Unlike Sisyphus, the Red Sox finally rolled that boulder to the top of the mountain. Now, they have to find a way to keep it there.
I realize this may be viewed as raining on Boston’s long-awaited parade. But I can’t help it. I’m a human storm cloud who never saw a celebration that didn’t need a little dampening.
When the World Series ends, teams have just 15 days of exclusive bargaining time with their free agents. And if the Red Sox want to be more than one-shot wonders, no matter how wonderful that shot was, they have to make a lot of very difficult decisions in a very big hurry.
The odds against them repeating are big to start with. No team has repeated since the Yankees won their three straight ending in 2000.
And in the past three years, six different teams have played in the World Series; in the past seven years, it’s been 10, and only the Yankees have been to the Series more than once since 1998.
That’s where the real power of Yankee money really shows up — not as much in titles as in trips to the season’s final seven games. In today’s game, it’s hard just getting to the playoffs in successive years. The Red Sox did it in back-to-back seasons this year and last and again in ’98-99.
If they could win the Series again next year, it will be more stunning than this year’s win, which, when you look at it objectively, was one of the dullest World Series we’ve ever had. If it weren’t for the Boston angle, nobody would have watched after the second game.
But looking at the record, you can see how hard it is to repeat without outspending everyone else by enormous amounts. And even then it’s a monumental task.
Yet, now that the Red Sox are finally winners, that’s what they’re expected to do. They have some tough decisions to make starting almost immediately that will have an enormous impact on next year’s team.
Jason Varitek, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and Orlando Cabrera are all free agents, and my recollection of the postseason is that they all contributed in big ways to ending 85 years of crushed hopes. The team also has a slew of role players who are also eligible for free agency: Pokey Reese, Gabe Kapler, Doug Mirabelli, Ellis Burks, Ramiro Mendoza, Curtis Leskanic, and Mike Myers.
John Henry, the team’s owner, has already said that one is not enough. “We're going to have a very, very competitive team next year,” he said even as champagne was still being sprayed around a jubilant clubhouse. “We're going to do everything we can to win a championship.”
His general manager, the precocious and prescient Theo Epstein, has expressed similar sentiments. He says he wants everyone back, but at the same time, team is more important than individuals.
Does that mean spending $22 million a year or so to re-sign catcher Varitek and pitcher Martinez? Does it mean giving Cabrera perhaps $8 million a year to continue to play shortstop? Does it mean keeping together some of the very important cogs in what everyone agrees was a true team?
I think he can afford to let Pedro and Lowe go, but only if he’s sure he can get equal or better replacements. Martinez’s numbers were down by a lot this year and he doesn’t have the velocity he once did. And as well as Lowe did in the playoffs — he was nothing short of brilliant — he was marginally effective during the regular season.
Carl Pavano is available. The A’s could probably be persuaded to part with Tim Hudson. Barry Zito is another possibility. Epstein, having proved he’s no fool, will let New York throw bushels of money at Randy Johnson, then hope that the 41-year-old hurler will have the decency to show his age and have a year more like 2003, in which injuries limited him to just 18 starts, than like 2004, when his 16-14 record was not a reflection of how exceedingly well he pitched.
If he can replace Martinez and Lowe with Pavano and either Hudson or Zito, the Red Sox will have gotten both younger and better.
But Varitek and Cabrera are critical parts of the Red Sox team. Varitek is a great catcher and a leader. Cabrera’s fun-loving personality fit perfectly in Boston’s clubhouse milieu, an atmosphere that seemed taken straight out of the movie “Major League.” Both are superior defenders. And Cabrera had a great postseason at the plate, especially when he was moved to the two-slot in the batting order.
As for the role players, Epstein will undoubtedly keep some and let others go. They can be replaced, and Epstein has shown the ability to find players to fill roles at bargain-basement prices.
The Red Sox weren’t penny pinchers last year by any standards other than those of George Steinbrenner. They spent nearly $130 million on players, and only the Yankees spent more. But the Yankees didn’t spend just a little bit more. They spent around $60 million more. Next year, Steinbrenner will throw even more money at his problems, probably $210 million or more.
For the Yankees, it has always been about buying championships, and to the rest of baseball, nothing can be quite as satisfying as seeing them come up losers in the postseason for four straight years.
Facing that kind of spending, you have to wonder whether any other team can dare to even think about winning multiple titles.
The Red Sox are certainly thinking about it. History says the odds are long. But they have a true team and they have a visionary general manager along with a budget that is generous by all standards except that of New York.
If may be that it can’t be done anymore. But if any team we’ve seen since the Yankees dynasty can pull it off, it’s Boston.
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