We’re all wondering if the Red Sox have again succumbed to the temptation to sign the biggest names possible and thrown team chemistry into the disposal. Pablo Sandoval was a likely target for a team without a run-producing third baseman, but Hanley Ramirez has not distinguished himself as a clubhouse guy or a durable every-day player. Could his signing signal the abandonment of Jon Lester in free agent negotiations?
And Sandoval is known as a free-swinger. Bringing him in along with Yoenis Cespedis suggests a change in hitting philosophy. Both of them like to swing outside the strike zone, and neither has an impressive on-base percentage. Does this signal the end of the patient hitting philosophy that has governed the Red Sox for a decade or more? With Sandoval, Cespedes and Mike Napoli in the line-up every day, there is going to be a steady breeze generated in Fenway Park.
So here’s a proposal that would preserve the approach that has won the Red Sox two World Series. Trade Mike Napoli and Yoenis Cespedes for some strong starting pitching. Keep the hustling and versatile Brock Holt and Shane Victorino to conserve the energy they bring to the line-up, wherever they play. Sign Jon Lester and Andrew Miller to preserve what has been great in Red Sox pitching. Count on one young pitcher to fill out the rotation and make sure you have four veterans to anchor it. Which of the many young talents can fill the fifth position is anybody’s guess.
It is heartening to see the Red Sox making bold moves, showing they want to be competitive immediately, but no one wants to see the follies of the past repeated. And certainly no one wants to be compared to the N.Y. Yankees’ revolving door, which has failed to form a successful team for half a decade. We want to see home-grown athletes like Xander Bogaerts and Jon Lester succeed in a Sox uniform. We want to believe that the team has a soul, not inter-changeable parts.
So keep building this team, Ben Cherrington (and John Henry and Larry Lucchino), but build on the foundation. Don’t trade it away.
The talk about trading Jacoby Ellsbury is descending to the lowest level of supply and demand. Technically players are property and a business has to control its assets and liabilities, but doesn’t it matter that Ellsbury was drafted and coached through the Red Sox farm system and was part of the last team to win the World Series? Is there any identity to a team, other than its wins and losses and paid attendance?
I realize I’m writing about a bygone era, when players hung on to teams for a whole career, the days of Yastrzemski and Evans. (Oh yeah, there was Carlton Fisk). But there is some pride in bringing a player of the caliber of Ellsbury or Lester or Pedroia or Buchholz to the majors to All-Star quality. Teams ask relentlessly to acquire these players, but it doesn’t mean we should ship them off at the first tempting offer.
Major League teams ought to have some identity other than the logo on their uniforms. Even the cynical Yankees had their Riviera and Pettit and Jeter and Posada. That was the Yankee identity during the years when they shipped out dozens of players and hired new mercenaries every year. Those guys became the ethos of a team of rent-a-stars. The Red Sox knew who they were playing when they went into Yankee Stadium.
Now that the Red Sox have shipped off their rent-a-stars they have a chance to forge an identity around Ortiz and Pedroia and Lester and Ellsbury. All the talk about moving the infirm while they still have legs to travel is degrading to a player who has busted his tail through the farm system and seven years with the parent club. And it’s not mere sentiment to keep a player of Ellsbury’s talent the year before he becomes a free agent.
Ellsbury is a bonafide lead-off hitter with power. How many years did the Red Sox pine for a good lead-off hitter? How much did they miss a reliable lead-off hitter last year? Now that he’s signed to a contract, they want to trade him for a back-of the-rotation pitcher?
So I’m not participating in the speculation about disposing of the weak while he still has market value.
But if you’re talking Cliff Lee or Felix Hernandez, I’m listening.