Remember the days when the Red Sox were courting Curt in the Car in his home over Thanksgiving dinner or dropping the gross domestic product of Micronesia on Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford in less than a week, the days when the offseason was interesting?
Still basking in the warm glow of their remarkable and redemptive World Series championship, the Red Sox are essentially sitting the offseason mating dance out, letting the Yankees, Mariners, and Mets show off their moves and their money.
The Sox have made a few notable transactions — re-signing pilose slugger Mike Napoli to a two-year, $32 million deal and signing catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year, $8.25 million contract to replace Jarrod Saltalamacchia. But it has felt like all quiet on the Fenway Front.
Red Sox general manager Ben Cherington started his daily Winter Meetings briefing with reporters on Wednesday by joking, “All right, let’s figure out something to talk about.”
Winning the offseason rarely works out, just ask the 2013 Blue Jays or the 2011 Red Sox, but neither does standing pat after winning an unlikely championship. Now isn’t the time for the Red Sox to retract. It’s the time to strike with a bold stroke. They have currency, both metaphorical and actual, from last year’s team. Spend it.
No one would blanch if they gambled and traded for Dodgers star Matt Kemp or Phillies ace Cliff Lee, or if they dipped into their surfeit of prospects and surplus of starters and made the Brewers an offer they couldn’t refuse for center fielder Carlos Gomez.
Thinking bold, instead of hold, isn’t just a matter of livening up the offseason ennui. It’s facing reality.
The 2013 Red Sox were an absolute joy to watch from beginning to end. They won 97 games. They never lost more than three games in a row. They led the majors in runs (853) and run differential (plus-197). They made baseball enjoyable again.
But they also had an Eckersley-esque closer come out of nowhere in Koji Uehara. They had no established position players have significant dropoffs from their career production. They exceeded the Red Sox’ internal projections by about 10 wins and one large trophy.
Counting on that to repeat itself is risky. Just like we grossly undersold the Red Sox’ talent level after a 69-93 season in 2012, we can’t assume that the 2014 cast will be the same gilded, bearded band of winners of 2013.
Here’s hoping, one season removed from a last-place finish, the Red Sox don’t think they have it all figured out by avoiding long-term contracts and signing middle-class free agents. They may have reinvented themselves, but they didn’t reinvent the wheel.
“Oh, my goodness, no. The beaches are full of skeletons of people who thought they had it all figured out after a success or two,” said Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino. “We have some enduring principles. But we are still modifying and adjusting with new thoughts and approaches, all of us.”
Lucchino said the Sox are not standing pat.
“I think some of the acquisitions, signing A.J. Pierzynski, a former All-Star catcher, belies that suggestion [of standing pat],” said Lucchino. “That’s the thing we’re fighting. There is an inertia that can set in if you let it in post-championship season. We’re determined to avoid that.”
While the term “bridge year” is verboten inside 4 Yawkey Way, the fact is that last year’s offseason with the signings of Napoli, Shane Victorino, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, David Ross, etc., was geared toward making the team respectable and competitive until the fertile farm system was ready to deliver the Next Great Red Sox Team.
Winning a World Series hasn’t shifted that plan, which is why when Opening Day in Baltimore rolls around March 31, you can expect to see Jackie Bradley Jr. in center field and Xander Bogaerts at shortstop or third base.
“If you are careful with the selection, development, and nurturing of your young players, you’re going to have a better chance of enduring success than if you try to do it through short-term fixes and bonanza contracts for big-name players,” said Lucchino. “I’m not ruling any of that out, but it’s not the preferred method.”
Lucchino said that “it’s not likely there will be big, major transactions” for the Sox this offseason.
It’s hard to criticize the Sox for being more interested in building a long-term winner than making a splash. Inverse thinking was part of what led to the ignominious 2012 season.
But, as the old aphorism goes, everything in moderation. The Sox shouldn’t swing from one extreme (the need for stars or buzz) to another (eschewing any gambles).
One of the advantages of being the Boston Red Sox is that you have the resources to gamble on the health of a Kemp, who has six years and $128 million left on his contract.
If Kemp, who has undergone offseason surgery for recurring ankle and shoulder issues, can return to form and the Dodgers are willing to pick up 10 percent of his remaining money, he is an upgrade over Jacoby Ellsbury at a cheaper cost than the seven-year, $153 million pact Ellsbury got from the spendthrift Pinstripes.
The luxury tax, bumped up to $189 million from $178 million for 2014, is a monetary Maginot Line for the Sox.
“It’s a guideline and nothing more,” said Lucchino.
We’re holding you to that, Red Sox.
The key for the Sox is to entertain during the season, not the Hot Stove season.
To do both, it wouldn’t hurt if the Sox had some logs in the fire.
It’s been brr . . . boring this winter.