"This was a tough year for everyone. This isn't the same team we had last year. We had lots of injuries. We were missing Mikey Lowell, (Julio) Lugo, (Josh) Beckett was hurting, my wrist was giving me trouble, we didn't have Manny (Ramirez), we didn't have (Curt) Schilling all year. It was a different team than last year." - via Boston HeraldTo some this will reek of self pity and excuses, but if you live it it rings as simple truth. This team was not the team that closed out 2007 and in many cases, the organization at large is better for it.
From the exile of Manny Ramirez to the emergence of Jon Lester, 2008 proves one thing above all else, under Theo Epstein's management the organization itself is the organization's greatest asset.
For years the mantra in professional sports has been to build a New England Patriots like organization where, like customer service is in Disney organization, success (i.e. being in the position to win a championship every year) is the goal of every employee.
The tactics that bring that goal to reality differ from sport to sport, and in some sports like baseball where resources are so uneven from team to team. As the book Moneyball portrays efficiently, albeit through a different lens, it is how a team effectively manages their resources and compiles an organizational portfolio that provides a platform for long term success.
Take Theo Epstein's recent comments for example,
"What we like to do is be league-average at least in every position, and then be above league-average at as many positions as we can," said the General Manager. "What's league-average? What's above league-average? If we do our jobs well, we'll be at least league-average at every position." - via Boston.comAt the Major League level, the goal seems pretty straight forward, build a good and deep roster with no over reliance on any single player or position and then use the team's coffers of resources to upgrade as many of those positions as possible.
"We're at a point now where we have a very solid foundation in the organization," Epstein said. "We're not just going out this winter to try to address the 2009 team and that's it. Instead, a better way to look at is we're continuing the process of building and evolving the organization, and the 2009 team comes to fore as the most important version of the Red Sox that we'll have. But we're also going to continue to look at 2010, 2011, 2012, etc. versions of the team. We're building an organization. When we succeed at the major league level, because of the foundation that we're trying to build as a whole organization, not just as a major league team."At no point will Theo and team make a move that they feel compromises the future of this organization to improve it's present. Call this the "Yankee Corollary" to Theo's management philosophy. The performances of rookies Jed Lowrie, Jacoby Ellsbury, and Justin Masterson in 2008 bear this strategy as successful in both the short and long term.
So what does this mean for the offseason game plan heading into 2009? In typical cryptic Theo Epstein fashion, he'll give you the framework that forms the construct of his strategy, but nary a detail can be found.
"We're at a point now as an organization where we're not desperate to improve in any one area. If you look at our starting pitching, if we bring back our starting corps and just make minor tweaks, I think we can be solid there. That said, is there an opportunity to potentially improve our starting pitching? Absolutely. We're expecting to use a great deal of our time this winter trying to improve. If we just brought back our bullpen, would we have a pretty good bullpen? Yeah, I think it would be pretty darn good. That said, are we going to look to improve the 'pen? Absolutely. We're going to spend countless hours. Same thing if you look at our position player core.
"We can bring back the same group in any one area and be solid and have all of our bases covered. We can now pick our spots and look for areas to improve. We can be selective shoppers in free agency. Last offseason was great, because we didn't have to be desperate, because we had built up our organization to the point where there's no desperation in free agency. I think that's the same approach we'll take this year. Being smart, finding value, and being selective -- maybe aggressive in some areas, but selective at the same time. And the same with the trade market. We don't feel like there's anything we have to do. There's a lot of opportunities out there. Maybe there'd be a fit out there."
So what can we all expect this offseason?
To Ryne's article yesterday, I think they'll be more likely to bring in a "Lowe" than trade value for a "Peavy". I think they'll consider Mark Teixeira as an option in free agency, but only if they can find a way to part with Mike Lowell, who had successful hip surgery and should be ready for Spring Training, without Lowell's cost (you will get under market value and eat some of his contract) plus the cost of Teixeira being prohibitive. They will consider moving Coco Crisp again this offseason, but may be less inclined now die to J.D. Drew's always uncertain health and Crisp's solid postseason.
I think they want Jason Varitek back, but only on their terms (shorter dollars - $8-$10mm per year, and less years - 2) than the Captain or Boras would like. The Red Sox overpaid a hair in 2004 to keep him, I don't expect them to be as generous this time around. That said, the options out there are limited and the dearth of catching in the Major Leagues can only play to Tek's advantage. Any chance that the Dodgers feel like they owe us something from the Manny deal and want to give a little on a potential Russel Martin swap?
One thing can be certain this offseason, this team will use it's resources, it's farm system plus the $40 - $60 mm coming off the books this offseason, to improve.
"I can't give you one theme, 'This is what we need to improve.' I think we're pretty solid. But we need to get better, too. Looking at the caliber of play in our league and our division reinforces the notion that we have to always strive to improve. It'll be essential that we continue the process that we started several years ago of getting younger and more dynamic."As fans, we should be prepared that the Red Sox may not make the loudest moves this offseason, but I feel comfortable with Theo continuing to steer the ship that is the S.S.S. Red Sox in the right direction over the long haul.