Bradford: The real reasons the Red Sox have had to go down this path


It was another day of watching the free agents whiz by.

Jose Quintana. George Springer. Michael Brantley. J.A. Happ.

Some represented more realistic options for the Red Sox than others, but nonetheless they all elicited a collective sigh from those wondering exactly how this Boston baseball team is going to siphon any sort of optimism heading into the 2021 season.

Then came this quote from team president Sam Kennedy to Dan Shaughnessy: "I think it would be inaccurate to say we are going for it with an all-in approach that perhaps we did prior to the 2018 title. ... We cherish that title, and all of them, but the way we built that team came at a price, which included importantly a depleted farm system and some depleted draft picks along the way. So we are building back up, and as we do this hopefully the right way, we'll have a chance to be competitive in the American League East in 2021, but also for the longer term."

OK. Where do we start?

The first thing I thought about when seeing these comments was this: Within a mere matter of months we now have the same excuse from a Boston sports franchise when trying to explaining away its current plight. They're saying, "We gave you want you wanted before, and now you're going to have to be patient while we build it all back up again." Well, Bill Belichick's line of reasoning was flawed when he said it and the same is true for Kennedy's explanation.

Here is the quote that should be leaned on when it comes to explaining the Red Sox' fork in the road: "My take is that maybe it isn’t the best thing in the world to bring back the same team in its entirety every time. You don’t want to break a team down. But maybe a few changes wouldn’t hurt. But the feeling is always different after you win, apparently."

That was John Henry to on the field before the first game in London in the waning days of June 2019.

As the Red Sox owner pointed out -- (by the way, an owner who has spoken publicly just twice since that interview) -- these were post-World Series decisions that put his team in luxury tax handcuffs and saddled with hurt and underperforming players.

The "all-in" narrative doesn't really hold water. In the years prior to 2018 they signed David Price and traded for Chris Sale because they couldn't develop pitchers and screwed up the Jon Lester situation. There was the J.D. Martinez commitment because they misread the value of having a middle-of-the-order designated hitter. Those moves weren't luxury items. They were market corrections, the kind any big market team would make to stay viable.

What Henry was talking about were bad decisions. Not reading Sale's intention to never test free agency. ("I was going to great lengths to not make that happen, for multiple reasons," he told, also on that London trip, talking about the idea of not signing an extension and going to free agency.) Falling in love with Nathan Eovaldi's three weeks in October and flashes of potential. Stepping back into the trap of projecting youngish players were going to be ready for greater responsibility just because they were a year older.

They didn't go all-in. They just simply tuned out.

To push the idea that Dave Dombrowski solely put them in this bind -- (because when Kennedy speaks of emptying the tanks it is playing on the former President of Baseball Operations reputation) -- is disingenuous.

Those big ticket items after 2018 that left them scrambling financially -- and in terms of on-field production -- were all signed off on by ownership. For instance, in February 2019 the owners finally admitted their mistake when it came to Lester, saying they wouldn't make it again. Sure enough, a month later the Sale extension was announced. That was their baby, not just Dombrowski's.

And to surface the perceived depletion of minor-league talent is just lazy. Take away Michael Kopech and Yoan Moncada and you know who the Red Sox are living without? Manuel Margot. Shaun Anderson. Santiago Espinal. Jalen Beeks. Ty Buttrey. While each might be useful major-league players in some respect, none of them are difference-makers for even this Red Sox team.

But that is just part of the story. The page was supposed to be flipped -- like after most other Red Sox downturns -- the following year with the team finally freed up to spend some of that Mookie Money.


The pandemic has changed their plans once again. Sure, Chaim Bloom may have taken a more methodical approach than previous regimes even without the economic uncertainty. But if there weren't empty seats-induced spending restraints we wouldn't see the Red Sox sitting out the market's big-ticket items (such as Springer), along with getting out-bid for short-term contracts some of their targets are scooping up.

Every single time this ownership group has wanted a free agent ... truly wanted a free agent ... they did whatever it took to get him. John Lackey. Carl Crawford. Pablo Sandoval. Hanley Ramirez. Price. Martinez. The Red Sox made them choose the Red Sox, even with some probably not even wanting to come here.

Now it is "building for the long haul." You know who built for the long haul Wednesday? Toronto, thanks to six years of one foundation piece named George Springer.

It is what it is now, and this isn't to say the process won't be a success. But let's be honest about how this new reality came about.

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