There's been a lot of talk this week about transition and bridges. When they haven't been talking about how the Patriots have lost their way and have no soul, the sports talk guys have been going back and forth about if it's ok for a team in one of the biggest baseball markets to have a down year. Personally, I'm a bit torn. It depends on what our bridge looks like and what it's leading too. I guess it also helps to take where the bridge is coming from in perspective also.
Just where is that bridge coming from? I think it's coming from a pretty good place. A lot of fans considered last year to be a dissapointment and that sort of talk makes my head hurt. Yes, the Red Sox were swept out of the first round of the playoffs. Apparently anything short of a World Series win in this town is completely unacceptable even though they've won 2 in the last 6 years. But the playoffs in baseball, more than any other sport, are a toss up. The best team doesn't always in. Sometimes a fantastic team can play like crap for 3 straight games. And then we have to spend an entire offseason talking about how pathetic the Red Sox offense is because the Angels made them look bad. Does anyone actually believe that? Really? -Really-? They had the 2nd best OBP and SLG in the league which lead to 872 runs, good enough for 3rd in the league. They had 4 hitters with at least 24 HR, 4 hitters hit .290 or better, a guy steal 70 bases, and just for fun they added a catcher at the deadline who went on to hit .336 and knock in 41 in 56 games. And their pitching had issues, sure, but Beckett and Lester gave the team a chance to win every time they touched the ball. The bullpen, while it faultered down the stretch, was still the best in the league. Papelbon put up a 1.85 ERA with 76 K's in 68 IP...and people say he had a bad year. Anybody who looks at those numbers, anybody who looks at 95 wins, anybody who sees their team playing in October...and sees dissapointment? I can't even begin to imagine where you're coming from. Try telling an Orioles fan that you're dissapointed. Try telling a Pirates fan how the Red Sox should be looking for help on offense and they'll probably point out that they had exactly one guy hit more than 12 HR all year and that guy only hit 21, good enough for 5th best if he played for the Red Sox. Yeah, Boston is a bigger market and should have a better team than those guys. But look at the Mets. Tell the Mets how you were dissapointed in '09. No wonder every other fan base hates us.
The Red Sox are coming off a very sucessful season in 2009 and if they have to take a step back in order to take one forward then I wouldn't have a problem with it. What would a bridge really look like for the Red Sox? The top half of their line up would still be one of the best in the game with Ellsbury, Pedroia, Martinez, Youkilis, and Ortiz. They'd still have two very good starting pitchers and the best closer around. If the Red Sox went into the season with the team they have today, even minus Mike Lowell, they'd still hover around the 90 win mark and they'd still make a run for the playoffs. Fans of about 20 other teams would beg to have what Boston considers a down year, a bridge year. Are the Red Sox going to be as good as the Yankees? No, not even close. But there is likely no combination of moves that could get the Red Sox on the same level as the Yankees. Right now the Yankees are a clear step above every other team in baseball. That doesn't mean they're going to repeat though. Anything can happen in the postseason and if the Sox make it to the playoffs their chances are nearly 1 in 8 to win it all, just like the other 7 teams.
My only problem with a bridge year is where the bridge is going to lead us. I'd take an 88 win season and nearly missing the playoffs if that meant that 2011 was going to be a vastly improved team. But would it really be? What are the Red Sox saving up for? This year's free agent class isn't spectacular, but who do they expect to be able to grab after the 2010 season is over? And it's not like they have a farm system that's ready to spill over with impact players. Casey Kelly may be an ace one day and Josh Reddick has some potential, but who else are we waiting for? Lars Anderson nearly fell off the map after hitting .233 in Portland. Michael Bowden is projected to be a middle of the rotation guy. There are some potential major league players in the system, but not enough where you can say "When this group reaches the majors, look out!" Waiting a year just means that David Ortiz might be a complete non-factor, Youk will be one step closer to exiting his prime, Drew will likely be out of here, and Beckett will be on the wrong side of 30. Guys like Pedroia, Ellsbury, and Lester will still be performing at their peak, but laying low for a year doesn't seem like it'd make this team better.
I'm fine with reloading as long as there is a plan in place. I trust our front office enough to believe that there's a plan, it's just not one that I can see. They're in the middle ground right now and I'm not sure if I like it here. Either sign Bay and Beltre then trade for Gonzalez, Cabrera, or Halladay or you stop messing around and reload. Deal Papelbon for some quality young players since he'll be bolting as soon as he gets the chance. Deal Youk for some real impact prospects since late bloomers tend to have early declines and he's already entering his 30's. Go for it now or go for it later. But go for it. The middle ground is a boring, mediocre place to be. I'd rather see a 75 win team for a couple of years followed by a 105 win team rather than a string of 88 win teams.