Or, in a phrase I learned in my inaugural loop through Boston sports, "Why can't we get guys like that?" The phrase, of course, would be uttered as a player who was once with the Red Sox rounded the bases after blasting a home run for another team.
It's a Catch-22, isn't it, that for all the scouting, planning and careful moves you make, some just don't work out? Sometimes it's salary cap restrictions, and other times it's the amount of options a player has left. If Darnell McDonald had gone on to greatness for the Yankees rather than just losing his dreads for a week as he held a spot for CC Sabathia, we'd surely be hearing the Boston fan base moaning about why the Red Sox let him go.
But cutting McDonald was a normal baseball decision. The Red Sox had a wealth of outfielders — some regulars (Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford), some up-and-coming talent (Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish), some key offseason acquisitions (Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross) and some picked up off the waiver wire to fill the gaps (Scott Podsednik). All were contributing. Someone had to be cut, and McDonald was the logical choice from any angle. If he had played really well for another team, it would have just been bad luck.
But that's avoiding the real question, right? At the heart of the matter is the same thing that cropped up Monday night when David Ortiz, fresh off a nasty Achilles injury, went through the locker room proclaiming that this team is "cursed." Ah, the "C" word, dredged up just a few years after all the curses were supposed to have been erased with one giant, 86-years-in-waiting World Series trophy.
Current Red Sox fans may be doing well putting those days behind, but once upon a time, Fenway Park was not a place of fun and good feelings. It was a rotting hull, a place of discord and grumbling, an opportunity to come in, grab a beer and then skip out after two or three innings if the Sox had given up the lead — because they didn't come back from deficits in those days.
That all changed in 2004, and the winning culture has continued. But this year has provided hurdles that can't help but remind fans of the past. The Red Sox have kept their heads high, and the players talk about winning being right around the corner, but no one can deny the effects of the team being on the ropes all season.
Whether it's being constantly short due to injured players or the usual grumbling that surrounds a Boston team, the Red Sox have felt like they're on the wrong end of karma this year. And just like those many seasons when they sat low in the American League East, looking up at the Yankees, they can't help but wonder, "Why can't we get guys like that?" It's less a question of personnel than why the team seems to be riding a long unlucky streak.
Whether it's Kevin Youkilis' ascent since joining the White Sox (corresponding to an ill-timed hamstring injury for Will Middlebrooks) or Crawford meeting every hiccup in the book while working his way back from the disabled list, the Red Sox have had bad fortune this year with marquee players. Before Youkilis was traded, the entire world thought he had to go. And before Crawford's first woeful season and subsequent injuries, Red Sox fans spent years looking across the American League East, admiring the way the Rays groomed their young, talented players. Neither move looked bad, until the Red Sox did it.
The Red Sox' offseason trade with Oakland was a similarly cautious tale. After Jonathan Papelbon jumped to the Phillies, Boston looked to be in excellent shape by scooping up another premier closer in Andrew Bailey. But Bailey's fluke injury on the eve of Opening Day wrecked that part of the plan, and then the outfielder that Boston gave up in the trade, Josh Reddick, proceeded to have one of the best seasons in the American League so far. He's hit 20 home runs off a .268 average and driven in 43 runs, and he was part of the A's success against Boston several times this season.
The Yankees, meanwhile, went to the scrap heap in the last couple of seasons, and now Andruw Jones, Eric Chavez and Raul Ibanez are raking at discount prices for a New York team that hasn't missed a beat, even with injuries to outfielder Brett Gardner and just about every starting pitcher.
This isn't the high-spending Yankees of years past, where the "Why can't we get guys like that?" question was met with, "Because we're not the Yankees, and we don't have millions to spend on ridiculously old free agents who may or may not contribute." This is the Yankees playing moneyball better than any team in baseball. They're getting value, team chemistry and production, and they're doing it at bargain rates.
That's why it hurts, right? That's what makes it stink so much to bring up the "Why can't we get guys like that?" It's not that Boston doesn't have those guys this season, or that the team hasn't made wise choices in player moves and looking ahead. Any other team would have made the moves the Red Sox did, and every other team admired Boston for them. But sometimes, the numbers and should-bes don't always work out. And that's why, with the White Sox in town and randomly having the best record in the American League Central, the Red Sox just have to be shaking their heads. (It doesn't help that Youkilis is drilling the ball in this Fenway stint.)
All is not lost, though, because, while this season has offered plenty of times to wonder, it's starting to show affirmation of some of those choices. When the Sox look at Chicago's third baseman and wonder why they can't get a guy like that, they can look back at their own third baseman, and know that they've made a solid decision for years to come. When the Sox look at Tampa Bay and wonder when they'll have raw talent coming up in the ranks, they can look at their fine-tuned farm system, still in solid shape despite trades and acquisitions. (They can also look at their own outfield, where Crawford is a great player, and more ready to go than ever.) When the Sox look at Oakland and muse that they've got a heck of an outfielder, they can look at their own outfield, where they've turned pick-ups into power, and where Ryan Sweeney (traded from the A's) has been a solid contributor for the team.
So, apparently it's a matter of perspective, where Red Sox fans think the team always seems to catch bad breaks when times are down. This month has been a rough reminder of how the best plans always don't work out so well, but it's also a reminder that the Red Sox have been putting in enough time that these results should turn around. And judging by the on-field results, the front office moves are going to be working out just fine.
Chances are, plenty of other Major League Baseball teams spend their summers looking at the likes of Ortiz (hey you, Minnesota Twins), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (yep, Texas Rangers) and Mike Aviles (good old Kansas City).
They also ask the fateful question: "Why can't we ever get guys like that?"
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