During most of the 2000s, the post season felt like a fait accompli for the Boston Red Sox. After 2003 the Red Sox and owners Fenway Sports Group (FSG) felt like they belonged to a permanent upper class where success was assured on the field and on their balance sheets. What this season has shown is that nothing lasts forever and no organization is immune to poor decision-making.
After last season, there really wasn’t much the club could do to make radical changes unless they wanted to have a $200M payroll. The minor league system was thin on upper-level prospects, making impact trades almost impossible. The only players who were close to major league ready, Will Middlebrooks and Ryan Lavarnway, both figure in the club’s short to medium term plans.
With the team locked into so many long-term contracts with so much salary tied up, Ben Cherrington’s hands were tied. It was not he that gave exorbitant contracts and contract extensions to Carl Crawford, John Lackey, Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, Daisuke Matsuzaka and Clay Buchholz – players who have contributed nothing to the 2012 team. When the club splashed the cash on these under-performers and had a few poor drafts, that was when the die was cast for this season.
After the season, angry fans and prominent media members, alike, wanted the team to trade Josh Beckett. After his golf outing two days before missing his scheduled start and his implosion on Thursday, the chorus of boos is louder than ever. Setting aside his 10/5 right to veto any trade, this was problematic in a number of ways. The Red Sox pitching is thin to begin with, so by trading him, the club would have had a difficult time filling his spot. If the team had traded him, it likely would have been for prospects who would not have helped the 2012 team. Since the Red Sox consider themselves part of MLB’s aristocracy, weakening the current team is unfathomable.
That institutional arrogance extends to the business operation of the club as well. I wrote on a fan post on Over the Monster in 2010 that the sellout streak and the fervor around the club in the wake of the 2004 and 2007 World Series was unsustainable and that has proven to be the case. There is no shame in not selling out a Tuesday night game in April when its 40° outside. Look at the attendance figures in baseball’s “Golden Age” before 1950. The clubs that lead the league in attendance drew around 1.5 million fans. That the club insists on announcing that the sellout streak continues night after night does nothing but erode the club’s credibility and give fans another reason to distrust the organization.
When Fenway Sports Group bought Liverpool, they thought they had baseball all figured out. Their baseball team would win 95 games every year, sell out every game and have the highest local TV ratings in baseball. That they had to share the riches created by their genius in running the club through revenue sharing and luxury tax payments offended them on every level. The opportunity to put their brilliance to work in a league without those measures to level the playing field and with more global appeal was too much for them to ignore. If they could sell bricks in New England, imagine what they could sell to Liverpool fans in Malaysia.
Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Liverpool overpaid for players who have underperformed. Despite success in the Carling and FA Cups, the club will finish well short of its goal of finishing fourth in the Premier League and returning to the Champions League for the first time in three years. Saddled with a bloated wage bill the owners have reportedly told manager Kenny Dalglish not to expect to be given vast sums of money to improve the team. So next season, Liverpool will have to hope that overpaid flops like Stewart Downing, Charlie Adam, Andy Carroll and Jordan Henderson play better next year – like how the Red Sox went into this season counting on Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Buchholz to anchor their rotation after their September collapse. Both of FSG’s major properties have made their beds and it is unlikely fans of either the Red Sox or Liverpool will be sleeping soundly in them.
If the baseball team continues on its current listless pace, eventually it will be time to sell off pieces and retool for another run. Other than Kevin Youkillis, the rest of the position players are either unmovable or would figure in the team’s long-term plans. I suppose if things really go poorly, they could trade Jacoby Ellsbury if they decide to completely give up on signing him. Fans wouldn’t miss any member of the pitching staff, not even Jon Lester. If they can move any member of the staff for young arms that are MLB ready or close, the club would have to consider taking a step or two back in the short-term for the long-term good. For that to happen, ownership would have to finally give up its delusions of grandeur. This weekend as Manchester City lifts its first title since 1968 fueled by Arab royalty one would think they have come to that realization on the pitch.