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.

Robbie Ross Jr. is getting elbow checked out

Robbie Ross Jr. is getting elbow checked out

Red Sox reliever Robbie Ross Jr.'s tough 2017 has reached a potentially scary moment.

Expected to be the team's lead lefty out of the bullpen, Ross has twice been demoted and struggled in the majors. Now, he's on the disabled list at Triple-A Pawtucket with inflammation in his throwing elbow — a health situation that might explain why he wasn't pitching well in the big leagues.

The Red Sox expect to know more about Ross' situation later in the week.

Ross hasn't pitched in game for Pawtucket since he was most recently optioned. If the 27-year-old was indeed hurt in the majors, it's possible he could retroactivley wind up on the major league disabled list. Ross was demoted May 19, and is on the DL retroactive to May 25. 

Per BrooksBaseball.net, Ross sat at 93 mph with his fastball on May 12. He dropped down to 92 in the following appearance, and the next two outings were at 91 mph. He averaged 94 mph in 2016.

Ross had a 7.00 ERA in eight major league appearances this year, striking out nine and walking five in nine innings. He posted a 3.25 ERA in a 2016 season where he established himself as a key member of the 'pen.

Ross said he was shocked when he was demoted for the first time this year. 

Robinson Cano, Guillermo Heredia homer in Mariners' 5-0 win over Red Sox

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Robinson Cano, Guillermo Heredia homer in Mariners' 5-0 win over Red Sox

BOSTON (AP)  Christian Bergman rebounded from a miserable start with seven shutout innings and the Seattle Mariners halted Boston's season-high six-game winning streak with a 5-0 victory over the Red Sox on Sunday.

Robinson Cano hit a two-run homer and Guillermo Heredia a solo shot for the Mariners, who averted a three-game sweep with just their second win in nine games. Seattle was shut out the first two games.

Bergman (2-2) allowed four hits, walked two and struck out two. He got a lot of help from his infielders when they turned a double play in each of the first four innings.

Three relievers completed the combined five-hitter, with closer Edwin Diaz getting the final three outs despite two errors by infielders.

Bergman was tagged for 14 hits and 10 runs over four innings in a loss his previous start.

Rick Porcello (3-6) gave up 11 hits, but only two runs in 6 1/3 innings.

Seattle finished one off its club record for most double plays turned in a game.

After being shut out for the first 21 innings of the series, the Mariners moved ahead 1-0 in the fourth when Kyle Seager raced home from third after Porcello bounced a pitch that went over catcher Sandy Leon's right shoulder and onto the screen. Seager had doubled leading off and advanced on Danny Valencia's single.

Heredia homered over the Green Monster in the eighth and Cano sent his into the center-field bleachers an inning later.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Mariners: RHP Hisashi Iwakuma, on the disabled list with right shoulder inflammation, had another bullpen session Sunday because he wasn't happy with one a day earlier.

Red Sox: Manager John Farrell said 3B Pablo Sandoval, out since late April with a sprained right knee, will stay on his rehab assignment at Triple-A Pawtucket to get his "timing going" with more at-bats.

ROSTER MOVES

Seattle sent Saturday's losing pitcher, RHP Rob Whalen, to Triple-A Tacoma and brought up RHP Ryne Harper from the same club.

The Red Sox also made moves with pitchers, sending Saturday's winner, lefty Brian Johnson, to Triple-A Pawtucket and promoting RHP Blaine Boyer for a day. Boyer will go back down Monday when ace David Price is activated.

Boyer made his Red Sox debut, retiring the only two batters he faced.

UP NEXT

Mariners: RHP Sam Gaviglio (0-1, 1.38 ERA) is set to make his third major-league start when they open a two-game series Monday at Colorado. RHP Tyler Chatwood (4-6, 4.50) is scheduled for the Rockies.

Red Sox: LHP Price makes his season debut Monday in Chicago against the White Sox after being sidelined since early spring training with a strained left elbow.

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