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Do Sox deserve benefit of doubt? Rings say yes

@MikeLupica
February 11, 2020

Most fans don’t care about the competitive balance tax, in Boston or anywhere else. Fans just want as many stars as possible on their team, they want to keep those stars around and they want to win. Now Red Sox fans watch as Mookie Betts, as gifted an all-around player

Most fans don’t care about the competitive balance tax, in Boston or anywhere else. Fans just want as many stars as possible on their team, they want to keep those stars around and they want to win. Now Red Sox fans watch as Mookie Betts, as gifted an all-around player as the Boston Red Sox have ever had, goes off to Los Angeles and becomes somebody else’s star.

They’re frustrated and they have a right to be frustrated, even though there’s suddenly the notion in Boston that their last World Series, and fourth in this century, was in 1918 and not 2018. And they’re angry at ownership for not spending whatever it took to keep Betts, even though over the past few years principal owner John Henry has spent whatever it took – and occasionally more than any team in the sport – for the Red Sox to win.

It’s why the Red Sox, more than any other club in Major League Baseball right now, deserves some benefit of the doubt.

Chaim Bloom, the club's new chief baseball officer, and the man whose first big move, the biggest he might ever make in Boston just because it was Mookie Betts, has no such capital with Sox fans. They don’t know Bloom. They just know that he traded Betts before he got anywhere near the end of his walk year.

“Ultimately,” Red Sox general manager Brian O’Halloran said on Monday, “we have to make the best decisions for the Red Sox to compete both in 2020 and the years beyond, the next five to 10 years. We need to put ourselves in the best position to sustain success.”

The last time a team traded its best player this close to the start of Spring Training was when the Rangers traded Alex Rodriguez to the Yankees in February 2004. Red Sox fans were upset at the time because they thought the Sox were supposed to have the inside track on A-Rod, right after they lost Game 7 of the American League Championship Series to the Yankees the previous year on a walk-off home run by Aaron Boone. So the Yankees were back to being the Evil Empire, and they were going to keep beating the Red Sox forever. Only since the A-Rod trade, the Red Sox have won those four World Series and the Yankees have won the only one in which they played, in 2009.

What Henry and Red Sox chairman Tom Werner have exhibited over the past 16 years is the most aggressive management style in baseball. At a time when the Yankees have been a model of organizational stability in this century, with one team president (Randy Levine) and one general manager (Brian Cashman), the Red Sox have never been afraid of change. Since Henry and Werner got the team, they’ve had two team presidents, four guys -- including Bloom -- in charge of baseball operations and three World Series-winning managers in Terry Francona, John Farrell and Alex Cora. The longest they’ve gone in the 21st century without winning the Series is six years, between 2007-13. There has never been a better time, in all of Red Sox history, to be a Red Sox fan.

That doesn’t ease the sting of losing Mookie. We’ll see, starting now, if the trade they made with the Dodgers continues to allow the Red Sox to sustain the success about which O’Halloran spoke.

But if the Red Sox weren’t prepared to pay Betts the kind of money Mike Trout got from the Angels -- I love Mookie, but he’s not Trout, just because nobody in baseball is -- and they were sure he was going to become a free agent when this season ended, it’s fair to ask what exactly they were supposed to do about him. And, let’s face it, if they were going to get themselves back under the competitive balance tax, this was the year to do that, because if you can see a baseball narrative that has them being better than the Yankees this year, send up a flare immediately.

The Yankees were 19 games better than the Red Sox last season. That gap might be bigger this season. But again: The Yankees are trying to do something this year that the Red Sox have done four times since 2000 and the Yankees have done once: win the World Series.

Eight years ago, in August 2012, the Red Sox and Dodgers made another blockbuster deal, one that was very much about money, and a reset, in Boston. The Sox sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford to L.A., near the end of a season in which they’d finish last in the AL East. Of course none of those guys was as thrilling a talent as Betts is, but Henry was willing to hit the reset button. The Red Sox won the World Series the very next year.

This has been a lousy offseason in Boston: Betts gone, David Price gone, Alex Cora gone. It all happened in the 15 months since the last Duck Boat Parade. Red Sox fans are absolutely entitled to their doubts about this deal. But if there’s one ownership group that does deserve the benefit of the doubt, it’s theirs.

Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.