Replicating the Red Sox

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Ever since the Red Sox won the World Series — and really, for weeks and months before that — sportswriters have praised the way the team rebuilt itself last winter. The conversation then moves to how other teams can replicate this model for their own turnaround successes.

The Yankees in particular could use an off-season like the Red Sox had last year. With CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, plus perhaps Alex Rodriguez and Robinson Cano, eating up huge chunks of payroll, a bargain or two is just what the Yankees need this winter. But don’t expect them to approach their issues the same way the Red Sox did last winter.

Joel Sherman addressed this issue yesterday in the New York Post, and while he’s on the right track, he does miss a number of reasons why the Red Sox were able to turn around in a single off-season. Rather than rehash his arguments, I’d rather tackle the issue from the start.

The Red Sox were not a true-talent 69-win team in 2012. They had a number of talented players who either underperformed or were hurt. Perhaps having Bobby Valentine at the helm did cause further underperformance due to chemistry issues. Subtract the players that went to the Dodgers in August, and it’s easier to see why they finished so poorly.

When they started to reload in the off-season, they still had a quality core of players, especially on offense. In Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, and David Ortiz they had the leadoff plus three and four hitters in the lineup. They retained a decent offensive option behind the plate in Jarrod Saltalamacchia, giving them starters at three of four up-the-middle positions. Combined with a superstar slugger, the Sox needed only to fill in the gaps with free agency. There were many, but they were at easier positions to fill.

In filling those positions, the Red Sox took a number of gambles. Mike Napoli was coming off a good year, but one not as impressive as his breakout 2011 season. Hip problems factored into that, which increased the risk for the Sox. Stephen Drew was coming off a major ankle injury. Shane Victorino dropped off a bit in 2012, and really started struggling from the left-handed batter’s box. The Sox bet on recovery from each, and won. There’s certainly a level of luck involved there.

Luck also came in the form of Mike Carp, who exceeded expectations by a mile in his nearly 250 PA, producing a 140 OPS+. (Skill came into play here as well, as the Sox limited him to just 28 PA against LHP.) Daniel Nava came through in an even bigger way, producing a 128 OPS+ in 536 PA. Add in quality platoon production from Jonny Gomes, and you have the makings of a quality team on offense. In fact, this highlights one major point of the 2013 Boston Red Sox:

They were bad at only one position.

At third base they had Will Middlebrooks, who did get sent to the minors mid-season for poor performance. His replacements weren’t much better. But at every other position the Sox had a player with an OPS+ of 110 or better. Even their bench guys performed well: only three players, including Middlebrooks, got more than 100 PA with an OPS+ under 100. The Red Sox carried very few bad players on their roster throughout the 2013 season.

The 2013 Yankees, as we all know painfully well, employed many bad players. Injuries did play a role in this, so it’s not completely the fault of shoddy roster construction (though that is a prominent culprit). But like the Red Sox, the Yankees do have a few core players that will play a significant role in the 2014 team.

The Yankees don’t quite have a core, but they do have a number of quality players who could be back for 2014. Mark Teixeira is, hopefully, free of injury and ready to return to something between his 2009 and 2010 levels of production. Robinson Cano can be among the best in baseball. Curtis Granderson provides power, if nothing else. Maybe Derek Jeter has something left in the tank, especially after a winter in which he can work out his legs. They might be weak at basically every other position, but the Yanks do have a few players who should produce next year.

Unfortunately, the free agent class looks particularly weak, especially where the Yankees need help. They need someone to man third base, even if Alex Rodriguez faces only a 50-game suspension; if he can’t stay healthy through 44 games, how is he going to play even 90 next year? They need a backstop who can hit even a little. And they need some pop from right field. If they can address one of these through trade and one through free agency, perhaps they have a shot to turn things around.

(They also need a backup plan at SS, but we all know that plan will be Eduardo Nunez for better or for worse.)

