Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Time for the Red Sox to Sell

Since purchasing the Red Sox after the 2001 season, the ownership group of John Henry, Tom Werner, and Larry Lucchino have believed that they must "Feed the Monster."

This philosophy means that they must take every necssary step to keep the team in contention so that Fenway Park will be filled, souveneirs and concessions will be bought, and that NESN (the team's regional sports network) will have high ratings. 

"Feeding the Monster" also includes keeping interest in the team high at all times so that the Red Sox will win valuable space on the pages of the Boston Globe and Boston Herald as well as being the topic of discussion on Boston's two all-sports radio networks, 98.5 The Sports Hub and 850 WEEI.  That's no easy task when you consider the Red Sox are competing with the Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins for the attention of Boston sports fans.

The Henry, Werner, Lucchino team have poured their resources into making the Red Sox contenders every year despite advice from their top baseball people, including former general manager and current Cubs president Theo Epstein, that they have to accept the occassional rebuilding years and not throw money at every free agent that comes there way just because it will drive up interest in the team and lead to increased ticket and t-shirt sales.

Lately, that advice has been ignored and the team has spent hundreds of millions to sign players such as John Lackey (5-years/$82.5-million), Carl Crawford (7-years/$142-million), and Josh Beckett (4-year/$68-million) who were all aging and none have lived up to the lofty expectations that those contracts bring.

For all that money, the Red Sox have missed the playoffs in 2010 and 2011 and once again are on the verge of missing the postseason in 2012.  They are currently in last place in the A.L. East at 48-49 which puts them 10.5-games behind the Yankees in the division and 4-games behind the A's for the second Wild Card spot.

Despite being just 4-games out of a playoff spot with 65 games to play, there is nothing to suggest this group will turn things around and make it to October.  They don't pitch well, their hitting is wildly inconsistent (according to Baseball-Reference.com they are 9-12 in games decided by 1 run but are 18-10 in games decided by 5 or more runs which goes to show they are great at piling on but rarely come through when the game is close), and they seem incapable of going on the sustained run of success they would need down the stretch because every time they start to play well (like when they went 11-3 against the Marlins, Cubs, Braves, and Blue Jays from June 12-27) they turn around and play terrible again (like when they followed up that great stretch in June by going 3-8 against the Mariners, A's, and Yankees from June 28-July 8).

My advice to the leaders of the Red Sox is to forget about "Feeding the Monster" this year and start to rebuild the team.  They need to deal as many of the big money contracts that they can possibly move while looking to contend in 2013 and beyond.

That means they should explore deals for Beckett.  Teams like the Rangers, Tigers, and Dodgers need pitching and even if the Red Sox don't get much back in return, they will benefit by dumping the remaining money on Beckett's contract and spending that money more wisely after the season.

That also means they should look for buyers for shortstop Mike Aviles (who can play every position in the infield and could also fill in as an outfielder) and backup catcher Kelly Shoppach.  Neither is a primary reason why the team is struggling but by moving them to teams in contention that need help at those positions, the Red Sox can call up prospects Jose Iglesias and Ryan Lavarnway to replace them.  Both Iglesias and Lavarnway could get valuable major league experience and the Red Sox would be able to better evaluate their futures and see if they will be part of the puzzle going forward.

That means the Red Sox should look to make a blockbuster trade if the right one falls in their lap.  It has been written here many times this summer that general manager Ben Cherington should do whatever he can to trade for Felix Hernandez of the Mariners.  If Cherington does not believe Jacoby Ellsbury will re-sign with Boston when he becomes a free agent after the 2013 season (and the belief among many is he will look for big money closer to his native Oregon) than he should offer Seattle a package of Ellsbury, Jon Lester, Daniel Bard, and Ryan Kalish for Hernandez. 

Ellsbury might be willing to re-sign with the Mariners because of their location and the fact they will have a ton of money to spend by dealing Hernandez and also after tarding Ichiro Suzuki to the Yankees yesterday.  Lester has struggled this year but he has a track record of success and being a native of Washington state might sell the Mariners few remaining fans on the deal.  Bard, who also has struggled this year, also has shown he can be one of the best pitchers in baseball while Kalish has shown he can be an everyday outfielder in the majors.

The team has some promising young players and enough younger veterans to believe that with a few tweaks by Cherington that they could turn things around on the field by next season and get back into the playoffs.  2012 is a lost cause and there is no need to "Feed the Monster" this season sohe direction of the team needs to be a focus on 2013 and beyond.

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