Everybody Try & Relax
This article is cross-posted at Red Sox Beacon, a site I started with Baseball Prospectus writer Marc Normandin. We're not sure where it will go but for now it's just a repository for a handful of us to jot down our thoughts on the Boston Red Sox. I will still be contributing here at least every Wednesday, and occasionally on weekends as well.
Fresh off a series loss in St. Pete and with their playoff chances inching from slim towards none, there is a new narrative taking hold here in Boston . It's difficult to follow but the best I can boil it down to is "The Red Sox knew this was a ‘bridge year’ all along and are not going for it.” Those who hold this belief - ostensibly at least - point to the lack of deal-making at the deadline and to Theo Epstein's terribly misunderstood "bridge year" remark before the beginning of the year. That the team continues to rely on the likes of Daniel Nava and Darnell McDonald to claw back into the most competitive division in baseball means the front office is content to let the season slip away, or so it goes. Some examples:
At any point, to blame it all on the injuries is rather elementary and downright blind.
Fenway Park has gone from among the most fashionable places to be seen to just another ballpark, and the timing could not be worse for a Red Sox administration that might have been planning for another lean year.
Hawpe is just an example. The main point is that the #redsox lack of movement toward any players = not going for it
Last night's defeat at Tropicana Field and the series weren't just lost over the weekend. They were lost in the last month, when fatal flaws went unfixed by the front office. While teams like the San Diego Padres (Ryan Ludwick and Miguel Tejada) and Minnesota Twins (Matt Capps and Brian Fuentes) have addressed needs, the Sox have preferred to stand pat and apply internal patches. The Padres and Twins look playoff-bound, the Sox do not.
Actions speak louder than words. Francona's actions tell the tale of a team that waited for reinforcements from its front office that never came.
It’s not like they didn’t warn us. Remember Theo’s comments in December about the “bridge period’’? He said that’s not what he really meant, but it was a moment of truth. The reality is the Sox figured they were in for a soft season.
A number of reactions come to mind as I read mainstream writing along these lines, but the first is to spell out exactly what the Red Sox have been through this year. Let's start with the obvious. Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis, conservatively, are two of the 20 best position players in baseball. They’re probably two of the 15 best and possibly both top-10. Combined, they’ve missed 85 games in 2010. Imagine if the Brewers were without Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, the Rays without Carl Crawford and Evan Longoria, or the Yankees without Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeira. You could stop right there and forgive the Red Sox for merely being a .565 team playing in baseball’s (sports’?) toughest division.
On the performance side, key Sox players have struggled. Josh Beckett has been terrible in his limited action this year. John Lackey has not pitched nearly as well as he is capable. J.D. Drew has managed a couple of hot streaks but he has not been able to piece together a typical Drew offensive season despite remaining healthy as his teammates fall all around him.
The Red Sox have endured as much adversity as any team in baseball. Just a few of the items mentioned above breaking their way and Boston’s in the thick of this race. This was a bridge year in the sense that Boston needed to ink some veterans to short contracts in order to remain a top-flight team while they waited for their youngsters to develop. Marco Scutaro, Cameron and Beltre all fall into this camp, but how do any of those signings indicate that Boston's front office thought they would have a soft year? They would probably be baseball’s best team with any luck at all in 2010. I look at the 2003, 2004 and 2007 clubs and I don't know - I think this may have been the very best Red Sox roster of the Theo Epstein era. This team was designed to compete and all year long, it has.
But that first point – that the Red Sox intended to try to win the World Series all along - is only partially responsive to the complaints circling the Boston airwaves and filling the broadsheets. The notion that they’re not “going for it” by failing to make trades is preposterous on its face. Whom would you like to have seen the Red Sox acquire?
If only the Red Sox had managed to get Brad Hawpe, then at least they’d be making a go of it. Had the Red Sox traded for bats like Ludwick or Tejada, then at least we’d know they were serious. Their bullpen has been so bad. How could they NOT add Matt Capps or Brian Fuentes. And for goodness sake, things have become so dour down in the baseball ops offices, the marketing folks are now calling the shots. How else to explain the attempt to acquire Johnny Damon?
It’s hard for me to unravel the logic of these complaints but for our purposes, let’s consider the Los Angeles Dodgers. On July 31st, they sat 5.5 games out of a playoff spot, just like the Red Sox. Ned Colletti was aggressive, acquiring Ted Lilly, Ryan Theriot and Octavio Dotel at the deadline for a number of promising pieces in the Dodgers farm system and a couple of established Big Leaguers. For the short-term, the moves have worked out really nicely. Theriot has managed a 109 OPS+ as a Dodger, and Lilly is 5-1 since arriving on the west coast. Dotel has been spotty at times, but he’s only tossed 11 innings.
So the Dodgers made moves and were rewarded with very good productivity from their new acquisitions. Meanwhile, the Red Sox did virtually nothing at the deadline. After looking at potential moves – say Scott Downs for Casey Kelly as an example – the Red Sox decided that the market just wasn’t shaping up the way it would need to in order to compel them to deal. A month later, LA’s playoff odds have dwindled to 4% while the Red Sox chances are also slim, but still two times that of the Dodgers. Making trades for the short-term guarantees nothing.
But even when the Red Sox gave it an honest shot with the Johnny Damon waiver claim, they were not insulated from this line of attack. Damon chose not to join the club, but you can’t say the Red Sox have not been active. But folks like Mazz claim that the Damon attempt was driven by the business side of things, since, you know, the Red Sox aren't really going for it. I’m still waiting for any actual reporting on the subject. It’s speculation, and flies in the face of how the Red Sox have operated under John Henry's ownership group. Baseball Ops has total autonomy once made aware of their budget.
Boston is on pace to win 92 games in 2010. This despite as bad a non-New York Mets injury season as I can recall. Oh, those poor 2009 New York Mets. After winning 89 games in 2008, they had high hopes last year. Like the Red Sox, they got crushed by the injury bug, losing Jose Reyes, Carlos Beltran and Johan Santana among others. Unlike the Red Sox, they won 70 games.
I understand that you have to fill space in newspapers but the simple explanation for the 2010 Boston Red Sox is “shit happens.” It’s unsatisfying, but it’s the truth. They had a plan, assembled a great roster and on any number of fronts they’ve run into just awful luck. 92 wins might cut it in any other division in baseball, but in the AL East it means you might not qualify for the playoffs. And as a result, while Kevin Youkilis looks on in a splint and Dustin Pedroia gets set for surgery, an entitled, spoiled, silly media gets to spend the final month of the season grasping at straws assigning ex post facto blame as to why the Red Sox didn’t win a handful more games.