Year after the big deal, where's Sox money going?

Year after the big deal, where's Sox money going?
August 23, 2013, 12:00 pm
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LOS ANGELES -- It was a year ago this very weekend that, in the span of a few hours, the Red Sox re-made themselves from top to bottom.
Off went three high-priced stars and a utility player. In, from the Los Angeles Dodgers, came a handful of players, including three who were gone from the Red Sox roster by the time spring training rolled around.
Up went the white flag for 2012, after which the Red Sox barely resembled a major league-caliber roster, losing 27 of their final 36 games and falling into the division basement, finishing with the organization's worst record in nearly 50 years.
Out, seemingly, went the notion that the Red Sox could thrive with an roster assembled with marquee names, collected like baubles from around the game.
Purged from the clubhouse were personalities who had grown stale and polluted the team's winning culture.
Seldom has a trade been more significant, more cleansing, more complete. With one transaction, the Red Sox totally transformed themselves.
"Ben [Cherington] hit the re-set button with both fingers,'' noted John Farrell, who watched from Toronto as his once and future team dismantled itself.
A year later, it's hard to disagree with the results -- for both sides. The Red Sox sit atop a crowded American League East division, in position to return to the postseason for the first time 2009.
The Dodgers, meanwhile, overcame a sluggish start to their season and come into their weekend interleague series with the Red Sox having won an astounding 45 of their past 55 games.
Los Angeles needed the infusion of star power. The Dodgers were under new ownership and needed to win back an alienated fan base that barely weather the Frank McCourt Era. Not insignificantly, the Dodgers also needed marketable  players to help win them a landmark local TV deal, one that was ultimately worth in excess of $3 billion, or, more than half again the value of the franchise itself.
Across the country, there were financial considerations for the Red Sox,  too. By unloading Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford (along with Nick Punto), the Red Sox shed more than $260 million in present and future contractual obligations.
That, Farrell said Wednesday, gave Cherington and the rest of the team's Baseball Operations department "a blank canvas'' from which to start again.
And Cherington indeed reshaped the roster with a series of trades and  free agent signings. By the time he was finished, the Red Sox had a new shortstop, new first baseman, right fielder, closer, starting pitcher, backup catcher, platoon outfielder and set-up reliever.
That was all part of the re-org, where the Red Sox eschewed the top two names on the free agent market (outfielder Josh Hamilton and starer Zack Greinke) and instead, mostly dabbled in the middle of the market, obtaining solid if unspectacular veterans such as Mike Napoli and Ryan Dempster.
The emphasis was on dependable players on relatively short-term deals. Of the seven free agents signed, only four were signed for more than one guaranteed season, and only one (Victorino) was signed to a deal longer than two years.
The statement was clear: the Red Sox would no longer be bidders for the  mega-stars, having been burned financially and thrown off course from a personality standpoint.
Regardless of background checks and testimonials, the Red Sox had been duped on Crawford and Gonzalez. The former seemed to buckle under the expectations of the market and the latter never seemed suited to play in the Northeast, where baseball isn't a pasttime, but an emotional investment. Even Beckett, who had initially embraced the baseball culture, grew weary of it and lost his competitive edge.
Rival executives across the game were stunned by the Red Sox windfall. In addition to landing two promising pitcher prospects (Allen Webster and Rubby de la Rosa), the team also offloaded more than a quarter of a billion in salary.
It remains, to this day, the biggest transfer of contractual assets in any of the four major sports. (That it was consummated after the non-waiver trade deadline made it all the more improbable).
But a year later, having been given a $260 million do-over, the Red Sox are in a sort of monetary limbo.
"Everyone says, 'Wow, look how much money we saved!' '' said one Red Sox official recently. "And yeah, we did. But now what do we do with it all?''
The executive was only half-kidding.
Sure, the Red Sox spent freely last winter. Seven free agents signing totaled $100.45 million, not including options and buyout. New contracts were given to David Ortiz, and earlier this year, to Dusitn Pedroia, totaling another $136 million.
Still, changes in the game's economic system are such that the Red Sox can't re-invest that money the way they once could.
*The collective bargaining agreement, signed some nine months before the mega-deal with the Dodgers, limits the amount of money that can be spent on the amateur draft.
Former GM Theo Epstein routinely spent "over slot'' for picks, selecting players who were considered tough signs in middle and later rounds and rewarding them with far bigger signing bonuses than they would have otherwise received.
Current third baseman Will Middlebrooks is just one example. Drafted in the fifth round under the now extinct system, Middlebrooks who had both baseball and football scholarship offers, got $925,000, far more than others taken in the same round).
But the new CBA places heavy penalties on teams that spend over the recommended alotment, closing a loophole the Red Sox previously exploited.
*Significant penalties are also in place for international free agent signings.
The Red Sox organization is dotted with such players, wunderkind Xander Bogaerts to pitchers like Felix Doubront. Here, again, the Red Sox used their big market budget to beat other teams to some of the best talent in the Dominican Republic, Venezuela and other baseball-rich countries whose young players aren't eligible for the draft.
Those days, too, are over. If teams over-spend past set budgets, there are penalties to be paid, both in luxury taxes and further reductions on the next year's budget.
*The free agent pool isn't what it used to be.
Even if the Red Sox made a decision to return to their free-spending ways, casting aside the missteps and disappointments they've experienced, there wouldn't be much on which to bid.
Thanks to the overall economic health of the game, revenue sharing and exploding local TV rights fees, most teams are able to retain their own stars. In the last two years, Joey Votto, Joe Mauer, Felix Hernandez, Ryan Braun, Brandon Phillips, Justin Verlander, Evan Longoria and others have all forgone that the chance at at free agency for contracts to remain with their original small- and medium-market teams.
Baseball economics are cyclical, of course, but for now, the few stars who hits free agency usually either somewhat damaged goods (Hamilton) or Scott Boras clients (Prince Fielder, Jacoby Ellsbury).
So where do the Red Sox spend their money?
They can invest in the organization's infrastructure such as scouting and their developmental programs and academies in the Dominican and elsewhere.
They can be innovative and spend it to upgrade their own training and medical facilities at their spring training complex in Fort Myers.
Lastly, they can still spend freely on international free agents who aren't subjected to the kinds of penalties and limits. Cuban free agent right-hander Miguel Gonzalez was one of their targets, though the Sox were ultimately outbid by Philadelphia for his services.
They're expected to be one of the game's biggest players for Cuban slugger Jose Abreu this winter, who, like Gonzalez, is open to bidding without restrictions because of his age (26) and comparable professional experience.
But a year from their unprecedented deal with the Dodgers, it's clear that the money saved from the trade isn't spent as easily as it once might have been.