Listen . . .
Hear that sound of silence? The big fat nothing?
This is the sound of the Red Sox offseason of 2013-14. Neil Diamond no doubt would call it “a beautiful noise.’’
The Red Sox are the reigning world champs and everything is just swell in the Nation. The Sox can do no wrong. They can lose their starting center fielder, shortstop, and catcher and hear nothing but applause from the cheap (and expensive) seats. The Boston Strong, worst-to-first campaign of 2013 has made the Sox almost bulletproof from question and criticism.
It’s amazing how much things change in a year. At this time last winter, the disaster from the Bobby Valentine train wreck was still smoldering at Fenway Park, expectations were low, and interest in the team was flat. In the third week of January, the Patriots were routed in the AFC Championship game (sound familiar?), and the Sox brass was ducking for cover when the Boston Baseball Writers Association held its annual dinner at the Westin.
Measured against standards of 2004-05 — when the mayor contemplated closing schools and workplaces for Truck Day — it’s still a little flat in this baseball winter. But the Sox are on top again. They have everything going their way and fans are genuinely happy with the still-life portrait that is the Hub Hot Stove season of 2013-14.
Now they have to be careful that the guilt and urgency of last winter don’t succumb to the arrogance and hubris that got them into trouble in the first place.
“I don’t get the sense that anybody is too comfortable,’’ said general manager Ben Cherington before Thursday night’s celebration/dinner. “It may seem like the offseason has been more quiet, but that’s no reflection of lack of hunger.
“Collectively, we like the challenge. Now the challenge is to continue to do things in the right way.’’
Added manager John Farrell, “We challenge ourselves. We have to get back to the building-block approach.’’
Tom Werner once said, “We need to start winning in more exciting fashion,’’ which is exactly what the Sox did in the summer/autumn of 2013. The “Please Don’t Hate Us’’ Sox magically morphed into the Hakuna Matata Sox.
Have you listened to the band? I have, and it sounds like the Sox are not only the best team in baseball, they are also the smartest. Unlike those silly, stupid Yankees and Dodgers, they are not going to throw money at their problems and spend themselves into oblivion. The Sox don’t have to do this; they have a deep farm system, ripe with players who are only a year or two away from being big league stars.
A few of Wednesday’s local headlines after the Yankees signed Japanese free agent Masahiro Tanaka for $155 million: “Yankees Gain Not Sox’ Pain,’’ and “Red Sox In the Black — Pitching-Rich Champs Can Afford To Let Desperate Yanks Throw Their Money Around.’’
Great. We laughed at the pathetic Yankees after they signed Jacoby Ellsbury and now we are laughing at them for spending like inebriated sailors to land a pitcher.
OK. The Sox are world champs. They have the farm system. But isn’t Ellsbury a better everyday player than Jackie Bradley Jr.? How does it help Boston when the Yankees sign a 25-year-old pitcher who went 24-0 last year? (Digression here: Can we really believe that 24-0 record? Reminds me of reports that North Korean leader Kim Jong Il had 11 holes-in-one and shot 38 under par in his first round of golf back in the 1990s?)
The local glee when the Yankees overspend has always perplexed me. Does it put any money in Sox fans’ pockets if the Yankees exceed the luxury tax threshold and the Red Sox hold the line? If you want to beat the Yankees, why are you thrilled to see them land good players at exorbitant costs? Here at the Globe, we’re hoping John Henry funnels all of his extra cash toward underpaid newspaper folks, but Sox fans share no benefit when the ball club is fiscally careful.
The Red Sox won’t come out and say it (they learned their lesson when Theo Epstein blundered in 2010), but it looks as though 2014 is going to be a bridge year as the Sox attempt to integrate new talent while still holding their spot at the top of the American League East. They think they are good enough and smart enough to do it and they might be right.
It’s hard to argue with the depth of Boston’s pitching staff and the folks in Double A and Triple A waiting to help in the big leagues. No one’s going to doubt them. Not after last year. Not while we all are basking in the glow of the Henry Honeymoon. But this is risky business. It’s not like the 2013 Red Sox were the 1927 Yankees. They did not overwhelm the field in the American League. An anxious and demanding fan base and press corps has always been part of the fun and beauty of the Red Sox experience. It would be a shame to lose that now.