By Sean McAdam
LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. -- It was August of 2006 and, as luck would have it, the New York Yankees were in town. The Red Sox were falling from contention, the Yankees had just acquired Bobby Abreu at the trade deadline, and general manager Theo Epstein was facing the music.
"We are not the Yankees,'' insisted Epstein at the time. "We feel our best way to compete with them year-in and year-out is to keep one eye on now and one eye on the future and to build something that can sustain success. We've gone toe-to-toe with those guys taking that approach. I think we're one or two games under .500 against them since '03 and have won one more World Series than they have. So we're not going to change our approach and try to all of a sudden build an uber-team."
And yet, four years later, the Red Sox very much resemble an uber-team.
Although the Red Sox haven't yet gotten Adrian Gonzalez's signature on a long-term contract extension, when they finally do the franchise will have laid out a staggering 300 million to two players -- Gonzalez, and of course, free agent outfielder Carl Crawford.
In a stunning show of both their resources and aggressiveness, the Red Sox stunned the baseball world with their signing of Crawford, emerging as the winners of a bidding war some believed they had dropped out of when they acquired Gonzalez in a trade with San Diego last weekend.
The off-season isn't over, but already, the Red Sox have made the biggest trade acquisition (Gonzalez) and signed the best position player (Crawford) on the market.
In so doing, the Sox changed the landscape in the American League East for the short- and long-term. Crawford is signed through 2017, with Gonzalez soon to be secured through 2018 (seven-year extension, plus 2011 contract in place).
After missing out on the playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Sox are apparently determined to change their makeup, and with it, the rest of the division.
Tampa Bay has now lost Crawford, Carlos Pena and reliever Joaquin Benoit and will soon lose Grant Balfour and Rafael Soriano, too. The Yankees, meanwhile, are placed on the defensive, knowing that they must land Lee.
Of the projected starting nine for the 2011 Red Sox, the lineup now boasts All-Stars at first base (Gonzalez); second base (Dustin Pedroia); third base (Kevin Youkilis); left field (Crawford); right field (J.D. Drew) and DH (David Ortiz).
In the last two offseasons, once Gonzalez's extension is made official, they will have committed 446.5 million to four players -- Gonzalez, Crawford, Josh Beckett and John Lackey.
The investments in both Crawford and Gonzalez will take the Red Sox' payroll to about 157 million, including a scheduled arbitration raise for Jonathan Papelbon and increases for 0-3 players such as Clay Buchholz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Daniel Bard. And, the Red Sox insist, they're not done yet, with bullpen upgrades still to come, as well as maintaining interest in catcher Russell Martin.
"If things come together the way we expect,'' Theo Epstein said Thursday, "we'll be really satisfied. You go into every winter with a Plan A and sometimes it's hard to pull that off and you move on to Plan B or C. But adding an impact player was very important for where we were for the short, medium and long-term. Adding two -- as long as they were the right players, in the right spots, in the right situations -- would be even better.
"I'd like to think we don't do anything purely on a short-term basis. The moves we make have to make sense from a short-term standpoint, medium-term standpoint, and long-term standpoint. It has to make sense on the field in terms of talent, the way the parts fit together, the makeup of the players, the long-term roster and payroll forecast. A lot of thought went into whether we could be aggressive as we needed to be on certain fronts and whether it was viable.
"The more we assessed those different variables and crossed those different perspectives -- and we did this objectively over months and months and months -- we realized there was a shot, if things came through the right way, we could be pretty aggressive on a couple of players we really liked.''
Though Epstein insists the Red Sox don't like to make reactionary moves, it's hard to view the events of the last week in a vacuum. As in 2006, when the Sox also failed to qualify for the postseason, they spent freely to lure J.D. Drew from the Los Angeles Dodgers.
It's also difficult to dismiss the team's dip in popularity in the crowded and competitive Boston marketplace. The club's ratings -- both on TV and radio -- are down significantly, and where once the Sox had to worry only about competing with the Patriots, the resurgence of the Celtics (one title and another trip to the NBA Finals in the last two years) and, to a lesser extent, the Bruins, had created more of a sense of urgency.
And delayed though it might have been, this winter spending spree can be seen as a counter-response to the Yankees' unprecedented splurge two winters ago when they outspent the Sox for Mark Teixeira and added starting pitchers CC Sabathia and A.J. Burnett -- a commitment of 423.5 million.
The Sox now have a powerful left-handed-leaning lineup that features speed and energy in the top-third of the lineup (Ellsbury, Pedroia, Crawford), power and selectivity in the middle (Gonzalez and Youkilis) and plus defenders -- or at least the potential for such -- at all three outfield spots and three of the four infield positions.
And yet, despite the cost of doing business in the last week, Epstein maintained Thursday that the additions of the last week do not signal any philosophical conversion.
"Sometimes things align that allow you make big moves and sometimes they don't,'' he said. "If things come together a certain way, we'll have executed a little bit better than we have in the past. That said, I think it's fundamentally important that the basis of your thought process as an organization has to be principles and discipline. We have had those over the years and we still do.
"In other words, we didn't have to set aside principles and discipline or do things we don't believe in in order to execute some of these moves. I think it's aggressive, but we've been operating within our belief system.''
But this much is clear: The Red Sox are, as a group, a lot more expensive and, for that matter, a lot more compelling than they were a week ago.
And that is no accident.