The Boston Red Sox are once again at a crossroads when it comes to their organizational philosophy, which is something fans have heard before. The Sox are seemingly stuck between being the free spending free agency big players of yesteryear and the fiscally responsible, efficient, consistent machine they want to become.
The only problem with trying to find and capitalize on every market inefficiency is the boom or bust nature of doing so. Moneyball was the monster hit it was and something that made the sport cool to a generation of baseball “outsiders” because it took something nobody was investing in and spun it into a game in of itself; an entire team building philosophy for organizations. Except, the Red Sox knew that you couldn’t rely on the idea Moneyball alone or else they’d end up like the Oakland A’s; consistently pretty good but not enough star power to push a team over the finish line. So the Sox supplemented OBP diamonds in the rough like Kevin Youkilis and homegrown studs like Dustin Pedroia with highly paid superstars like Ortiz, Schilling, Damon, Foulke, Beckett and on and on.
Now this isn’t to say the team needs to abandon any notion of being creative while opting instead to sign every top tier free agent and trade away every Baseball America darling to essentially buy a World Series. Nor does the team need to go the complete opposite way and try to compete with a model that the Tampa Bay Rays have tried (and failed) to win with for decades.
But there has to be a balance.
The Sox have had Ben Cherington, Dave Dombrowski, and Chaim Bloom all in charge of building this team at various points over the past eight years. Three GMs/Head of Baseball Ops/Chief Baseball Officer or whatever you want to call it these days in eight years is going to make it difficult to find a consistent organizational philosophy and stick to it. Dombrowski and Bloom in particular could not be more antithetical from each other in terms of philosophy.
This goes all the way back to 2014 when the Sox opted to trade Jon Lester to the A’s when they realized they weren’t going to be able to resign him after failed negotiations. Lester then signed with the Cubs in December of 2014 for more than double what the Sox had initially offered him.
The Red Sox had seemingly adopted an organizational philosophy that they don’t sign players on the wrong side of 30 to mega contracts because the value just isn’t there. Not something I agreed with, but sure at least there’s a plan in place. (This is a notion that John Henry has bristled at as an overreaction from fans to comments he made in a 2014 Bloomberg Business article.)
In 2015, the Sox finished in last place, 15 games out of first with only one starter on the staff making 30+ starts and that was Wade Miley.
Just one year after Lester joined the Cubs, the Red Sox reversed course and signed 30-year-old David Price to a 7-year $217 million contract, which at the time was the highest average annual salary for a pitcher ever.
Now obviously the Price contract had its ups and downs as did the 4-year $67.5 deal for Nathan Eovaldi, as has the 5-year $145 extension for Chris Sale. There are pros and cons to building entirely through the farm system and market inefficiencies just like there are pros and cons (albeit more costly cons) of prioritizing top tier free agents.
With Xander Bogaerts skipping town for warmer weather and an astronomical $280 million payday in San Diego, the attention now turns to the impending free agency of another homegrown star in Rafael Devers. As Bloom was recently quoted on Rob Bradford’s podcast, the Sox are willing to resign Devers “if there’s something within reason, or even a little outside of reason.” As history has shown, reasonable may not be enough to get it done with a player of Devers’ caliber. After seeing what Bogaerts got paid, the Sox may have already soured on the idea of spending the dollars that a Devers deal will command, but the market is the market.
As Bill Belichick once famously said, “It’s just our job to do business as business is being done.”
It’s time for the Red Sox to truly decide what they want to be. Pleasing everybody simply isn’t possible, but frequently altering course every few years is a sure-fire way to anger everyone. So whichever direction it decides to go, the team needs to swallow hard and rip the band-aid off, commit to a course of action, burn the boats. Pick whichever figure of speech you prefer.
Whether we’re watching Rafael Devers playing in Petco Park or Fenway Park in 2024 will be the clear anemometer for the Boston Red Sox.
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