Offseason Fenway Fun

by Jason Epstein

At Saturday evening’s Baseball Writers Association of America annual dinner, the CEO of the defending champion Red Sox, Larry Lucchino, kvetched about the Yankees’ recent free-agent acquisitions:

“It’s like ‘Back To The Future,’ is my sense,” he said. “I’ve seen this movie before.

“Anything that can be done that increases the intensity of the rivalry, as this certainly does, I think is positive — as long as it doesn’t go so far as to give them the advantage.”

Lucchino said he and fellow Sox owners John W. Henry and Tom Werner are just as committed to winning as the Yankees, but not when it means “crazy expenditures that might be commonplace in New York.”

Lucchino and the $178 million that he spent on players in 2013 wish to resurrect the David versus Goliath meme? Remember what Uncle Junior said about his never too happy sister-in-law? “Livia is like the woman with a Virginia ham under each arm, crying cause she hasn’t got any bread.”

David Schoenfield of ESPN SweetSpot responded this morning:

The Red Sox, of course, have spent the second-most total dollars on payroll over the past five seasons, second only to the Yankees. Have they spent as much as the Yankees? No. But the difference in payroll between the Red Sox and the Rays has been larger than the difference between the Yankees and the Red Sox.

Even in 2013, when the Red Sox trimmed their Opening Day payroll from $175 million to $155 million, they had the fourth-largest Opening Day payroll behind only the Yankees, Dodgers and Phillies. They’re not exactly the Pirates or A’s here.

For all the accolades given to the Red Sox for their 2012-2013 offseason when they went after second-tier free agents like Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and Jonny Gomes, let’s be honest here: They still bought those players. You don’t think the Pirates are smart enough to know they could have improved their club this winter with a couple of strategic free-agent signings? You don’t think the Rays would just once want to sign a free agent that costs more than the Red Sox pay for a part-time left fielder?

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A recent quote from 38-year old David Ortiz (.309/.395/.564; 3.8 fWAR) suggested that the World Series MVP might take his designated-hitter talents elsewhere should the Sox not give him a multiyear deal during or immediately following the upcoming season. Craig Calcaterra of NBC Hardball Talk offers his thoughts:

My guess: if he starts up 2014 like he left off in 2013 the Sox will extend him for a year or two. If not, they’ll wait until the season is over. Which, no matter how great Ortiz has been for the Sox, is probably smart given that he’s an aging DH.

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Baseball Prospectus alum Clay Davenport’s 2014 projections have the team finishing second in the division, four games behind the Rays.

As with almost every projection system, Davenport’s is not based solely on 2013 performance, but extends back a couple extra years. And it wasn’t just the new acquisitions who struggled in 2012, but the returning Red Sox as well. Even some of their best players in Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz were significantly hampered by injury.

Given that, Davenport’s projections probably says less about the Red Sox being an 86-win team–still good for a playoff spot, mind–and more about their nature as a high-variance team. All these red flags from 2012 still remain even after positive 2013 seasons. David Ortiz is still old. Dustin Pedroia has an even longer history of thumb issues. Jon Lester showed us in the middle months that he’s still susceptible to periods of trouble. There is the potential for, if not disaster, than serious disappointment on this team. And that’s something worth remembering coming off the heady days of October 2013.

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Jerry Remy is returning to the NESN booth for this season. The former player and longtime broadcaster took a leave of absence last August after his son was arrested on murder charges.

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More here, here, here, and here.