Thursday, August 24, 2006

Red Sox Nation: Panic Sets In

Here we are in mid-August, and the Sox are 4.5 back from their best chance at the playoffs (WC), 6.5 back of the Yankees in the East after getting gang-raped at home, and the bandwagon's wheel-less chassis is being dragged Lasndowne Street by four lame and most likely drunk Clydesdales.  If you predicted this situation then you're either a fantastic baseball prognosticator, or you've already killed yourself.

Naturally when things go to shit like they have, people start wanting to blame someone, usually someone else.  In the old days everyone would go right after the manager, because their decisions occur during games we lose, and oftentimes can be second-guessed pretty easily.  The Yankees have changed all that though, by using their fabulous wealth to solve all baseball problems.  Nowadays, if your team starts losing and doesn't fix it, the reason is because your GM didn't buy you better players over the trading window.   Affixing blame to the front office also gets folks out from under the weight of having to understand the game, since that is an important component of criticizing the manager.  Good times.
Our front office appears to have made some mistakes in their actions and non-actions this year, judging from the standings and heretofore performance of star acquisitions Beckett, Crisp and Mirabelli.  Nevertheless, they are adhering to a preset program, which is to put the team in a position to win 90-95 games a year and go from there. 

Now, to me, there are two heads to the FO's philosophy that they will build a club to win 90-95 wins every year and see what happens.  One is that by not putting all their eggs into one (projected)100+ win super-team filled with expensive free-agents, they will have the flexibility to perhaps make a couple of upgrades come the trade deadline and offseason. The other is plain old luck. In the AL East 90-95 wins does not guarantee a playoff spot - 95 doesn't guarantee a playoff spot.  So they're basically admitting that each year the cookie could crumble.  Certainly this year the cookie has crumbled, due to a spate of injuries, some underperforming pieces, and a couple tough breaks in a few games here and there.

So, does this philosophy make sense, and is this acceptable? I mean, is that just The Game, playing out over the course of the season? Personally, in spite of some of the more dubious decisions on their part, I can't get that worked up about the F.O. right now. I always felt that this was a team that was built well IF things went our way - maybe to a dangerously high degree, but I attributed that to this being a semi-rebuilding year. Obviously things haven't and the results are painful, but if I'm honest, we're not far deviated from what I saw to be the mean outcome looking at this roster on paper back in the spring.  Lotta old guys, lotta young guys - turns out that means a lotta "ifs".

Still, people are enraged that the FO didn't do anything at the deadline, in spite of a farily believable claim that asking prices were too high.  People are still complaining that we let Pedro and Damon walk.  I understand the sentiment, but the logic behind the belief.  Is the consensus that with $120 Million to spend luck should be more or less taken out of the equation? Or perhaps taken out just now, while we have the core players in place? I'm trying to figure out how I'll be happier. Contending every year but with an acknowledged reliance on getting good breaks? Or trying to ride the years where we're primed to take the true "win now" approach. That may mean we have really lean years where I despise watching them, but we would be really IN it for the good years.  Or that's the theory.  If the Sox have proved anything, it's that bad luck can bite you regardless of what approach you take (for reference, see Dent, Bucky).

I believe the current and future baseball environment will make it much harder simply to use $$$ to precipitate a ton of real "win now" years. The Yankees were able to help themselves to Abreu because he was a product of the free agent insanity that revenus sharing has curbed.  So I guess by default I am coming down on the more balanced and luck-reliant approach in the abstract, and the concrete question I'm really asking is - would I be okay with the team utterly sucking when Schilling, Papi and Manny are gone if we really went for it now? Are we as Red Sox fans trying to have our cake and eat it too? Are we just ignoring the fact that if we blow through our prospects we will have some shit years down the road, most likely, or are we stating that we don't care if we have shit years if we win another Championship in the near term.

It seems like this year, at least, we care if we have shit years. We're pretty pissed off, actually.  Is that because we think we should have won it all again with the core guys, or is it just because we cannot accept that a Red Sox team sucks while the Yankees are dominant? I know the second part is very hard for me, because my hatred of the Wanks is truly pathological.  Or maybe, is it because we had a strong first half, and then collapsed, engendering a Pavlovian response in those of us who remember the collapse years from days gone by. Perhaps we thought 2004 had exorcised them, and were wrong.

The fact that so many of my sentences have ended in question marks tells me one thing: the situation is pretty complex.  If I can't come down in a firm position after looking at just some of the angles, I guess it just makes me feel more foolish for attempting to judge Theo and Co. These guys have to deal with the myriad variables of a changing league, all the other shysty GMs, a semi-retarded manager and a clubhouse full of guys who oftentimes don't do what they're supposed to.

It's very possible that the Red Sox F.O. is screwing the pooch, and come 2008 we are going to be really, really bitter.  But maybe their plan is the best one, and it just hasn't been fully realized.  I think this team still has some legs, and in spite of all my experience, I am going to keep hoping they can compete for the rest of the season and come in next year feeling like they've grown.  Maybe 2006 isn't the year, but I won't throw away 2007 yet.

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