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Promises and lies

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  November 24, 2010 09:08 AM

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John Henry sat down with the BBC recently for a one-on-one interview regarding his latest toy, the Liverpool Football Club. It appeared on the BBC web site the same day Henry's Lotsa Love Bear, the Boston Red Sox, lost their switch-hitting free agent catcher, Victor Martinez to the Detroit Tigers, with whom he signed a four-year, $50 million deal, or $32.5 million less than Boston was willing to hand over to John Lackey a year ago.

The two aren't connected, for as anyone who works for the Red Sox will tell you, no decisions regarding the soccer team will affect the Red Sox from a financial standpoint. They are completely separate interests.

And yet, in the navigation bar over on NESN.com, immediately after the Celtics link, there is now one for "LFC," or Liverpool Football Club.

Silly, Boston.com has a soccer link in its nav bar too. For the New England Revolution, who play 3,100 miles closer to Boston than Liverpool does.

Whether or not they want to believe it, the Red Sox have a serious image problem, and though the soccer team may not affect whether or not the Red Sox are willing to spend big dollars on the free agent market, the perception of New England Sports Ventures (or the more traditional name, The Boston Red Sox) diving into the soccer end of the pool does nothing to help them re-gain the trust of the fans who they had in their back pocket not so long ago.

But the "alternative" hats have moved on after three whole years without a parade, and what is left is the hard-core Red Sox fan base ready to pounce, showing the same angst and desire for accountability that it had leading up to 2004. Ratings are down. Interest has faded. And the Red Sox go and buy a soccer team.

It is the ultimate PR nightmare to misread your customer base. Based on their success and can do no wrong in this town over the better part of the decade, the Red Sox have seriously fallen into that category. Tom Werner is belittling Theo Epstein on the radio, Theo is comfortable with Jed Lowrie's WAR over MVP candidate Adrian Beltre, and Red Sox fans are force-fed soccer and racing news they have little-to-no interest in hearing on a daily basis.

The Red Sox can no longer approach business with the understanding that the public will buy whatever they are selling. More people believe in the Tooth Fairy than that stupid sellout streak, a disingenuous boast that makes you wonder about the front office. You know they're lying to about that. Why should we assume they aren't in other areas as well?

That's why when the Red Sox tell me the soccer team has nothing to do with the baseball team, I don't believe it. They refused to do anything last year at the trading deadline, Theo is rightfully pumping up the kids, and they just lost one of the best offensive catchers in baseball for pennies on the dollar. They're willing to award David Ortiz $12.5 million, but not the guy who carried them for stretches last season. Ortiz did the same, of course. As recently as 2007 even.

Epstein's "bridge" comment gets a lot of unwarranted grief but the theory behind it is sound. The Red Sox have a core of farm players they believe in, and based on the careers we've seen from the likes of Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, and Dustin Pedroia, they have every right to feel the next crop of players will serve them well for the long term. But you have to feel for Epstein. Here he is, trying to build this team for the long term, and his owners throw him under the bus for him not saying he'd love to throw $140 million at Carl Crawford or Cliff Lee. You can almost smell another gorilla suit adventure, can't you?

But there's Werner on the radio, promising the fans that the team will sign a "significant free agent." With Martinez gone, it's strike one. Beltre is likely to be strike two. 

But who else? Does Epstein really want to give Crawford the kind of deal he's looking for? Does Lee even make any sense on a crowded rotation? Jason Werth? Where would you ever play Mike Cameron, who reportedly signed with the team last season?

Then there's the one guy that would make everybody happy. Yes, Derek Jeter.

In Jeter, Epstein would have the perfect "bridge" player, a guy who would draw limitless interest while the kids grew up. The PR department would have utmost glee in stealing the Yankees' franchise player. The owners, who love to needle the Yankees, would have pulled off the ultimate coup, making Johnny Damon's departure look like Willy Loman moving to Kentucky (would anyone notice?)


The Yankees have to believe it's an impossibility, telling Jeter to go find a better offer, daring him to leave his legacy in Favre fashion. If you're the Red Sox, and you have ratings and image problems, how can you not pick up the phone? Three years, $60 million, and Daisuke's jet for Minka should get it done, right?

After all, the Red Sox need something to revive interest in the team. Let Epstein do his job, for tossing money around aimlessly does little in the long term. Building a dependable core of players you can depend on - in any market, small or large - is the correct way to approach the game. It's the in-between part you have to worry about. But when he's got owners making promises and kicking around a soccer ball, it makes his job that more difficult and hurts his perception in the minds of the fans.

Jeter makes everybody happy and the Yankees furious.

In other news, Roy Hodgson was recently scouting Gervinho in France. I have no idea what that means, but hey, somebody around here has to shamelessly shill.

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About the Author

Eric Wilbur is a Boston.com sports columnist who is still in awe of what Dana Kiecker pulled off that one time in Toronto. He lives in the Boston area with his wife and three children. Comments and suggestions for the best Buffalo wing spots are encouraged.

Contact Eric Wilbur by e-mail or follow him on Twitter.


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