The Red Sox just made one of the biggest trades in baseball’s recent past: We sent our best player — a pitcher who brought us the 2007 championship — and an outfielder we bought for $142 million, to the Dodgers, and in return we received… um… eh… James Loney?
As a fan, I should be devastated; we gutted the team and waved the white flag for the foreseeable future. But all I am is happy.
It is a melancholy joy, for sure. I never thought we would go more than three years without making the playoffs — and that itself is the problem.
Over the past decade, we have gone from a team who took nothing for granted to a team who considered the world beneath it. As our payroll became bloated, so did our ego.
The inflation began in the winter of 2006, when we bid $51,111,111.11 for the right to negotiate with Daisuke Matsuzaka. Not sign him. Negotiate. It was an absurd figure, one that blew the scale of baseball economics abjectly askew. $50 million was more than five teams’ entire 2006 payrolls. The $103 million-plus we ultimately paid for Dice-K exceeded the annual outlay of all but five teams.
That season, of course, the Sox glossed this over by giving us the greatest gift fans can ask for. For the second time in four years we were the champs, and Jeter and A-Rod were not. The 2008 ALCS loss to the Rays hurt, but we all thought it a slight blip on that plane of sustained greatness we assumed we had achieved. 2009 hurt too — any season the Yanks win and we don’t always does — but we continued to kid ourselves that 95 wins were the norm.
Any rational spectator would instantly see this could never be. Any rational spectator would also have seen what we were becoming. But winning is a powerful narcotic. It inoculated against the reality that, far from succeeding purely by virtue of a baseball model designed by the game’s smartest GM, we were winning with cold, hard cash.
Sure, we won in 2007 on the bats of Ellsbury and Pedroia, two homegrown players. But we won it more by out-Yankeeing the Yankees: By the 2007 World Series win we had had the second highest payroll in baseball for four straight years -— and by a wide margin.
Our spending levels continued to rise right through this year. It got so bad that we felt we could splash $142 million on an outfielder we didn’t really need — page six in Cashman’s playbook.
Then, suddenly, in the middle of this broken season, we reached a breaking point. The storm had been brewing for a while. In an attempt to dominate the outsized clubhouse personalities, the front office hired Bobby Valentine, a manager whose personal baggage counterbalanced anything Josh Beckett or Carl Crawford may have carried.
This immediately went south. Almost before Valentine began his job, his big mouth forced Kevin Youkilis — one of the most beloved players in recent memory — out of town. Then came this big trade.
So here we are now, with only one player — David Ortiz — left from the 2004 championship team. If this were attributable to the cycles of time, we wouldn’t care. But it wasn’t.
Instead, this fact represented a change in mindset. We’ve forgone those subtly smart moves that brought in players like Ortiz for splashy trades and free agent signings that yielded Adrian Gonzalez, Crawford and a whole load of trouble.
That $51.1 million was the beginning, when we became the hubristic protagonist in a Greek tragedy of our own writing. We wrote it when we flocked to Fenway as seat prices spiraled to the top of the Green Monster. We wrote it when we pushed “Red Sox Nation” across the globe. Most of all, we wrote it in John Henry’s checkbook.