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How Far Will FSG’s Frugality Go?

Please let them show some decency, at least

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If I may, I’d like to start by honoring my uncle, Mac McElwain, who died yesterday. Mac, whose loyalty to the Cubs was impeccable and unwavering, was a professor who regularly graded papers in front of the Cubs games on TV. He was the first one to model for me that particular blend of intellectual curiosity mixed with pure love for the game which is such a hallmark of Boston and Chicago baseball. What a delightful way to approach sports. Other folks, later on, showed me ways to be passionate about sports while also being thoughtful, but Mac was the first. His enthusiasm for baseball is part of what made me into the fan I am.

Okay. Thank you for letting me do that. It felt important to say.

Now, as several of my esteemed colleagues have noted over the past few days, Red Sox ownership has made a public pivot. Our suspicions have been confirmed: far from going “full throttle,” Tom Werner corrected himself by saying the Sox were planning to rely on eventual reinforcements from the minors, in the forms of Marcelo Mayer, Roman Anthony, and Kyle Teel.

So where does this new plan realistically leave us? We can’t simply wait for this “young core,” even if we wanted to. This already-mythic threesome, who are only in Double-A right now, can possibly begin to arrive in August or September this season, though that’s optimistic, not realistic. Even if that plan worked out perfectly, what about the inevitable injury? That’s one kind of attrition that might leave us with a hole to fill on our roster. By the end of 2024, we’ll face another kind of attrition in players leaving at the end of their contracts. More holes to fill. Pitching is nearly always a particular need due to injuries, and we don’t have many pitchers milling around the upper minors. If our already-delicate balance were upset in any way, we’d most likely find ourselves going shopping. The Red Sox can’t simply sit on their hands and wait; it’s not realistic, and putting all the eggs in one basket is not how good teams are built anyway.

So, given that the need will certainly exist for the Sox to acquire at least a couple of players in the foreseeable future, how might they do that? Taking into account ownership’s off-season moves and recent public comments, my educated guess is that they’d look for so-called bargains. Like our newest pitchers Cooper Criswell and Max Castillo, that could mean someone who’s recently been DFAed.

Okay, now who else would have a lower-than-typical value? Someone who isn’t getting a lot of interest from other teams. Lucas Giolito, for example, admitted that not many teams had contacted him except for the Sox.

It’s become clear that the Sox aren’t a prize landing spot anymore. We learned this with regards to the front office (too many potential CBOs refusing interview requests after Chaim Bloom’s firing), but more relevant for our purposes here, Teoscar Hernández’s public comments seemingly referred to the Sox as a shabby alternative to teams that care about winning. Ouch.

So we’d need to pursue someone who doesn’t have their pick of the litter. Who would be such a person? I hate to say it, but who would be desperate enough, or without enough other options, to come to the Sox at this point in time?

Besides players who’d underperformed recently, like Giolito, maybe players who have been officially disciplined? Are seen as toxic in the clubhouse? Whose behavior has caused their stock (and price) to subsequently drop?

I have two people in mind and I really hope I’m wrong about this, because I think it would be murder on our clubhouse and on our fans. But it’s occurred to me that the Sox might be interested in bargain hunting around Trevor Bauer and Mike Clevinger.

You remember Bauer’s legal and disciplinary plight, involving allegations from several women in different cities and from different phases of his career who have accused him of different types of sexual assault. Even before those allegations came to light in 2021, he had a reputation for bullying women on what was then known as Twitter. He has seemed to take pleasure in inviting his followers to abuse them. He has a penchant for trying to generally beat those who have “wronged” him into the ground. Especially women.

Clevinger’s behavior didn’t receive as much attention, but he was accused of domestic violence involving his girlfriend and infant child. He wasn’t suspended by MLB, but had already landed on many people’s naughty list when he egregiously broke Covid protocols during the 2020 season.

Bauer has recently started with the public mea culpas, the first sign that he’s inching closer to an MLB return. Clevinger was linked to the Red Sox a few times over the winter and has stated that the team is a “preferred destination” for him. The two are friends, which is notable for Bauer, who has never had many.

[Bauer’s] attitude is, if you don’t like me, there’s 7.5 billion people on this planet, so I’m pretty sure there’s others that will, so you can go kick rocks. That bonds us. — Mike Clevinger

Sports Illustrated noted in 2019 that Bauer had irritated coaches and teammates in Cleveland, and the LA Times reported in 2021 that many Dodgers teammates didn’t ever want Bauer to return to the team, post-suspension.

