Red Sox should stay with what works and not repeat mistakes of 2014
LAS VEGAS — The Red Sox so mishandled their success after winning the World Series in 2013 that they fell into last place and stayed there for two long seasons.
It was such a mess that Dave Dombrowski was hired to clean it up.
Now Dombrowski is tasked with making sure the Sox don’t make the same mistakes again.
Remember 2014? The Sox tried to take advantage of Jon Lester’s loyalty with a low-ball contract offer in spring training. That set off a chain of events that led to them trading off Lester, Andrew Miller, John Lackey, and others in July then foolishly signing Rusney Castillo, Hanley Ramirez, and Pablo Sandoval.
Instead of taking care of the present, the Sox tried to manipulate the future and rebuild on the fly. They got too cute.
So there was a definite sense of deja vu Tuesday when the news broke that the defending World Series champion Sox would at least consider trade offers for Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Rick Porcello.
The notion was that they needed to clear payroll space to improve the bullpen and sneak under the highest tier of the luxury tax.
Dombrowski shot down the idea, saying it was typical Winter Meetings chatter.
“We’re not driven to do that,” he insisted.
But it’s clear they have at least considered it. Other teams insist the Sox are willing to discuss trades and it’s not just smoke.
Due diligence is fine. But the Sox should focus on the task at hand, which is to repeat as champions. The lineup, rotation, and coaching staff are intact and the bullpen needs only modest improvement. Sign David Robertson to close and add a setup man via trade or free agency. Done.
Yes, the bill will come due on this team soon. Bogaerts, Porcello, and Chris Sale will become free agents after next season. J.D. Martinez, who can opt out of his contract, could join them.
Then Bradley and Mookie Betts hit free agency after 2020.
Obviously some tough decisions will have to be made. But why make them now and ruin a good thing? Take your best shot at repeating, then let the process play out.
No team is going to take one year of Porcello and his $21 million and give you a major prospect in return. His greatest value is to play another season for the Sox.
The same is true of Bogaerts. Don’t trade him after he finally put it all together. Reap those benefits.
It’s inevitable that some players will leave via free agency. The Sox appear to have moved on from Craig Kimbrel. Perhaps they’ll have to do the same with Sale or Porcello so they can retain Betts and Bogaerts.
That’s fine. By then they’ll have some prospects ready to contribute.
As for the luxury-tax penalties, those are false obstacles.
Teams are taxed only on how much they go over, not their entire payroll. So even if the Sox exceed the highest threshold, they would have to pay perhaps $14 million. That’s less than what they will pay Sandoval not to play for them next season.
Being pushed back 10 slots in the draft is no detriment, either. The difference between a pick in the 30s or 40s is marginal.
However it works, contending for another championship in 2019 and regrouping in 2020 is better then regrouping for two years in a row.
Trading Bogaerts, Bradley, or Porcello would send a message to the fan base — and worse, the clubhouse — that the intent is not to win.
Stay with what works. Don’t repeat the mistakes of 2014.
. . .
A few other thoughts and observations on the Sox from the Winter Meetings:
■ The inelegantly named Today’s Game Era Committee made an obvious mistake in electing Harold Baines to the Hall of Fame.
Baines was a fine player who compiled impressive numbers over 22 seasons with five teams. But he never gained more than 6.1 percent of the BBWAA vote in five seasons on the ballot. Nothing suggests he was worthy of the Hall of Fame.
But now that Baines is in, how about Dwight Evans getting a better look from the Modern Baseball Era Committee when it meets a year from now?
Baines had an .820 OPS in his career with 38.7 WAR. He had 384 homers, 2,866 hits, and 1,628 RBIs.
Evans had an .840 OPS over 20 seasons with 67.1 WAR, 385 homers, 2,446 hits, and 1,384 RBIs.
If Baines is in, Evans has to be.
But he probably won’t be. The committees remain infected by cronyism.
■ Something is fishy about the Red Sox signing outfielder Gorkys Hernandez to a minor-league contract, which was reported by colleague Alex Speier on Tuesday.
Hernandez is 31 and played 270 games in the major leagues the last two seasons, getting 799 plate appearances for the San Francisco Giants. That’s not the profile of a player who accepts a minor league deal in December.
Hernandez is not a particularly good player; he has hit .234 with a .652 OPS in parts of five seasons in the majors. But he’s good enough to play off the bench for a rebuilding team instead of for Triple A Pawtucket.
Dombrowski acknowledged the Sox were looking for veteran minor leaguers to fill out the Triple A roster. But Hernandez hasn’t played in the minors since 2016.
If this is a precursor to trading Bradley, it’s a lousy move. The Sox can do better than that. Maybe Hernandez just wanted a chance.
■ Since 2014, his first full season, Bogaerts is tied for 10th in the majors with 821 hits. In the last 10 years, Porcello’s 135 wins are seventh in the majors.
■ Through Wednesday, Hanley Ramirez was hitting .232 with a .754 OPS in 16 games for Licey in the Dominican Winter League. He had two home runs in 56 at-bats.
■ The Sox canceled the Christmas at Fenway event, which had been when they started ticket sales. Single-game tickets for select April, May, and September games will now simply go on sale Saturday at 10 a.m. online or by phone.
■ The Sox didn’t get much of an in-season boost from their farm system last season outside of the work Tzu-Wei Lin and Bobby Poyner did in limited roles. That could change next season.
Pitchers Darwinzon Hernandez, Travis Lakins, Josh Taylor, and Durbin Feltman could work into the mix by the second half of the season. Dombrowski said the idea of breaking a young starter like Hernandez into the big leagues via the bullpen holds some appeal.
■ Ian Kinsler is at the Winter Meetings looking for a job. The second baseman gave the Red Sox above-average defense at a time when they needed it. But they’re comfortable with Brock Holt, Eduardo Nunez, and Lin for now.
■ Couldn’t the Sox trade Blake Swihart, Sam Travis, and one of their excess starters (say, Hector Velazquez) for a reliever? At some point, they’d be doing Swihart a favor if they trade him.