With Big Trade, Red Sox Returning To First Principles

Adrian Gonzalez looks on as General Manager Theo Epstein answers questions during a press conference to announce Gonzalez's signing with the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park in Boston Massachusetts. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

In recent years the Red Sox seem to have lost their way, essentially behaving like any other big-market franchise. Their blockbuster deal with the Dodgers signals a return to old ways.

The Red Sox want a do-over. They want to push a reset button, and erase the last couple of seasons.

But of course they can't do it. Not completely. But their blockbuster waiver deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers, involving stars Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett, suggests that the Red Sox, after two terribly disappointing seasons, are returning to first principles.

When co-owners John Henry and Tom Werner promoted Theo Epstein to serve as the franchise's general manager in 2002, among Epstein's first orders of business was to promote payroll flexibility. From Seth Mnookin's book, Feeding the Monster:

Epstein had never agreed with Duquette's approach, with its emphasis on a handful of big-name superstars who invariably demanded enormous contracts. He also thought that one of the team's historic problems was its fixation on immediate gratification. Instead of building a strong farm system that would produce high-quality players whose inexpensive early years would be under the team's control, the Sox scrambled year after year, trading away their future for the fantasy of succeeding in the present.

Eventually, of course, the Red Sox would sign big-name players to big-time contracts. In 2007, they signed J.D. Drew for five years and $70 million. Three years later, they signed John Lackey for five years and $82 million. Not long after, they signed Josh Beckett, already under contract, to a four-year extension that would pay him $68 million and lock him up through 2014.

And in 2011, the Red Sox really went nuts. First they signed Carl Crawford for seven years and $142 million. Then they traded a bushel of top prospects for Adrian Gonzalez. And shortly into the season, they signed Gonzalez to a seven-year, $154-million contract extension that locked him up through 2018.

Bill James, hired by the Red Sox before Epstein took over as GM and still with the franchise today, has long counseled against such contracts. As he explained many times in his books, when you sign a free agent in his 30s, by definition you're buying into a declining market, since players almost invariably decline significantly upon reaching their early 30s.

But the Red Sox made those deals anyway. And now, it's fairly clear, they're regretting them. All of them.

A year ago, Theo Epstein left the Red Sox for the Cubs, where he seems to be operating with those first principles in mind. His replacement in Boston, Ben Cherington, was saddled with some bad contracts and, if you believe the reports, a manager who wasn't his first (or second or third or fourth) choice.

The Red Sox entered Friday night's action 13½ games behind the New York Yankees and three games ahead of the Kansas City Royals. It's probably time to hit that reset button, and get back to first principles. They might not be as good as the Yankees next season, or the Rays. But they'll have some money to spend that they weren't going to have, and they won't have to look at those bad contracts on the field (or in Crawford's case, on the Disabled List) every day.

You can't put a price on peace of mind.

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