Earlier today there was a thoughtful article written up entitled Moneyball, The Big Short, and the Ultimate Bait-And-Switch. I enjoy a good big-picture examination, and I appreciate a fitting metaphor in such efforts, so it was a good read.
But the underlying thinking of the article is...questionable. It starts off well enough, offering the right correction of a commonly-held misconception regarding the thesis of Moneyball - which was much more about finding and exploiting market inefficiencies than it was about "building a winner on the cheap". But from there...let's take a look.
"Just as the central figures in The Big Short bet against the housing market, the Sox are betting against the market regulating premium player contracts in Major League Baseball."
This is a mountain of presumption. What was generally understood when Boston moved on from DD was that his building of a champion MLB team out of a great collection of assets did not come with a process that would continue to offer up an assets advantage over time. The "system" was weak, and growing weaker. With the Dodgers having taken the Tampa Bay Rays model (more complex than worth going into detail on that here) and adapted it for a top-market team, it seems that the Red Sox ownership wanted to aim for the same for their tier-two-market franchise (only the Dodgers and Yankees are in tier one; look at the numbers and see how the Red Sox fall much closer to the likes of the Cubs and Giants and such than those two giants). The inherited landscape was strong at the MLB level, but top-heavy, and surprisingly inflexible in the short term with finances - meaning, changes would happen one way or the other - and the minor league system was pretty bereft. Whatever exactly the new process aimed to be, it would take time to implement if it were going to aim for the sort of combination of MLB talent and system supplements that the Dodgers have rolled out for some time now. Trying to boil down the current attempted process to "betting against the current market for top players" seems remarkably...well, straw man. It's easy to invalidate a process if one misrepresents (intentionally or accidentally) said process, and while that may (or may not) be a component of what franchise leadership has in mind it without a doubt isn't close to the full monty.
"Without any other plausible explanation, it increasingly looks like the Sox are expecting the league’s financial model to implode around them at around the exact point their hard work in building a bottom-up organization reaches maturity and makes them World Series contenders for years, and that we are to support them in advance of this achievement. They want the sport to go to absolute shit, then take it over."
Yeah, sorry, this is bogus.
1) Paying everyone up for a contract whatever he wants and importing more big free agents is not the same as "trying your hardest". If anything, you have to work harder to find better moves than handing out big and easy contracts. Have we forgotten that the "easy" free agent low-hanging fruit (e.g. Lackey, Sandoval, etc) has often bitten back the hardest?
2) Trying to define the 2003 (not 2004) to 2018 Red Sox by any single process is fraudulent, given that Boston's approach changed with each new leading figure in charge of the front office. Epstein was hired to bring in a process, and unlike with our present he was given a longtime championship drought to break and so it isn't unreasonable that he would keep pushing spending at the MLB level while rebuilding the organization. Since then, there have been "bridge years", talks of "cycles", a GM who was too much into building the system and not leveraging that progress at the MLB level, and a GM who did the exact opposite. What a joke to conveniently forget part temporary happenings such as the "bridge year" in favor of, yes, another straw man representation of past and present. No, Boston did not always pushed to the max during the overall wonderful period of 2003-2018, and lest we forget there was some disappointing and even fallow times in that stretch.
1) The ace that this front office had no say in missed the start of the year when he had been expected to be good to go in his surgery recover.
2) Entering the day a solid 48-44, the team saw the loss of a newly-returned-and-needed Sale, a loss that killed momentum and optimism for the rest of the season.
3) The front office understandably did not throw more assets into a stalling season, most notably in the bullpen; had just the Sale thing gone differently, the front office very likely was prepared to invest in the right places to round the team out for a push.
4) The final insult to injury of Sale confirming the end of a lost season by breaking his hand.
ONE player (the highest-paid on the team, with a contract given out by the prior front office) just having a reasonable by-projection season and all likely would have been different, a solid follow-up to a bleeping ALCS season! Add maybe 4 wins for a reasonably-healthy Sale, a few more wins for a minor addition here and there with the team feeling it had a chance at a run in the playoffs, and just like that we have 85+ with no other adjustments - right in the playoff hunt even in a year with its share of ups and downs. But no, the team loses its biggest compensation (and most important?) asset through no fault of its own multiple times, changing the direction of the season to a holding pattern, and then because of the random BS of 78 wins somehow amounting to "last place" (note: Boston was a whopping 16 wins better than one FOURTH place team and 9-12 wins better than all but one of the others) it's instantly a proven awful process?
