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Red Sox speak loudly, carry big sticks

Posted by Tony Massarotti, Globe Staff  December 9, 2010 08:52 AM

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The Red Sox heard you, loudly and clearly, and they did not like the message. You groused about Liverpool. You groaned about ticket prices. Mostly, you stopped buying and stopped watching, all at a time when the competition for your interest was greater than ever before.

And so now, amid a succession of days that will go down among the most exciting offseasons in Red Sox history, team officials have given you more than just a subtle nod or tacit acknowledgment. At the Swan and Dolphin, the Sox acted like lions. Carl Crawford is in the fold, too. John Henry, Theo Epstein, and Larry Lucchino all but drove a dump truck into Orlando and unloaded a pile of money at the multitalented outfielder’s feet, continuing to infuse the Red Sox with speed and power while ensuring that, yes, the Red Sox are more to them than just a high-performance fund in their ever-expanding portfolio.

Good for them.

Good for you.

Fact: Carl Crawford is overpaid today, though that is hardly the point. Entering an offseason that we long ago billed as perhaps the most important of the Henry ownership era, the Red Sox needed to throw their weight around again. They needed to show that they do not take you for granted. Until last night, of the 20 positional players in history to have earned an average of $17 million or more in any one season, only two had ever slugged less than .470: Derek Jeter and Ichiro Suzuki. One is a middle infielder with obvious value, the other an Asian star in a uniquely Asian market.

Now comes Crawford, who has never hit as many as 20 home runs in any season. He is fast, with some power, and plays good defense. He is a very good player. And yet, Carl Crawford does not fit the profile of an $18 million player any more than this offseason has fit the typical Epstein philosophy, one in which the Red Sox have shied away from longer, riskier contracts for fear that they would pay dearly later.

But then, isn’t that what makes this offseason all the more inspiring? Gonzalez will end up with a seven-year extension worth something in the neighborhood of $22 million. By delaying that announcement until after Opening Day, the Red Sox effectively were able to add Crawford at the price of $20 million per. All Epstein needs to do now is fortify that bullpen – could a left-handed-hitting outfielder (Jacoby Ellsbury? Ryan Kalish?) be headed out in a trade? – and the Red Sox can unpack the bats, roll out the balls and open the gates.

Indeed, since the departure of Victor Martinez added to the angst of a frustrated fan base, the Red Sox have all but declared war on all of baseball, the American League East and, most notably, the New York Yankees. They acquired Gonzalez. They bid on Mariano Rivera. According to the respected Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports, the Sox even made an offer to left-handed pitcher Cliff Lee, all with the intention of jerking around a Yankees organization that overtook them by stealing Mark Teixeira two years ago.

In New York today, the spin is already underway. This morning, both the New York Post and New York Daily News have stories about the Crawford signing, each suggesting that the Yankees merely dabbled on Crawford to drive up the price for Boston. In fact, maybe the Red Sox have dabbled with Lee merely to further tweak the Yankees. Boston is messing with New York, not the other way around, and this time it was even the Yankees who botched negotiations with one of their own star players. (Right, Derek?)

Can you imagine how the Yankees will fare against the Red Sox now in New York, particularly if Lee ends up elsewhere and Andy Pettitte retires? With Crawford and Gonzalez, the Red Sox currently project to have five left-handed hitters in their lineup against right-handed pitching, six if you count switch-hitting catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Jason Varitek. With the joke that is right field at the new Yankee Stadium, the Yankees will be afraid to throw a right-handed pitcher in their very own home.

But then, again, this is how the Red Sox defeated the Yankees in 2004. They beat New York at its own game. In Game 7 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, the Red Sox routed the Yankees in a 10-3 win. Boston hit four home runs in that game, the Yankees none. All four Red Sox homers came from left-handed hitters – two by Johnny Damon, one by David Ortiz, one by Mark Bellhorn.

In the last three years, since the Red Sox’ last World Series victory, Boston has undergone massive changes. The Celtics have become annual contenders again. The Bruins have become relevant. The Patriots deteriorated some and have since been rebuilt, Bill Belichick turning over his defense in a 10-2 season that most recently produced a resounding 45-3 victory over the Jets. Woe is New York this week. The Patriots, Celtics, and Bruins all have the chance at a championship.

During that same three-year span, Red Sox television ratings have been cut in half. The secondary ticket market has slowed. The Red Sox got more than a little dull, more than a little boring, more than a little timid. The Sox spent money on people like Mike Cameron and John Smoltz, Brad Penny, and Marco Scutaro. They drew lines on Teixeira, Jason Bay, and Martinez. All of that ultimately inspired you to similarly draw a line, one which the Red Sox ultimately chose to cross only after ensuring that both Gonzalez and Crawford were in tow.

And the Red Sox didn’t even need a bridge to do it.

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The final chapter on Teixeira and How Red Sox pitchers work the strike zone Jan. 7, 2009 and July 17, 2009. Some actual reporting – an obsession with Mark Teixeira and the art of pitching.
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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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