On the pitching side of the ball, the Sox saw similar results. While their staff lacked a real standout starter (Clay Buchholz was brilliant when healthy but barely cleared the 100-inning mark), no who got more than 10 starts was particularly bad, either. Put together, this no-horrible-starters scheme led to the fourth-best starters ERA in the AL.

The Sox bullpen was highly praised, and down the stretch it was unhittable. But during the course of the season it ranked just 10th in ERA, and actually behind the Yankees. There’s not much sense in comparing here, since bullpens form and grow largely in reaction to conditions. Injuries happen, guys hit walls, and other guys miraculously perform as they never have before. The Yankees seem to have a sound bullpen construction strategy, which is all you can ask for.

Can the Yankees pull off a 2013 Red Sox coup this off-season? It’s possible, but it’s not at all probable. They have their own set of conditions, their own existing players, and a completely different market, both trade and free agency, in which to play. No, the Yankees shouldn’t seek to replicate what the Red Sox did. But they can achieve similar results in their own ways.

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  • MannyGeee

    ‘Replicating’ the Red Sox = A LOT of things going really REALLY well with a lot of lottery tickets and injury reclamations.

    Dear fucking Christ, let Cashman try this too, they’ll have his head.

  • NeilT

    Of course, the Yanks didn’t, and still don’t have, a Bogaerts or an Iglesias tucked away in AAA ready to step up and perform. Maybe in ’15 or ’16 Jagielo, Austin, Sanchez et al will be ready and waiting, but they’re not there yet and won’t be in ’14.

    • Robinson Tilapia

      Yes, because what was basically a September call-up is what won them the World Series.

      • Preston

        Well the fact that they had Bogaerts stashed away also allowed them to trade Iglesias for Peavy.

        • Robinson Tilapia

          OK. That’s something. :)

      • Steve

        Also, Bogaerts started every game of the World Series and was second on the team in OPS and first in pitches seen. So yeah, he was a big reason they won

        • OhioYanks

          If the Yankees win the most games in the AL next season, anything that they do in the playoffs is icing on the cake. The Red Sox had already had a great turn-around before the playoffs even started.

    • OhioYanks

      Xander started the season in AA, not AAA, after only 23 games in AA in 2012. While they don’t have a top 10 prospect like Xander, the Yankees do have a whole lot of talent in AA.

      The Yankees also do have Manny Banuelos and likely JR Murphy in AAA. That’s two top 100 type of prospects.

  • Giuseppe

    Holy hell, the Boston “model” is comprised of 90% luck. So, yes, with a ton of luck the Yanks can win it all in ’14.

    • Joe Pawlikowski

      The luck came from calculated risk, though, not from “this is all that’s available so let’s hope it works.”

      • Preston

        This is the freedom of no expectations. The Red Sox won 69 games and were not expected to win. Thus they rolled the dice and won big. The Yankees and their constant win now mantra are very risk averse.

      • Comrade Al

        When Mike Napoli stays healthy the entire year, there may be more involved than calculated risk. After all, David Ortiz is 37 and hasn’t seen the DL in a few years.

        • BFDeal

          I deplore having to defend Ortiz, but he spent significant time on the DL last season and started this season on the DL.

        • Preston

          Testing is in place that is more comprehensive than any other sport. Can we stop playing the player A or player B is probably juicing card. Yes, some people are probably still using, but a lot of them will get caught. Von Miller gets suspended in football and the only story is can the Denver defense survive without him. Nobody cares. I pray for the day when PEDs can be such a non-issue in MLB.

        • OhioYanks

          Napoli has largely been healthy his entire career.

        • Dirty Water

          Seriously? Ortiz missed the last two months of 2012 which of course contributed greatly to that horrible season.

    • dkidd

      i hate that team with a passion, but it took huge balls to make that deal with the dodgers. fortune favors the bold

      • Giuseppe

        Huge balls? It would have taken a head up his own ass to not make that deal. They were bailed out by the Dodgers and in turn made a few somewhat risky moves that couldn’t have panned out any better (see Napoli and Victorino). So, please, let’s stop with this Red Sox model talk and call it what it was.

