The Red Sox Are Different, But Are They Better?

Calling Shane Victorino a “fourth outfielder” as Keith Law did yesterday on Twitter is flat out wrong and obnoxious in its wrongness, done so for affect. He’s not a fourth outfielder. He’s an everyday player who provides speed, pop, good defense, versatility, and toughness. His subpar 2012 season was an aberration because he was placed in an unfamiliar situation of having to bat either third or fifth for the Phillies due to injuries to Ryan Howard and Chase Utley; he was singing for his free agent supper; and was traded to the Dodgers in July, adding more uncertainty. Statistics can’t quantify the mental adjustment it takes for a player to adapt to different circumstances, responsibilities, and a new surrounding cast. Victorino is best-suited to bat second and presumably that’s where he’ll hit for the Red Sox.

Does this add up to him being worth $39 million over three years to the Red Sox? (Some reports have it at $37.5 million.) They obviously think so. It’s a lot of money for Victorino and, as of right now in spite of the flurry of acquisitions and subtractions the Red Sox have made since mid-season 2012, they’re not much better than the .500 team they were before they cleared the decks in August. Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes and David Ross turn them into a more likable team than the dour and infighting group they were with Josh Beckett, Adrian Gonzalez and Kevin Youkilis, but as for being “better”? No.

As has been proven repeatedly—and exemplified by the 2011 Red Sox—hot stove championships mean nothing. Nor do accolades or criticisms for an unfinished product. The Red Sox aren’t done shopping because they can’t be done shopping. What they’re doing now is abandoning the fractious and dysfunctional with what appears to be a cohesive statement of purpose and conscious decision to return to the grinding, tough-it-out Red Sox of a decade ago.

But it’s not a decade ago and the players they’re acquiring with GM Ben Cherington calling the shots, along with a new manager in John Farrell aren’t going to bring back those days when it was possible to write the Red Sox and Yankees down in ink for a playoff appearance and eventual collision and be safe in the knowledge that it wasn’t probable, but likely.

They still need pitching in the starting rotation and bullpen—both of which are woefully short; they have to come to a decision of what they’re going to do with Jacoby Ellsbury and their stash of extra catchers; and they need to do more than simply go in the opposite direction from collecting the biggest names on the market to “feisty, dirt-caked” tough guys before thinking they’re “back”.

Rather than spend their money spaced out over 5-7 years as they did with Carl Crawford and John Lackey—neither of whom were fits for Boston—the Red Sox decided to go shorter term and big money for Napoli and Victorino. Instead of dumping their prospects for Gonzalez, they’re holding their prospects and signing veterans. They might trade Ellsbury for pitching and bring back another tough as nails player and one of the few who acquitted himself professionally as a Red Sox in 2012, Cody Ross. The Victorino addition is a signal that they’re willing to move Ellsbury to get some pitching because if they weren’t looking for someone who could seamlessly shift to center field, they could’ve signed Nick Swisher, presumably for that same amount of money.

The short-term/heavy pay deals are less onerous and intimidating than the huge numbers they gave to Crawford and Gonzalez. If they don’t work, the players will be gone by 2016 and the club will have had time to rebuild the farm system while maintaining a semblance of competitiveness in the big leagues.

Competitiveness isn’t what the Red Sox and their fans are accustomed to. They’re used to a World Series contender each and every year. With the additions they’ve made, they’re certainly better than they were, and they’re less loathsome; but Farrell has proven nothing as a manager and his main attribute to the Red Sox was that he was there during the glory years and the players don’t hate him as they did with Bobby Valentine.

This team is okay. Not great. Not bad. Not in desperate straits like the Yankees.

Before jumping back on the Red Sox bandwagon, however, it has to be understood that “okay,” “likable,” “professional,” and “organized,” are not going to cut it as stand alone attributes. The team is different. That doesn’t make it good.

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  1. #1 by Raju.barrack@gmail.com on December 6, 2012 - 12:59 pm

    Did you actually read Keith Law’s analysis? Disagreeing is one thing, but to say his writing is for affect only is to question his integrity as a writer and analyst. Pretty unprofessional on your part sir.

    • #2 by admin on December 6, 2012 - 3:55 pm

      Where did I say his writing was for affect? I said his comment on Twitter was for affect. No, I didn’t read his analysis because I’m not an ESPN Insider and having read Law’s writing in the past, I see little value in it as anything other than the bloviations of someone who regurgitates scouting terminology, is needlessly obnoxious, and seeks to accrue credit for himself as the ultimate insider when he’s in actuality a relentless self-promoter.
      If anyone’s unprofessional, it’s Law for putting his own interests, ESPN mandates, and an unfounded reputation above legitimate analysis.

      • #3 by Raju Barrack on December 7, 2012 - 2:50 am

        Well, his twitter comment is clearly a summarized version and extension of his analysis and overall opinion, so I’d say your defense of your own comment is quite a stretch. To attack one’s opinion with objective analysis is great and drives intelligent conversation, but to attack the person doesn’t do much, but make you look bad.

      • #4 by admin on December 7, 2012 - 3:13 am

        If I only read the twitter comment, how else am I supposed to judge what he said? Am I supposed to seek out his full context of remarks that might or might not exist? Frankly, I couldn’t care less what Law says or thinks. He’s an armchair analyst who repeats scouting terminology and has a wide following because he was one of the first stat guy writers to get a job in baseball and then chose to move into the media.
        I didn’t attack him as a person at all. You’re seeing what you want to see. He’s intentionally obnoxious and is something of a troll on social media. All Law does on Twitter is make snide comments to people and about players and executives. If you’re looking for a lack of professionalism and a method for someone to “look bad,” it’s right there from Law on his Twitter feed if you care to look for it.
        You can say a lot of things about me, but I certainly don’t do that.

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