The buzzsaw that came for Red Sox management this past weekend was as predictable as January snow in Massachusetts.
At least it should have been.
Yet John Henry and Chaim Bloom didn’t seem to know what they were walking into at the Weekend Winter of Discontent, where showers of boos and shouts of frustration interrupted their attempts to justify another offseason of maddening decisions.
If they thought venturing outside their Fenway bubble in the wake of their one big offseason splash — the long-term signing of homegrown star Rafael Devers — would guarantee a celebratory atmosphere at the annual fan fest held in Springfield, it makes you wonder how thick the walls by Lansdowne and Jersey Streets must be, insulating them from the real-world anger of their most loyal fans.
As attendee Matt Straub told the Globe’s Alex Speier at Winter Weekend, “I don’t know if they were prepared for how bad that was. They look shocked.”
There was Bloom, pleading with the crowd to “hang on,” before waiting out jeers so he could begin a four-minute metaphor that went from driving off a cliff to turning the car around and concluding it’s tough to do both while trying to win at the same time.
And there was Henry, unable to finish a thought about the cost of doing business after his opening line — “The most informed thing I can say is that it’s expensive to have baseball players” — was tone deaf enough to incite the boos that drowned him out as he tried to continue by saying “to have the best baseball players.”
And there were the fans, the most devoted Sox supporters of them all, the ones who buy their tickets to a winter pep rally and flock to Springfield, the ones who have long sustained the Red Sox as one of the most beloved franchises in the game with some of the most coveted tickets on the market. Lose them and you’re like former President Lyndon Johnson after watching veteran newsman Walter Cronkite give up on the Vietnam War: “If I’ve lost Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.”
It is said the opposite of love is not hate but indifference. And for much of the baseball offseason, the Sox were like Exhibit A, left behind in local conversation, virtually invisible in national dialogue, an afterthought while the Patriots clawed toward the end of their season in search of a playoff spot and the Celtics and Bruins opened their seasons in search of a championship.
Indifference was replaced by blowback Friday night.
There’s no denying ownership and the front office heard it. What remains to be seen is whether they actually listened. Relying on the same old message — trotting out David Ortiz Saturday was like handing the mike to one of those kid reporters at a Roger Goodell news conference in an attempt to lighten the mood — isn’t going to diffuse the anger. What rumbled across Fenway back at the Winter Classic, when Henry heard boos during the spectacular outdoor Bruins-Penguins game, erupted in Springfield. It can’t be ignored.
The fans expect the Sox to spend like a big-market team, to stop buying into Bloom’s Tampa Bay-like mix-and-match assemblage of fill-ins, utility players, and one-year contracts, to stop trying to sell that signing Devers is some sort of proof they are going to end the cycle of rebuilding and get back to competing with the likes of the Yankees to win now.
They had no choice but to keep Devers, their last remaining star after letting Xander Bogearts walk and trading Mookie Betts. Timing or coincidence, they announced that contract extension only days after the Fenway Classic embarrassment.
Can they actually win now with an infield of Kiké Hernández at shortstop and Christian Arroyo at second? Hernandez, freed from center field by the recent signing of Adam Duvall (to . . . wait for it . . . a one-year contract), was limited to 93 games last year because of a hip injury. He has made just 64 career starts at shortstop, a position that comes with more than its share of wear and tear. Just ask Trevor Story, the heir apparent to Bogaerts’s position before the shocking announcement that he needed elbow surgery.
And Arroyo, always valuable as a utility player, played 91 regular-season games at second base for the Sox across the past two seasons, and just 144 games total because of injuries and COVID-19.
With manager Alex Cora acknowledging that it might take some load management to get through the early part of the season, this team could be out of the running by the time the Celtics and Bruins emerge from anticipated deep playoff runs.
Throw in the reality that the pitching staff is just as suspect, with three important cogs — Tanner Houck, Chris Sale, and Garrett Whitlock — coming off surgery and soon-to-be 30-year-old Nick Pivetta the only returner who made at least 15 starts in 2022. A healthy Sale would be quite a bonus for a team that saw workhorse Nate Eovaldi leave via free agency, but a healthy Sale is a unicorn in the Red Sox’ world.
Sale always says the right thing, and did so again in Springfield, but his body just won’t let him deliver.
“I owe these people something,” he said. “I owe my teammates the starting pitcher they thought they were going to get. I owe the front office the starting pitcher they paid for. I owe the fans performances they’re paying to come and see.”
Fans paid their money over the weekend, too, and their voices made it clear that Winter Weekend was all about their discontent. Where Henry once heard enough fan outrage about a soccer Super League for their beloved Liverpool, which Henry also owns (along with the Globe), that he issued a videotaped apology, he needs to hear the Sox fans now. They’re angry, but they could just as easily be indifferent. And that’s worse.