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Needs Versus Wants

Note: The idea and title (with a minor tweek) for this piece was stolen unceremoniously from Matt Imbrogno of The Yankee Analysts.

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To some, the quietude of the off season has been off-putting. Following the big bang that was September and then the ensuing explosions within Red Sox management, what has, or maybe more appropriately, what hasn't transpired since the end of actual baseball has been maybe a bit jarring. It's probably also fair to point out that for some, last off season's mommy-left-her-credit-card-out shopping spree might have set expectations on the high side.

You mean there are free agents out there demanding $100+ million contracts that haven't yet signed with the Red Sox? Well what the heck are you waiting for??

Team building is more complex than that, of course. There are numerous different inputs that lead to the decisions that are made and written about in these virtual pages and around Red Sox Nation. One of those is the difference between a want and a need.

First, let's define what I mean. Typing the words into the magic Google machine and you get the following definitions:

  • want /wänt/ Verb: Have a desire to possess or do (something); wish for.
  • need /nēd/ Verb: Require (something) because it is essential or very important: "I need help now".

While those both start in the same place, coveting, they are done for very different reasons. A want (and, yes, this will come back to baseball soon, I promise) is essentially unnecessary while a need requires necessity. Thus, you can want something you need, but you can't need something you want.

How does this apply to the Red Sox? Simple. Broadly speaking, last off season was the off season of want. This one is driven by need.

Last off season the Red Sox brought in Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez specifically was a known want of former GM Theo Epstein who had coveted the player since his early days in the majors with Texas. The Red Sox acquired Gonzalez at the cost of three highly touted prospects knowing that they would also have to shell out around $150 million to retain him, as he was set to become a free agent after his first season in Boston. The Red Sox did this even though they had an All Star first baseman already on the roster in Kevin Youkilis. They also knew that Gonzalez along with a number of other All Star first basemen would hit the free agent market that winter. They didn't need to, yet they acted anyway. Why? Because they wanted to.

By the way, none of this is to pass judgement on the deal or to claim Gonzalez isn't a great hitter who will likely be an asset for years to come. It's just to point out that trading for and signing Gonzalez wasn't something the team needed to do to compete in 2011. They could have easily kept Youkilis at first base and retained third baseman Adrian Beltre, who eventually signed with Texas for half of Gonzalez's contract.

Crawford's signing was a bit different. Baseball Reference lists the left fielder on the 2010 Red Sox as Daniel Nava. Nava was a great story, but far from a great player and certainly not a long term answer for Boston in left field. The Sox had (and have) two outfielders who were thought to be ready to jump to the majors in Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish, but Kalish got hurt and upon hearing the news, Reddick swung and missed.

So the Red Sox did need a left fielder. The fact that Crawford was the best most highly thought of left fielder on the market and as such would require the largest and longest term contract shows that the signing was done at the intersection of want and need. And maybe a bit further up want. Again, the team was planning for the future, but there wasn't a need to make a commitment of the level Crawford (and Gonzalez) required.

As for 2012...

600 words in and we're now getting to the point. Nice job, Matt.

In part due to last off season but mostly because of player age and contract structures, the Red Sox simply don't possess the level of need that they did last off season. Starters exist at every one of the eight defensive positions save one, and there are several acceptable candidates to play right field on the roster currently. Sure, the team has only three known starting pitchers, but not unlike last season (sigh) they have pitching options out the wazoo. Acquiring one or more young pitchers is every team's dream and as the Gio Gonzalez trade negotiations showed the Red Sox aren't any different. Still, the fact that they didn't make the deal further showed that acquiring Gonzalez might fall a bit more towards want than need.

It's important to point out that the Sox are also lacking, at least a bit, in the largess required to make moves like they did a year ago. Moves of the past have a way of handcuffing, for better or worse, moves of the present and future. Boston would surely loved to have signed Carlos Beltran, and traded for Mat Latos and Gio Gonzalez. Heck, sign Prince Fielder as a pinch hitter and part time mascot too while you're at it. But even billion dollar companies like the Red Sox run by billionaires like John Henry have their spending limits. And if they don't, Uncle Bud will see to it they get one anyway.

To sum the Sox off season up in a single sentence, I'd say, the need isn't there and they can't afford the want. That doesn't mean they won't make any more interesting, exciting, or even big moves. They could. They might. But those moves will be born from need rather than want.