Red Sox will make culture change with blockbuster deal

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Red Sox will make culture change with blockbuster deal

In one dramatic gesture, the Red Sox this week set about the process of changing their clubhouse culture, re-stocking their system with two high-end pitching prospects and, not
incidentally, saved approximately 260 million in future payroll obligations.

Even in the make-believe world of pro sports, where a million here or there begins to feel like pocket change, 260 million is, you know, real money.

Think of it: more than a quarter of a billion dollars that had been earmarked for Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto will now go back into the owner's coffers.

It's reasonable to expect that, in time, the Red Sox will re-invest the money saved. After all, since the Henry-Werner-Lucchino group took over in 2002, the Red Sox have annually been among baseball's handful of biggest spenders.

You can say that the Sox haven't spent wisely; but it's impossible to charge that they haven't spent.

A lone recent exception came last winter, when, much to their detriment as it turned out, the Sox wouldn't spend to improve their pitching depth. Huroki Kuroda and Edwin Jackson were deemed too expensive, even on short-term deals.

The reason for the sudden stinginess was the new collective bargaining agreement, which changed the rules and the financial landscape. The Sox didn't want to put themselves in position where they would be over the competitive balance tax (CBT), thus incurring
stiff penalities for luxury tax payments.

Thanks to the deal with the Dodgers, the Sox are out from underneath appoximately 57 million in obligations for the 2013 payroll.

The trick, however, is to not spend that money on the first shiny bobble or two that happens along on this winter's free agent market. That, after all, would simply result in the team rushing back into the burning building from which they just escaped -- with the help of the Dodgers' new ownership group, of course.

The deal itself would seem to be a recognition that the franchise has gotten away from its own blueprint, which focused not on high-ticket free agents, but rather, scouting and development.

When the Red Sox consistently won - from 2003 through 2008 -- they did so with an emphasis on homegown players: Nomar Garciaparra, Kevin Youkilis, Trot Nixon, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, and Clay Buchholz.

True, the team augmented those with some significant - and costly -- free agents or trade acquisitions such as Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke and others -- but nearly as many were shrewd, relatively low-cost players such as David Ortiz, Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar.

It was only recently that the organization was sucked in to the allure of big-name free agents, or, what former general manager Theo Epstein alluded to as "the Monster.'' And look where that got them: John Lackey. Carl Crawford. And to a lesser extent, Adrian Gonzalez.

The worst possible path the Sox could now take would be to chase after the likes of Zack Greinke -- the top starting pitcher on this fall's free agent market -- or Josh Hamilton -- inarguably, the most talented position player.

Beyond the notion that doing business with free agents almost always results in overpaying for performance, it would be hard to imagine two players less suited for the Boston marketplace.

Greinke suffers from a clinically-diagnosed social anxiety disorder. That's been enough to scare off the New York Yankees in the past, who have expressed concern over how Greinke would deal with the pressures, scrutiny and expectations that come from playing in the nation's biggest market. But would Boston be any less forgiving.

Hamilton, a recovering addict, also seems like a spectacularly poor fit for Boston. After two public relapses -- one in Arizona several off-seasons ago, and one in Dallas earlier this year -- Hamilton would be under a microscope in Boston.

Moreover, there's his lack of durability. As talented as Hamilton undoubtedly is -- and some have said he may well be the most skilled player in the game -- he has played more than 133 games just once in his major league career. It's not likely that he will become
more as he gets into his mid-30s.

Do either of those sound like good investment

The Sox would be better off waiting until after 2013 when Josh Johnson, Tim Lincecum and Matt Garza all reach free agency.

Even then, however, the Sox should adopt a caveat emptor approach. Beyond Manny Ramirez, which eight-figure free agent has been worth the investment for the Sox in the last decade.

"Free agency,'' said one talent evalautor, "is a losing proposition.''

It's easy for the Red Sox to say that now. The real temptation will come this winter, when the team faces the difficult mission of attempting to sell tickets following a third consecutive DNQ for the post-season.

Then, the Sox will undoubtedly hear complaints from fans that they're attempting to slash payroll in preparation for a sale. Or that they're turning into small-market players in a big-market town.

The tough part will be to resist that sentiment, that call to spend the money they've saved.

For a team whose owners are as PR conscious as these, it will not be easy to avoid the quick fix, the showy signing that will supposedly signify commitment.

As the last few years have demonstrated, that's not the right route back to contention.

It would be far wiser to invest a chunk of the money saved into scouting -- both international and domestic. Do it well enough, and before long, the Sox will have enough prospects to not only fill their own roster, but also, to trade off in the search for more established help.

It wasn't that long ago that the Sox understood that drafting and development -- while far less showy and unquestionably slower -- is the best path. Should they forget, they can remember this week when it took a team more desperate than they were to help undo several years of misguided spending.

Felger: Crazy can be good, but Sale needs to harness it

Felger: Crazy can be good, but Sale needs to harness it

Chris Sale brings with him to Boston some attitude. He also brings a measure of defiance and, perhaps, a little bit of crazy.

All of which the Red Sox starting staff just may need. And if Sale pitches as he has for much of the past five years, he'll probably be celebrated for it.

I still wonder how it will all play here, especially if he underachieves.

