Monday, November 18, 2013

Okay Sox fans...let's take a step back

Two things usually happen once a team wins a championship.

First, there is celebration. This is to be expected. Especially when a team over-performs the way the Red Sox did to win the World Series in 2013.

Secondly, there is expectation. The looking forward to the new season. Expectation of the successes and new faces that may be seen in Fenway in 2014.

The first one is harmless and enjoyable. The second is perilous and even deadly to a franchise.

One thing needs to be remembered. Needs to be acknowledged. Needs to said over and over again:

Teams normally do not win titles year after year after year. Especially when they over-performed to do it in the first place.

Chris Carlson/AP

The last team to win back-to-back World Series titles? The Yankees did a three-peat from 1998-2000, a run tainted by the steroid scandal. Before that? Toronto in 1992-93. And they haven't been the same since. In the modern era, where a name player commands an excessive amount of money (in free agency) or too much young talent (in trade), pursuing even middle-tier names in a quest to win year after year after year will only put your team in a deep, deep hole. Which is why Anaheim will pay Albert Pujols $23M next year and will still be paying him six years later at the age of 40 while winning nothing. Which is why the Yankees finished in fourth place and have a fading farm system and expensive aging veterans. Which is why the Dodgers are on the hook for $197.8M in 2014 with a team that was lucky to win the NLDS.

The goal of any team, in my opinion, shouldn't be to win the title every year. That isn't rational. It should be to be competitive every year so that you are in position to win a title if players catch fire and/or you get a few breaks along the way. And that means building a team that is flexible in players and in spending. It means building your farm system and not trading away the best youngsters to pursue a "name" player that may not even pay off.

And that brings us to the off-season and Boston.

I wrote already about the possibility of Tim Hudson coming to Boston and the dangers with that idea. There is buzz about the Sox passing on trying to re-sign Salty and instead shelling out $10M per year for Carlos Ruiz. Because who doesn't want to spend $10M a year on a 35-year-old catcher who served a suspension for amphetamine use?

But the latest one that really bugs me is the rumor highlighted by Chad Finn at about Angels OF/1B/3B Mark Trumbo.

As you can probably tell, it drives me nuts when someone on my radio or in my inbox suggests the Sox should pursue Giancarlo Stanton or Trumbo, which is like saying you'll pay the same amount for a classic Corvette or your weird aunt's '82 Chevette.

I mean, I heard one radio host say this week that the Red Sox should offer the Angels Middlebrooks and lefthander Felix Doubront for Trumbo. Said it seriously, too, completely unaware that Middlebrooks straight up for Trumbo would essentially be a wash without including the cost-effective 26-year-old lefthander who strikes out a batter per inning and just played an enormous if unheralded role in helping win the World Series.

Read the whole thing. Finn points out that Trumbo's numbers are not that much better than Will Middlebrooks, and that he is three years older and costs a hell of a lot more. Which are very important things to keep in mind.

But it is the last part of that blockqoute that really irks me. The idea that Doubront should be added in.

Felix Doubront's name keeps coming up in trade rumors. Which either means that there are a lot of people who don't understand the reality of baseball in the 21st century, or....well, pretty much just that. Doubront is a solid player and cheap. When you have a player that is both of those things, you hold onto them like a life preserver in the ocean. You don't make them an afterthought in a lousy trade. Pursuing random names and throwing in youngsters like candy...well, that's how the Sox got Andrew Bailey and the A's got Josh Reddick.

Boston fans need to recognize 2013 for what it was: a coming-together of a lot of things at just the right time.

  • The Dodgers taking $270M off the Red Sox ledger in a deal that is still mind-blowing a year+ later
  • Mike Napoli's hip holding up
  • Shane Victorino getting hot by no longer being a switch hitter
  • Ellsbury having the good year in his "good year/bad year" pattern
  • Flipping Jose Iglesias for Jake Peavy, solidifying the late-season run to the AL East title.
  • Stumbling upon a hot, hot closer in Koji Uehara after Hanrahan and Bailey were abject failures in the role.
  • David Ortiz and his timely, timely hits

Those things will not happen year after year after year. And pursuing more and more free agents or trading more and more talent to do so won't make it happen. Especially when we will have to replace aging players like Napoli, Victorino and Ortiz (among others) in the years ahead. And you can do that either through bringing in free agents at bigger money, trading young talent away for more established talent, building from within or combining some of these.

The worst option, to me, is trading away your young players for someone who won't necessarily bring back a title. We saw it with Reddick leaving. We saw it with trading David Murphy to Texas for Eric Gagne. We saw it in trading Justin Masterson to Cleveland for Victor Martinez. Trading Jed Lowrie for Marc Melancon. And so forth and so on.

Free agency is complicated, a mix of research and luck. You have to weigh cost, past performance, future performance and a hundred other variables. If you hit it right like the Sox did in 2013, you come up aces. If you blow it, like Boston did with Carl Crawford and Bobby Jenks in 2011, it can help bury your team. It can also be costly, and you won't always have Magic Johnson to bail you out.

Building from within takes time. It can take a lot of time. And not every "sure thing" is a sure thing. Heck, most of them aren't. But when you get that good-to-great player, it makes things a lot easier when building the rest of your team.

Boston has a very good farm system right now. Xander Bogaerts is ready to play every day and can cover SS or third. Jackie Bradley, Jr. needs to hit a little better but he can take center field right now if he has to. They have a stud 3B prospect in Garin Cecchini who is a year away. And they are deep in pitching talent: Matt Barnes, Allen Webster, Henry Owens, Anthony Ranaudo...never mind Brandon Workman, who went 6-3 in the regular season and gave Boston some key innings in the post-season. That includes a scoreless eighth inning in Game Six of the World Series.

To upend all this in pursuit of a costly free agent or three, or to trade it away for the hot name of the moment, would be short-sighted and counter-productive. Yes, you can say the same about over-valuing your own prospects. But with what we have seen from these young players when they reach Boston, I don't think they are being over-valued at all.

The Sox will be competitive next year without a radical change to their side. The biggest loss will likely be Ellsbury at CF, a position where Bradley could replace his glove, if not his bat (yet). SS/3B could be an issue if Stephen Drew doesn't return. With him, Bogaerts can play third. Without him, it's Middlebrooks or a mid-tier free agent.

Other than that, they don't have to do much. And that's a good thing. Too many teams try to "win the off-season" with the biggest signing to get people excited. Boston has fallen prey to that logic as well on occasion. The problem is that the fans are much less excited when the team is playing mediocre ball in late summer and is out of contention.

So everyone take a breath and step back. Savor the title that Boston just won. And hope that Cherington and the Sox do what is right for the team over the long haul.

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