The Boston Red Sox have been a pendulum of late. Twice now in years following a World Series victory, Boston has followed with a less-than-stellar season.
Not that Boston fans are complaining (or at least, they shouldn’t be). After all, it was 86 years between World Series victories before 2004, followed by only a three year gap with a title in 2007. Then Boston won again in 2013, immediately following a year in the cellar of the AL East.
Though the 2007 title-winning team included players who were still in or just past their primes, it also incorporated young talent who would be the backbone of the 2013 run. It would seem the Red Sox are able to rebuild, or at least retool, fairly quickly. They are not, however, the first team to see such sporadic success.
The Marlins’ only playoff runs
This sort of rebuilding happened on a different level with the pre-rebranded Marlins. Both Florida Marlins World Series teams were Wild Card winners, relying on a late-season streak to carry them into the playoffs. What’s especially interesting is that the Marlins franchise has only made the playoffs those two times, in 1997 and 2003.
The first run came four years after the inaugural season, with starters Kevin Brown and Al Leiter in their primes as well as Jeff Conine, Bobby Bonilla and Moises Alou. The young Livan Hernandez (World Series MVP) and Edgar Renteria also played roles in the run. Renteria was the only one to return, however, as the Marlins decided payroll was too high.
The next opportunity six years later was a result of the young talent following the previous run coming together at the right time. A look at the roster confirms the immense talent of that bunch. The Marlins again unloaded, though, because they felt they couldn’t pay. The club hasn’t fared too well since, as a rebranded power team was dismantled midseason in 2012 because the chemistry wasn’t there. Giancarlo Stanton remains the face of that franchise, with hopes for future success.
A large part of why the turnaround can be so quick for Boston is payroll. Boston’s resources far outweigh those of a Marlins team that sat near the bottom of the league in attendance, even in the years of playoff runs. (The average attendance of a regular season game at Pro Player Stadium in 2003 was just over 16,000.) The Red Sox have had to make some savvy moves, though, following disappointments that are part and parcel of the game.
A few failed signings
Some offseason signings did not perform as well as desired. Grady Sizemore was the first to go, released June 18. The 31 year old batted a disappointing .216 for the Sox. The Phillies needed outfield help, and signed Sizemore to a minor league deal. After making it back to the majors, he’s slashed .319/.360/.404 for the Phils — not impressive power, but a marked improvement from earlier in the year.
Then it was out with Chris Capuano, the replacement for Ryan Dempster. (Capuano was actually signed the same day Dempster was put on the restricted list, as the Sox announced he would miss the entire year.) The Sox cut him after a horrific performance against the Mariners on June 23 when he allowed five earned runs in 2.1 innings. After Colorado signed him, the Yankees — pitcher-starved after a series of injuries to the rotation — traded cash for the lefty. He pitched a quality start on Saturday.
Throw in the discussion of A.J. Pierzynski (see yesterday’s discussion on him), and you get the picture of a number of failed signings. Boston didn’t put too much stock in these players, though. Each of them was only signed through this year, and cutting ties just meant letting go of their failures in an already lost year.
The bigger news, though, was the Jake Peavy trade. The Red Sox got a very different Peavy from last year — from 4-1 with a 4.04 ERA in the midst of a World Series run to 1-9 at 4.72. His contract also expires at the end of the year, as his 400 inning requirement between 2013 and 2014 for a vesting option at $15 million was unreachable after pitching fewer than 150 innings last season.
Given his lack of success this year, the Sox got a decent package for Peavy — Giants prospects Edwin Escobar and Heath Hembree. Escobar is durable but had struggled in the hitter-friendly Pacific Coast League, though his peripheral stats look better than the 5.11 ERA. He’s 22, so there’s time to work out any problems. Hembree, on the other hand, is a potential closer with a “swing-and-miss” slider. He’s older and could reach the majors for an extended period soon, while Escobar has a higher ceiling as a starter.
Constructing a baseball team requires skillful transactions, good scouting, patience and some luck. A general manager must bring together the right blend of talent to allow for a deep postseason run, but the future may rely on mixing in some young talent to carry the club in the future. As much as general managers are criticized, it’s an unenviable job, and despite the changing of hands in the case of the Red Sox, it’s a job the Boston front office seems to be doing fairly well.
Dan Johnson is editor-in-chief of Three for Ten Sports and former managing editor of The Collegian at Grove City College.