The Red Sox And The Demise Of The Big Markets

The Boston Red Sox looked like a juggernaut last season in the run-up to September.  They had spent the previous two off-seasons signing big-name free agents (John Lackey, Carl Crawford) and making a blockbuster trade (Adrian Gonzalez).  As the Red Sox ran through the competition all summer it seemed like they had created a monster that would last for years, only to be matched by the rival Yankees in the American League and the free-spending Phillies in the National League.  Of course we all know what happened to the Red Sox post-September but it’s interesting to point out that the Yankees and Phillies both went out of the MLB playoffs with a whimper in the 1st round, losing to Detroit and St. Louis respectively.  The Cardinals went on to defeat the Texas Rangers in the World Series.

Beckett’s bloated contract was taken on by the Dodgers in full

While the Red Sox were at a crossroads going into the season with the firing of Terry Francona and hiring of Bobby Valentine the other big money teams seemed to be on solid footing.  The Phillies added the Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon, among others, with a big contract.  The Yankees landed Hiroki Kuroda.  Other teams got into the mix – the Tigers spent big money on Prince Fielder.  The Angels spent a small fortune on Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson.  The Marlins went on a spending spree that included contracts for Jose Reyes, Heath Bell and Mark Buehrle.  Texas spent big money to secure the services of Japanese pitching sensation Yu Darvish.  Then, after the season was underway, Magic Johnson and co. bought the Dodgers from Frank McCourt and traded for pretty much everyone that they could get their hands on.  Despite the Red Sox falling flat on their faces in 2011 spending money seemed to still be all the rage among big market major league clubs.

Fast forward to September 18th, 2012.  The Red Sox have been long dead and buried.  They have already traded two of the three big ticket items that they bought in their spending spree.  Again it started with the Red Sox but it doesn’t end there.  Fielder and the Tigers are clinging to playoff hopes, dealing with a 3 game hole in the AL Central.  They are 5th in the AL Wild Card standings.  Pujols and the Angels are 3rd in the wild card race as well as in the AL West.  They stand 3 games behind the Orioles in the race for the last wild card.  As for the team with the largest payroll in MLB, the Yankees, they cling to a .5 game lead over the Baltimore Orioles.  Yes, I said the Orioles.  The Yankees have the 3rd best record in the AL behind the Texas Rangers and, I kid you not, the Oakland Athletics.  A team with upwards of 190 million in payroll for the season may have to go play a game in the Oakland Coliseum just to qualify for the wild card round of the playoffs.

The Heath Bell contract became a disaster for the Marlins only a few months into it

Over in the National League things aren’t much better for the big spenders.  We’ll start with the biggest failure of all, the Marlins, who are the only big spending team with a worse record than the Red Sox at 65-83.  The biggest disappointment however might be the Phillies who are limping to a late season wild card push with an even 74-74 record.  Then there is the LA Dodgers, the team that took on the complete salaries of Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez, Hanley Ramirez and Joe Blanton all in the span of less than a month.  They currently stand at 76-71, 1 game out of the 2nd wild card.  If the season ended today the Braves would host the Cardinals in the play-in game to see who faces the best team in baseball, the Washington Nationals.  The Cincinnati Reds would host the San Fransisco Giants in the other series.

So there you have it – if the season ended today only 4 of the teams in the top 10 in payroll coming into the season (Yankees, Rangers, Giants, Cardinals) would qualify for the playoffs.  That doesn’t even count the Dodgers who were 12th in the league in payroll coming in.  Conversely the team with the 2nd lowest payroll, the Oakland Athletics, would host the American League wild card play-in game to go with the 2nd best record in the league.  I think it’s safe to say that your money doesn’t go as far as it used to on baseball’s free agent market.

The Red Sox were ahead of the curve in shedding payroll just as they were ballooning it.  This off-season it will probably be a good time for some of the other big-market clubs to do the same.  After all, Dodgers president Stan Kasten said that he hasn’t found a spending limit yet and will be sure to take on some of those bad contracts.  Either way baseball seems to be re-revolutionizing itself into a more parody-resulted league and that can be nothing but a good thing.  But one thing could be taken away about the results of the teams with multiple heavy contracts in the clubhouse – we know for a fact that the Red Sox had major issues internally – based on results, isn’t it safe to say that they probably weren’t alone?