What would we do to him locally if he refused to pitch because he didn't like a certain kind of uniform variation the team was going with? What would we say if he not only refused to pitch, but took a knife to his teammates' uniforms and the team had to scrap the promotion? Sale did exactly that in Chicago last year, after which he threw his manager under the bus for not standing by his players and attacked the team for putting business ahead of winning.

All because he didn't want to wear an untucked jersey?

"(The White Sox throwback uniforms) are uncomfortable and unorthodox,'' said Sale at the time. "I didn't want to go out there and not be at the top of my game in every aspect that I need to be in. Not only that, but I didn't want anything to alter my mechanics. ... There's a lot of different things that went into it.''

Wearing a throwback jersey would alter his mechanics? Was that a joke? It's hard to imagine he would get away with that in Boston.

Ditto for his support of Adam LaRoche and his involvement of that goofy story last March.
 
LaRoche, you'll remember, retired when the White Sox had the nerve to tell him that his 14-year-old son could not spend as much time around the team as he had grown accustomed to. Sale responded by pitching a fit.

“We got bald-face lied to by someone we’re supposed to be able to trust,'' said Sale of team president Kenny Williams. ``You can’t come tell the players it was the coaches and then tell the coaches it was the players, and then come in and say something completely different. If we’re all here to win a championship, this kind of stuff doesn’t happen.”

On what planet does allowing a 14-year-old kid in a clubhouse have anything to do with winning a title? In what universe does a throwback jersey have anything to do with mechanics? If David Price had said things that stupid last year, he'd still be hearing about it. And it won't be any different for Sale.

Thankfully, Sale's defiance and feistiness extends to the mound. Sale isn't afraid to pitch inside and protect his teammates, leading the American League in hit batsmen each of the last two years. He doesn't back down and loves a fight. And while that makes him sound a little goofy off the field, it should play well on it.

In the meantime, the Sox better hope he likes those red alternate jerseys they wear on Fridays.

E-mail Felger at mfelger@comcastsportsnet.com. Listen to Felger and Mazz weekdays, 2-6 p.m. on 98.5 FM. The simulcast appears daily on CSN.

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

With trade rumors finally over, Sale shifts attention to dominating in Boston

NATIONAL HARBOR, Md. -- Chris Sale had been the subject of so many trade rumors for the past year that he admitted feeling somewhat like "the monkey in the middle.”

On Tuesday, the rumors became reality when Sale learned he was being shipped to the Red Sox in exchange for a package of four prospects.
    
It meant leaving the Chicago White Sox, the only organization he'd known after being drafted 13th overall by Chicago in 2010. Leaving, he said, is "bittersweet.''
     
Now, he can finally move forward.
     
"Just to have the whole process out of the way and get back to some kind of normalcy will be nice,” said Sale Wednesday morning in a conference call with reporters.

Sale had been linked in trade talks to many clubs, most notably the Washington Nationals, who seemed poised to obtain him as recently as Monday night.

Instead, Sale has changed his Sox from White to Red.

"I'm excited,” he said. "You're talking about one of the greatest franchises ever. I'm excited as anybody. I don't know how you couldn't be. I've always loved going to Boston, pitching in Boston. (My wife and I) both really like the city and (Fenway Park) is a very special place.”
     
It helps that Sale lives in Naples, Fla., just 20 or so miles from Fort Myers, the Red Sox' spring training base. Sale played his college ball at Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers.
     
"Being able to stay in our house a couple of (more) months,” gushed Sale, “it couldn't have worked out better personally or professionally for us.”
     
Sale joins a rotation with two Cy Young Award winners (David Price and reigning winner Rick Porcello), a talented core of mostly younger position players and an improved bullpen.

"There's no reason not to be excited right now,” said Sale. "You look at the talent on this team as a whole... you can't ask for much more.”

Sale was in contact with Price Tuesday, who was the first Red Sox player to reach out. He also spoke with some mutual friends of Porcello.

That three-headed monster will carry the rotation, and the internal competition could lift them all to new heights.
     
"The good thing in all of this,'' Sale said, "is that I can definitely see a competition (with) all of us pushing each others, trying to be better. No matter who's pitching on a (given) night, we have as good or better chance the next night. That relieves some of the pressure that might build on some guys (who feel the need to carry the team every start).”

But Sale isn't the least bit interested in being known as the ace of the talented trio.

"I don’t think that matters,” he said. "When you have a group of guys who come together and fight for the same purpose, nothing else really matters. We play for a trophy, not a tag.”

Sale predicted he would be able to transition from Chicago to Boston without much effort, and didn't seem overwhelmed by moving to a market where media coverage and fan interest will result in more scrutiny.

"It's fine, it's a part of it, it's reality,” he said. "I'm not a big media guy. I'm not on Twitter. I'm really focused on the in-between-the-lines stuff. That's what I love, playing the game of baseball. Everything else will shake out.”

After playing before small crowds and in the shadow of the  Cubs in Chicago, Sale is ready to pitch before sellout crowds at Fenway.

"I'm a firm believer that energy can be created in ballparks,” he said. "I don't think there’s any question about it. When you have a packed house and everyone's on their feet in the eighth inning, that gives every player a jolt.”