Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Rebuilding the Red Sox Will Be Painful and Require Patience

Once the thrill of dumping $260 million in salary and reducing next year's payroll commitment to $38.8 million from $99.6 million wears off, the reality will set in. The Red Sox aren't likely to be a good team again for a few years. How long before they become a legitimate World Series contender is anybody's guess.

The Red Sox still have a fine group of young players that will comprise their core for the next few years: Dustin Pedroia, Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Lavarnway, Ryan Kalish, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Felix Doubront, Franklin Morales, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Andrew Bailey. Perhaps even Jacoby Ellsbury (if the Sox can work out a long term extension with Scott Boras this winter) and Mike Aviles will be a part of that core.

The Sox can only hope that most of their prized prospects (including those acquired from the Dodgers in Friday's epic trade) pan out as projected. But that will require all of the stars and planets to align correctly.

The Red Sox spent $175 million this season and failed miserably. They shouldn’t need a $150 million roster to win a championship. They need motivated, determined players with a fighting spirit, a positive attitude and a commitment to teamwork in order to succeed.

The trade with the Dodgers had to happen, and the Red Sox are quite fortunate that it did. What was the point of having so many high-priced, under-performers on the roster? The Sox can just as easily finish in fourth or fifth place without those players, yet save the enormous associated costs. This team was going nowhere with the players who were traded, and it couldn't possibly rebuild with them on the roster.

So, now that process can begin. But it will take a few years before Boston is once again a competitive team, in my estimation.

Red Sox fans will have to be patient, and I think they will be. I think they'd rather root for a team of young, homegrown talent that tries and fails, rather than the sort of team that let them down this year and last.

The Red Sox will not follow their previous path to failure. Signing lots of high-priced free agents didn't work for them over the past decade and management is well aware of that. Boston won't touch Josh Hamilton. The guy is 32 and has way too many problems.

Going forward, I think the Sox will rely more on trades than free agency. Free agents are invariably older, often on the wrong side of 30, and already have at least six years of major league experience. The Sox would rather trade for younger players in their peak years — the mid-to-late 20's — who are still just arbitration-eligible. Then the organization can sprinkle in the appropriate, prized free agents here and there.

But that rebuilding process will take some time, which is not something that most baseball executives or Red Sox fans could have imagined over most of the past decade.

Though they won two Championships in a four-year span — the last of which was just five years ago — the Red Sox have intermittently experienced off years. However, they've have now endured three of them in succession. The Sox haven't won a playoff game since 2008 and they haven't even made the playoffs since 2009. So, Red Sox fans already know what it feels like when their team underperforms and disappoints.

However, this proves that the Red Sox are not exempt from the ups and downs of the sports cycle. There will indeed be down periods. Only the Yankees seem immune to this and are able to continually reload. That's simply amazing.

The best news for the Red Sox is that they appear to have some good players in the pipeline who are just a couple of years away. And now they also have tremendous financial flexibility, which seemed unimaginable just 72 hours ago.

The front office will improve this team during the offseason, I have no doubt. If there are free agents that fit and make sense in Boston, the Red Sox will pursue them. However, they are not done dealing either. It would hardly be surprising to see Ellsbury traded this winter.

The Red Sox have successfully traded four of the nine players signed to guaranteed contracts beyond 2012. In the process, the Sox unloaded their three biggest contracts, as measured by average annual value. The team has quickly gone from $99.6 million in guaranteed money to just $38.8 million.

That can only be viewed as a positive, and amazing, orchestration by the front office.

If this team is destined for some lost years, better to endure them while rebuilding for the future with homegrown talent, and doing it on the cheap.

That's preferable to watching spoiled millionaires act as if they are entitled to not care, or even make an effort.

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