By Jeff Louderback
If the 2013 Major League Baseball season progressed as many of the so-called experts projected, the roles would be reversed tonight at Fenway Park. The Toronto Blue Jays would be poised to celebrate clinching their first American League East title since 1993 while the Red Sox would be fighting to stay out of the division basement for a second consecutive year.
Baseball, though, is not played on paper. As the 2011 Red Sox learned, and the 2012 Angels and Marlins discovered and the Yankees have realized a multitude of times, assembling a roster of high-profile players does not automatically translate into a World Series ring or even a post-season berth.
Tonight, the Red Sox can clinch the AL East title against Toronto at Fenway Park. There will be no parades in Toronto in late October, at least not for the Blue Jays, unless dramatically underachieving is suddenly commemorated in Canada.
While Ben Cherington’s blueprint for building the 2013 Red Sox is one that should be duplicated by general managers across baseball, the Alex Anthopolous school of thought for constructing a roster should be shunned.
Cherington knew that injured core players like Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury and David Ortiz would return this season. And, with the return of John Farrell, Cherington believed that Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz would have a resurgence. Motivated by those thoughts, the second-year GM used the team’s tremendous payroll flexibility by bringing aboard fundamentally sound and Dirt Dawg-style veterans who embraced their roles.
The signings of Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, David Ross, Ryan Dempster and Koji Uehara were not met with excitement. Fans and media members dismissed them as ho-hum transactions, evidently preferring the addition of Josh Hamilton and Zack Greinke.
What separated Cherington from Anthopolous last offseason was that one GM (Cherington) refused to part of top prospects while the other (Anthopolous) drained his farm system to acquire big names. Those big names have yielded the Blue Jays another finish in the bottom part of the AL East while young players like Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Will Middlebrooks, Matt Barnes and Henry Owens represent key parts of the long-term future in Boston.
Meanwhile, Anthopolous executed the following transactions:
- Acquired Mark Buehrle, Emilio Bonifacio, John Buck, Josh Johnson, Jose Reyes and cash from the Miami Marlins for Anthony DeSclafani (minors), Justin Nicolino (minors), Henderson Alvarez, Yunel Escobar, Adeiny Hechavarria, Jake Marisnick and Jeff Mathis. Marisnick is one of the top outfield prospects in baseball while Nicolino and DeSclafani are high ceiling pitching prospects. Buehrle is nearing the end of his career, Johnson remains mired with injuries and is a free agent at the end of the season and Bonifacio was traded to Kansas City for a player to be named later or cash last month. Reyes, who has been plagued with injuries for much of his career, missed 66 games with a sprained ankle.
- Acquired R.A. Dickey, Mike Nickeas and Josh Thole from the New York Mets for Noah Syndergaard (minors), Wuilmer Becerra (minors), John Buck and Travis d’Arnaud. Like Buehrle, Dickey is in the twilight of his career. Syndergaard is a promising starting pitching prospect while d’Arnaud is one of the top catching prospects in baseball. The Blue Jays opted to stick with J.P. Arencibia, who is barely hitting over .200.
Anthopolous also signed Maicer Izturis and Melky Cabrera to questionable deals, but at least they did not cost the Blue Jays prospects. Marisnick, Nicolino, Syndergaard, DeSclafani and d’Arnaud are guys the Blue Jays likely already regret surrendering, especially since the return did not result in October baseball.
Cherington has been part of the Red Sox organization since the Dan Duquette era, so he was around when the ownership group forced Theo Epstein to make outlandish signings after the 2010 season. The Red Sox learned their lesson and are back to the wise ways of cultivating a deep and talented farm system, signing key core players to long-term deals and surrounding them with valuable role players on short-term contracts (even if they have to overpay to get short-term deals). Anthopolous ignored what happened to Boston in 2011, and the Angels and Marlins last year. The result is a mess that will likely take a few years to clean up because of salary commitments.
Thanks to the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Red Sox no longer have albatross contracts. When the Sox celebrate their first AL East title since 2007 tonight, the exciting group of veterans that have made this a fun season reminiscent of 2003 and 2004 will pile onto the field with the plethora of young players who represent the organization’s future.
That is the way to build a roster.