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They are who they thought we were

Getting back to the top is much harder than it looks.

MLB: Boston Red Sox-Workouts
Don’t speak.
Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Last night excepted, this year has been a disaster for the Red Sox. I’m not just talking about the baseball season. Just as 2020 has wreaked havoc on the rest of us, the year has taken its toll on the Red Sox and their fans. The major difference is that the Red Sox have let it happen by choice. This is what they wanted.

It is hard to say this forcefully enough. As I wrote yesterday, John Henry was right when he haughtily declared this not to be a “bridge year” in the flailing wake of the Mookie Betts trade — there’s no bridge on which to stand. Worse, I fear plans for the bridge are still taking shape. If this year isn’t the one to get Henry where he wants to be financially, maybe next year will be. Perhaps the goal of getting under the luxury tax isn’t to compete immediately but to better wipe the slate clean before building anew.

Whatever the case, we are left to guess at it. The obfuscations and outright lies from that front office do most of the work of destroying its credibility, and its record does the rest. That might be a strange thing to say about a four-time World Series champion in most of our recent lifetimes, but, certainly, Henry is counting on a fifth title to wipe away today’s doubts.

It’s not that easy. Furthermore, the record of World Series winners under Henry & Co. is littered with downright terrible roster moves, both in the decision to spend money and save it, that basically turned those precious World Series wins into coinflips. Forget the Carl Crawford contract if you can and remember when the Red Sox put Manny Ramirez on irrevocable waivers at the end of 2003, making him free (aside from the contract) to any team that wanted him. Now remember he was the World Series MVP in 2004 and a huge part of the 2007 title team. We remember those teams fondly, in a lot of cases, despite the administration’s best efforts.

I’m sure the counterargument here would be that if the Red Sox avoid the bloated contracts on which they have binged and purged for two decades they might have a chance to do damage more regularly. The general success of the binge and purge model throws this idea into doubt. That said, isn’t ridding the team of Betts example of a a purge? Is this history repeating itself? Will we be cheering in four years?

The odds are against it. The thing about every recent Red Sox title run except maybe the one in 2018 is that it could have easily gone either way. Counting on getting the breaks those teams did is a fool’s errand, and in the case of the Sox, Henry is the fool. Chaim Bloom is acting on orders — the idea that the brand-new GM decided to trade Betts because it might earn that team pennies on the dollar, almost as a lark, strains whatever credulity these guys have left.

This isn’t just a local embarrassment. It’s a national one. The Red Sox spent 20 years rebuilding their image only to willingly flush it down the toilet. When the Astros and Cubs rebuilt from the ground up it was after decades of mismanagement; when the A’s and Rays developed cheap-o strategies, it was because they were poor. (It’s worth noting, cheating aside, that the Astros and Cubs also barely won their own titles.) Henry believes the Sox are best suited to embarrass themselves in the short term to have a shot at long-term success, and he may be right. It’s just that his entire record suggests otherwise, as does, for the most part, the historical record of champions.

This is a stain. This humiliation can’t be wiped away that easily. Maybe a title would do it, but maybe it won’t. Regardless, the idea of the Sox competing before 2022 seems insane. Whatever they look like after that might be pretty good, but that’s a long time to wait to get out from the problem of self-sabotage. And even then nothing is assured. The best way to make luck, as we’ve seen from the examples of Manny, J.D. Drew and others, is to have talented players, at whatever price, pays dividends. You know how the NBA playoffs get bogged down in the half court in the playoffs? It’s sorta like that.

Its hard to see where that talent is coming from right now, only where it has gone. The Mookie trade represents the moment Henry decided the Red Sox have won enough for one lifetime, and if they’re gonna do it again, they’re gonna do it on new terms. That it happened exactly 100 years after the Sox did it the first time, crippling them for several generations, seems not to matter. Past performance does not guarantee future results, after all. It’s a lesson Henry seems determined to learn the hard way. I’m happy to oblige.