Between late Sunday night and Monday afternoon, the Red Sox added both Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to their lineup. In early December, 2010, the Red Sox added both Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. Two separate years, two pairs of very good players being added to the roster around the same time, and for relatively large chunks of money. Well, we all know what happened with that 2011 team the following year, as well as the necessity of the Punto trade in 2012. Given the similarities between the pairs of moves, we’ve already seen a few columnists make that leap, and there will surely be many more. Just know, the similarities begin and end at bringing in two talented players around the same time.
For one thing, the contracts that Ramirez and Sandoval signed aren’t remotely close to what Gonzalez and Crawford were tied up with. To wit, Crawford signed a 7-year $142 million contract that winter, and Gonzalez’s extension was worth $154 million over seven years. In this case, Hanley Ramirez is owed $88 million over four years with a vesting option for a fifth, and Sandoval is signed for five years and something around $100 million. I don’t think you’ll need your TI89 to see how much more constraining one set of those deals is than the others, but if you want to bring inflation into the mix, Crawford's deal is valued at around $175 million in today's dollars.
In addition to the straight money and years being less in this case, there is also more money in the game from local television contracts, and the Red Sox have less money tied to aging players. Heading into 2011, the following player were tied up on the payroll for at least two more years at expensive prices: Josh Beckett, Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey, and David Ortiz, with Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon and Kevin Youkilis getting expensive in arbitration and Dustin Pedroia’s first team-friendly extension starting. When Crawford and Gonzalez were added to the roster, the Red Sox had no room to do anything else, and had a lot of money tied up in aging players. Now, the only other money the Red Sox have committed is to Pedroia, Rusney Castillo and Allen Craig, giving them room to add more payroll in the near future.
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Depth is also much more important to the Red Sox now than it was in 2011. Ben Cherington may even have an obsession with the concept of depth. However, there was a real lack of it in 2011, especially on the pitching staff. In that season, Tim Wakefield was being run out every five days despite the clear fact that he had little to nothing left. Andrew Miller made 12 starts that year. Do you remember how poor of a fit he was as a starting pitcher? Kyle Weiland was making hugely important starts in September! Hell, there was talk of making a move for Bruce Chen (!) to start at the end of the year in hopes of locking up a playoff spot. Say what you will about the talent of the young pitching in this organization, but in 2015 there will not be pitchers of Weiland’s talent-level making important starts down the stretch.
Which brings us to the farm system, which is miles ahead of where it was back when Gonzalez and Crawford were brought aboard. Back then, there was some intriguing talent in the lower levels, but not much talent towards the top. Most of it was cleaned out in the Gonzalez trade. Anthony Ranaudo and Garin Cecchini were some of the best prospects in the system at that point, along with guys like Jose Iglesias, Drake Britton, Josh Reddick, Stolmy Pimentel and Ryan Lavarnway. Now, the Red Sox boast one of the deepest farm systems in the game, with talent at just about every level. This gives them much more flexibility than the team had back then.
Much of Boston’s talent is at the top. Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts are playing for the league minimum for at least one more year, as are the likes of Allen Webster, Rubby De La Rosa, Ranaudo and Christian Vazquez. When you have so many player who can contribute making such little money, it’s easy to afford big contracts. On top of that, they have players like Blake Swihart, Deven Marrero, Henry Owens, Brian Johnson and Eduardo Rodriguez almost ready to step in when injuries inevitably occur during the season.
The other advantage of having a good farm system, of course, is having the chips to make major trades to improve the roster. As of right now, we are looking at a roster that is far from complete. This Red Sox team still needs at least two starting pitchers, a left-handed reliever and a backup catcher. With the incredible depth Cherington has acquired around the diamond, and the wealth of prospects through the organization, the Red Sox should have no problem adding to their talent. In 2011, what you saw was what you were going to get, and it wasn't likely to change for quite some time: there's a reason the Sox were forced to decide between Erik Bedard and Rich Harden at the trade deadline that year, you know.
Over the next few months, there are going to be countless columnists and personalities making the lazy comparison to 2011. It’s true that in both years, two relatively expensive batters were brought in around the same time. And that’s just about where the comparisons end. These contracts aren’t even close to as constricting, and the team is in a much better position to take on these deals than they were in 2011. These moves may work out perfectly and lead to another World Series, or they may completely bust and result in another last-place finish. Whichever way it goes, though, it won't be because the Red Sox have forgotten the lessons of 2011.