Red Sox chose well in picking delayed gratification
BOSTON -- True, the Boston Red Sox are suffering on the field right now. But this is a small price to pay for a completely fresh start, a do-over, a brand new lease on life.
This sort of opportunity doesn't occur that often in real life. And it hadn't happened in baseball, either, until the Los Angeles Dodgers agreed to take $270 million in contractual commitments off the Red Sox's hands.
If you'll notice, the early returns on this massive investment have not been promising for the Dodgers. They opened play Thursday night seven games behind the Giants in the NL West. Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett have not turned them around. The unison chant you can hear from Red Sox Nation sounds a lot like, "Told you so."
It is distinctly possible that Gonzalez will be of assistance to the Dodgers over the long haul, and that Carl Crawford will also help after he recovers from Tommy John surgery. The objective long-term outlook for Beckett does not offer much in the way of a great leap forward for the Dodgers.
But it doesn't matter here in New England, because none of those individuals with those massive contracts was working out as hoped for the Red Sox, anyway. The trade dramatically improved the landscape of the Boston franchise. The Red Sox were out from under a mountain of contractual obligations. A new day was dawning. Maybe happy days weren't quite here again, but at least hope had made a reappearance.
The Red Sox will have financial room to maneuver for 2013 and beyond, while also reminding themselves that sound scouting and a solid player development system remain the proven routes to building and maintaining a winner.
What's the downside? It can be found in the current American League East standings. This Red Sox season wasn't exactly headed for a pennant before the trade, but the trade made official the concept of delayed gratification: a little suffering now, a potential big payoff later.
So the Red Sox are heading for their first losing season in 15 years and maybe their first last-place season in 20 years. It is hard for Red Sox fans to take, but part of the pain is the contrast with their recent success. Within the last decade, this is the only franchise in the American League that has won two World Series.
The Red Sox, between a base of talent in the Minor Leagues and substantial resources, don't have to be down for long. In fact, the worst should be over by October. There are no guarantees in these matters, but this is not the proverbial train wreck. This is more like a delay while debris is cleared off the track in front of the train. The Red Sox could regain the status of a genuine contender as soon as 2014.
A fresh start is in order, and is, thanks to the Great Big Deal, underway. There is considerable discussion here about whether manager Bobby Valentine will return for 2013. The notion of a fresh start would seem to include, by definition, a new manager. That does not mean that Valentine is primarily at fault for the Red Sox's shortcomings this season. In some ways, Valentine may be as much a victim as anybody else.
Asked earlier this week to "make a case" to the fans as to why he should remain as manager, Valentine replied: "I feel bad for those fans. I don't have to make a case, though. I've suffered with them."
Asked why he should remain as manager, Valentine responded: "I'm the best man for the job. Was that a tough question, by the way?"
It was supposed to appear to be a tough question. But the Red Sox have already correctly answered the tougher question: Are they willing to take a chance on blowing this thing up in order to achieve future success? Yes, indeed.
Thursday night, the current problems were illustrated. In addition to the usual cast of players on the disabled list, the Red Sox were missing second baseman/main man Dustin Pedroia, who was with his wife and newborn son.
The remaining Red Sox lineup presented no particular problem for Yankees starter Phil Hughes and three New York relievers. The Red Sox lost, 2-0, in the process dropping to 5-10 against the Bronx Bombers this season.
At this point, what is required from Red Sox fans is a relatively modest amount of patience. This is not like asking Chicago Cubs fans for more time. A bit of gratitude pointed in the direction of the Los Angeles franchise would also be suitable. It is not every day that a baseball team can find a taker for more than one-quarter billion in contracts that it no longer finds palatable. Prior to the trade with the Dodgers, there had been no day like that at all.
Success for the Sox won't be immediate or automatic. But the Red Sox have cleared a path toward a brighter future. What has been going on at Fenway Park recently may be painful, but it is hardly permanent. Many prudent, astute decisions will have to be made on the Red Sox road to recovery. But at least now, there is a road to recovery.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.