For Red Sox fans, there weren’t too many things to cheer about in the month of April.
The team got off to a horrendous start, plagued by a surprising lack of pitching and a not so surprising lack of offensive punch.
David Ortiz is once again showing himself to be “Big Pop-up” as opposed to “Big Papi,” and the offseason acquisitions of Marco Scutaro, Adrian Beltre, and Mike Cameron have provided minimal run production.
Granted, they were chosen to emphasize a new strategy of “run prevention,” but they have struggled in that regard too. Bad pitching, shoddy defense, and a lack of offensive production are not the traits quality teams are known for.
Needless to say, this is NOT a quality team right now.
Now comes word that a more ominous threat to Red Sox nation lingers on the horizon. Russ Smith at Splice Today notes that a poor season by the Red Sox might cause John Henry some financial trouble:
"John Henry, the Sox’s principal owner, cannot be a happy man, for though he loves baseball, it’s safe to say the billionaire (a proud liberal, by the way; a gratuitous aside, granted, but I’m in a grumpy mood) loves profits even more. And the Sox, who’ve sold out Fenway Park for an MLB record-setting 763 consecutive games (as of May 2), are headed to an unfathomable .500 season, which means the sellouts will end, the revenue stream slows down, and disgust will envelop the greater New England territory all summer long."
Russ talks of a hope that maybe he can take solace in the fact that losing drives the bandwagon fans away. He fails to account for the fact that those are the fans who are driving up ticket prices and accordingly paying the bills. If the John Henry bubble collapses, it could be years before the Red Sox are able to pay top dollar for talent again.
As much as they like to think of themselves as “the little engine that could,” the Red Sox are nothing more than the New York Yankees Lite (see the John Lackey deal, Dice-K’s contract, the Julio Lugo and Edgar Renteria “throwaway deals,” etc.).
The problem lies in the fact that Henry’s group was highly leveraged when they bought the Red Sox, so they need to keep the team winning to pay the bills. This is why Theo Epstein once quit the Red Sox. He wanted to step back for a season and regroup to set the franchise up for the long haul. The people who control the money wanted to win each and every year, because that’s how they pay the bills.
If fans stop buying Red Sox Nation memberships, stop watching NESN, or decide that a few hundred dollars for a couple of good seats is too much, the bubble will quickly burst.
At this point you run the serious risk that the Red Sox suddenly became worth less than the amount borrowed to purchase the team. It happened to a whole lot of people who bought houses at the peak of that bubble, and it could happen to Boston.
People think of the Red Sox now and all they see are sold-out games, but it wasn’t that long ago when you could walk up to the ticket booth the day of the game and get a decent seat. It even wasn’t all that long ago where you could pretty much sit where you wanted in the damn park.
There is a lot at stake right now, more than just the team's position in the standings this season. A difficult season can have minimal negative impact on the long-term health of the franchise. A horrible season, i.e. one in which the Sox don’t get demonstrably better (and sooner rather than later), could cripple this franchise for some time to come.
And you people in New England thought the only highly leveraged investments that screwed you over came out of the offices of Goldman Sachs. D’oh!
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