The management of the Boston Red Sox has accomplished the single most difficult feat in professional sports since their 2001 arrival.
They have changed a one-time losing culture of the team and its fans. The front office has shown that intelligent drafting, free agent signings, solid minor league coaching and a genuine belief in the team’s doctrine, can turn even the most cynical fan base into true believers.
Gone are the days where fans are pointing to the television and saying… “Here’s where they blow it!” These are the days of 8th inning rallies and walk-off home runs.
Red Sox fans have become accustomed to a certain level of competition, whether that is with the Yankees, the rest of the AL East, the AL as a whole or even in the Majors altogether, both during the regular season and in the Hot Stove season.
So why, in the 2008-09 Hot Stove season has the team seemingly abandoned their annual winter power position and, once, insatiable desire to send a message to the rest of the league and the fans?
This is neither directly about the massive and, quite frankly absurd, Yankee signings of AJ Burnett and CC Sabathia. Nor is it about the dagger-in-the-heart loss of, this year’s Scott Boras “can’t live without” client, Mark Teixeira. Rather this is about the smaller things that, until this season, they did so well.
The fact that the Sox do not have a catcher on the current roster is so unlike this team, that it raises a red flag about the direction of the 2009 Red Sox. Jason Varitek may not be the catcher he once was and, as another Boras client, may be difficult to re-sign at this point.
But, as frightening as the prospect of losing the backbone of the team is, that is only half the battle. The light-hitting, knuckleball-catching, backup catcher is, in a much less celebrated move, also now a New York Yankee.
Their backup backstop now knows many, if not all of the intimate secrets of the Red Sox pitching staff, thanks to a one-plus year trial with the team. Kevin Cash was good enough to replace Doug Mirabelli in 08, but apparently not good enough to keep even though the team just could not resist the temptation to re-sign a pitcher, in Tim Wakefield that, for all his mid-summer innings and longevity, needs the backup catcher to be a crucial cog in the wheel of the team.
The front office that has been in play since the beginning of this century would never have let that little slip-up happen in years past. Somehow, someway, they would have kept the situation from going this far. So what’s different now?
Where is the Theo Epstein that spent Thanksgiving at Schill’s place? Or the management that shocked the world with the mind-numbing, acquisition of Daisuke Matsuzaka that had global ramifications? After having had one of the most dominant right handed hitters that ever played the game quit on them half way through 2008, are they really now discussing trades for the likes of Taylor Teagarden? No offense is intended to Mr. Teagarden, but is this the shot that is to be heard round the baseball world for the 2009 Red Sox?
With the nearly $400 million spending spree of the Yankees this offseason and the rise of the Rays, the Red Sox are going to have to make some solid trades to convince fans that they’re not just accepting that they will not be in the pennant race and bailing on the first season of the new Yankee Stadium.
Because at this point, it appears that’s the fate of this year’s team. The Red Sox are actively trying to find a new home for the much beleaguered Julio Lugo and have already traded Coco Crisp. For as much drama as has surrounded those players, their running game was crucial to the 2007 Championship team.
The 2009 team now has only one true base stealing threat in the form of Jacoby Ellsbury and one colossally less potent bat in the lineup without Manny. This is not to say that any of those moves are incorrect. Rather, that the team needs to choose a direction. In 2004, the Red Sox slammed their way to a Championship and in 2007; they hit and ran their way there.
With the injuries to Mike Lowell, David Ortiz and JD Drew last season, there has to be serious concern about the depth of the team and its lineup. The free agent pool is pretty shallow at this point and virtually all impact players have found teams. Now it is time to move to the trade market.
If there is one relatively consistent flaw in the current administration, it would have to be their personal attachment to some of the younger players coming through the organization. What the draftees have done for the team is definitely immeasurable but sometimes a team needs to lure another team to give them the power it needs. Youth is extremely important but so is balance.
Never present a problem without a possible solution. So, just as a thought, if you’re not going to get a superstar in a trade, then get something solid. If it means giving a young, and currently inconsistent, potential superstar like Clay Buchholz to the Rangers to receive a solid backstop in Jarrod Saltalamacchia in return, then at this point it is worth the cost. Saltalamacchia, in the Dominican Winter League, hit .364 with a 1.354 OPS and nine home runs in 20 games.
The move allows the Sox to re-sign Jason Varitek and let the current catching situation be resolved, even if the problems catching Wakefield are there. Wake can always pitch out of the pen for the sake of the team. Tek can retire as a Redsox as he should and his successor will be the type of threat that Jason himself once was, all while Goerge Kotteras prepares and is analyzed by scouts enough to join the team in the future. Sticking with the Rangers, what would it take to get Josh Hamilton in a trade? Has anyone kicked the tires? That’s the kind of guy that the Sox need to make a splash.
The Redsox are in one of the toughest positions of any team in baseball. With arguably, the brightest, most passionate fan base in the sport and a rival with seemingly endless resources, the team has to be smart in every transaction.
That said, the Boston Redsox front office has shown countless times that they are willing to go the extra mile for the fans and the players. The Yankees have done what they always do, they overspent for an injury prone pitcher, a world class pitcher that has been overworked by two different teams in the past two seasons and signed a ridiculous contract for a player who will be in his late 30s when it ends.
The Sox don’t have to play the game that way, but they do have to play the Hot Stove game as always for everyone’s sake. Twenty-first century Redsox fans aren’t fans of the team solely because of the hopes of signing a Mark Teixiera, but they aren’t expecting mediocrity at the Fens… at least, not anymore.