BOSTON (CBS) — “If we can win a World Series every other year and finish last every other year, I’d take that.”
– Red Sox owner John Henry in November, as reported in Thursday’s Boston Herald
“I don’t know if I’d be willing to finish last every other year to finish first every other year. I don’t know if that’s an appropriate trade-off.”
– Red Sox owner John Henry in January, also as reported in Thursday’s Boston Herald
Before anyone gets their antenna up, settle down. I come to praise John Henry, not to bury him. Hats off to the Red Sox for acknowledging what the rest of us have felt for much of the last few years.
They’re better than this.
Opening Day is three days away, folks, and the Red Sox are entering yet another important season. From football to baseball to hockey and hoops, championships are something we have talked a great deal about over the last 10-15 years, particularly as it pertains to the blueprints. Some believe it’s better to consistently knock at the door. Some believe it’s better to load up, tear down, then load up again. From 2012-14, the Red Sox put the latter theory to the test.
Here’s what I learned: I can’t stomach it.
At least if the price is finishing dead last.
So as much as we all love the championships during the Ring Dynasty that has been this unparalleled Golden Age of Boston Sports, we all need something else from the Red Sox this year: we need more.
We need something more “sustainable,” as general manager Ben Cherington so aptly put it during the offseason, because the Red Sox simply to have too much going for them to ever be a last-place team. During the first nine years of Henry’s ownership from 2002-2010, the Red Sox made the playoffs six times, reached four American League Championship Series and won two World Series championships. When they missed the playoffs, they went 93-69, 86-76 and 89-73.
But essentially since that time, beginning with the cataclysmic end of the 2011 season, the Red Sox have been downright bipolar – two last-place finishes sandwiched around a championship, however improbable.
“I don’t think anything about the last three years … (has) been a direct cause and effect from one year to the next,” Cherington told the Herald. “If there is, I can’t describe it. I don’t know what it is. What I do know is that we need to get out of that cycle. We want to be consistently good.”
Added Henry: “We spent a decade being consistently near the top and challenging, so it’s been frustrating two out of the last three years to basically be in a rebuilding mode midway through the season. That’s something that we sort of committed to each other is not going to happen again.”
Look, let’s admit it: we’re greedy now. From Henry and Larry Lucchino to those of us on the outside, we can justify 2012 and 2014 however we want, whether we describe it as “manic-depressive” (Lucchino’s term) or a “trade-off” (Henry). Rationalize it however you want. But the Red Sox currently have a projected luxury tax payroll north of $200 million and capable people in charge, and winning a championship should not come at the expense of one last-place finish, let alone two.
Somewhere in there, there’s a happy medium. Nobody wants to be the Bruins of the 1980s and early 1990s, either, when the Bruins made the playoffs every year and routinely fell short. There are times to push. And there are times to back off.
But is it truly necessary to bottom out?
From that standpoint, the Red Sox’ goals this year need to be carefully monitored. Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval signed contracts totaling $183 million over the winter, which obviously means there are expectations now. And yet, the development of people like Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts is every bit as important to the team, if not more so, because the Red Sox need to build and identify a core for years to come.
So whether it’s Henry Owens or Brian Johnson, Blake Swihart or Matt Barnes, people need to step up, core players identified, real building blocks put in place.
Of course, we all know this Red Sox team has holes and flaws. At the moment, at least, the Sox lack a front-of-the-rotation starter. The bullpen is suspect, particularly with Koji Uehara out. The defense at shortstop and center field is iffy. The obvious good news is that the American League East looks like the NHL’s old Norris Division and the AL overall appears rather flat. On paper, the two best teams in baseball are the Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers, and both reside in the National League.
Could the Red Sox contend and the make the playoffs? Sure. They might also spin their tires some because the pitching is that suspect. But thanks to the ends of the ’11, ’12 and ’14 seasons, the 2013 championship feels far more like the aberration than the standard, and it’s time for the Red Sox to erase the gap created between them, contender status and frustrated fan base.
If Theo Epstein were here, he might call this a bridge year.
It’s just that the Red Sox – and most of us – never dreamed the traffic up to now would have been flowing in the wrong direction.