Thanks to Sam Hinkie’s Philadelphia 76ers experiment, in which his dysfunctional Sixers teams flagrantly tanked in order to get high draft picks, the idea of “The Process” dictating how sports teams operate is tainted. Even Hinkie’s defenders, and possibly the man himself, would likely admit that his version of “The Process” had major flaws, and insofar as it has finally worked out now, with Philly in playoff contention, “The Process” has become a blueprint of how not to run a team.
But Hinkie’s version “The Process” is not the same as the actual process of running a team. It’s a just a well-branded, questionably executed version of it. The real processes by which sports teams operate are their lifeblood. This should not come as a surprise to Boston fans, who are blessed with two of professional sports’ most successful organizations. The Patriots are, alongside the San Antonio Spurs, the most successful machine-like operation in the country. That the Celtics are even close to either of them speaks to how great Danny Ainge has been at creating one of the NBA’s best basketball teams.
If the Patriots and Celtics have earned the benefit of the doubt in how they operate because of the results of their processes, they’ve earned it, and their moves have been transparent and easy enough for us to follow and appreciate. The Red Sox are more closed off than either the Pats or C’s, and the process by which they work remains more or less hidden. As such, they rarely receive the benefits of the doubts despite similar on-field success to their Hubmates. It makes no sense.
There are three reasons I think it happens. First is baseball’s free-market structure, which turns player movement less a strategy exercise than a battle of wills (and money). If we fail, it because we are weak, not cunning. Second are the Yankees, the shadow of whom falls over the entirety of Red Sox Nation, and who are the yang to our yin. Third is Dave Dombrowski’s inscrutability when it comes to discussing player moves, which seems to me to be a non-issue, but I know many feel differently.
It would be an understatement to say Dombrowski plays it close to the vest. It would also be an understatement to say he’s done a good job at the helm . The team has added David Price, Chris Sale and Drew Pomeranz while largely keeping its young core together, all for the cost of a trading Travis Shaw to the Brewers before his breakout season. The point of any process isn’t to avoid mistakes at any cost; it’s to be methodically successful enough to be able to absorb those losses while still improving, and the Sox have very much done that. Under Dombrowski, who seems to float above our region-specific anxieties (thank god), The Red Sox have improved while simultaneously often playing like butt. That’s hard to do, and it’s a testament to the man in charge.
But this week, there was little solace in what the team has and has not accomplished, and its plan to improve -- just mirth, jealousy and rage at the Miami Marlins’ trade of Giancarlo Stanton to the Yankees for Starlin Castro and two mid-tier prospects. New Marlins baseball decider Derek Jeter wanted Stanton gone, and after he rejected a trade to St. Louis, shipped him to the Bronx for a one real baseball player. Given the light return, the argument went, there’s no reason Stanton shouldn’t have been Boston’s, what with Jackie Bradley Jr. on the market now. From the way it was reported, Dombo didn’t even kick the tires on him, a year after the Sox made it to the ALDS with a painfully light-hitting lineup. This has a lot of people asking what gives.
Well so, officially, the reason was because the Red Sox have too many outfielders, with Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi and Bradley, at least for the moment, all in the mix. One can say that at least in theory there’s no reason to trade him for an outfielder when, two, J.D. Martinez is available for the same truckload of cash they’re currently loading up outside Fenway. One could also suppose that whatever Jeter’s frayed connections to the Yankees, especially in light of the consummated deal with that very team, that: a) Whatever the rift between Jeter and the Yankees, it wasn’t that wide, and b) Given “a,” why in dogsvomit would we expect Jeter to trade the reigning MVP to the freaking Red Sox?
For whatever reason, I feel like it was incredibly unlikely from the get-go, to the point that Dombo didn’t bother making any waves about it in the press. Whatever his actual reasons for not really reaching out, I don’t know. That doesn’t mean no one reached out, either. The idea that the Red Sox are sitting back and “letting” Stanton go to the Yankees is as stupid as it is laughable. The team has brilliant people working for them, full-time, during the season and offseason. To paraphrase Top Gun, the team sees to it that they know more than you. They are not beyond criticism, of course, but I find the idea that the Red Sox didn’t know exactly where they stood with respect to Stanton, who has been effectively available forever, to be insane.
All of that comes before we acknowledge that he Yankees are still the Yankees, and they’re still going to do things like trade for the best player available from time to time. It’s possible Dombrowski could have stopped it now, but he can’t stop it forever. No one can. The Yankees have been working for a half-decade to clear the books for this very moment, which happened to be when Stanton was available. Rather than excoriate Dombo for a deal that was never going to get done, I’m liable to just shrug my shoulders and move on… especially because Stanton is no A-Rod, and maybe even not Manny Machado or Bryce Harper.
Look, until he was wearing those pinstripes, I loved the guy, but it’s just a fact that Giancarlo gets hurt and strikes out a lot. It is also a fact that he’s the most terrifying hitter in the world right now. Mike Trout is just a fact of life, Jose Altuve is a miracle and Harper is a force of nature, but Stanton evokes The Fear like no one else. If we are overreacting because facing him will be hell on Earth, I get it, but someone of his caliber was always headed to the Bronx. If the Yankees get Machado, I’d be really scared (but not surprised), but, as with Stanton, I wouldn’t blame Dombo for not grabbing him. Just as Jeter’s first deal for the Marlins seems unlikely to have been with Boston despite his tenuous modern-day Yankee connections, I strongly disbelieve any theory that shows Machado overcoming his Red Sox hatred. Sometimes the bed is already made, and I think it’s clearly that way with him.
So: Trust the process. There are still players out there, and it’s a long offseason. Of course the Sox are trying to make moves, and on top of that, they know with whom they can work and with whom they can’t. They’re playing the long game instead of trying to make a splash during the Winter Meetings, and we’re all better off for it. If Dombo was coy about his non-pursuit of Stanton, I’ll assume that’s because he has more realistic and streamlined plan in place. I don’t need the Sox to be great today, because I can wait until April. And you should too.