At this point in the ratings, there aren’t any surprises. I imagine there weren’t too many surprises about the top few spots even before this series began. While I imagine few would see the Red Sox as anything other than one of the top organizations in baseball, the particulars of the rating do hold some interest.
Present Talent – 89.55 (3rd)
Future Talent – 85.00 (t-5th)
Financial Resources – 90.83 (2nd)
Baseball Operations – 89.55 (2nd)
Overall Rating – 89.25 (2nd)
Honestly, I did a second and then a third take when I saw that Boston’s current talent rated only third. I figured they had the best overall present talent in baseball, maybe one could make an argument for second. But I’m not here simply to express my personal views, but to give an explanation of the ranking put together collectively by the staff. I suppose that some picked Philadelphia (prior the Utley injury) on the basis of their tremendous starting rotation, or the Yankees because they find Jarrod Saltalamacchia drastically inferior to, uh, Russell Martin? Everyone has their reasons, and when teams are rated fairly closely, one or two differences between “voters” make a big difference. If the Red Sox aren’t the most talented team in baseball, they are very, very close. That’s the sort of thing that happens when you lose Adrian Beltre then replace him with Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. They’ll get by somehow.
The farm system is part of the big “blob” in the middle. Mark’s post (linked above) on Boston’s 10 best prospects rates them as 11th. This is one area in which it seems to me most everyone would agree the Red Sox are inferior to the Mystery Team ahead of them in the overall rankings. I will leave it to prospect experts to debate the specifics of the exact ranking and quality of the Red Sox’ system. While it wasn’t totally stripped by the Gonzalez trade, it isn’t what it was.
However, while all teams need to take advantage of the cost-controlled talent developed by their farm system to some extent, for a team with the Red Sox’ financial resources, it isn’t as crucial. Indeed, while the prospects they traded for Adrian Gonzalez could turn out to be more valuable than Gonzalez, one or more of them are likely to bust. Gonzalez gives them more certainty if at a higher price. But they can afford it. It isn’t just about Gonzalez, but about Carl Crawford and anyone else they can afford to sign that other teams can’t because of payroll issues. After about six seasons of payrolls ranging from around $120 million to $140 million, in 2010 Boston’s payroll (according to Cot’s) shot up to almost $170 million. So far they are on the hook for about $160 million in 2011, although that might change once the terms of Adrian Gonzalez’s extension are officially announced. But the guaranteed money on the books actually goes down pretty significantly after 2012 and 2013, leaving room for Boston to sign more free agents or extend current players, e.g., Youkilis, if they think it is wise to so. I’m not sure what there is to say that most people don’t know: the Red Sox are loaded, with a franchise valued Forbes at more than any other team other than #1 Mystery Team. You can see why John Henry feels like the Yankees need to be reigned in on their spending. Oh, wait, that was during the 2008-2009 off-season when the Yankees won the bidding for Mark Teixeira. I believe Henry has now mysteriously changed his position to complaining about revenue sharing. I wonder why…
Naturally, all this money has now put Theo Epstein and the Red Sox baseball operations as a whole in the Cashman category for some people: “They only look good because they so much more money than (almost) everyone else!” I think that’s ridiculous, but I don’t have the energy to get into that debate. Since we aren’t privy to every detail, there is a great deal of inference in rating baseball operations, but second to the Rays seems quite fair for the Red Sox. Yes, a huge budget relative to most of the league gives the Red Sox the ability to absorb more and bigger mistakes than almost every other team. However, they aren’t making a ton of mistakes, either. There aren’t any Barry Zito, Vernon Wells, or Alfonso Soriano contracts on the Red Sox’ books, and I’m sure they’ve had opportunities to sign them. They could have extended Jason Bay last season, and chose not to, and now they have Carl Crawford, for example. We’ll see how it works out, at this point it looks like waiting around for Crawford will be the right decision. Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia are two of the better position players in baseball who were developed internally and are locked up to team-friendly deals.
The Red Sox don’t have to rely directly on their farm system as much as less wealthy teams, but they did have good enough prospects to acquire Gonzalez, for example.This may all seem to be a matter of course for a team like the Red Sox, but we’ve seen plenty of teams with big budgets fail miserably over the years, so I hardly think that Epstein, et. al are a paint-by-numbers front office. There’s no need to go into the well-known story of their analytical staff and their still-extensive scouting operation. Yes, they’ve made mistakes: I’m not a big fan of the Lackey contract, for example. However, while all front offices try to avoid making mistakes, a smart front office knowing their margin of error relative to other teams is higher and exploits that. Maybe it isn’t fair, but it isn’t their job to make the rules, but to win within them. To penalize the Red Sox for doing so would be churlish and silly.
As repeated ad nauseum by myself and everyone else, the American League East is the toughest division in baseball, and with the rise of the Rays and perhaps the Blue Jays, it isn’t getting any easier. Even a well-thought and well-funded team is going to miss the playoffs sometimes, as the Red Sox did in 2010. Personally, I’ve been sick of the Red Sox and their fan base for a long time. However, given one of the best (if not the best) collections of current talent, seemingly ever-expanding revenue, and one of the best baseball operations staff in baseball, Boston seems primed to contend every season for the foreseeable future. Kill me now.