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: Will October be a dance or a dud?

Felger: Will October be a dance or a dud?

For a Red Sox team that has been the best in baseball in September and had won 11 straight prior to last night, you have to admit: There are a lot of things that could go the other way with this team in the playoffs that wouldn't surprise you.

To wit:

-- Would it surprise you if David Price blew up again in the postseason? He has a 5.12 career postseason ERA and has never won a playoff start. Was last night a precursor? He looked like his old shaky October self with a chance to clinch the division in Yankee Stadium.

-- Would it surprise you if Clay Buchholz crapped his pants when it mattered most? This is your No. 3 starter, folks, or No. 4 at worst. He's getting the ball in the playoffs either way, and if I told you that two months ago you'd tell me the Sox are sunk. He looks good now, but we all know he is the ultimate tease.

-- Would it surprise you if John Farrell blows a game with a bone-headed decision from the bench? Of course not; he's been doing that for nearly four years. Yes, he did it all the way to a title in 2013, but the possibility remains very real. It's in the back of most everyone's mind.

-- Would it surprise you if Koji Uehara regresses and the eighth inning once again becomes a problem? Uehara certainly has the experience and has pitched well recently, but the fact is that it feels like his arm is attached by a noodle.

-- Would it surprise you if some of the Sox' youth shows its age? It shouldn't. Happens all the time. Would it surprise you if Craig Kimbrel can't find the plate in a big save situation? It shouldn't. He's shown glimpses of it all season and has never pitched past the division series in his career. Would it surprise you if Hanley Ramirez makes an important mistake at first? Or the Sox' hole at third becomes a factor? Nope and nope.

We could play this game all night.

Now, what do I think is going to happen? I think the Sox are going to pitch well, even Price, and the offense will remain a force. I have full faith in Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Rick Porcello and the lineup in general. There's a feeling on this team that's hard to ignore, likely inspired by Ortiz, and I think they'll keep it going in the postseason. I agree with those who say the Sox have the most talent in the American League, so that's a great place to start. I don't know if that means the ALCS, the World Series or a championship. I just think they'll continue to play well into October.

But all of that is just a feeling, just a prediction -- and you know what those are good for. The point is this: If it goes the other way for the Sox, I think we already have the reasons why.

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

McAdam: Price not exactly hitting stride with postseason on horizon

McAdam: Price not exactly hitting stride with postseason on horizon

NEW YORK -- The division title was there for the taking Tuesday night at Yankee Stadium. When you've won 11 straight and steamrolled every other team in the division, what's one more?

One too many, apparently.

The Red Sox' 6-4 defeat to the New York Yankees postponed the Champagne party for at least one night. In and of itself, that's not a huge concern. The Sox' magic number remains one with five games to play and the club's epic hot streak had to come to an end eventually.

A better night by either David -- Ortiz or Price -- might have resulted in corks popping and on-field celebrations.

Ortiz was 0-for-5 and stranded a total of seven baserunners. When he came to the plate in the top of the ninth against Tyler Clippard with two outs and two on, it almost seemed scripted.

Here was Ortiz in his final Yankee Stadium series, about to inflict one final bit of misery on the rival Yankees with a three-run homer in the top of the ninth.

Talk about drama. Talk about one more famous, final scene.

Alas, Ortiz took some feeble swings and swung through strike three for the final out. Not even Ortiz, for all his clutch performances, can conjure a game-winner on-demand every time.

A far bigger concern was the work of Price. Perhaps the best thing than can be said of him for now is that he almost certainly will not have to face the Yankees again this season, against whom he's compiled a gaudy 7.89 ERA this season.

More troubling, though, is that Price is not exactly hitting his stride as the postseason appears on the near horizon. In his last three starts combined, Price has pitched 19 1/3 innings and allowed 27 hits and 14 runs.

That isn't the line of someone at peak form at the right time. To the contrary, after a run of outings in which it again appeared Price had figured everything out, he's regressed in his last three.

Most troubling Tuesday was a repeated inability to turn back the Yankees after his team had pulled close on the scoreboard.

Price spotted the Yankees a 3-0 lead, and the Sox finally scored twice in the top of the 6th to close within one at 3-2. But Price quickly gave anther run back in the bottom of the inning.

Then the Sox scored two more times in the seventh to tie things at 4-4. . . but Price gave the two runs right back in the bottom of the inning.

"Very frustrating,'' sighed Price. "It's something I talk about all the time. It's a very big deal. And it's something I feel like I've struggled with this entire year. Whenever you're going good, it's something you're doing very well. And whenever you're going bad...you get a lead, give it right back. . . that's tough.''

It also doesn't portend well for the postseason, where Price, as you may have heard, has a spotty track record.

With some strong starts in the final few weeks, he could have reached the playoffs with both momentum and confidence.

Instead, he's got one more start -- Sunday -- to straighten things out.

Ortiz? His postseason bona fides are set.

Price, meanwhile, has no such reservoir of success upon which to draw. And starts like Tuesday's only reinforce the doubts.