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Dan Shaughnessy

The myth of contention holds Red Sox back

Mike Napoli and the Red Sox went 1-6 on their recent road trip.
Mike Napoli and the Red Sox went 1-6 on their recent road trip.(Jim Mone/Associated Press/File 2015)

The Red Sox are a myth, and the sooner folks understand this, the sooner ownership will be forced to address the hard truth.

The myth of the Sox is that they are some kind of perennial playoff contender. You know . . . three championships in 10 years.

Swell. But despite the hype, the highest prices in baseball, and the $200 million payroll, the Sox are no longer legitimate contenders. They are not a good team and they have not been a good team for quite some time.

On Tuesday, principal owner John Henry (who also owns the Globe) addressed the media and acknowledged that the Sox have underperformed this season, but he insisted that the postseason is within reach and that the jobs of manager John Farrell and general manager Ben Cherington are very safe.

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“When you look at this team — and I tell you we’ve analyzed this team — this is a strong team,” said Henry. “They’ve just played not up to their capabilities.”

The Red Sox bottled some lightning in 2013, but clearly that was an outlier season, one that contributes to the ongoing phony narrative that the cutting-edge Sox are ahead of the curve and loaded with talent throughout the organization.

Wake up, people. Your baseball team is not smarter than all the other teams. Your farm system is not the best in the majors.

When the current season is over, the last-place Sox of today — who still claim they are all about October baseball — will have won a playoff game in only one of their last seven seasons. Your Red Sox are an aggregate 31 games under .500 (267-298) since Sept. 1, 2011. According to the Providence Journal, the 2015 Red Sox entered Tuesday as Boston’s worst baseball team since 1960 in the area of run differential — minus-48 after 51 games.

Despite these inconvenient truths, folks at the top continue to say that all is well. And rest assured the Sox soon will be OK because . . . you know . . . they are loaded with prospects.

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Listen to the words of the owners when they arrived in Fort Myers, Fla., in late February. Asked to characterize the state of his franchise, Henry answered, “From my perspective, it’s never been better. I think we’re as strong throughout the organization as we’ve ever been.’’

This was on Feb. 24. This year.

“We have a strong commitment to winning,’’ added chairman Tom Werner. “We play for championships . . . It is our intention to play baseball in October every year.’’

Increasingly invisible Sox CEO Larry Lucchino (now “busy” with Rhode Island’s Triple A team and Boston’s 2024 Olympics bid) chimed in with, “We’re in it to win it, to win championships. If that means this kind of manic-depressive kind of course, maybe that’s not so terrible . . . We’re well prepared to be a successful franchise in the next several years.’’

Despite a second last-place finish in three years, everything was awesome going into this season. Wise guys in Vegas agreed, projecting the Sox to win 86.5 games, tops in the division.

National media folks gushed about the new Red Sox lineup and predicted another worst-to-first season for Boston. Sports Illustrated and USA Today picked the Sox to finish first in the AL East — which, of course, is still possible in the toxic landfill that the division has become.

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Sox starting pitchers mocked the naysayers, wearing T-shirts that said, “He’s the ace,’’ and after Clay Buchholz outpitched Philadelphia’s Cole Hamels on Opening Day, Henry noted to a reporter that the Sox did indeed have an ace starter.

And now here we are again. Worst-to-first has become worst-to-worst.

It’s not that ownership and baseball ops are inattentive or lack effort. The team spends big buckets of money on the ball club, and Cherington and staff work as hard as any organization.

But many of the Red Sox’ current problems are still rooted in arrogance, NESN ratings (Messrs. Sandoval and Ramirez are looking like Crawford and Gonzalez from 2011), an insistence that an ace pitcher is not a good value, and a system philosophy that relies heavily on new metrics.

Much of this starts at the top.

We know all about ownership’s innovative philosophy on ace pitchers. Boston has determined that a big-money 30-year-old ace is not a high-yield commodity. You’re better off with five Joe Kellys and Rick Porcellos than one Jon Lester.

Turning their backs on arcane thinking (and 130 years of baseball history), the Sox are out to prove that a team does not need a true No. 1 starter. Instead, the organization chooses to live on the cutting edge of WAR, VORP, BABIP, DIPS, EqAS, and UZR.

OMG. LOL.

And let’s not forget “neuroscouting.’’

Alex Speier’s feature on Mookie Betts in the Globe in February informed us that the Red Sox partnered with a technology company to measure how fast a baseball brain works. They developed a proprietary SAT-like testing system to tell them who the good hitters might be. One of the Sox draftees who crushed the neuroscouting tests was Jackie Bradley Jr., who has batted .192 over parts of three big league seasons.

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Talent evaluation is another area of growing concern, and that falls squarely on baseball ops. A lot of big contracts have been given to the wrong people, and it might be time for the Sox-loving world to stop perpetuating the fallacy of Boston’s amazing scouting and player development.

Sunday’s Boston Herald featured a two-page predraft feature headlined “Sox Talent-Rich Despite Spotty Drafting.’’ The piece reminded us once again that the Sox farm system is loaded. There’s a nationwide insistence that no Sox minor leaguers can be dealt to the Phillies for Hamels because the Sox are just too gosh-darned loaded with great prospects.

Please. Make it stop. Despite the Juan Bustabad rhetoric (look him up), the sad fact is that the Red Sox have not drafted and developed a big league starting pitcher or an All-Star position player since Buchholz and Jacoby Ellsbury were drafted by Theo Epstein 10 years ago.

It’s fitting that the Minnesota Twins are in town this week. The Twins share Fort Myers with the Red Sox, and we feel sorry for them all spring. The Red Sox get all the attention and have all the fans and are nationally acclaimed as the brilliant, big-money franchise, always ahead of everybody else. The poor Twins have no payroll, no star power, and no national following.

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They also have a first-place team with the third-best record in the American League.

We have the Red Sox.

We have the myth.


Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at daniel.shaughnessy@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @Dan_Shaughnessy.