The Red Sox are just 13 days away from truck day and the sunshine of Ft. Myers. Baseball games are just around the corner and its time to take stock of the state of this once glorious franchise. The offseason began on a high note, with the wildly cathartic firing of Chief Baseball Officer, Chaim Bloom. Rarely in my time as a fan of any sports team had I been so relieved. Bloom’s failure to develop any homegrown pitching, choose a cardinal direction for the future of this team, or simply make basic decisions made his tenure here painful in every way. I thought that by getting rid of his indecisive leadership the team would be in a much better place.
This line of thinking was far too hopeful.
While Bloom’s departure was necessary and I remain optimistic about his replacement, Craig Breslow, it has become crystal clear that the philosophy of ownership has changed. Sam Kennedy and Tom Werner have said many things over the past few years while simultaneously giving us almost nothing of substance. Kennedy is especially gifted at saying meaningless words and empty phrases all while coming off as a run of the mill corporate drone.
At this past week’s Winter Weekend, Sam Kennedy and Tom Werner tried their best to enter into damage control mode. The fanbase (at least those of us who are realists) is frothing at the mouth with anger over the lack of spending. The fans demanded to know how this roster reflects Werner’s “Full Throttle” offseason and how the team can possibly justify the highest ticket prices in the game. For the first time we finally got some honest answers.
Werner, in his own words, admitted what we had long assumed: Fenway is a tourist trap that will make money regardless what type of team is on the field. Kennedy, in a moment of lucidity, breaking from his programming, even said that the team’s payroll was likely to be even lower than last year. No longer do we need to pull out our hair at why the Red Sox aren’t signing such obvious fits as left hander Jordan Montgomery and right-handed power bat Jorge Soler, this team isn’t really trying to win so much as they are trying to make money.
As depressing as these answers were to hear, it was refreshing to finally get the truth, rather than just spin meant to deceive the idiots among us. John Henry and Fenway Sports Group have changed how they do business. After the way Dave Dombrowski’s extension to Chris Sale worked out there will be no more lucrative, multi-year contracts given out to pitchers on the wrong side of 30. After the failed contracts given out to Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, the team will no longer be giving out contracts to the best available free agents at positions of need. Lastly, now the barrier to get into the playoffs has been significantly lowered due to the expansion of the number of teams involved, there will be no more striving for 100 win teams.
What we are faced with now is the reality that FSG is more concerned with the big picture than they are about the success of the Red Sox baseball team. What I mean by this is FSG owns a lot of teams including: RFK Racing, Liverpool FC, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Red Sox and, most recently, TGL Golf’s Boston Common Golf. In addition to these ventures they also own Fenway South, the Salem Red Sox, 80% of NESN, AT&T SportsNet Pittsburgh, The Boston Globe, and have made no secret about their interest in acquiring an NFL team and eventually an expansion NBA team in Las Vegas.
All of this confirms that the Red Sox are no longer the sole priority for this group. As much as Sam Kennedy tells us that each of these is its own operation and doesn’t impact the other, it’s hard to believe that since the same billionaire is behind much of the funding. Moreover, John Henry and FSG are currently involved in a multi-billion dollar building project around the Fenway neighborhood. There are a lot of mouths to feed now that the Red Sox are not an only child.
Henry is a very successful businessman and was a very good owner and custodian of the Red Sox brand for a very long time. He broke the 86-year curse by winning the 2004 World Series and followed it up with three more in 2007, 2013, and 2018. He has won by spending on free agents, developing homegrown talent, making bold trades, and by catching lightning in a bottle with short term free agents. The fact that no other franchise has more world series victories in the current century is laudable, however, it is clear that this isn’t enough for Henry.
Henry is bored with simply winning and is now seeking to do so using fewer resources, by outsmarting his competition rather than outspending them. This hubris is what is fueling this most recent round of miserly behavior as the rest of the league spends more. It’s clear that John Henry admires what the A’s were able to do when Billy Beane was at his best, in fact we know he tried to hire Beane. It’s clear that he admires Tampa Bay’s success with such a low payroll, as he brought in Bloom while not interviewing anyone else. I would caution Henry on both of these examples because despite the many regular season games won by both the A’s and Rays, neither won a World Series.
In 2002, Henry and his ownership group purchased the Red Sox for $660 million dollars. According to Forbes most recent list of franchise valuations the team is currently worth $4.5 billion. This turn towards austerity isn’t about the money so much as it’s about ego. Henry is bored with winning the way he was and wants to try something new. Perhaps we should blame the 2018 Red Sox for winning so many games, they set the bar too high. Now what Henry longs for is a championship with a middle of the pack payroll.
I believe that the Red Sox can eventually win with a middle of the pack payroll, especially in this new, more unpredictable, playoff environment. Everything that Breslow has done so far in his short tenure with the team has been really positive and shows me that he has a clear vision for the future of this team. If Breslow can begin to build a structure internally that can develop and maximize pitching talent — and I have no reason to believe that he can’t — then the Red Sox will have solved the biggest problem the team has had for the past 30 years. I’m extremely excited to see what new pitching coach Andrew Bailey can do with this staff and what Kyle Boddy, the founder of Driveline, can add to the team’s pitching development resources. I generally remain optimistic that the team is doing the right things in these areas.
With all that being said I think it is fundamentally the wrong way to treat the fans and the wrong way to run the Red Sox to not aggressively pursue high priced free agents. You can’t, in good faith, ask Red Sox fans to pay top-dollar for tickets when the product on the field doesn’t consist of top-dollar players. You can’t say you are pulling all levers and are absolutely dedicated to winning this season and every other season when you aren’t backing those words up with actions. Henry and FSG are wealthy enough to pursue both areas with equal vigor. The team can hire Breslow, Bailey, and Boddy while still going out and sign Montgomery and Soler. That’s what the Dodgers would do.
The Red Sox are making a choice here to put out a sub-par product on the field. Maybe Bailey really can turn this staff into an upper echelon unit in the American League. Maybe this offense can produce at a high level without another reliable right-handed power bat. Perhaps this team will defy expectations and win 95 games while making a deep postseason run. I doubt it, but it’s possible. What remains more likely is the Red Sox will once again miss the playoffs and remain uncompetitive in the American League East for the third straight year.
We have a choice to make as fans. We don’t need to spend our cash going to Red Sox games to see Nick Pivetta pitch. We don’t need to buy insanely overpriced Aramark food from America’s oldest and most cramped ball park. We don’t have to put fake ketchup on our Fenway Franks (ketchup on hot dogs is for children anyway, use mustard like an adult), and we don’t have to buy ten dollar Bud Lights. We don’t need to sit in wooden, obstructed view seats while the guy in the next seat sweats all over us and gets up to go to the bathroom every half inning. Instead make the choice to stay home. Watch the broadcast on NESN, save a few dollars, even if John Henry makes his money at least he’s making a little less. Listen on the radio, enjoy time outdoors with family, grill your own hot dogs, and purchase much better beverages for far less money. This team and this ownership group simply does not deserve your investment.