The 2010 season was supposed to be a ‘bridge year’ for the Boston Red Sox. The premise was not to waste money on sup-par talent, continue to develop the farm system, wait for onerous contracts to expire, and then make moves to restore Boston to its recent Championship glory. That was the premise, and any true fan of the Red Sox was more than willing to ‘suffer’ a down season, if on the other side of it there was going to be increased success. Three years later, the ‘bridge year’ is looking a lot more like Alaska’s Bridge to Nowhere project.
The Red Sox, to the delight of everyone outside of Red Sox Nation, have not made the playoffs since talk of the Bridge Year began. Not even Bud Selig’s ill-fated decision to expand MLB’s wild card to two teams in each league could save the Red Sox in 2012. In fact, he would have needed to add an additional 7 wild cards in order for them to make the playoffs in 2012.
The Sox bridge year plans for 2010 began to implode nearly immediately, as they went out and signed John Lackey to a 5 year/$82.5 million deal. They attempted to sell it off as part of the ‘bridge year’ philosophy, because after they got through 2010, Lackey would be there to help lead the staff in 2011 as they marched back towards the World Series. Lackey went 12-12 in 2011, with a 6.41 ERA. The Boston Red Sox missed the playoffs in the most excruciating fashion, as their clubhouse fell apart, which led to the eventual departure of Terry Francona. That folks, is losing.
The thought process behind the signing of Lackey goes beyond this ownership group simply making a personnel mistake. If that had been all it was, all could have been forgiven. No, it’s the attitude that has come about because of the pink-hat fan base that they have cultivated, and the knowledge that they would not stand for increased ticket prices if they thought there was a chance the Red Sox might not make the playoffs. So they went out and signed Lackey because he was the ‘best available arm’.
Let’s step outside of the world of baseball, for just one moment, and let’s pretend that we’re on a car-buying trip. We head down to the mega-mart car dealership in the center of town, and we kick the tires on a few models, but nothing really grabs our attention. Knowing that we can’t leave the lot without a vehicle, we ask what the best car on the lot is. The dealer leads over to a 1984 Chevy Caprice and says “that’s the best car on the lot right there.” What’s the price we ask. “$82.5 million, over 5 years,” he answers. Don’t we run the heck out of that dealership as fast as we can?
John Lackey, through no fault of his own, is that 1984 Chevy Caprice. He’s not bad, seems to be a ‘good’ teammate, but doesn’t really perform up to expectations, or his sticker price. The thought of a lot of fans at that point was that it didn’t matter, because a.) It wasn’t their money and b.) The Red Sox are going to continue throwing money around because they have it to spend. What could go wrong with that plan?
Queue 2012 and the Boston Red Sox go on a roster/salary purge the likes of which few franchises can lay claim to. Gone were World Series heroes Josh Beckett and Kevin Youkilis. Carl Crawford was gone before he had a chance to prove himself, and the ink hadn’t even dried on Adrian Gonzalez’s 7 year/$154 million deal when he was sent west. Things were going to be different in Boston. Real change was coming to town. No more throwing money around just because, every dollar spent would be accounted for (the realization that the Red Sox were echoing our federal leaders’ promises to us just sent shivers down my spine), and they were going to grow the farm system.
For the first 6 or so weeks of the off-season, things were going alright. Johnny Gomes and Dave Ross were brought in, and even if it wasn’t entirely clear what their roles would be, at least they hadn’t tied up a huge amount of salary or contract years.
Then Monday’s bombshell came: the Sox had signed Mike Napoli to a 3 year/$39 million deal. To play first base. Here’s what I wrote back in November with regard to the possibility of the Sox signing Mike Napoli:
Mike Napoli…is likely to cost $12 million plus a season over multiple seasons. He’s only ever played more than 114 games in one season once (2010- 140 games), and at 31 years old, we don’t expect that to change. While his batting average was .005 points better than Salty’s, he had one less home run and three fewer RBIs. The only thing that increases with signing Napoli is the Red Sox payroll. (emphasis added.)
The signing of Napoli almost certainly means the departure of Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who not only is scheduled to earn significantly less than Napoli, but is also 3 1/2 years his junior. The loss of Salty wouldn’t be something that mattered much to me one way or the other, if it was because the Sox were improving themselves. Mike Napoli does not do that. They are essentially the same player, but because of Napoli’s perceived ‘star’ power, the Sox brass knows that by signing him, they’ll appear to be doing ‘something’. Even if that something is detrimental to the long-term health of the franchise.
They compounded that problem by signing Shane Victorino to a 3 year/$39 million(ish) deal (pending a physical.) Victorino is another alleged ‘good’ clubhouse guy. The problem is, he’s not really that much of anything else. At best, he’s a complementary type guy, who can steal a few bases, but he has no power to speak of, and doesn’t get on base that much, either (.316 OBP in 2012.) If he had been given a Gomes-type contract, it would have been a very bland move, but something that they could move past, and MLB could get past. The Red Sox managed to hand out John Lackey-type money to two guys who aren’t going to help them win anything, in the middle of what should be (for the 3rd straight off-season) a rebuilding process. It simply doesn’t make sense.
Unfortunately for fans around the country, Boston’s blunders don’t only affect just them (although they do hurt most right here), but they affect how free agent signings are going to go for the rest of this off-season, and moving forward. All of a sudden, the ‘crazy’ thought of paying Josh Hamilton $30-35 million a year doesn’t seem all that nuts. In 2012, Victorino and Napoli combined to hit .244 with 35 home runs, 121 RBIs, and had an OPS of around .750. Hamilton’s numbers- .285, 43/128/.930 are far more impressive, of course, and for all the talk about his lack of durability, he has only played less than 121 games once in his 5 seasons with Texas (2009.) He is a top-echelon type guy. Thanks to the Red Sox, he’s likely to be paid like the reincarnation of Babe Ruth and Ted Williams, combined.
Does anyone think the Napoli and/or Victorino signings are good for Boston? MLB?
I’d love to know: