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November 24. 2012 10:33PM

Dave D'Onofrio's Sox Beat: Red Sox sign character guys

Tuesday marks the ninth anniversary of the Thanksgiving feast Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer shared with the Schilling family, the Red Sox' then-general manager and his top assistant taking no holiday in their attempt to persuade the patriarch, Curt, to waive his no-trade clause and come to Boston.

Eventually it worked, of course, with two World Series titles proving the pursuit to be rather worthwhile, and providing a prime example in support of those Sox fans who wish the team would be bolder in its roster building. That segment seems to be multiplying, too, as three weeks into free agency Ben Cherington has added neither a full-time bat nor a starting pitcher despite plenty of financial flexibility, and those fans implore Epstein's successor to be more aggressive in the market.

What they don't seem realize is that Cherington has in fact been aggressive with free agents. Just not in the way the quick-fix seekers would expect or probably prefer.

Consider the moves the Sox have made thus far in the hot stove season. First, before he even had a chance to field offers from other clubs, Boston gave David Ortiz a two-year contract that could ultimately pay him $30 million. Even if he had reached the point of receiving bids, those terms would probably have still represented his most lucrative offer.

A few days later, Cherington signed veteran catcher David Ross. He's a career backup backstop who made $1.625 million last year, and who's never made more than the $2.525 million he made in 2008. He'll be 36 on opening day, yet the Sox inked him to a two-year deal that'll reportedly pay him an average of $3.1 million per campaign.

Then just this past week, Boston struck a deal with outfielder Jonny Gomes. He was reportedly seeking something in the neighborhood of $3-4 million a season - then the Sox gave him a contract that'll pay him $10 million over the next two, even though he's severely limited against right-handed pitching and is nothing more than a platoon option.

In all three cases there's no question the Sox overpaid; and in the two cases other than Ortiz, they overpaid for players who from a strictly baseball perspective are not going to make enough of a difference to lift a last-place team into contention.

But clearly Cherington isn't viewing this reclamation project strictly from a between-the-lines baseball perspective. After misjudging how difficult it would be to move beyond the corrosion borne of Boston's Sept. 2011 collapse, the pride of Meriden, N.H., now seemingly recognizes the importance of affecting real change in the culture and the clubhouse and the core leadership of his club.

And so early in his second winter as general manager, he's been aggressive in pursuing those types of - more important than players - people.

A column in the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote that "Ross was as strong a presence in the clubhouse as the Braves have had during the past several years, and his intangibles ... made him far more valuable than your typical backup catcher or bench player at any position" after the Sox poached him from his former team.

Gomes, meanwhile, is among those credited with the attitude adjustment that turned the Athletics from AL West also-rans to fun-loving division champs. And Ortiz' presence as a leader is long-established as he readies for his 11th year in Boston.

After winning just 69 games and missing the playoffs for a third year in a row, these are the types of guys Cherington apparently felt he couldn't afford to let get away. And it actually makes a lot of sense. At last, it's a humble acknowl despite plenty of financial flexibility, and those fans implore Epstein's successor to be more aggressive in the market.

What they don't seem realize is that Cherington has, in fact, been aggressive with free agents. Just not in the way the quick-fix seekers would expect or probably prefer.

Consider the moves the Sox have made thus far in the hot stove season. First, before he even had a chance to field offers from other clubs, Boston gave David Ortiz a two-year contract that could ultimately pay him $30 million. Even if he had reached the point of receiving bids, those terms would probably have still represented his most lucrative offer.

A few days later, Cherington signed veteran catcher David Ross. He's a career backup backstop who made $1.625 million last year, and who's never made more than the $2.525 million he made in 2008. He'll be 36 on opening day, yet the Sox inked him to a two-year deal that'll reportedly pay him an average of $3.1 million per campaign.

Then just this past week, Boston struck a deal with outfielder Jonny Gomes. He was reportedly seeking something in the neighborhood of $3-4 million a season - then the Sox gave him a contract that'll pay him $10 million over the next two, even though he's severely limited against right-handed pitching and is nothing more than a platoon option.

In all three cases there's no question the Sox overpaid; and in the two cases other than Ortiz, they overpaid for players who from a strictly baseball perspective are not going to make enough of a difference to lift a last-place team into contention.

But clearly Cherington isn't viewing this reclamation project strictly from a between-the-lines baseball perspective. After misjudging how difficult it would be to move beyond the corrosion borne of Boston's Sept. 2011 collapse, the pride of Meriden, N.H., now seemingly recognizes the importance of affecting real change in the culture and the clubhouse and the core leadership of his club.

And so early in his second winter as general manager, he's been aggressive in pursuing those types of - more important than players - people.

A column in the Atlanta Journal Constitution wrote that "Ross was as strong a presence in the clubhouse as the Braves have had during the past several years, and his intangibles ... made him far more valuable than your typical backup catcher or bench player at any position" after the Sox poached him from his former team.

Gomes, meanwhile, is among those credited with the attitude adjustment that turned the Athletics from AL West also-rans to fun-loving division champs. And Ortiz' presence as a leader is long-established as he readies for his 11th year in Boston.

After winning just 69 games and missing the playoffs for a third year in a row, these are the types of guys Cherington apparently felt he couldn't afford to let get away. And it actually makes a lot of sense. At last, it's a humble acknowl edgement of how far the Sox have fallen since their last postseason victory in 2008, but it's also respectful of the existing talent and the core in place given that role-playing personalities have a better chance of coaxing everybody's best than would a take-over star or two.

Those bigger-name types could still come, mind you - because if the GM is to keep his word that the Sox will field a competitive team this season, a heavier emphasis on on-field performance will have to more meaningfully enter the equation at some point. But that's a mission where, given the current state of the organization's personnel and his payroll, there's no need for Cherington to be overly aggressive.

There are questions about the wisdom of signing either of the top two free agents available (Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke), and from there the pool of players deteriorates quickly. Some believe BJ Upton and his .298 on-base percentage is the third-best player available, the mere possibility of which means this is a market where players are inevitably going to be overpaid. And beyond short-term deals with character guys, that's a scenario the Sox should do everything possible to avoid.

They shouldn't add a fourth if catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli rejects the three-year deal ESPN says they've offered. They shouldn't overpay first sacker Adam LaRoche coming off a career year at age 32. They shouldn't throw money at pitcher Anibal Sanchez.

Instead, Cherington should stick to the plan if he can't fill his needs via trade. He should let others bind themselves with bad deals. He should wait for the players' paranoia and impatience to flip this toward a buyers' market. Then he should strike once the terms inevitably become team-friendly bargains.

He should save his aggressiveness for players he considers to be culture changers. Some years that's Curt Schilling; other years it's David Ross and Jonny Gomes.

And after years like the last, it's his best way to go.


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Dave D’Onofrio covers Boston sports for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His e-mail address is ddonof13@gmail.com. Twitter: @davedonofrio


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