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Touching All the Bases

Two Reader Letters, Two Opposite Opinions of the Red Sox' Roster-Building, One Right Answer

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Leading off and closing this one today with reader emails. Same topic, different perspectives, one actually based in reality:

First, our bizarro Rickey Henderson. This comes from Ronald H., who has a beef with the way the fourth-place team in the American League East goes about its roster-building business.

Lots of beefs, actually. Many beefs. Beefs galore. Beefs -- they're what's for dinner:

How ALL these complete idiots in the media forget the Yankee model has been an enormous overwhelming success with 5 World Series, countless division titles and basically a playoff appearance almost every year (minus an absurd injury riddled season last year in which they still miraculously won 85 games). Say what you will but the CC Sabathia and Mark Teixeira signings got them a ring and four playoff appearances in five years. It's just patently absurd to keep claiming this new Red Sox model is so superior to the Yankee Way after a dream season where everything fell into place. There is no evidence to support this. After the Dodgers end up with the best record in National League these pea brains will ignore this and go on about the A's and Rays. I can't for the life of me understand why they flat out refuse to combine the two approaches and capitalize on a very good farm system and the enormous revenue they have?? Why are they more concerned with being thought of as the smartest guys with their genius player valuation model than winning?

Before we address this, I should note that this is the Readers' Digest Condensed version of Ronald's rant. The full email runs 471 words -- right, roughly the length of one of my usual ledes here -- and also gripes that the Yankees' rotation is superior to the Sox', the lineup is superior to the Sox', the Red Sox farm system has redundant depth and no impact players, and that Dustin Pedroia, Shane Victorino, David Ortiz are all going to get old someday, maybe someday soon, and the Red Sox will never pay big contracts to proven star players because "one big idiot contract with Carl Crawford went wrong."

He does like their bullpen, however.

Now, I don't mean to make fun of Ronald here ... wait, yes I do. I do mean to make fun of Ronald here, because this mindset from a purported. Red Sox fan deserves to be called out.

It's not just the tangled games of semantics to make the situation look as bad as possible -- citing the Yankees' playoff berths and 2009 title without acknowledging the Red Sox' three championships in a decade, trying to claim the Teixeira signing was a good one (his OPS has fallen every year with the Yankees), saying there is "no evidence to support" that the Red Sox' approach works when they won the World Series six months ago, the utter unawareness or refusal to recognize that the Red Sox combine player development with spending wisely on proven quality as effectively as any organization other than perhaps the Cardinals.

I generally don't like to acknowledge this type of myopic, deliberately angry, it's-all-lost-before-they've-played sports-radio lack-of-perspective. But this is one of the times when I can't help it, because I can't comprehend it.

Yes, the Red Sox are off to a mediocre start. There's the usual talk of a hangover. There's some frustration there that the title defense has begun in such an uninspiring way.

I get that. They should be playing better. But to completely dismiss what the Red Sox are -- the defending champions with a stacked farm system, not to mention the cash and prospects to trade for virtually anyone they wish who is made available -- is to wallow in ignorance and/or misery.

The argument can be made that the franchise has never been in better shape to compete for championships now and in the future. Yet in some precincts such as Ron's, the sky isn't just falling, it's never going to stop falling, while the horizon is permanently sunny in the Bronx.

I'm mystified why one, let alone some, would see this franchise this way at this moment in time.

Is it because the Yankees, who dropped roughly $500,000,000 in salary commitments this offseason, are currently in first place?

Is it because the Red Sox didn't bid seriously on Masahiro Tanaka, who has been exceptional so far? (Aside: Can we please stop comparing him to Daisuke Matsuzaka and Yu Darvish exclusively? That's like comparing three random US-born pitchers who have nothing else in common but their heritage.)

Is it because they offered Jon Lester only four years and $70 million? Is it because they didn't pay Jacoby Ellsbury $153 million?

Is it because they got Dustin Pedroia at a bargain rate when he deserved more? Or is it because they overpaid Pedroia, who -- and no one acknowledges this -- is going to be old someday?

You'd think the Red Sox were stuck in the same rut as the Blue Jays. That duck boat parade and all that came before wasn't a fever dream, was it?

I do agree that Ronald asks one fair question: Will the Red Sox spend on expensive, high-end, prime-of-career talent when the opportunity presents itself? It is a fair question only because we haven't faced a specific test on this topic yet, when a young superstar who fits a need becomes available.

heywardjasonfinn429.JPGAs I've written here surely to the point of annoyance by now, the eventual availability of someone such as Giancarlo Stanton will be extraordinarily telling. They'd better make a play for someone of his abilities. Even someone such as Jason Heyward -- not so long ago one of the brightest prospects in recent baseball history -- should be on their radar. Covet and acquire those caliber players on the right side of their age-27 seasons.

There are valuable clues regarding this approach to be found in Joshua Green's profile of Red Sox (and Globe/Boston.com) owner John Henry in the latest Bloomberg Businessweek. A couple of snippets:

The Collapse [of 2011] left Red Sox Nation sullen and traumatized. Henry was repentant. "We had a certain discipline for the first five or six years that really paid big dividends, and we got away from that," he says. "We learned a lesson in ever-growing, long-term contracts with free agents."...

"To me, the most important thing this study [one presented at the Sloan Sports Analytics Conference] shows is that virtually all of the underpaid players are under 30 and virtually all the overpaid players are over 30," says Henry. "Yet teams continue to extravagantly overpay for players above the age of 30."...

[The Red Sox] have made a re-commitment to a long-term strategy built on data, performance analysis, and finding hidden value. ...

It isn't just that financial types are applying their smarts to baseball, it's that baseball success has come to hinge less on signing expensive stars, as George Steinbrenner's Yankees once did, and much more on making smarter bets than the competition on which young players will emerge as the next stars. ...

If you're a Red Sox fan who recognizes that instant gratification is far from the best route to prolonged success, aren't these words encouraging? There is nothing wrong with being smart, unsentimental and responsible.

There's a reason only one player, Ortiz, remains from the 2004 champions -- the Red Sox have done a fine job turning over the roster, whether it is using a comp pick for losing Pedro to draft Clay Buchholz, or selecting Jacoby Ellsbury the year Johnny Damon was due to hit free agency, or having talented young players such as Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. ready to replace high-salaried veterans who have likely already peaked. They've played the cycle of baseball beautifully for the most part, and they learned from the mess of September 2011-September 2012.

Presuming -- and again, I acknowledge that this is the one part we do not yet know -- that they will spend on that cornerstone player in his mid-20s who becomes available, I don't know how a Red Sox fan can be anything but hopeful at what the immediate and long-term future may bring.

Which brings us to our closer, reader Robert M:

Nice to see that, even after the Sox have struggled like crazy with their defense and team batting, and the Yankees have proven their idiotic economic model to be more same-old-genius-smarter-than-the-Sox Yankees with the incredible performance of their new stars (they're in first in April after all), that today, the Yankees and Sox have generated and given up...THE EXACT SAME NUMBER OF RUNS (both at -9 run diff). Yanks are merely continuing last season's run of good luck. Can't wait for it to catch up with them. Or how those contracts look in 2018.

Robert sent this before the teams' most recent games; the Red Sox now have a run-differential of -15, while the Yankees is minus-8. That deficit, like the Yankees' 3.5-game lead, is more than surmountable over the next 136 games. But don't tell Ronald. He's too busy designing his first-to-worst t-shirts.

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