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Last offseason, the Red Sox made noise. The 2011 season was all about Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and speculation about the greatest team ever. We all know how that turned out.
Nowadays, the Sox find themselves with a raincloud of shame and embarrassment hovering over them. Critics believe this team is incomplete and they have cause for worry. Boston can only boast three starters to its name (one who was injured for almost the entire season and two who have been branded as alcoholic malcontents). A newly acquired Andrew Bailey helps, but the bullpen is still in shambles with somewhere between two and zero somewhat-competent relievers. And right field is currently half question mark/half Ryan Kalish.
So what are the Red Sox doing to plug these holes and avoid fielding a fourth consecutive excuse of a baseball team? Not much apparently.
Boston’s reasoning behind not adding another big contract is perfectly understandable. What is not understandable is the reasoning behind not adding any contracts whatsoever. And no, Nick Punto and Kelly Shoppach do not count as significant acquisitions. A replacement for Papelbon is nice, but no matter how you slice it, the injury prone Bailey is not the same (Forgive me for underestimating the pressure to close games in an empty Oakland stadium.) When he inevitably hits the DL with an elbow injury, the Sox are back to square one. Furthermore, by flipping Reddick to Oakland, the already weak position of right field becomes weaker. A Darnell McDonald/Ryan Sweeney outfield? What is this, Kansas City?
So right off the bat, this Boston team is arguably a worse team than it was last year. That is unacceptable. I understand that Benny Cherington does not want to spend foolishly, but you would think he’d try to make some moves to shake things up and mark this team as his own (and not the team of Theo “I still won’t give compensation” Epstein).
The Sox will claim they feel confident with the current roster and have no qualms about trotting two set-up men as their fourth and fifth starters, but unfortunately, these sentiments are not particularly genuine. The Red Sox motivation for not seriously improving this baseball team is the fear of paying the luxury tax.
The Red Sox recently had to pay $3.4 MM last season for exceeding the luxury tax. If the Sox pass that $178 MM threshold again, they will be forced to pay the luxury tax at a rate of 40 percent. If you were hoping for a Roy Oswalt or a Ryan Madson or even a Magglio Ordonez, then this fact swiftly brings a knife to those dreams. Before anyone claims that the Red Sox are being thrifty or spending-savvy, let’s all remember that $3.4 MM, $4.4 MM, or even $14.4 MM is chump change for Boston. The Red Sox could have a payroll of $500 MM and still be profitable. This fear of paying a few extra million dollars is completely irrational.
Baseball differs from the other sports in the sense that a team can almost automatically become a contender if ownership is willing to spend. Oswalt is willing to take a one-year deal and the team with half a rotation isn’t interested? All because of a measly luxury tax? Ask yourself this: Would the late George Steinbrenner have balked at a few million dollars if it meant helping the Yankees win? Red Sox ownership has already answered that question.
I like to think of sports as a product. If a team is unwilling to field an exciting and competitive product, why should the fans waste their time and money? Should the alleged die hard fans of Boston endure a 162-game season when the Red Sox themselves refuse to do the same. That’s not entertainment or anything close to it. Entertainment is Jonathan Papelbon, not a 27-year-old who has already undergone Tommy John surgery. Respectability is investing in a starting pitcher that wasn’t found from the January scrap heap. Human decency is having a right fielder.
I can already picture August 2012. Roy Oswalt is on a one-year, bargain of a deal with New York leading the Yankees to another division title. Ryan Madson is the new closer for Toronto. Even Tampa buckled up to sign Francisco Cordero. Meanwhile the Red Sox are riding the course with an injury plagued pitching staff and an aging roster. Despite the fact that they have 1.5 healthy (not talented) starters and about the same number of reliable arms in the bullpen, Sox management opted not to make a move at the trading deadline. And why would they? Cherington will say he has faith in the roster as it stands. Valentine will laugh the skepticism off with a backhanded joke towards Josh Beckett. John Henry might even tweet something about Liverpool. Another season of mediocrity in the name of avoiding a few million luxury tax dollars.
In the interim, fulfill your duty as a fan of the Boston Red Sox. Buy a brick or even a piece of plastic that proves your worth as a fan and human being. I bet it’s not too late to buy a friend or relative a Nick Punto jersey! Don’t worry…all the profits are definitely going towards fielding a winning team for your entertainment.