Call it what it is and has been: A long, lengthy, expensive rebuilding process that featured unexpected brilliance in 2013 and the sort of abysmal performances that often characterize rebuilding efforts in three other years.
It’s impossible to separate the question of how the Red Sox should proceed at this year’s trade deadline from the issue of how they arrived at this point, their third plummet in four years to a point well below expectations and in which the first place team has all but disappeared from view over a distant horizon.
The Sox have spent big in recent years, most notably with $350 million in commitments over the last 11 months to Rick Porcello, Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo, and Pablo Sandoval. To date, they’ve received staggeringly little return on that quartet, resulting in immense – and justifiable – scrutiny focused on the team’s decision makers.
Christopher Gasper writes the Red Sox have “either the wrong plan or the wrong man implementing it,” and wonders whether GM Ben Cherington’s deliberative manner is more properly suited to building through the long haul as a farm director (a role he played very well in the past) than to the rapidly shifting terrain of a GM.
And perhaps there’s something to that. Indeed, some talent in the industry had that very curiosity about Cherington’s managerial style at the time he was hired as Sox GM.
But there’s also a challenging reality of the current baseball landscape, which rarely permits successful on-the-fly roster overhauls at the big league level. In some ways, the 2013 championship created something of an illusion in Boston, the suggestion that a team with four or five solid pillars (Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz) could gut and renovate its big league roster completely with players acquired from outside the organization and realize immense success.
Yet in many ways, that championship represented something akin to flipping a coin 12 straight times and having it come up heads on every occasion. The formula created a sort of magical alchemy for one year, but it was unstable, unsustainable into the next year and then could not be recreated, at least to this point, with either the mid-2014 overhaul or the 2014-15 makeover.
The reality of the Red Sox is that, without ever using the word, they’re roughly 35 months into a rebuilding and reforming process that started in August 2012. That process typically takes years of hardship to implement, as current sustainable (or seemingly sustainable) contenders like the Giants (who averaged 73.5 wins from 2005-08), Nationals, Cubs, Pirates, Orioles, and Astros attest.
Given the struggles of Cherington, it’s worth recalling the remarks of his former boss, Theo Epstein, on the day that he became president of baseball operations with the Cubs — at the same time that Cherington was being introduced with the Sox.
“There are no definitive answers in this game, no shortcuts,” Epstein said in October 2011. “When you think you’ve got it all figured out, you can get humbled very quickly.”
The Sox are being humbled. The question is whether the lesson in humility is coming with the framework for sustainable future success, and whether there is a time in sight when the rebuilding will be done. That, even more than the results of the here-and-now, is how Cherington’s bosses must evaluate him.
If he’s bringing the team closer to its long-term aspiration of “the next great Red Sox team,” then despite the miserable performances of recent years, he’s the right man for the job. If not, then the Sox’ focus should be on their front office rather than their roster.