I always liked John Farrell. He was the heavy, no-nonsense yang to Terry Francona’s easy-going yin. He had a square-jawed Hurdle-like presence on the field, commanding more respect from the likes of Josh Beckett, John Lackey, and Jon Lester than a career 36-46 pitcher should.
When he signed a deal to manage the BJs through 2013 and then Bobby V was hired on last off-season to manage the Sox for two years, it was clear that V was a stop-gap until John Henry & Co. could hire their 1st choice. Apparently the 69-93 bridge plan was unacceptable. So amid tampering allegations, the Red Sox pried Farrell away from Toronto with trouble-maker Mike Aviles. All’s well that ends well, right?
When teams like the Red Sox make mistakes, they look for the re-set button. Bloated contracts are shipped out of town, either by eating cash or duping another of the league’s financial elite looking to re-set their own brand of misfortune. Players, who could never humanly earn their MVP-money deals, are scapegoated on their way out of town for performing like mere All-Stars. And when mistakes can’t simply be erased from the 25-man roster, payroll ‘limits’ are increased in order to hide the mistakes behind fresher sports page headlines. The absurdity of such excesses are brought to light every so often – like when $30M players are transformed into pine-riding utility infielders on the national stage of the Championship Series…
[TANGENT: I’m picking up steam on a particular soapbox right now, but I’ll need to stop. This post isn’t about the need for a hard salary cap. Suffice it to say, there’s a need for a hard salary cap so teams like the Yankees and Red Sox lose their ability to hit the re-set button when the decisions to sign guys like Carl Crawford, John Lackey, and Alex Rodriguez (and historically Daisuke Matsuzaka and Jason Giambi, et al.) prove to be disasterous. The result would be large market teams paying for their non-baseball headline-grabbing nonsense – AND, smaller FA contracts because teams would be less likely to offer the bank for any one player. But that’s why the MLBPA will never let it happen…]
So the Red Sox are looking to start over as if the 2012 season never happened. They cleared out a quarter billion dollars of financial flexibility; they cast off their joke of a PR-grab manager; and now they bring in the iron-fisted tie to the championship teams of yore. It’s all better, right? And it’s only costing them Mike Aviles.
Yes, Mike Aviles: a versatile, offensively adequate infielder that could be a real sleeper if he ever traveled back to 2008. In fact, he’s exactly the type of free agent that teams like the Pirates have available to them. The Pirates cannot, in any way, compete for top-tier (or even second tier) uncommitted players. Fistfuls of cash will be thrown at those guys until the Pirates can no longer afford the bidding. So they’re left to look at low-cost (and therefore low risk) players with high-reward potential. The most recent example of this was Erik Bedard, and through the trade market, AJ Burnett. (Mike Aviles was actually a guy I thought would fit well with the Pirate last winter.) The beauty of these moves is that they don’t hamstring a team. The Pirates will never feel like they have to unload $250M in one day – at least in this century. But the limitations are familiar. AJ Burnett didn’t pitch in October. And that might be because Erik Bedard wasn’t even wearing a uniform in September.
But the answer to this lies in the realm of baseball – drafting, development, shrewd trading, and low-cost free agent gambles. And what the Red Sox are about to learn is that John Farrell might help their season ticket holders re-up their $10,000 packages, but it likely won’t win any more baseball games.
Gordon Edes wrote a piece that, with the Farrell acquisition, squarely placedthe burden of success on GM, Ben Cherrington’s plate. And that’s true. In fact, it’s always true that off-season baseball success rests in the hands of the General Manager. But it implies that the owners did their part – the owners solidified their public relations messaging (get ready for an onslaught of NESN Farrellovin’) to free their baseball people to make baseball moves. Now if they could keep their hands out of it from here on out, the Red Sox might stand a chance of turning their hideous entertainment racket back into a baseball team. Yeah.. fat chance…
In fact, I’ll bet my best pants that the Pirates will finish ahead of the Sox again in 2013.