Off-season patience could position Sox for sustained success

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Off-season patience could position Sox for sustained success

Just five years ago this month, the Red Sox had won their second World Series in the span of four seasons, the future for the franchise could not have been brighter.

In addition to their recent success, the Red Sox roster was brimming with young starts in the making (Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester), and the minor league system promised more to come (Justin Masterson, Clay Buchholz).

The team was the envy of most organizations and the model to many.

Viewed through that same prism now, the Red Sox are barely recognizable. They just compiled their worst won-loss record in 47 years. They haven't won a post-season game since 2008 and haven't played a playoff game in the last three years.

Worse, for the second time in as many Octobers, the Red Sox will spend the first month of the off-season in search of a new manager.

Sustained success and stability seem like quaint notions from another era.

What happened?

For one thing, the Sox lost their way philosophically. Eager to maintain their high level of success (two World Series titles, two other trips to the ALCS in the previous five seasons), the Red Sox abandoned the practice of focusing mostly on homegrown talent.

The focus on being a "scouting and player development machine'' that former GM Theo Epstein has vowed to adhere to was suddenly discarded, with an eye toward TV ratings, marketing the brand and attracting more casual fans.

Moreover, the pressure to match the previous level of success led them to sacrifice top prospects (Masterson and Nick Magadone) for short-term gain (Victor Martinez).

But a depleted minor league system, coupled with underperforming (and costly) free agents -- John Lackey, Carl Crawford, Mike Cameron -- conspired to lead to a fallow period for the franchise.

In the end, 2012 may be regarded as the year the franchise bottomed out.

When the Red Sox unloaded Josh Beckett, Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 25, they did more than shed more than a quarter of a billion dollars from current and future payroll obligations.

They were also signaling a return to their roots.

The deal, aimed to give the franchise a re-set, also was a concession that the practice of handing out nine-figure contracts to free agents -- or, in the case of Gonzalez, recently-acquired, soon-to-be free agents -- was a losing proposition.

Even for a big market, high revenue team like the Red Sox, the club's free-spending ways proved particularly costly last winter. The Sox needed pitching to provide some depth to the rotation, but limited by the looming threat of the competitive balance tax (luxury tax), the Sox were unable to compete for such second-tier free agents as Hiroki Kuroda and Edwin Jackson.

When formerly front-line starters such as Lester and Buchholz stumbled badly and depth was in short-supply, the rotation imploded, sending the team on a downward spiral.

The blockbuster with the Dodgers was accompanied by public admissions from ownership and the front office that the Sox had lost their way and needed to return to a more "disciplined'' approach to spending.

It won't take long to put the Red Sox' new-found discipline to the test. The top two free agents this winter should come with warning signs: outfielder Josh Hamilton, a recovering addict, and starter Zack Greinke, who has battled a social anxiety disorder.

A more prudent course would have the Sox looking at more affordable, complementary players who could augment the core of players (Pedroia, Ellsbury, Will Middlebrooks), limit financial risk and help the Sox be more competitive in the short-term.

The organization's best prospects -- infielder Xander Bogaerts, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and pitcher Matt Barnes -- are considered a year away from being ready to contribute. But some short-term investments are needed to pull the club out of the basement for 2013.

If the team resists the lure of Hamilton and Greinke and returns to its original premise, a rebound might take longer, but could be longer-lasting.

Britton: Red Sox don't have anyone else to call up and pitch

Britton: Red Sox don't have anyone else to call up and pitch

Tim Britton of the Providence Journal joins Michael Felger on Sports Tonight to discuss another poor outing by Eduardo Rodriguez and what other options the Red Sox have at pitcher.

Quotes, notes and stars: E-Rod, Red Sox 'capable of more'

Quotes, notes and stars: E-Rod, Red Sox 'capable of more'

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Quotes, notes and stars from the Red Sox' 13-7 loss to the Tampa Bay Rays: 

 

QUOTES

"The bottom line is, he's capable of more, we're capable of more. We need to get better and we had a chance to share that after the game here tonight. We collectively have to get better.'' - John Farrell on Eduardo Rodriguez and the rest of the Red Sox.

"We can't continue to expect our offense to climb out of holes, as we've been. We've got to set the tone and lead the way from the mound more than we are.'' - Farrell on falling behind early.

"Yeah, I think guys are playing hard. I mean, hell, our shortstop ran a 3.9 down the line in the ninth inning, down seven runs - then went first-to-third. So, yeah, that was pretty cool.'' - Dustin Pedroia, asked whether he was satisfied with the effort of the club.

"Do you honestly think I'm going to tell you that? I was talking to him about baseball. That's basically it. I talk to all my teammates every day.'' - Pedroia, when asked what he said in a mound visit with Rodriguez.

 

NOTES

* The 13 runs allowed by the Red Sox tied a season-high and the 18 hits were the most they've given up this season.

* The Red Sox have been outscored 22-0 in the first innings of their last 15 games.

* The Sox dropped to 4 1/2 games back in the American League East, their biggest deficit of the season.

* On the current road trip, Red Sox starters have combined for a 13.20 ERA.

* Boston has allowed first-inning runs in six of their last eight games.

* David Ortiz collected his 1,703rd RBI, passing Reggie Jackson and moving into 24th place all-time.

* Sandy Leon (two-run homer) has five extra-base hits in 29 at-bats this season. Last year, he had two in 114 at-bats.

* Bryce Brentz had his first three-hit game, first multi-RBI game and first multi-extra-base hit game of his career.

 

STARS

1) Nick Franklin

Franklin, making just his second start of the season, had a career-high five RBI with three hits, including his first homer since last Sept. 15.

2) Logan Forsythe

From the leadoff position, Forsythe banged out three hits, knocked in three runs and scored two to pace the Tampa Bay offense.

3) Evan Longoria

It wouldn't be a series between these two teams without Longoria doing some major damage. The veteran third baseman had three hits and two runs scored as part of the conga line that was the Rays lineup.