Tony Massarotti

At Midseason, Werner and Red Sox Have Backed Themselves Into a Corner

“Obviously we made some mistakes and we cop to them. But we didn’t expect Shane Victorino to be on the disabled list for as long as he has been. We knew that Jackie Bradley had the potential to be a superstar but his season hasn’t been as robust as we all imagined. We’re still very confident about his potential and his defense has been fantastic. But should we have gone after Nelson Cruz? I guess so.” -- Tom Werner in Monday’s Boston Globe

The real truth, of course, is that the Red Sox overplayed their hand from the very beginning. In the wake of their inspiring 2013 World Series win, the Red Sox put a little too much emphasis on the future and not enough on the present. They saw the opening for another bridge year and they happily took it.

And you know who pays the toll?


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Maybe you are still so giddy with delight from the events of last October that you accept this. Werner.pngCertainly, that is your right. But some of us will never believe that the Red Sox should ever get to write off a season because in this market with those revenues, there is simply too much money at stake.

And so, with all due respect to Tom Werner and the powers that run the Red Sox, they never should have expected Shane Victorino to repeat what he did last year. Heck, they were probably lucky to get 2013 in the first place. Bradley? He was never a superstar in the making so much as he was a solid, everyday major league prospect. And to even mention players like that at all suggests the Red Sox are putting the blame somewhere other than where it really belongs.

You want to cite players, Tom? Let’s talk about Dustin Pedroia, who looks more and more like an aging Marty Barrett and less like the $100-million cornerstone the Red Sox invested in last summer. If we’re going to name names, let’s go after the big guys. And then let’s look at the half-hearted offseason in which the Red Sox signed nobody to more than a two-year contract, from A.J. Pierzynski to Grady Sizemore to Edward Mujica.

When the spring came, they used Ryan Dempster’s money on Chris Capuano and Stephen Drew. And so a team that nailed the offseason of 2012-13 followed it up with Sizemore, Pierzynski, Mujica, Capuano and Drew, two of whom have effectively been released and two more of whom could be (or should be).

Here’s your E-Z Pass, folks.

Thanks for coming.

From here, the real question is where the Red Sox are going, The Sox cannot possibly continue to ask this much of an aging David Ortiz and they’ve backed themselves into a corner with Jon Lester. They have no real power-hitting prospect to speak of. Given the shortage of talent available on the free agent market – and no one ever advised over-spending for Nelson Cruz as much as they stressed the need for legitimate outfield depth – the Red Sox need to find themselves some willing trade partners or they run the risk of further alienating their fan base.

Let’s get back to Lester for a moment. With an effort more honest than the four-year, $70-million joke they presented him during the spring, they might have been able to get a deal done. Instead, they gave Lester all the leverage. The Red Sox can rave all they want about their depth of pitching prospects from Henry Owens to Anthony Ranaudo, but as we’ve learned this year, integrating too many at one time can be counterproductive. The Red Sox need mortar for their pitching staff for 2015 and beyond – John Lackey is up after next season, assuming he does not follow through on the bluff of retirement – and the unreliable Clay Buchholz is nobody’s idea of super glue.

For lots of reasons, the Sox need to pay Lester. First, they may need some of those pitching prospects to address their impotent lineup. Second, pitchers like Brandon Workman, Owens, Ranaudo and Rubby De La Rosa won’t make big money for a while anyway, which means the Sox can pay Lester and keep their budget in line.

When you get right down to it, what alternatives do they really have?

Look: if you truly want to write off this season because you believe the Red Sox have somehow earned themselves a free year, fine. But at least understand that we are entering into tricky territory. Bradley, for one, has shown some sign of improvement of late, but putting too much stock into what the Red Sox do in late August and September is dangerous business. (That is assuming, of course, that the Red Sox are out of it.) The pressure will be off by then and roster will ultimately expand, and there is that old adage that evaluations on questionable players are never to be made in spring training or September. (Ask Sizemore about this.)

At their core, Werner (who is now working on a TV show with LeBron James) and John Henry, who also owns Liverpool AC and the Globe (thus Werner subbing in for interview?), among other things, are businessmen. They know they are losing your trust. In the past, this has led them to some of their best work. Boston’s last two baseball championships have come after offseasons that could be termed more aggressive than passive, the winter preceding 2007 producing Daisuke Matsuzaka and J.D. Drew, the winter prior to 2013 producing Mike Napoli, Victorino, Ryan Dempster and Koji Uehara among others.

This coming winter, the Red Sox can’t just build another bridge.

If they do, there will be even more folks jumping off it.

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