Glass is Half Full for 2013 Red Sox

Those who know me well know the following 2 truths:
  • I'm a lifelong, incurable, die-hard Red Sox fan
  • I'm the furthest thing from an optimist (I guess that would make me a pessimist)

It may, therefore, be somewhat surprising to read the title of this blog post... but let me explain. For the last two or three years I've complained to anyone who would listen (which is pretty much no one) about the Red Sox as they've acquired underachieving veteran players by trading away good prospects or greatly overpaying on the free agent market. The result was an overpaid team that played without passion and was inherently unlikeable. I disliked them so much that I actually rooted against them during their historic collapse in September 2011 (my buddy Matt cried "Blasphemy!"). It was not because I was in the process of metamorphosing into a Yankees fan, it was because I disliked their roster so much that I hoped an epic failure would motivate the team's management to send all the unlikeable underachievers packing and head in a new direction.

The off-season came and it indeed brought many changes:
  • The manager was fired
  • The training and medical staffs were also fired
  • The GM bailed and went to the Cubs
  • Ben Cherrington was promoted to be the new GM
  • After much fanfare, Bobby Valentine was hired as the new manager

What didn't happen, however, was any significant turnover of players. The same core group that squandered away a virtually guaranteed playoff berth in 2011 returned for the 2012 season... and liked the trained dog that I am, I climbed right back on the bandwagon and started watching and rooting for them again.

By the end of April I came to my senses - the 2012 edition of the Sox suffered from the same malaise as the 2011 one. They were still overpaid and just as unlikeable (if not more). To make matters worse, I was convinced that we were stuck with this bunch because the price paid to acquire that lot had left the team devoid of young talent and saddled them with bad contracts that left no financial flexibility. As the team continued to underachieve all Summer I started to prepare myself for what seemed like an inevitable 5 year down-turn which would lead me into a 5 year sports induced depression.

Then out of nowhere, what still seems like a miracle occurred. In mid August the Los Angeles Dodgers, under the guidance of new co-owner Magic Johnson - the same Magic Johnson who broke a portion of my heart in the 1987 NBA Finals with a baby hook-shot, called to ask if they could acquire our 3 most overpaid and unlikeable players in return for 4 decent young prospects. Thankfully the Red Sox management was smart enough to realize this was their golden ticket and they quickly agreed to the swap (presumably while trying not to burst out laughing). In one fell swoop my doom and gloom was lifted and the portion of my heart that had broke in 1987 was suddenly healed. It took me a week to convince myself that the trade actually happened and that I wasn't stuck in some drug induced euphoric dream.

Make no mistake the roster left behind by the trade is pretty bad - perhaps the worst Red Sox team in my lifetime. On Tuesday night, for example, the last 4 guys in the lineup sported a batting average well below the anemic .200 mark. So why has my doom and gloom been replaced by optimism? Why - MUCH to my wife's chagrin - am I still watching their games?

There are two main reasons:
  1. The current success of any sports team is ultimately determined by the talent of its current roster. The future success of professional sports teams, however, is more deeply impacted by their ability to retain existing talented players and acquire new talented players. The key to retaining existing players is having the financial flexibility to sign them. The key to acquiring new talent varies from sport to sport. Financial flexibility is again usually part of the equation. In the NBA and NFL it also helps to have high draft picks. In MLB the actual draft picks have less value - instead the more valuable instrument is a stockpile of promising young (i.e. cheap) but undeveloped players that can be used as assets to acquire more established players. The 2011 and pre-trade 2012 Red Sox had no financial flexibility and a somewhat limited supply of young "assets". Now, thanks to Magic Johnson and company, the Red Sox will enter the off-season with both.
  2. As I said earlier, underachieving-overpaid players are inherently unlikeable and the 2011 and 2012 Red Sox were therefore inherently unlikeable. The fact that a lot of them also had genuinely unlikeable personalities (e.g. Josh Beckett) made them even more unlikeable. On the other hand, underpaid-overachieving players are inherently likeable, and that's a good way to describe the post-trade Red Sox roster. It's a collection of career minor league players and prospects who aren't ready yet, but they're trying hard and you can't fault them for that.
So there you have it. Yes we're at the bottom of the barrel, but we can only go up from here. The pre-trade Sox were in the middle of the barrel and sinking slowly. There's no guarantee that next year's team well be any better - indeed a lot of the management team assigned with building next year's roster was the same group that made a series of poor decisions that put them in the pickle they were in. However, now for the first time in several years we have a team that plays hard and hope that things well get better - any true Red Sox fan knows you can survive at least 87 years on that.


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