There are two tweets about team building you should know. The first is from Sam Miller, the incomparable baseball writer that ESPN is letting go in favor of financial flexibility, mocking fans for fetishizing the nickel-and-dime approach of a certain Tampa team:
LOVE this trade for the Rays. Who'd they give up? And who'd they get?— Sam Miller (@SamMillerBB) January 22, 2014
The second is from Craig Goldstein, editor of Baseball Propsectus and Baseball Twitter’s king of pies, on the same subject, with the A’s, not Rays, in his sights:
[Billy Beane does 19 things to get his team slightly cheaper but slightly worse]— Cronk is good. (@cdgoldstein) January 19, 2015
"mm yes, I see it"
[Nats sign Scherzer]
"makes no sense."
These tweets aren’t just classics; they are prescient, as we live in a world, years later, where Max Scherzer led the Nationals to a World Series title and the Rays just came a couple games short of the same. It can’t be overlooked that the Rays lost to a big spender, though no one looked askance when the Dodgers traded for Mookie Betts because, you know, Mookie. They sure came close, though.
Does close count in this case? I can’t tell. The Rays are a well-run organization that keeps losing it the ostensible genius at or near the top (Andrew Friedman, Chaim Bloom) and keeps on trucking. There’s value in that. But given Friedman’s work with the deep-pocketed Dodgers, his scrimping in St. Pete can be rightly viewed as a matter of circumstances, not philosophy. He’s just trying to win.
I suspect Bloom is the same, though we won’t know for sure until his restrictor plates are fully removed and Boston can go back to being a team that isn’t afraid to drop big contracts on the best players in baseball. Since, as much as I would like it, I don’t see Bloom shelling out for the top names on the free-agent market (Cy Young winner and Posting Hall of Famer Trevor Bauer, big cheater George Springer, backstop extraordinaire and cool name haver J.T. Realmuto), the shortest path to contention seems fairly straightforward: sign old guys.
This may seem counterintuitive for a team that’s consciously getting younger, but it’s the best way to get from our Point A (complete decrepitude) to Point B (the mountaintop) without having to suffer the whole way, and without spending so much the rebuild gets muddled. A bunch of old dudes can help us enjoy Red Sox baseball again, and who doesn’t want that?
Instead of the Bauers, Springers and the Realmutos of the world, I want to see the Sox chase players we’ve already profiled like Michael Brantley and Corey Kluber — Brantley especially — and some we haven’t, like J.A. Happ. Jake Arrieta, Cole Hamels or Jon Lester on the pitching side (though it sounds like Lester isn’t happening), and guys like Shin-Soo Choo, Ryan Braun, Nelson Cruz and Edwin Encarnacion on the offensive side, even if, in the case of the latter two, they wouldn’t have a natural place to play if and when Triston Casas makes his debut and Bobby Dalbec is able to stick in the lineup.
In other words, I don’t think the Sox should sign old guys simply at complementary positions to their top prospects and star youth; redundancies are fine as well, unless it’s at third base or shortstop, which is more trouble than it’s worth. Insofar as this is too bad, it is so because it precludes chasing down Justin Turner, who’d be a great fit, at least theoretically, though I suspect he’ll end up with more of a contender (quite possibly back in L.A.). The rest of the roster doesn’t have enough juice to push back on the geezers, so it’s time to bring them on.
Make no mistake: they’d be placeholders, though not merely that. They’d also be the missing pieces to make Red Sox baseball watchable, albeit temporarily, until the young guys are ready. That is important! Worst-case scenario, they don’t pan out and are gone in a couple years. Best case scenario, it’s 2013 all over again. Frankly, I’d take either one and anything in between, and the least painful way to get there, from my perspective, is to go old and not look back. Gimme the mercenaries on their last job, and it’ll give all of us something to root for.