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Is Red Sox rebuilding plan a sale in the making?

Posted by Eric Wilbur, Boston.com Staff  December 6, 2012 09:32 AM

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A bridge to a sale?

The heads of state at Fenway Sports Group have vociferously denied any percolating rumors that they are looking to unload the Red Sox, but here are the particulars:

- The team cleared more than $250 million from its payroll last August when it sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and Nick Punto to the Los Angeles Dodgers, nor do the Red Sox do not have a player on the books after the 2015 season, making the club’s roster an attractive salary purchase.

- Fox Business reporter Charlie Gasparino has not backed down from his report last September that John Henry was investigating a sale of the club.

- John Henry’s asset management firm is shutting down at the end of this month. According to the Wall Street Journal, the company managed more than $2.5 billion in 2006, a figure that is now down to around $100 million.

- The team just spent $120 million on short-term contracts that can either be seen as a step to rebuilding, or part of the process that assures any potential buyers that they won’t be saddled with long-term payouts.

- The Henry group bought the Red Sox in 2002 for $380 million. Forbes Magazine valued the team at around $1 billion last year, and, of course, the Dodgers sold for $2 billion earlier this year.

- Soccer.

Is it really any wonder why this story won’t go away?

The Red Sox can’t win in this regard: While the high-priced, short-term contracts being dished out to players like Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino this offseason signal a short-term solution in a long-term plan, the perception that they are also contracts to facilitate an easier takeover can also be questioned. There’s no longer a Crawford or Gonzalez to scare off any potential buyers, and that trade was made by the ownership group, not Ben Cherington, as they so proudly boasted.

When a franchise goes for a cool $2 billion and current ownership is either hemorrhaging cash, or has their fingers in too many cookie jars overseas, on the pavement, and LeBron, why shouldn’t the question arise? The Red Sox have done nothing but immediately deny any questioning on the matter, and we know that when Henry, Larry Lucchino, or Tom Werner reacts instantly with fervent denial that something might be up.

Henry normally responds to such issues with a simple e-mail, his preferred method of communication, explaining or denying each controversy (after he tells you this group has owned the team for 10 years). However, when the Gasparino story broke, Henry immediately took to the local airwaves to dismiss the story. So, why the urgency?

It seems whenever someone gets too close to a story the Red Sox owners don’t want public knowledge, they are more likely to make outward gestures to smolder the flames. Keep in mind; this is a franchise that continues to perpetrate the lie of a sellout streak that simply does not exist. They are also all wildly successful businessmen which, by nature, makes them spectacular liars.

But it makes sense to bail; nobody is questioning that fact. To refuse the fact that you’re willing to potentially make $1.5 billion on your initial investment is foolhardy. Why in the world wouldn’t you explore a sale?

It’s typical of this group though, the cloak and dagger approach. Most infamously was how Theo Epstein begged Henry and Werner ownership signed Crawford to the most idiotic contract in franchise history without a peep being leaked about it.

Baseball decision. Please.

If, like some have opined, Henry and Co. pine to get the franchise back on track before selling, well maybe there’s something to that. But winning takes money, and the best players on the market are going to take long-term deals. The Red Sox are at rock bottom right now, their popularity swimming somewhere beneath the initial beams laid in the Big Dig. Perhaps a couple of decent seasons will re-invigorate that name recognition, and within three years, it is a team that has nobody but kids on the books.

It’s not like Henry is going to sell tomorrow, but by 2015? There is no reason to think otherwise despite the denials coming from Yawkey Way.

The Red Sox will spend more short-term money this offseason, for sure. They’ll sell it as a rebuilding plan, and we buy that.

But I think we’re kidding ourselves not to believe it isn’t something bigger as well.

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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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