is just a big headache. I say to this team, “Suck it up and just win. Just win. Win tonight. Worry about tomorrow when it comes. It’s the goddamn Royals!”

    Reply
  12. […] Seth Mnookin tells us all to relax. […]

    Reply

  13. macs

    11 years ago

    I agree on the rebuilding process but I’m afraid we are waisting the best year our 3-4 punch will ever have. And it bugs me that, rebuilding or not, we pay more and more each year to (try to) get into Fenway. Give the boys a break? I will, if they will give my wallet one too…

    Reply

  14. Retire_Number_14

    11 years ago

    Sorry about your headache, CorduroyKCK, but here I go.
    Not to harp on Loretta, but he’s been solid all season. No hard hit balls since May? How about that walkoff shot last week? Or the .300 average or the 25 doubles or the line drives he sprays all over the field? Ideal #2 hitter. Plus, he goes out there EVERY night. He took a fastball off the elbow Tuesday, and while he came out of that game, there he was in the lineup last night. This guy wants to win, and that’s why I’d take him on my team any day. As a Mainah, I see Sea Dogs games all the time, and I sawy plenty of Pedroia. He’ll be good, but trust me when I say he’s more of an Eckstein than a Loretta. Which ain’t bad, but the Sox traded Eckstein, right? My point was that some of these players — and we fans — care as much if not more about today than tomorrow. Yes, I want to win in 2007 and 2017. But I also want to win THIS year. Weren’t we in first place all season until just recently?

    Side note: The only true “untouchables” in the system, in my opinion, are already in Boston, like Lester, Pap, Hansen, Manny D. Jacoby Ellsbury is super fast, but has little power. Abe Alvarez? Nope. Pauley? Maybe a fifth starter somewhere. D. Murphy will look good in a Pirates uniform one day. One to watch: Edgar Martinez (not the wobbly-kneed retired Mariner) could be a dark horse. He’s a hard thrower who’s learned to take a bit off his secondary pitches, and he’s improved a lot. Bullpen call-up for September?

    Reply

  15. 2004_champs

    11 years ago

    When Theo ran Pedro Martinez out of town last winter, we should have all seen that Theo was not interested in winning in the present. That was the beginning of the end.

    The thing I don’t get, is how running good players out of town helps building for the future? Theo spent Pedro’s money on Matt Clement and a “shortstop upgrade” in Edgar Rented Error.

    Theo is to blame.

    Reply

  16. Butchhig

    11 years ago

    I will admit I was ready to throw my TV out the window at 12:15AM last night. Always makes for a good night’s sleep when the Sox lose late at night. I’ve done some thinking and I think it is time they stop relying on old slow overachieving players. (i.e Nixon, Lowell, Millar (I know he’s not on the team anymore!), etc. With the money they spend on these guys we need to bring in guys that are athletes, that can run the bases. The Yankees spend $200 million but mostly all of their players are somewhat athletic minus Posada and Giambi. Take away Manny from the outfield and you have 10 homers give or take when you count Crip and Nixon. That’s totally unacceptable.

    Reply

  17. CT

    11 years ago

    I would love to see us have the perfect mix of young cheap talented players mixed with great free agent signings.

    Only problem is that the Red Sox suck when it comes to choosing their free agent targets. I guess having more cheap young talent can help them hide their mistakes, or give them more room for error, but I don’t exactly get all warm and fuzzy thinking about Theo signing free agents. I guess it’s better that he develop his own talent or trade for players, because for the most part he flat out sucks when it comes to free agency.

    The Red Sox can’t just wake up in 2008 and realize Schilling is gone and Beckett hasn’t become that #1 starter. If that happens they can kiss some of their “long term plan” goodbye when they start making phone calls trying to find a premium starter. Just as bad is signing Type A free agents which also hurts the “long term plan” by losing top draft choices.

    There is only one pitcher who is young (25), has top of the rotation stuff, and doesn’t cost any draft choices.

    Matsuzaka.

    He has become the barometer for me. If they truly value the long term plan, than they will step up and sign him. All he will cost is money. Zito and Schmidt will hurt the “long term plan” by costing draft choices. Trading for an Oswalt type will hurt the “long term plan” by costing premium minor league & major league young talent.

