Commentary

The numbers don’t lie: Action all that can change Red Sox course this winter

After a last-place finish in 2022, the Red Sox have a lot of work to do in order to make it back to the playoffs in 2023.

General manager Brian O'Halloran, president Sam Kennedy, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, and manager Alex Cora represented the Red Sox at their end-of-season press conference Thursday.
General manager Brian O'Halloran, president Sam Kennedy, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, and manager Alex Cora represented the Red Sox at their end-of-season press conference Thursday. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

COMMENTARY

Like a lot of people, I wanted to hear from John Henry on Thursday. After striking out, I went to the bookshelf.

“Our success didn’t happen by accident, but was built over time,” the principal owner of the Red Sox (and of Boston Globe Media Partners, which includes Boston.com) wrote in the foreword to ‘Relentless,’ the Globe’s 2018 championship commemorative. “We won the division the past two years. Almost all of our best players were drafted through our farm system. On top of that, we added Alex Cora and his amazing staff, and J.D. Martinez. These two guys represent two of the best investments the Red Sox have ever made.”

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“I hope you will reflect warmly on this special season,” Henry concluded, “for years and even decades to come.”

That’s a harder pass than Thursday Night Football for the time being.

They will stage the playoffs in Cleveland on Friday, the youngest (and third-cheapest) roster in the majors playing the sort of live-wire baseball — the Guardians are next-to-last in home runs, but third in steals and the best in going first-to-third — that feels like it can’t work on the big stage, but that’ll be fun to watch try.

They will stage it in Queens, the Padres and Mets festooned with the stars — Max Scherzer, Francisco Lindor, Juan Soto, Manny Machado — you pile up when the title drought is too long and the ownership says the magic words: Go for it.

They will play it in St. Louis, where Nolan Arenado and Paul Goldschmidt have offered shades of the 3-4 power plant we used to know. They will play it in Toronto, before an October crowd that might be even more rabid than the ones Fenway hosted as recently as last fall.

In New England? We may watch and pick our favorites. We’re more likely to obsess about Bailey Zappe.

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Or parse words, because there’s not much more to do while we wait for the next Red Sox team — great or otherwise — to just about be molded from the ground up.

What was your favorite moment from Thursday’s last (place) dance? I’ll lean toward team president Sam Kennedy, asked whether the Red Sox would continue to have a “top payroll” in 2023, demurring a bit: “I anticipate our ownership group continuing to invest across our baseball operation. . . . The commitment to spending has been there.”

Better still, his response when asked whether both Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers — a free agent after next season — could be retained while still addressing the team’s myriad other needs.

“Hope so,” Kennedy said.

Let’s say it plain. This winter’s a Rubicon, at least among those still here after Mookie Betts was dealt. (It was notable to hear team architect Chaim Bloom talk about the team’s approach the last few years as being partially motivated by never feeling again it needed to trade a Betts.)

There are others who will never abandon the ship, content to have “Sweet Caroline” played at their funeral no matter how many last-place finishes happen before they get there. But this winter? Bogaerts and/or Devers are new beacons not to be crossed for so many.

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Opinions can vary, of course. For me? Bogaerts is not the player that Betts is, but who could want anything more? Homegrown and driven through and through, and watching him depart would be tough.

But the bonkers shortstop market of the past few years ($325 million for a decade of Corey Seager?) means there’s a good chance he might hold out for an offer I’m fine with the Red Sox not paying. I begrudge him that zero.

That happening and Devers also going into next season without a long-term extension? That’s a real tough pill to swallow.

Sox brass spoke for an hour on Thursday, the gang of four, not including the ownership, and Bloom needed nine words to admit how superfluous so much of it was: “Nothing I say really matters unless there’s a deal.”

He was speaking specifically about Bogaerts, but it extends across the whole roster. This is a show-me offseason for Bloom, his plan, and his bosses. If those bosses don’t wish to speak, as they haven’t much since the pandemic, then their actions must do it for them.

Fan actions certainly have.

The Red Sox drew 2.625 million to Fenway this season — a more-than-respectable eighth in the majors, but their lowest in a full season since 2001. On the surface, that feels an apt comparison, another promising year that cratered to an embarrassing spectacle in its final weeks.

However, that was also the second of 10 straight years of annual attendance records from 2000-09, encompassing six postseason berths and two championships. The trend was up, and in the 20 years through 2019, the Sox cracked three million five times and 2.9 million another six.

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Fans haven’t returned en masse post-pandemic, MLB’s numbers this season are down nearly 20 percent from its 2007 peak. But here specifically, the four trophies in our memories have never held less currency. To flip through those memories of 2018 is to have to double-check: That was only four years ago?

Dombrowski. Betts. A healthy Chris Sale. A 43-homer Martinez. Price. Kimbrel. Rodriguez. Vázquez. Bradley Jr. Benintendi. Never mind the bit pieces whose departure four years on makes all the sense in the world.

This isn’t championship-starved Cleveland. These aren’t the perpetually second-fiddle Mets. This is a franchise, as has happened a few times these past few decades, where the bad perceptions have swallowed up any positive realities.

They have, for 20 years, always had the antidote to that. (Will Henry be dropping by any radio stations this winter?) May they have it again.

Or the murmurs about just how relentless they really are will grow only louder.

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