“Bwok bwok bwaka!” and “Burp burp burp!” Adding these clubhouse sounds to three straight years with no postseason appearances, an epic September collapse, and their worst regular season record since the strike-shortened 1994 season, the Boston Red Sox figured it was time to change. The luster faded into an ugly smear that wasn’t on the Commissioner’s Trophy. It was time to low-ball the game, stop taking risks, and return to the tactics of 2004.
The Red Sox’s off-season moves demonstrate that they’re attempting to return to smarter baseball. Short-term deals with less invested capital and valuable stat players highlight their post-September transaction list:
1) A deal for David Ross to be the Sox’s backup catcher, paying him a little more than $3 million a year for the next two seasons. Ross’s value is relatively cheap for Boston because he got on base no more than a third of the time his last two years in Atlanta.
2) Jonny Gomes is overpriced, as the Red Sox are paying him $10 million over two years for a deceiving .377 on-base percentage for the Oakland Athletics in 2012: He scored 46 runs in 99 games and has never touched home plate more than 77 times in a season.
3) Koji Uehara for a steal of a one-year deal worth $4.25 million. The man from Osaka struck out more batters than innings pitched in 2012 while posting a 14.33 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He also gave up only four homeruns in 36 innings in the Rangers Ballpark in Arlington last year, a hitter’s haven. Uehara’s strikeout potency to ensure batters can’t touch the baseball will ensure he transitions well from one hitter’s ballpark to another.
4) Shane Victorino received a three-year, $39 million contract to play in Boston, giving the Red Sox a little more depth in their outfield. His homerun total, starkly low in 2012, can improve at Fenway Park.
5) One of the Red Sox’s most significant additions in the off-season was the acquisition of Ryan Dempster. Despite struggling in the beginning of his move to the American League in 2012 and his tendency to give up home runs, Dempster still, at age 35, strikes out more than eight batters per nine innings. The Red Sox will get the hurler’s positives and then get to dump the eventual-37-year-old after only paying him $26.5 million over two years to strengthen a sluggish rotation.
6) The Red Sox paid the $1.35 million buyout on Stephen Drew’s contract and have him for $9.5 million for 2013, hoping to get one season of his touted potential.
The big off-season move for the Red Sox, though, was the trade for the All-Star closer Joel Hanrahan. In a six-player deal, Boston snatched up from the Pittsburgh Pirates one of the premier closers in Major League Baseball. The 31-year old ninth inning man has racked up 76 saves in the last two seasons and has maintained a strikeout-to-walk ratio above 10 in three of his last four seasons. Hanrahan gives support to Red Sox closer-in-a-dream Andrew Bailey, strengthening one of the weakest bullpens in the American League in 2012.
The Fenway kids aren’t making the long-term contracts worth nine figures as they did in the last few years. In their off-season after the 2010 season, the Red Sox added $299.75 million in commitments with Gonzalez and Crawford. The Red Sox were perhaps livid that their 89 wins in 2010 was only good enough for third place in the American League East and was only four games ahead the Toronto Blue Jays, a team with a 2010 Opening Day payroll about $100 million less than the Red Sox’s. In turn came the splurge and the hands-over-eyes approach to inking contracts. Now, the method is all about the tighter budget, as the Red Sox unloaded $262.5 million from their payroll with their gigantic trade with the Los Angeles Dodgers in late August. The Red Sox are content to let the west coast overpay for players and flush out their farm systems and wallets. No, sir, we folks in Boston won’t be overzealous unless it’s low-game cash, they say. The Red Sox no longer intend to compete by recklessly spending, eating up overvalued talent that will only be productive half of the years they’re in Boston. They don’t want to play the big ball game anymore; runs scored by getting on base, and proper pitching were the old mantra of Terry Francona’s World Series champs.
Oddly enough, though, despite their struggles last year the Red Sox still scored a fair number of runs, ranking eighth in baseball in the department. No specific player jumped out on the stat line. No Red Sox hitter hit greater than .300, belted more than 25 homeruns, or posted an on-base percentage higher than .347. The horrendous pitching, however, was what dragged down the not-so-long-removed World Series champions. The Sox allowed more runs in 2012 than all but three big league clubs. Now, however, the Red Sox know they have to elaborate even more on their sabermetrics. They’re getting players that have more value in OBP, runs scored, and OPS rather than stolen bases, average, and runs batted in.
The Red Sox already have two highly-touted pitching prospects, Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, that they received in their August trade with the Dodgers. It’s a boon after trading away farm system talent for All-Stars over the last few years. They saw an opportunity in August to trade away a hitter nearing his prime (Gonzalez), a pitcher already past his prime (Josh Beckett), and another hitter who had recurring injury issues that clogged up monetary options (Crawford). What’s the worst that can happen when you’re one of the worst teams in MLB and can rid yourself of millions of dollars from your payroll? With their low-ball deals this off-season, the Red Sox at worst risk an unproductive season that costs much less than nine figures. They had their time to test out how far Benjamins would take them, purchasing talent to throttle the smaller AL East teams outside of New York. The AL East big spending has mostly cooled down coming into the 2013 season, so the Red Sox won’t even have to worry about the Yankees amassing a number of new, big stars to destroy the Red Sox while they regroup. No, it’s the time. Now we’ll see it again: the draft, the cheaper free agent deals, the refocus on the margin between runs allowed and scored. It’s all back again. No more glamour, no more throwing cash to win the World Series within a year, no more chicken and beer in the clubhouse. It’s all about returning to the Boston Red Sox once again.