Red Sox big splashes make them compelling again


Red Sox big splashes make them compelling again

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.

Sean McAdam can be reached at Follow Sean on Twitter at http:twitter.comsean_mcadam

Red Sox exec Amiel Sawdaye follows Hazen to Arizona


Red Sox exec Amiel Sawdaye follows Hazen to Arizona

The Red Sox lost another key member of their front office Monday, when vice-president of amateur and international scouting Amiel Sawdaye followed former general manager Mike Hazen to Arizona.

Sawdaye will be the Diamondbacks' assistant GM. As stated by Rotoworld, he had been instrumental in building up the Red Sox' young big league talent and farm system.

The Boston Globe reported today that the Red Sox may not fill the GM vacancy created when Hazen left, instead using "other staffers to take on Hazen’s administrative duties". President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski handles many of the duties traditionally associated with the general manager's position, leaving the actual GM's job in Boston as "essentially an assistant [position] with a lofty title but little power".

The Red Sox have also lost two other front-office members this offseason: Senior baseball analyst Tom Tippett, who had been with the organization for eight years, and director of sports medicine services Dan Dyrek, who had been with the Sox for five years.

McAdam: World Series win could clear path to Cooperstown for Epstein or Francona

McAdam: World Series win could clear path to Cooperstown for Epstein or Francona

Sometime over the next 10 or so days, either the Chicago Cubs or Cleveland Indians will win the 2016 World Series.

Naturally, that will mean one of baseball's two longest-suffering franchises will end their championship drought. Either the Cubs will win their first title since 1908, or the Indians will win for the first time since 1948.

That alone should make for an epic World Series.

But there's another bit of history at stake, too - one of legacies.

In addition to the great discomfort felt by Red Sox ownership -- which fired the manager of one participating team and was seemingly happy to hold the door open for the exit of an executive now running the other - it will also almost certainly result, eventually, in either Terry Francona or Theo Epstein being enshrined into the Hall of Fame.

Epstein would go down as the architect who helped two star-crossed franchises win titles - the Red Sox in 2004, and the Cubs this fall.

The Red Sox went 86 years between championships; the Cubs would be ending a run of futility that stretched across 108 seasons.

That would provide Epstein with an unmatched resume when it comes to degree of difficulty. It's one thing to win it all; it's another altogether to do so with the Sox and Cubs, two clubs, until Epstein's arrival, linked in ignominy.

Epstein could become only the fourth GM in modern history win a World Series in both leagues. Frank Cashen (Orioles and Mets); John Schuerholz (Royals and Braves) and Pat Gillick (Blue Jays and Phillies).

He would also join a short list of executives who have won three rings, a list that includes contemporaries Brian Cashman and Brian Sabean.

Of course, Epstein can't claim to have constructed the entire Cubs roster, no more than he could have done when the Red Sox won in '04.

In Boston, Epstein inherited key players such as Manny Ramirez, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek. Similarly, Javier Baez and Willson Contreras pre-date Epstein's arrival on the North Side.

But Epstein is responsible for nearly the remainder of the roster, and hiring manager Joe Maddon, the coaching staff and most of the Baseball Operations staff, including GM Jed Hoyer and scouting director Jason McLeod.

Francona's influence on the Indians is just as obvious.

Hired in late 2012 after spending a year in the ESPN broadcast booth, he inherited a team which had suffered through four straight losing seasons. In the five previous years before Francona's hiring, the Indians averaged just over 72 wins per season.

Since his arrival, the Indians have posted four straight winning seasons, with two playoff appearances, while averaging 88 wins per season.

It hasn't seemed to matter to the Indians that they've been without two of their three best starters (Danny Salazar and Carlos Carrasco) this postseason or arguably, their best offensive player for all but 11 games this season (Michael Brantley).

The Indians don't make excuses for injuries, or bemoan their modest payroll. Under Francona, they just win.

This postseason, he's made up for the absences in the rotation by masterfully utilizing reliever Andrew Miller anywhere from the fifth to the ninth inning.

A third World Series would put Francona in similarly rare company. Only 10 managers have won three or more World Series and just six have done so since World War 2 - Walter Alston, Joe Torre, Tony La Russa, Bruce Bochy Sparky Anderson and Casey Stengel.

The individual accomplishments of Epstein and Francona won't take center stage this week and next -- that attention will, rightly, go to their respective beleaguered franchises.

But the subtext shouldn't be overlooked. Once the partying and the parades come to an end, a path to Cooperstown for either the winning manager or winning president of baseball operations can be cleared.