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New Offseason, but Same Problems for the Red Sox

Ben Cherington (Photo courtesy of Sports Illustrated)

Ben Cherington is at it again. And by that I mean doing next to nothing to put the Red Sox in a position to be competitive next season. As free agents are slowly coming off the board, the Red Sox look no better off than they were at the end of a dreadful 2012 season. And when the rest of your division is only improving, that’s a problem.

Theo Epstein was far from a perfect General Manager. But at least he made moves…and bold ones. One year into the Cherington-era and there’s still nothing. People will point to the Nick Punto megadeal, but a bad team is a bad team. The only difference between the Red Sox of today and the Red Sox of July 2012 is that they’re saving $250 million in salary and are a lot less compelling.

The fact remains that the Red Sox are terrible. And as long as they operate under their current philosophy, that truth will not change.

Playing Catch-up

We get it–the Red Sox don’t want to get burned on big money contracts anymore.  But with New York and Baltimore achieving 2012 playoff births, Tampa not too far behind, and Toronto’s payroll juicing up like Jose Bautista between the 2009 and 2010 seasons, you would think Boston would be navigating with some urgency. Apparently not.

Rather, Ben Cherington is still riding the wave after receiving critical acclaim for the savvy free agent signing of David Ross. Never mind the fact that the Red Sox already have two relatively young and promising catchers in Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnaway. Sure, the Red Sox have much more pressing needs so, of course, why shouldn’t they create a completely unnecessary position controversy? David Ross is a backup catcher. Backup catchers don’t win championships. If David Ross has any impact on the 2013 season whatsoever, something went horribly wrong.

This is America: where long-term repercussions aren’t important and Jose Reyes and Josh Johnson are savvy baseball moves. If the Red Sox want to be considered savvy, let’s talk after they trade for Joe Mauer.

Platoon Problems

At the end of the season, Boston’s most glaring needs were rather obvious:

  1. 1-2 Outfielders who aren’t less durable than Rocco Baldelli.
  2. 1-2 Starting Pitchers (preferably closer to the Justin Verlander end of the spectrum than the Sidney Ponson end).
  3. A clear-cut, Cooperstown-bound, legendary, once-in-a-generation hitter who can obliterate baseballs at will (and for the record, Joe Mauer does not qualify as this type of player).

And within reason, these were obtainable goals. The outfield market, for instance, boasted many intriguing names such as Josh Hamilton, BJ Upton, Michael Bourne, Nick Swisher, Shane Victorino, and Ichiro among others. Which is why, before the market settled, Cherington jumped on signing the least inspiring option in Jonny Gomes. Because when your team needs both talent and name recognition, why not pick the guy who offers neither.

But the fun doesn’t end there…Next stop on the train is Mike Napoli! Obviously the Red Sox want to sign another catcher with home run totals and a batting average pretty darn close to Salty’s numbers for five times the price. Don’t worry, NESN, fans totally get amped up by OBP and walks. And while we’re on the catcher train, Russell Martin is allegedly interested in playing shortstop for Canada in the World Baseball Classic so the Red Sox should be sure to jump on that (Oh damn, the Pirates nabbed him already!). Then we can acquire an injury-riddled pitcher from Oakland for the now-expendable Jose Iglesias, who will most likely proceed to mash 30 home runs for the A’s.

So?

None of this begins to scratch the surface of pitching, which is what sunk the Red Sox last year. Lester and Buccholz can not be relied upon as No. 1 and 2 starters, Doubront was at best consistent (which should not be confused for talented), and Lackey…enough said. Until that gets fixed, Boston’s hopes will remain futile.

In the wake of the 2011-2012 seasons, the consensus seems to be that a high payroll is a bad thing. This is simply not true and completely ignores the past decade of Boston baseball. From 2002-2011, a payroll above $100MM was a regular occurrence for the Red Sox. It’s not terrible to have a player making $20MM in a year…if that player is of the same caliber as Manny Ramirez. When it’s a non-productive player like Carl Crawford, however, then you have a problem.

This oversight of recent history is going to be costly. If the Red Sox follow through with their dream plan and sign Napoli, Swisher and Cody Ross, they are still a last place team. They would still lack an offensive force in the lineup and they would still lack elite starting pitching. Short-term memory suggests that the absence of either of these commodities is both frustrating and fatal for a team hoping to contend.

The Red Sox are a big market team and should not forget it. Additionally, they have about $150MM to spend, so the worn out excuses about edging towards the luxury tax are irrelevant. If the only thing to fear are long-term contracts, the Red Sox should use their advantages and overspend on short-term deals.

Yes, Boston is the clear cut bottom dweller of the AL East, but redemption is not impossible. It is not unreasonable to assume Baltimore severely overachieved last year, Tampa is declining, Toronto is flawed, and that New York remains a time-bomb. While the competition should be cutthroat, the division is not exactly a powerhouse. But if the Red Sox refuse to stop tweaking a broken product instead of addressing it, how can they expect 2013 to be any different than the past two years?

The free agent market looks weak and the trade market appears quiet, but good general managers know how to make a splash. Ben Cherington has still not proven he is capable of doing that.

About Josh Segal

Josh Segal is a professional shock artist and trash talker. He also occasionally writes opinion pieces about the Red Sox, Patriots, Celtics, and their respective leagues at large. Segal is currently a junior at Kenyon College where he plans to double major in drama and political science. Apparently he also writes his own biographies in the third person.

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