Red Sox need to redefine strategy
Gordon Edes [ARCHIVE]
August 28, 2012
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ANAHEIM, Calif. -- So, we are entering a new era of "disciplined" decisions for the Boston Red Sox, if Ben Cherington is to believed, which by definition implies that the choices made by his predecessor and friend, Theo Epstein, to add Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford for a combined outlay of nearly $300 million were not. Neither was extending Josh Beckett's contract by four years and $68 million.

It could be that being disciplined and aggressive just means making decisions that will have better outcomes than the ones Theo Epstein made.

What does discipline imply, then? That the Red Sox will no longer be shelling out megabucks on talent? That would be popular with baseball's version of Tea Partyers -- do away with all that wasteful spending, and cut ticket prices while you're at it. Attractive concepts in theory, of course, but then reality creeps in. These days, you have to spend not only to keep up with the New York Yankees, but with places that were not known for throwing around money. There are 19 players currently under contract for $20 million a year or more, a list that includes Cincinnati's Joey Votto ($22.5 million a year) , Minnesota's Joe Mauer ($23 million), and San Francisco's Matt Cain ($21.25 million).

Nine players are under long-term deals with total payoffs higher than the $154 million the Sox gave Gonzalez, including three first basemen -- Albert Pujols ($240 million), Votto ($225 million) and Prince Fielder ($214 million). At the time the Sox dealt for, and then signed, Gonzalez, they congratulated themselves for anticipating the market for such sluggers and saving tens of millions. Funny, but they would have called that a disciplined decision.

So, the cost of signing premium players is inflating at a rapid pace, and if we can take Cherington at his word that the Sox are not just intent on shaving payroll and prepared to tolerate a "bridge year" until their top prospects have ripened, the Sox will have no choice but to spend.

Here's another reason: There is a growing trend among clubs to be more scrupulous about trading their young players, precisely because the high-end players are growing more expensive by the hour -- giving more value to a team's younger, home-grown talent. That's why the Sox signed such players as Jon Lester. Dustin Pedroia and Clay Buchholz to long-term deals at far less money than they would command if they had the leverage of free agency. So if the Sox expect to address their most pressing needs, like the starting rotation, they may have no choice but to target at least one big-ticket player.

If discipline won't necessarily be measured by dollars spent, then perhaps there will be a change in how the Sox decide which players in whom they will invest. OK, but let's look at what went into the decision to sign Crawford and Gonzalez. Epstein assigned one of his top aides, Allard Baird, to all but tail Crawford for the better part of a half-season, preparing a dossier on everything from how many swings Crawford took in batting practice to how he liked his eggs.

Epstein's numbers-crunchers in the home office could provide all the salient specifics necessary to predict performance; it was up to Baird and others to take the measure of the man. This was not a decision hastily made; Cherington told ESPN Boston's Jackie MacMullan, even after Crawford went bust his first season, that he was one of the biggest advocates for the deal.

A similar vetting occurred for Gonzalez. Another top Epstein lieutenant, David Finley, was the scout who originally signed Gonzalez for the Florida Marlins, and Epstein knew Gonzalez from the time he scouted him as a high schooler in San Diego. The Red Sox felt they knew Gonzalez as well as anyone outside of his immediate family.

Disciplined decisions? In both cases, the Sox appear to have done their homework, assessed their needs in a systematic fashion, identified the players that best would address those needs, and aggressively acted to acquire the players they had targeted. Cherington said Saturday that the Sox would remain aggressive going forward.

But it could be that being disciplined and aggressive just means making decisions that will have better outcomes than the ones Epstein made. It's probably also a signal that the Sox will proceed more cautiously when there's obvious risk involved, as in the case of Josh Hamilton, the Rangers' gifted outfielder who has had a host of health issues, or pitcher Zack Greinke, who hardly seems suited to thriving in the crucible that is Boston.

It's exceedingly rare, perhaps unprecedented, for the GM of a big-market team to be able to hit the reset button and have the great flexibility Cherington now has. The Sox have just five players owed guaranteed money next season, totaling just more than $45 million: John Lackey ($15.9 million), Jon Lester ($11.63 million), Dustin Pedroia ($10.25 million), Clay Buchholz ($5.75 million) and Jose Iglesias ($2.06 million). Before the trade, that figure was more than $100 million. Leftover financial obligations to Beckett, Gonzalez, Crawford and Kevin Youkilis ($1 million buyout) put that figure closer to $49 million, using figures supplied by Baseball Prospectus.

Players under the Sox control next season include:

Arbitration eligible: Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Aviles, Andrew Bailey, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Craig Breslow, Ryan Sweeney, Daniel Bard, Alfredo Aceves, Andrew Miller, Franklin Morales, Rich Hill.

Selected non-arbitration eligible: Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Lavarnway, Ryan Kalish, Mark Melancon, Felix Doubront, Pedro Ciriaco, Mauro Gomez, Junichi Tazawa, Danny Valencia, Clayton Mortensen.

Free agents: David Ortiz, Daisuke Matsuzaka, James Loney, Cody Ross, Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, Scott Podsednik.

So, Here is how the team looks post-mega trade for 2013:

C -- Ryan Lavarnway, Jarrod Saltalamacchia

1B -- Open

2B -- Dustin Pedroia

3B -- Will Middlebrooks

SS -- Mike Aviles, Jose Iglesias

LF -- Open

CF -- Jacoby Ellsbury

RF -- Ryan Kalish

DH -- Open

SP -- Jon Lester

SP -- Clay Buchholz

SP -- Felix Doubront

SP -- John Lackey

SP -- Franklin Morales

SP -- Rubby de la Rosa (player to be named in Dodgers deal)

Bullpen: Andrew Bailey, Alfredo Aceves, Daniel Bard, Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller, Rich Hill, Mark Melancon, Clayton Mortensen

Moves the Sox should make:

1. Re-sign David Ortiz and Cody Ross to extensions. That's already on the team's to-do list. Give Ortiz a two-year deal and let him end his career here without any further contract angst. Ross will be looking for three years but may need to settle for two plus an option. At 31, that's not a bad investment.

2. Target a top-of-the-rotation starter. Two...
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