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The Red Sox And Showtime’s “The Franchise” – A Match Made In Heaven

A major image crisis has emerged for the Boston Red Sox over the last 12 months.  Pretty much everyone from John Henry down to the clubhouse guys, with the exception of a few players, now seem to have a negative reputation in Boston.  The fans of Red Sox Nation are quickly becoming disenchanted.  They desperately need to do something to repair their image and it may take more than just becoming a winning team again.

Showtime could have a winner with “A Season with the Red Sox”

The people at Showtime developed a winning concept a few years ago when they created “The Franchise”, a show that piggy-backed off of HBO’s “Hard Knocks”, but instead of following an NFL team through just training camp it follows an MLB team throughout the entire season.  It is a great concept and it makes for really good TV.  Their problem is that in the first two seasons they followed two teams, the San Fransisco Giants and the Miami Marlins, that were out of the playoff hunt by the all-star break.  The most exciting thing about following these two teams in the last two months of the season was the trade deadline.  Now granted the Red Sox were pretty much out of the playoff race by the break as well but I’m guessing they could have kept us entertained quite a bit after the All-Star break.

If it seems like a risky proposition to put these Red Sox players behind a camera in the clubhouse and beyond it’s because it is.  God forbid things get even worse next year it will be embarrassing for the Red Sox but, hey, at least it will make for some compelling TV.  But it’s easy to see that the potential reward far outweighs the risk.  The Red Sox need an image clean-up and while there is a lot of work to do behind the scenes between now and opening day there may not be a better way to introduce the new Red Sox to Red Sox Nation than by putting them on “The Franchise”.  What better way to introduce a new manager to the Red Sox faithful, particularly if he is a young less well-known up-and-comer?  What better way for the fan base to feel more comfortable about it’s own players by actually seeing who they are off the field?  Too many times do you hear a fan or a media-type talk about a player like they know them personally.  None of us truly know any of these guys personally but at least if we got a peak of how they carried themselves behind the scenes then we might feel more comfortable about making a judgment on them.

Superstars like Jose Reyes showed their human side on “The Franchise”

Many new players have not been fully embraced by Red Sox Nation in past years, particularly ones with larger contracts.  I can’t help but think that maybe Red Sox Nation would have embraced Adrian Gonzalez a bit more if they knew a little more about him.  There will be a new generation of Red Sox players coming up next sure.  Guys like Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Lavarnway and Felix Doubront will all have prominent roles with the team.  The Sox will have to go out and bring in some role players to fill in their roster as they retool it.  They’ll also have to bring in veteran pitching.  And of course there is the manager.  The question of Bobby Valentine’s impending exit from Boston is becoming more of a “when” rather than an “if” which means that the Red Sox will likely have their 3rd different manager in 3 years.  Every time that these Red Sox owners have made a managerial change they have gone for the polar opposite of the guy they are replacing.  Look for a young less-known up-and-comer to replace Valentine.  It could be a tough place to break in for a guy like that in a market where a winner is expected year in and year out.  Getting to know the guy behind the scenes might make Red Sox Nation more comfortable with him early on.

If you watched this season of “The Franchise” you know a lot about rookie closer Steve Cishek, an unknown when the season began.  You might have a better view of highly-paid superstar Jose Reyes after watching the show and seeing him lead the Marlins with his jovial, laid back attitude.  You would have gotten to know role players like Justin Ruggiano and Greg Dobbs.  And of course you would have laughed at Ozzie being Ozzie.  At this point, with the exception of a few guys, I feel like I know the Marlins players more than I know the Red Sox guys from watching this season of The Franchise.

As I said before it’s a risky proposition for the Red Sox organization.  As a Red Sox fan it seems like a win/win.  If they are good and you love the team you will likely love them even more by going behind the scenes and watching how they turn the franchise around.  The love affair between the Red Sox and their fans that has been fractured over the past few seasons could be re-ignited.  On the flip side if the Red Sox have another disaster behind the scenes like they have had during the past two seasons then at least we will can still be entertained by the club.  For Showtime it’s a no-brainer.  Getting the Red Sox or the Yankees on “The Franchise” would be akin to obtaining the holy grail for Showtime.  The Yankees have no reason to do it but the Sox have plenty.  So why not?

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