As an organization, the Red Sox generally do a good job of letting the players be players. But rarely has this philosophy extended to the baseball operations or managerial levels, at least until now.
They allow Xander Bogaerts to prioritize an all-fields approach to hitting over improving his power. They allow Christian Vazquez to sling the ball all over the diamond when he’s behind the plate, and they let him swing-and-miss to his heart’s content when he’s standing next to it.
They even allow Clay Buchholz to nibble on the corners until he pukes all over himself.
But ever since the current ownership group assumed the throne on Yawkey Way in 2003, periods of transparency and trust between John Henry’s minions and the “baseball people” they employ, have been few and far between.
That’s why this year feels so damn refreshing.
Sandoval sucks and can’t lay off the Digiorno? Sit him on the bench for a guy that’s barely had a cup of coffee in the big leagues.
Dave Dombrowski with his binoculars trying to make sure Pablo Sandoval isn't on the field. pic.twitter.com/wrzC9TtrCX
— Spielberg Archive (@SpielbergSaga) May 2, 2016
Rusney Castillo’s making $72 million, but looks he’s never played the game before? Stick him in Pawtucket.
Blake Swihart’s the best offensive catching prospect in baseball? Too bad, the kid can’t field his position yet.
Steven Wright is a 31-year-old gimmick? Don’t care. We’ll take his 2.36 ERA.
The conviction the baseball operations and coaches have shown in fielding the team that they want — and how they want — may be the most positive development of the season thus far.
It may also be what ultimately helps the team develop into a legitimate championship contender.
The organization has made a habit of hoarding prospects (not necessarily a bad thing) and remaining loyal to veterans for far too long. Both fair ideals, but not when they come at the expense of winning. If both of those principles are sacrificed for the greater good by season’s end, there could be a lot of October baseball at Fenway this year.
— Johnny Mehler (@JohnnyBangor) May 17, 2016
The team needs another pitcher. Maybe even two. Someone in the current rotation has to lose their spot, and some valuable prospects would likely have to be moved to facilitate the type of deal that would fill that need.
The obvious candidate to go is Buchholz. His spot in the rotation may already be in jeopardy, given the approaching returns of Joe Kelly and eventually Eduardo Rodriguez (who had a setback this week) and the fact that he’s pitched horrendously this year.
The team has always remained loyal to their longest-tenured pitcher, but the urgency of this season may finally spell the end for Buchholz’s days in a Red Sox uniform.
— WEEI (@WEEI) May 16, 2016
And while it’s unclear exactly which prospects the Red Sox would be willing to part with, they will need to move at least two of their precious babies to bring in the type of starting pitcher they need to compliment David Price, assuming he shows up at some point this season.
With the way Dave Dombrowski has handled the team this year, I finally have little doubt that the Red Sox will make the decisions they need to make.
There hasn’t been this much adherence to the bigger picture since the 2004 season. That year, the team sacrificed the almost universally-worshiped Nomar Garciapara in a trade that brought back Orlando Cabrera and Doug Mientkiewicz. Decent players, but primarily defensive upgrades that marked a significant attitude shift for the franchise.
On Periscope tonight, Curt Schilling told a really funny story about Manny Ramirez and Orlando Cabrera. pic.twitter.com/Ir2S2RfkCE
— Joon Lee (@joonlee) May 8, 2016
Obviously dealing Nomar was largely about the eventual money that the team was unwilling to commit to him, whereas Castillo, Sandoval, and (hopefully) Buchholz’s demotions have been strictly about performance.
The team also showed significant stones in 2012, when they traded the highly expensive, largely productive, and mostly cancerous group of Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett. But while that deal took some courage, it was probably a decision that any general manager would’ve made, and one that the Red Sox were insanely lucky to be in a position to make.
This year, though, feels different. It’s all about the product on the field. Huge contract, small contract, it doesn’t matter. If you’re good (Travis Shaw), you play, and if you suck (Sandoval), you can take a seat.
Hopefully this is a legitimate shift in philosophy for the organization, not just desperate urgency to perform in David Ortiz’s final season.
If you think like a loser, chances are you’re a loser. And The Red Sox have been among the biggest losers in the game in recent years.
Likewise, winning is not just a result, but a mentality. One that the team has finally — and literally — had beaten into them.