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Playing catch-up on the Sox

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  January 29, 2010 10:32 AM

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Cleaning up on some leftovers while waiting for the start of spring training …

We all understand the Red Sox have a developmental gap in their farm system, but when owner John Henry says that the club is trying to find a way to plug that hole until 2012, he makes it sound like the Red Sox don’t expect to be championship-caliber again until 2012.

OK, so maybe we’re all reading into things too much, most recently when Henry told the Herald’s Michael Silverman last weekend that this offseason presented the Sox with a challenge because their next wave of prospects is two years away. Henry is being completely honest with that assessment, which is a credit to him and to his organization. He’s not just feeding you what you want to hear. But a statement like that also ignores the fact that the Red Sox got themselves into this predicament and that there are multiple ways to build a team.

Translation: the Sox are a big market team. Clubs like Pittsburgh, San Diego, Minnesota and Florida may have to negotiate developmental gaps, but the Red Sox can buy their way through them. That’s the beauty of having both a farm system and considerable resources. Furthermore, the Red Sox are in their current plight partly because they traded away some young players (Nick Hagadone, etc.) and partly because prospects like Lars Anderson and Michael Bowden have taken a downturn in value.

Who’s to say the latter won’t happen again?

The more you look at it, the more you can't help but wonder if John Lackey is here to replace Josh Beckett. The Red Sox simply could not afford to let Beckett walk after this season without having a replacement, and the market next fall might not be as favorable as the one this offseason. So the Sox signed Lackey, assuring them of having at least two front-line starters (Lackey and Jon Lester) in 2011.

All of that brings us to Jason Bay and the curious manner in which the Red Sox negotiated with him. In a recent interview with Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, Bay detailed what we told you here in December – specifically that he and the Red Sox had all but agreed to a four-year deal last summer when the Sox started getting cold feet over concerns about Bay’s long-term health.

In retrospect, the Sox never had a chance of re-signing Bay this offseason, at least not when any team was willing to offer Bay a four-year deal for more than $16 million per season with no strings attached. Will the Red Sox prove right about Bay in the long run? That remains to be seen. In the interim, they have signed a pitcher with some recent elbow difficulty (Lackey) to a five-year deal and reached the point where they seem to be getting downright neurotic about long-term contracts.

In the Sox’ defense, as one longtime major league voice pointed out, the Sox’ stance on "protection" in long-term contracts might have some validity to it. Player contracts have become increasingly difficult to insure in recent years, which means teams must absorb more of the burden in the event of injury. If the Sox are hedging their bets, so be it. At the same time, the club is going to lose out on players like Bay if and when it comes time to bid, meaning the club is excluding itself from competing for some high-level talent at a time when the farm system is sputtering.

Does that make any sense at all?

With regard to defense, we all know that Bay was not Gold Glove material, but can we stop with the suggestion that he was a car crash waiting to happen out there? Some of the same defensive metrics that had Bay rated as one of the worst defensive left fielders in baseball last year had Jacoby Ellsbury rated last among qualifying major league center fielders. Many of us believe that Ellsbury’s speed and athleticism lead people to overrate his skill, but anyone who watched him last year knows he is an adequate center fielder at worst.

The point? Somewhere along the line, baseball’s obsession with quantitative analysis gets to be a little bit much. To their credit, the Red Sox appear to have built a very good (and maybe even great) defensive team on paper this year, but we all know that the great teams have balance. The championship clubs of 2004 and 2007 could hit, run, pitch, and play defense by the time September and October rolled around, explaining why they could win the 2-1 game just as easily as the 8-7 affair.

Admittedly, these Red Sox are not done being built yet.

But amid this avalanche of new-age statistical information, ask yourself this: if the numbers are going to make all of the decisions for you, why do we need GMs and managers anymore?

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Updated: Mar 1, 07:24 AM

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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