Love is not altogether a delirium, yet it has many points in common therewith.
We all love our farm systems. What’s not to love? Farm systems are like a new crush. You see all the potential, all the good stuff but none of the flaws. In the flush of new love, we are all liable to make erratic or downright poor decisions like write bad love poems, use baby talk, pass up opportunities to be with our loved ones or allow ourselves to be locked inside giant bird cages (don’t ask – it’s a long story).
The point is that love can sometimes cloud our judgement and make us do things that we otherwise might consider foolhardy, reckless or unwise. My question, then, in the face of last off-season where the Red Sox failed to make a single significant trade or free agent signing despite having plenty of salary flexibility to do so is this: Has Boston fallen in love with their farm system to the point where they have abandoned the big trades and free agent signings that got them 2 World Series Championships?
Theo Epstein’s romance with his minor league system has certainly reaped some hefty dividends, to be sure. Pedroia, Youkilis and Papelbon were all important contributors to their last championship, but let’s face it, the core of the 2 titles was not built from within, but from without. Pedro, Beckett, Schilling, Manny, Papi, and Damon were all acquired through aggressive trading and free agent activity. Even most of the role players and lesser lights were all acquisitions, not home grown: Millar, Foulke, Lowe, Mueller, Wakefield, Bellhorn, Kapler, Renteria, Olerud, and many more.
The Sox, with their vaunted salary flexibility and formidable revenue streams had the chance to make big splashes last offseason with guys like Teixeira, Burnett, Lowe, Peavy, Orlando Hudson and CC Sabathia, but decided to trust their system and their guys in-house and make bargain basement deals on damaged goods like Smoltz, Penney, and Saito.
Some of these gambles have worked out, with Lowell having a bounce back year from injury, Varitek not sucking nearly as much as expected, and Saito doing a pretty good job out of the pen, but Penny has been poor (5.85 ERA), Smoltz hasn’t thrown a pitch, Lowrie getting injured, and Papi seems completely done. Ellsbury has only been decent (.370 slugging, .340 OBP (both lower than Brett Gardner, btw)), as has Masterson.
You have to wonder if the Teixeira/Ortiz swing will wind up costing the Red Sox a playoff spot this year.At this rate, judging by WAR values (wins above replacement level), Tex on the Yankees opposed by Ortiz on the Sox, will cost the Red Sox about 10 wins to the Yanks. That could make quite a difference in the respective teams’ fortunes.
This was a deal that the old, aggressive Red Sox would have stopped at nothing to get done. They wanted Pedro, they got Pedro. They wanted Manny, they got Manny. They wanted Beckett, they got Beckett. They wanted Schilling, they got Schilling. They wanted Texeira… well, they already had Ortiz filling up the DH slot and Lowell at third. Lars Anderson was only a matter of weeks away from the majors if you listened to most pundits, so the Sox let their big target slip through their fingers.
How is Lars Anderson doing this year? Not so great. His AA numbers are down across the board and it doesn’t look like he’ll be a Fenway fixture at first for at least a year or two. Relying on the farm extensively is very tricky business. Even when you’re sure a guy has the tools and makeup to succeed, you can’t be sure exactly when he’s going to be ready.
The Yankees tried the same thing in 2008 and look how that worked out. Melky, Cano, Hughes, and Kennedy all had disappointing years, putting the Yankees in a jam they never worked their way out of, while Joba couldn’t be relied on because of innings limits and injuries. Guys like Bard, Masterson, Bowden, Lowrie, Buchholz and Ellsbury still have the talent to make Theo look very smart this year, but you have to think that the Red Sox of 2003 would have found a way to put Teixeira in Fenway and you have to wonder whether they’ve grown a little bit complacent and enamored with their own guys. Only time will tell, I guess, but what do you guys think?
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