      • Havok9120

        Eh? A totally disastrous-looking season with fans up in arms saw the chance to completely cut most of the players everyone was blaming for the problems. I don’t really see that being a bold move, except maybe in the way it completely gave up on that season. It was a godsend that most teams at the middle-end of a free agent spree period would jump at immediately.

        • dkidd

          you don’t think it’s bold for a major market team with a rabid and demanding fan base to blow up the team?

          • Preston

            Especially since that trade with the Dodgers was a once in a lifetime opportunity, so the trade would have been done in 2012 while CC and Tex were healthy and productive and the Yankees were playoff bound.

          • Andrew Brotherton

            They offered the same deal to the Yankees and because the Yankees were so close to the playoffs, and were the #1 team in the AL. No reason to trade CC&Tex if you are contending for a title

  • Johnny O

    The Dodgers trade is given a lot of credit for the turnaround – dumping underperforming players making lots of money like Crawford, Beckett and A-Gone.

    Yankees unlikely to do a similar move, but in theory do you think that would help them? Tex and maybe even CC could be on that list, but maybe have to re-build their value first?

    • Joe Pawlikowski

      As I said, with the Sox they still had a few good and very good players left. If the Yanks got rid of CC and Teixeira they’re boned. They could be in any case, but if they’re going to win in the next few years it’ll mean having production from those two.

    • Delbert Grady

      If a team offered to take Tex & CC off the Yankees hands and they didn’t do it, they’d be morons. You’re paying around 50 million a season for both of them going forward for their precipitous decline years. That kind of financial reboot would revitalize this franchise more than a high 1st round pick. If Cashman had that 50 million plus Arod’s 25 million to spend this off season he could build a monster team, retain Cano and stay under 189 with ease. Paying 23 million + to a platoon 1b is what kills teams payrolls and chances. Someone wants Tex, let them have him.

      • qwerty

        You mean he’d have enough money to waste on more albatross like contracts don’t you?

  • Joe Pawlikowski

    Holy shit this is really rough around the edges.

    • John Sebastian

      ” Welcome back, your dreams were your ticket out”. #dated reference

  • Baked McBride

    161st STREET STRONG!!

  • Delbert Grady

    Believing Tex could possibly go back to 2009 levels is akin to believing Elvis lives. The Red Sox had more roster depth than we currently have. They weren’t devoting roster spots to anything akin to Wells, Ichiro, Arod and even Jeter. Lackey & Ortiz bouncing back were still slightly younger guys or guys who hadn’t fallen into the tank. Yankees need to waive Wells (and probably Ichiro) to free up spots for helpful players. They also need to avoid Girardi’s fascination with the Nix/Stewart guys who have no business taking at bats from even marginal young players in the system.

    • Mouse

      Nix is a ballplayer, didn’t you know that?


      • Delbert Grady

        If I hear the words “good catch & throw guy” and “great pitch framer” this offseason I’m done.

        • WhittakerWalt

          Then I predict you’re going to be done next year.

    • Preston

      Believing that Tex returns to his 2009 form is not any more ridiculous than believing that Lackey would bounce back the way he did. He had a terrible 2011, missed all of 2012 and was a complete ass-hole in the process. Then he comes back and pretended it was 2009 again. A lot of Teixeira’s decline has been bad BABIP luck (and anecdotally the shift), the walks and the power are still there, and he doesn’t strike out that much for a power guy. His wrist injury is troublesome but not nearly as troublesome as TJ is for a pitcher. I could easily see Teixeira bouncing back to a 4 win player next season.

      • Delbert Grady

        Not to toot Lackey’s horn since I despise the guy as a human for bailing on a cancer stricken wife, but he came back from TJ surgery which has a high success rate and just requires patience. His dip in performance had as much to do with needing the injury addressed and waiting for it to heal. The Red Sox put a TJ provision in his contract knowing he would most likely need the surgery. Tex’s decline has had less to do with the wrist injury. It was happening before that. The wrist is just the latest excuse. Remember when the “cough” was the reason he was hitting .220? I don’t see a bounce back coming for him. He is horrid against RHP and he faces that more than 2/3rds of the time while cluttering the middle of the Yankees order in those instances.

