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Red Sox should take short-term hit for long-term gain

Posted by Steve Silva, Boston.com Staff  December 3, 2012 09:30 AM

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For decades, the biggest problem with the Red Sox was that the winters were more meaningful than the summers. Now the Sox are holed up in the monstrosity known as Opryland, for what the facility annually calls "A Country Christmas," with lots to spend and relatively little to give.

Temper your expectations, Red Sox followers.

The holidays might be a little tough this year.

Baseball's annual winter meetings begin in earnest on Monday in Nashville, and so long as we're all on the same page, there really should be no surprises. Team president Larry Lucchino has made it clear in recent days that the Red Sox essentially have no intention of giving out contracts longer than five years, though the Sox should extend that concept further. Anything over three years should be viewed as a major turnoff, particularly for a team that should be focused on 2014 and beyond.

In Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett, after all, the Sox just got out of some bad marriages. What they need to do now is baseball's equivalent of speed dating, which should mean nothing more than a three-year commitment -- at the very most -- on a free-agent market rife with B- and C-level talent.

Translation: Mike Napoli, Nick Swisher, and Adam LaRoche are not the kind of make-or-break talents than can alter the direction of a franchise. If the Sox lose out on one or all of those players, so be it. As much as the Sox might want to sell tickets in 2013, they should take the short-term hit for the long-term gain, which means operating this winter with a level of self-restraint.

If we're having this same discussion a year from now, however, then something went wrong.

A word about the winter meetings, particularly at a place like Opryland, a sprawling facility so expansive that it feels like its own self-contained world. (Think "Truman Show" and you begin to get the idea. There are nearly 3,000 rooms and more than 600,000 square feet of meeting space, and there are, quite literally, waterways than run through the facility. Guests can be virtually impossible find, which is just the way many major league officials prefer it.

Rest assured that these meetings, like all others, will develop at a certain pace. In the past, rumors of trades and free-agent signings begin to boil on Tuesday and Wednesday, teams feeling one another out with what is essentially a game of liar's poker.

What you hear and what is actually happening are two entirely different things, and there is almost always a lag between the time any news actually takes place and the time it reaches the public.

Confused? You should be. There is a lot of nonsense that goes on at these things. You'll just have to take our word on that.

So be patient.

By now, we all know what the Red Sox' needs are, though it is far easier to identify those positions where the Sox have stability. At the moment, the Sox are set at second base (Dustin Pedroia), third base (Will Middlebrooks), designated hitter (David Ortiz) and catcher (Dvavid Ross and either Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Ryan Lavarnway). They just signed Jonny Gomes. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and John Lackey are regarded as the first three starters in the rotation, with Felix Doubront presumably in the mix for the fourth spot.

Beyond that, would it surprise you if anyone else from the big league roster was traded? Jacoby Ellsbury is available. So is just about anybody in the bullpen in the right deal. That may sound like a lot to trade, but what the Red Sox have to move is quantity, not necessarily, quality, unless they intend to include some of their highly regarded prospects, from Xander Bogaerts to Bryce Brentz to Matt Barnes to Jackie Bradley.

Based on recent developments -- namely, a 69-93 record -- and all the signs coming from Yawkey Way, there is relatively little chance of that happening. And that's the way it should be.

If that sounds like an attempt to write off the 2013 season, that is only partly true. Any success the Red Sox have next year will be predicated on getting Lester, Buchholz, and maybe even Lackey to pitch like the front-end starters they have been in the past. (If that doesn't happen, the Sox are hopeless, anyway.) As unlikeable as the Red Sox have been for quite some time now, they had more talent than a true 69-win team. With just better leadership, a better attitude, and moderately better starting pitching, the Sox should be somewhere around .500, give or take.

What happened in 2012 was an indictment on Bobby Valentine and the Red Sox culture more than it was the raw talent.

So if the Sox don't get Swisher or Napoli or LaRoche ... so what? By the middle of next season, the idea is that Barnes, Brentz, Bradley, and Bogaerts will be knocking on the door, anyway. So what we're really talking about here is the first half of next season, which is why the Red Sox need to approach these winter meetings with some level of trepidation.

Yes, the Red Sox have some money to spend, but the Red Sox already have told us how they intend to spend it. Gomes, for one, earned $1 million last season and has never played on anything more than a one-year contract. So what did the Red Sox do? They gave him $10 million over two years. Overpaying a guy like Jonny Gomes simply isn't going to sabotage this team the way that overpaying someone like Crawl Crawford did.

And so, as these winter meetings progress, be sure to approach everything with some level of scrutiny. Don't ask yourself what you want. Ask yourself what the Red Sox want. Boston officials will never come out and say so, but what they are likely trying to do this winter is bridge the gap back to respectability, something entirely within reason.

If they do that, come next year's winter meetings, we'll be having entirely different discussions.

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About Mazz

Tony Massarotti is a Globe sportswriter and has been writing about sports in Boston for the last 19 years. A lifelong Bostonian, Massarotti graduated from Waltham High School and Tufts University. He was voted the Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year by his peers in 2000 and 2008 and has been a finalist for the award on several other occasions. This blog won a 2008 EPpy award for "Best Sports Blog".

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