    So let’s just see how much they are committed to this “long term plan”. Will John Henry & Co. step up and post the $20 million for Matsuzaka in order to protect our young players and draft picks?

    Or will they post some lowball $ amount to try and look like they tried in the media, and then go sign Jason Schmidt,Julio Lugo, & Company thereby losing their Top 2 or 3 choices in the 2007 draft, which hurts the “long term plan”.

    Somehow I doubt they post to sign Matsuzaka. We will see that $20 million is far far more important than any “long term plan”. And when we are signing Jason Schmidt and Julio Lugo, waving goodbye to our best 2007 draft picks, we can ask how exactly THAT fits into this “long term plan”.

    I’m on board with the long term plan, but there are people they can go after that can help us win now while we still have Schilling, Ortiz, & Manny, —- and at the same time “preserve” the “long term plan” by not sacrificing draft picks. The main person on that list is Matsuzaka.

    Reply

  18. Retire_Number_14

    11 years ago

    Not sure if Matsuzaka is even eligible for MLB free agency. Didn’t he once destroy a team of MLB all-stars on tour? He dominates in Japan, yes. But Roberto Petagine put up some good numbers over there too. Don’t get too excited, CT-san.

    Reply

  19. slimshady_2000

    11 years ago

    “It’s rare for players to break into the majors before they’re 22; it’s therefore safe to assume that most players who reach free agency are at least 28…which is more or less the age, historically, at which players reach their peak. That means that those same free agents will likely see a decline in their performances at the exact moment they seem an exponential increase in their salaries.”

    28 is just the beginning of the peak. It is not the beginning of the decline. History has shown the decline begins at about 32.

    Reply

  20. CT

    11 years ago

    Retire Number 14 – yes he will be posted by his Japanese team. He went 3-0 with a 1.69 ERA in the WBC I think. He was the MVP of the tournament.

    There are 4 main pitchers on the upcoming free agency market:

    – mike mussina – Yankees will pick up his option or work out a longer deal. He’s not likely to be available.

    – barry zito – 5 year contract minimum, will cost Type A draft compensation.

    – jason schmidt – health problems, National League Pitcher and we know how that goes, will cost Type A draft compensation

    – Daisuke Matsukaza – no health problems I know of, 25 years old, top of the rotation stuff, will cost no draft pick compensation.

    The other option is to trade for a premium starter. Oswalt, Peavy, etc.

    As you can see, there is only 1 option who doesn’t cost draft picks or minor league talent. Unless you want to leave things as is and sign Vicente Padilla type pitcher, a health reclamation project like Mark Mulder, or move Papelbon out of the closers role and into the rotation. Not very appealing options, is it?

    Reply

  21. s1c

    11 years ago

    Personally I think they are toast, I was optimistic about them as long as they maintained a 2 or 3 game back with the Yankees, but the fact is they have too many games against the Yankees and the Jays and right now it looks like they will get spanked in those games. 95 games is my hope (what I predicted) and with the way the twins, white sox and tigers are playing that won’t get them into the playoffs.

    Reply

  22. tigerdefender

    11 years ago

    “the Sox should be one of those rare teams that can compete for the playoffs year after year after year, and not just once a decade, like the Tigers.”

    Nice example, except that the Tigers have a far better farm system than the Red Sox and many have already written that they look like the Braves in the early 90s, with a stable of dominant young pitching. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Tigers in the playoffs for most of the next decade, not just once.

    Reply

  23. amill34

    11 years ago

    People seem to forget that Josh Beckett is the same age as Jonathan Papelbon. It is true. (Beckett is actually 6 months older) People label him as a veteran, and I do not think that is fair for Josh at all.

    Beckett has had a tough year, but I think we need to give the KID a little more time before we judge him. He needs to adjust to the Fenway atmosphere, the American League, and the media pressure. Don’t forget where he came from as well. I believe if we give this kid a little more time, he will turn out to be a great pitcher. He has shown, atleast to me, that he has quality pitches and can be dominate at times. I believe in the future he will turn it around and eventually will have the ace-like stuff Red Sox fans are looking for.

    But, please, lay off him for a minute. Give the kid a break before you start complaining about all the homeruns he’s given up. He has still been one of our best pitchers this year, and just think where we would be without him.

    Reply

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