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Are the Red Sox on a glacial pace? Hardly

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  November 27, 2012 09:04 AM

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Ten years ago, in Theo Epstein’s first offseason as general manager, here are the free agents the Red Sox had signed by Nov. 27: Chris Coste, James Lofton, Justin Kaye, Kevin Tolar, and Steve Woodward. All, of course, were significant contributors to Boston’s 2003 appearance in the ALCS, right?

In fact, it wasn’t until Dec. 12 that the Red Sox pulled off their first big move of the offseason, trading for second baseman Todd Walker. It wasn’t until Jan. 6 that they signed Mike Timlin. It wasn’t until Jan. 10 that they brought in Bill Mueller; Jan. 22 when they decided to take a chance on David Ortiz. It wasn’t until Feb. 4 when they plucked Bronson Arroyo off waivers and Feb. 15 when they finally wrangled Kevin Millar from the Marlins.

The result was one of the best teams in Red Sox history, and helped put the pieces in place for the franchise’s first World Series title in 86 years one year later.

A decade later, Red Sox fans grumble and groan over the fact that the two big moves Ben Cherington (He’s in charge, right? I wish they’d make that more clear) has made were to sign David Ross and Jonny Gomes, albeit to a ridiculous, two-year, $10 million contract. Where’s the first baseman, they cry. Where’s the splash, the beat writers wonder. What’s the plan?

It borders on ludicrous. Much like the game itself, an offseason like 2002-03 should preach a certain semblance of patience when it comes to assembling a roster. Then again, in 2002, there was no Christmas at Fenway event in order to drum up ticket sales, and an offseason splash has become the annual rite of passage to stoke the coals in the fans’ checking accounts. How’s that working?

If the point is to revive interest in the club, there are far better ways – if not exactly easier – than inking Josh Hamilton to a seven-year deal. Do you remember anybody being overly enthusiastic about bringing Timlin or Mueller aboard? Those guys at least brought a lot less angst than Ross and Gomes, albeit to a ridiculous, two-year, $10 million contract.

There’s an anger directed at this franchise unlike any I can remember, and much of it is with good reason. But if the last two seasons haven’t instilled a lesson on Yawkey Way, then what possibly ever could? The Sox need to go back to being smarter, loading up on the Marvin Gardens and Pennsylvania Avenue free agents and not being tempted to build the hotel on Boardwalk. Signing Hamilton to a long-term, big-dollar deal puts you right back where you started.

If you have to overpay and convince Hamilton to take three years, then the story line changes somewhat, but the reports of Mike Napoli wanting five years have to make fans stop and hope that Cherington isn’t that desperate to grab some attention. Hamilton had an .890 OPS last season and is looking for $175 million, or $165 million less than the ridiculous two-year, $10 million Gomes contract. That was second among all AL outfielders, followed closely by Josh Willingham (.890), who signed with the Twins last offseason for three years, $21 million. Cody Ross was 16th (.807) and made $3 million. The Rangers’ Nelson Cruz was just below him and is due to make $10.5 million in 2013. Ross is due a significant raise, but he won’t make that much. The point being; would you rather have a Ross and a Willingham or a Cruz on your roster?

Or do you want Jacoby Ellsbury at Scott Boras dollars?

There are guys, of course, you give that sort of money to, but to me, they’re usually transcendent players. Is Josh Hamilton really that guy? Maybe. But he’s 31 and I wouldn’t be willing to risk $175 million to find out. The flip side is that the Sox have cash to spend thanks to Magic Johnson’s generosity last August, so it’d better go somewhere other than to mere diamonds in the rough. So, what the heck, offer Hamilton $30 million for three years. But to sink $85 million more into a deal when guys like Felix Hernandez or David Price might be available down the road? No thanks.

Otherwise, it seems like there finally may be a semblance of patience on Yawkey Way, which is what we yearned to return for years.

So, why exactly are we complaining about it?

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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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