"If they’re plainly wrong, it’s for one reason: In any given year, a team on a shorter boom-and-bust scale will be more willing to go all-in for a title than the financially prudent-above-all-else team, which will lead to the Sox never, likely, ending up as title favorites. I prefer the former approach, because it won the Sox four World Series titles, but, sadly, that’s no longer how they want to butter their bread."
This bit near the end doubles down on its misrepresentation of the 2003-2018 era, and I have to double down on reminding how things actually worked. Theo Epstein actually even laid out his philosophy for year-to-year teambuilding: aim for 95 wins. Far from targeting occasional seasons as a "favorite", Epstein concluded that the nature of baseball's playoffs (a nature since amplified even more, not less) defied much benefit to being a "favorite" versus just being a contender, or even just in the dance at all. The best way to win a championship was to make the playoffs as often as possible, and at the time results spoke to a 95 win general target for being confident in that happening. Epstein literally aimed for the exact opposite of what the author claimed, which is a pretty magnificent whiff in an effort to force a point. And yes, while we don't want Boston setting the target bar too low, I will remind that 95 wins back in the 2000s was not a level that would render a team a "favorite"; it was Epstein's playoff bar.
"The fact is that when they actually want to win they’re going to have to spend money..."
This might be a good time to recall that Boston formally offered Bogaerts a contract averaging $27M a year, and if he had accepted (it was on the table, and not far off from what projections had thought would work for him before his deal blew projections out of the water more than any other so far this offseason) Boston's luxury tax payroll would be at about $211M, good for 7th at present and just ahead of those penny-pinching Dodgers. Hmm. Not so avoiding of spending, it seems, and no reasonable person will fault a team for not talking money it had offered to one and immediately trying to spend it on someone/anyone. Spend it right, rather than on, umm, another Story. Speaking of which...weren't the Red Sox around 5th in luxury tax payroll last year? And 4th the year prior? If this year proves to be a year in which it notably pulls back on spending, it'll be the first in a while, not another in a new normal.
Anyways...this is all rather barf. Sports fandom seems to really be in a decline. There was a time when teams were allowed some time to change things up - time to prove whether it would actually work or not, rather than declaring failure every six months or less when things slide). There was a time when a championship just a few years ago wouldn't already be rendered irrelevant. There was a time when franchises were allowed at least one "oh well, that went wrong, let's see how next year goes" mulligan when it just missed going to the World Series just the year prior. There was a time when just the day-to-day pleasure of watching games actually meant something, especially minus the pressure of a prolonged period without a ring.
Heck, there was a time when an ownership breaking a near-century championship drought with a whopping 4 over just 15 years, all while investing big in preserving a ticket-restricted iconic ballpark, would have remained appreciated overall even if it proved later on to have lost its way. Maybe that is the case, but it would be nice to actually wait long enough for that to be demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt - and even so, the attitude should still be one of net positivity, even accounting for recency bias.
There was a time...when being a Red Sox fan meant the ability to be glad we were part of the this fan base, championships or not, rather than being stuck with the choking force of entitlement and unpleasant imperiousness of Yankees, Cowboys, and Lakers/Bulls fans. No more, it seems. If the way so many represent the fan base online has anything to say about it, we've exchanged one curse for another - all or nothing, what have you done for me lately, destination entirely over journey, etc. How sad.
P.S. And just to be clear, I'm not remotely suggesting that anyone shouldn't be unhappy in any way with the present state of the team. If one's enjoyment of the team is lessened in the absence of Betts and now Bogaerts - I get that. If even a single non-playoff year turns one off from enjoying a season, you're entitled to those feelings. How one calibrates one's satisfaction and lack thereof is up to each and every individual. Just, understand that subjective (dis)satisfaction is not an excuse to misrepresent what can (or cannot) be objectively determined. Preferring that the team make different decisions is different than prematurely declaring wrong the decisions the team makes, exaggerating the negatives of decisions, or pretending to knowing outcomes that are still to come.
And I don't remotely "defend" the current front office, in that I have yet to be at all convinced that what they're doing "will" work in its due time and course. I just don't see sufficient evidence to make many of the negative declarations about this front office that I've come across, is all. Doubt away and disagree; you don't need my or anyone's permission for those.