Friday, November 2, 2012

The Ghost of Fenway's Past and Future

The baseball free-agency period begins Saturday. Many names will be discussed in the offices at 4 Yawkey Way. However, the first person on General Manager Ben Cherington’s mind should be Charles Logue, the man who built Fenway Park. Logue knew how to build things for the future, something the Red Sox should emulate. According to the book A Secret History of Boston’s Irish by Peter F. Stevens, Logue was a man “with a reputation for straight-shooting negotiations, reliability, and deadlines met.”

Logue definitely was not the architect of these past few Red Sox teams. For the past two seasons this team’s fa├žade was stuffed  exorbitant contracts, empty beer cans, and Bobby Valentine’s snidely smirk. It’s been ugly. The Red Sox need to build a better foundation.

This means start from the bottom. Fans must be patient this season. John Farrell is coming in to a swamp of issues combined with loads of cash. It’s tempting to spend buckets of money this offseason, but stay patient and work on the young players. That will payoff in the long run.

Start with pitching. The rotation is a team’s foundation. The Red Sox should stick with the proven veterans, shed the waste, give young guys a shot, and wait for the big-time free agents after next season. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz are two reliable starters who should improve with the return of Farrell.

Next, say goodbye to Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey. The Dice-K experiment was fun for a while, but seventeen wins in four seasons is not acceptable. John Lackey has not fit in well here. He has been injured, but spending $80 million on a declining pitcher who is recovering from Tommy John surgery  is not a good plan for the future. The potential trade of Lackey for Vernon Wells and Dan Haren would be a good move. Haren is a workhorse pitcher who can reliably eat up innings. Wells is coming off an injury and also has a bloated contract, but he provides left handed power at the plate.

The Red Sox have a bundle of young arms in their farm system. Junichi Tazawa showed he had dominating stuff last season. Over 45 innings of work he posted only .95 walks and hits per inning (WHIP). If closer Andrew Bailey is healthy, it might be worthwhile it to convert Tazawa to the starting rotation.  Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales also showed flashes of dominating stuff last year. Farrell should focus on developing them and seeing what they got.

If Sox fans get upset that their team isn’t spending a lot of money, they should also keep in mind that this is a thin free-agent class. Next year is a bumper crop. It includes Roy Halladay, Josh Johnson, and Ubaldo Jimenez.

First base is another question mark for this team. Give prospect Jerry Sands a shot. He’s the best option because he’s 25 and can hit for power. He’s hit 51 home runs over two seasons at AAA Albuquerque.  Don’t think about Kevin Youkilis. There might only be one or two good seasons left in him. The Red Sox need to think for the future.

However, the Sox should sign David Ortiz for a two year contract. That’s the one feel-good signing Ben Cherrington should make. Big Pappi is the most reliable power hitter in this lineup. He was the only Red Sox player with an on base percentage over .400 last season. And Ortiz wants to finish his career in a Red Sox uniform.

Fans might not know that Logue didn’t build the Green Monster. That came twenty years later. Take a cue from the man who built Fenway, Cherrington. You don’t need to create something iconic right away. It  took Logue a year to drain the “fetid marsh” on Jersey street and erect the cathedral of Fenway. Use this year to plan and experiment. Lay down a solid foundation, find and develop reliable players, and don’t waste money. Follow Logue’s lead, and this team will be rebuilt, properly.  

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