Boston Sports Forum Commentary
Del N. Jones
Manny Ramirez and his megabucks contract is not going anywhere. Curt Schilling's new extension with the Red Sox after being acquired back in November is certain cement as well.
And closer Keith Foulke is safe to fill out a permanent address form until he is no longer Boston property in 2007.
Everyone else can go.
That scenario may be the immediate future for these Red Sox if they fail to win big for another season. Sitting with the second highest payroll in baseball ($125 million) without the pennants or World Series championships to justify the dollars, John Henry and the boys may be looking for a leaner bottom line - but not necessarily at the cost of winning games.
For another season penny-pinchers have shown that titles can be won without the gluttony of inflated payrolls and star power. Another all-star break features rebuilding programs in Texas, San Diego and Cleveland as the latest testament that baseball games can be won instead of bought.
Unfortunately, it has been vintage Red Sox history to empty the piggy bank in a race for the latest veteran deemed the "final piece" of a championship group. Here is where the epic rivalry with the Yankees moves up to the front offices, against the hated New Yorkers always armed with Richy Rich dollars.
In the Dan Duquette era and now in a much more low-key Theo Epstein general manager tenure, the Sox have snagged their share of capable vets as well as overpaid busts.
Neither have successfully added that final component to grab the first place flag, yet they still keep trying.
Presumably, until now.
No matter fan or foe, the only way to characterize the way this much-anticipated season has gone so far is sheer disappointment. Yes, the halfway point will see Boston with a plus .500 record, in second place in the American League East with the AL wildcard a viable second playoff option - but 2004 was supposed to be much more.
The additions of Schilling and Foulke to a club that won 95 regular season games last year and came within five outs of reaching the World Series, naturally created the popular belief that this year could be parade special. Boston was a national preseason favorite and this commentator viewed the Sox as a better team than the Yanks despite losing the Alex Rodriguez sweepstakes to New York in the offseason.
The Yanks have been true to their reputation thus far, hitting the baseball well and living with a much weaker pitching staff. Meanwhile, the Sox have been the image of inconsistency that often end promising years early.
If it happens again this time the club has the circumstances to go in a youthful and cost-effective direction. Even kindergarteners around New England are well aware that Pedro Martinez, Nomar Garciaparra, Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe will be free agents at season's end. And Epstein has already stated publicly that it would be quite difficult to resign all four regardless of what happens on the diamond.
This was probably a tough realization for Epstein at the time. Today? Likely, not so much.
If the computer-logging, stat-watching, pitch-taking, extra-seat building Sox front office wishes to adopt the cheaper models of Oakland, Minnesota and San Diego - no time would be better than the present.
Just wave goodbye fellas and begin again from a more power-friendly position. Sign the whole lot for big money and you are stuck with a product that you hope will realize the potential that it has yet to achieve.
Change the focus from vets to high prospects and the upside could be just as good, if not considerably better.
Example? As of July 6, the second-place Rangers have more wins than the Sox, spending most of the first half in the top spot in a very competitive AL West. After trading the biggest contract in sports to New York in the A-Rod deal, Texas has a very livable $54.8 million payroll (17th) and look to be headed in the opposite direction of losing 270 games with the best player in baseball on the roster for the past three years.
San Diego is in a similar position with the 18th highest payroll of $54.6 million, right behind San Francisco in the National League West.
Cleveland ($34.5 million, 27th) hasn't won as many games, but its strong young core will send four players to Tuesday's All-Star game in Houston.
Now, A-Rod and the Yanks haven't exactly suffered with the reigning AL Most Valuable Player. After a slow start, the converted third baseman has fit in quite nicely, but the highest payroll in baseball at over $182 million has not won the World Series in three years - losing to small market teams in Arizona, Anaheim and Florida.
If Rodriguez would have ended up with the Sox after very public trade talks between Texas and Boston over the winter, his presence wouldn't have helped a pitching staff that has gotten great production from Schilling and Foulke but a scattered effort from holdovers Martinez and Lowe who won 20 games in the same season back in 2002.
And don't underestimate the fact that none of the Big Four have been signed during the season. The way things have gone thus far, I don't know if I blame them.
"I've said all along, it's far from the ideal situation," Epstein said back in April, referring to so many key Sox contracts up at the same time. "It is what it is. All we can do is follow the best course of action for the team in the short term and the long term and hope those balance out. The other situation will resolve itself throughout the year, right up to and probably through November. I hope it resolves itself in a manner that is very satisfactory to all parties."
The best course of action for Boston is beginning to look like going much younger and much cheaper.
Commentaries by Del N. Jones are posted on Boston Sports Forum every Monday. His weekend columns can also be read in the Saturday/Sunday edition of The Patriot Ledger or at patriotledger.com.