You know who else is a friend of Bauer’s? Kyle Boddy, the new Special Advisor on the Red Sox staff. Bauer was Boddy’s first MLB client at Driveline, Boddy’s pitching academy. My unease started to cement when Boddy came aboard.

Sports Illustrated, in the same 2019 article, put it thusly:

“Most people just hate Trevor,” Boddy says with admiration. “Which he deserves, in many respects.”

Don’t you love when people are admired for being hated? Ugh.

We all want to have a team that we love. Everyone deserves to have individual players to love. And yet. MLB has made it particularly difficult in recent years to maintain my fandom without a huge effort on my part to engage in some serious rationalization. There’s Julio Urías’ repeat offenses of the domestic violence policy, Wander Franco’s current charges of “sexual and psychological abuse” of a minor, former Astros executive Brandon Taubman’s taunting female reporters about the signing of accused domestic abuser Roberto Osuna. Throw in our own Matt Dermody’s noxious homophobia, and remembering that this list is a fraction of what’s really gone on (no need to document them all in order to make my point), and it doesn’t feel like baseball cares about me as a female fan. Shouldn’t they at least pretend to care?

Oh yeah, they’ve offered the token gestures of making players wear all kinds of bright pink gear on Mother’s Day and manufacturing light pink caps for women’s merch in the pro shops. Neither of this resonates with me at all. It’s cheap window-dressing anyway.

Most Americans I know who love sports arrived there because their father cultivated that interest in them. But that’s not always true because I’m the one who introduced baseball to my girlfriend’s son (in a decidedly non-sports family). We talk about it at the breakfast table. We go to games. I won’t blow his cover and say that he rooted for the Sox in person over his hometown Seattle Mariners, but if he did...well, that was because of me.

Let’s look at what’s going on in the NFL right now. There’s no denying that interest is up— way up—in the NFL. The level of pandemonium over there (not to mention jersey sales, social media posts, publicity for the league, viewership, and yes—the fun factor) is something to see. Most of it is centered on female fans, and it’s because of one Taylor Swift. According to Forbes, a regular-season game that Swift attended in November had the highest viewership for a Sunday night game outside of the Super Bowl. That’s utterly incredible.

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Miami Dolphins v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

If MLB wants to grow the sport of baseball (and they’ve indicated for years that they do) one area they must certainly explore is current and potential female fans. The fans they have now are important, as are the future fans that those females can inspire and bring into the fold. If you can get moms into it, you can get their kids (or like me, their “bonus kids”) into it.

I’m not saying we need a Taylor Swift (there’s only one, after all), nor do I want to juice interest in our team or sport in anything other than an organic way. I’m saying that interest will grow with interesting players. Players we can care about. Remember Brock Holt? Saint Mookie? Let’s remember for a second how cool it was when Mookie was on our team, doing things like wearing a homemade necklace from a fan (all season long!) and being amazing at bowling. If that isn’t the most down-to-earth activity ever, I honestly don’t know what is. Triston Casas seems to exhibit a lot of similar sweetheart qualities (his innocently odd tweets, his love of food, his efforts to inspire camaraderie among his teammates), and he’s really endeared himself to me. Trevor Story has brought together young players (Triston included) at his own home and is mentoring them in what seems to be a genuine, caring way.

I want more of that. I don’t want to be in an awkward position due to management’s cynicism over cost-cutting. As in, I’ll take whatever they give me. Or I won’t notice. Or won’t care. I do care.

We’re building an organization that Red Sox fans are going to be very proud of. — Sam Kennedy at Winter Weekend

I want that to be true.

Sometimes a cheap contract acquired in the way we’re discussing has worked out for a club—at least in the wins column, if not always in the court of public opinion. Think Cubs/Aroldis Chapman, or Astros/Roberto Osuna. Sometimes you could say karma came back to bite a team, as in Browns/Deshawn Watson.

In short, there’s no telling. But there should be some attention paid to people wanting to root for players who don’t make them feel icky for doing so. Don’t make it weird for us. Don’t put us in that position.

The less ick factor, the more loyal the fan. I’m positive of it. We want players to root for.

As a female fan, I feel a particular interest in the outcome here.

The Wall Street Journal recently discussed dads and their daughters connecting over football simply because Taylor Swift built a bridge they could all walk over. It is so obvious, from what both the parents and kids say, that people—fans—are practically begging for ways to connect. But who can possibly connect over a dirt-cheap signing of a dirtbag guy who pushes women and kids around? Ugh. I can’t even. That’s my nightmare scenario, and I really hope I’m only dreaming and that I can wake up and get on with my day. The Sox will have really gone low if they take that road.