BOSTON — The Red Sox’ plan last offseason worked out beautifully. Things change, though, and executing the same plan this winter will be much more challenging.
Boston inked seven free agents prior to the 2013 season. None of the deals were for longer than three years, as the Red Sox made it a priority to not get bogged down by long-term commitments, even if it meant overpaying in terms of average annual salary. Ideally, the Red Sox would like to continue that approach, although each year presents a new set of challenges.
“Fewer years, more dollars — it’s our preferred model, but you can never get exactly what you want,” Red Sox president and CEO Larry Lucchino said Monday prior to a screening of MLB Productions’ World Series Film at the Wang Theater in Boston. “We still value the draft picks enormously, and our behavior has shown that. We still prefer shorter to longer-term contracts. We have a presumption against really long-term contracts. A lot of things we did last year proved to be successful, at least in the short term, so I think we’re going to behave accordingly going forward.”
The Red Sox have some interesting decisions to make this offseason, most of which pertain to the club’s four major free agents — Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew. General manager Ben Cherington said at the beginning of free agency that the Red Sox had interest in re-signing all four players, although the reality is that doing so is a long shot. Lucchino, like Cherington, has come to terms with that simple fact, and it’s right in line with one of his personal points of emphasis.
“One of the lessons I learned a long time ago was that you can’t fall in love with your veterans. You can’t do that,” Lucchino said Monday. “That’s not the way to run the railroad. We are not going to be a stand-pat team. That’s just not the way we run the railroad here. That’s probably a losing proposition every year. Every year has to have its own personality. Every year will have a different personality, composition as well as personality.”
Making wholesale changes in the wake of a World Series victory is difficult to justify. Making adjustments, however, is not, as keeping every single piece the same rarely works in the defending champs’ favor. None of the aforementioned free agents would be easy to replace, but it’s up to Cherington, Lucchino and Co. to decide what’s in the club’s best interest, both in the short term and in the long term.
“You need to have a diverse portfolio of contracts,” Lucchino said. “Some will be longer than you want. Some will be heavy at the front end. You’ve got to mix the structure of all the contracts so you have the kind of diversity you need for long-term stability.”
The Red Sox showed a reluctance last offseason to aggressively pursue free agents who had draft-pick compensation attached to them by way of a qualifying offer. Boston will receive a draft pick if Ellsbury, Napoli and/or Drew signs elsewhere this offseason, though, so perhaps surrendering a pick won’t deter the Sox quite as much this time around.
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