        • Preston

          Your view of Teixeira is pretty irrational, he has never hit .220, and in 2010 to 2012 his years of “decline” the only 1b more valuable than him were Cabrera, Votto, Pujols, Fielder and Gonzalez. And the wrist issue isn’t an “excuse” he tore a tendon in his wrist. Would it be nice if Tex hit close .300 and was one of the better hitters in the game like he did from 2004-2009, sure. But if he stays healthy, hits .250, with elite walks and elite power, while playing great defense at 1b I’m not going to complain and he’ll end up being worth about 3-4 WAR.

          • Delbert Grady

            Forget health. If Tex hits above .220 against RHP, I’ll consider it a miracle. Those stats from 04-09 were only with the Yankees for one season. He’s been a bust and acting like he’s a top 1b at this point is just pie in the sky stuff. The Yankees best option would be to find him a platoon partner who can hit RHP better than a replacement 1b which is what he barely is from that side. I also doubt highly he’ll hit .250 overall. .230 is more like it. The shift and RHP own him and he does nothing to correct that.

            • Preston

              Against RHP the last three years he played a meaningful sample he hit .239, .224 and .244, so to say it would be a miracle for him to hit .220 is serious hyperbole. His BA overall in those seasons has been .251, .248 and .256, so again predicting a .250 BA seems reasonable and predicting a .230 BA seems overly pessimistic.

              • qwerty

                I wouldn’t say predicting a .230 BA is overly pessimistic. Let’s not forget that Tex’s stats have been nosediving for the last few years now, and now he has to get over a wrist injury to boot.

  • Robinson Tilapia

    Whatever they did, or didn’t do, they’re holding the trophy.

    There’s no need to replicate anything they did. You build things your own way and according to what works right for your franchise. The Sox had the perfect storm of guys returning to form and, as Joe says here, calculated risks going their way. Mid-level FA’s, a couple of prospects, and a core you were unsure of could have also been the KC Royals of a few years back……maybe. The Sox were certainly better at baseline.

    Funny how no one is asking how the SF Giants who won two championships recently did it. I mean, Aubrey Huff is sitting there waiting by the phone…

    Great write-up, Joe.

  • murg

    Grow beards

  • dkidd

    another way we could replicate boston has to with our expectations as fans

    2012 was so hellish for my friends who are red sox fans (no pink hats) that it seemed to “reboot” their sense of what makes a successful season. during the playoffs, a bunch of them said they’d be okay if they didn’t win it all because they were just happy to be watching a team they didn’t actively despise (this is helped by the fact that their window seems to be opening, not closing). the “win the world series or the season is a failure” culture that developed in the dynasty years needs to be chucked. there’s no way you sustain success of the 1994-2012 kind without having to pay the piper. mlb has aggressively leveled the field and the dodgers aren’t coming to take a-rod off our hands. for the sake of sanity and enjoyment, my attitude for 2014-2015 is “i’ll be satisfied if we play meaningful games in september”

  • Deadrody

    Eh. I’m not so much interested in what they SHOULDN’T do, than what they SHOULD.

    Its not really hard to forecast that doing what the Sox did won’t work.

  • Preston

    The one thing the Red Sox did do this year was utilize platoon splits really effectively. The Yankees have done this successfully in the past, and they need to do it again next year to maximize what they can get out of their roster. Because I think we’ll all agree that the starting 9 probably isn’t going to be murderer’s row.

  • Guns

    What injuries did the Red Sox deal with? Buchholz? Bailey? That’s pretty much it and that’s not much.

    Shane Victorino had the 2nd best season of his career one season after seemingly falling off a cliff. He also had the best BABIP of his career. But you have to give the Red Sox credit. He was one year removed from 132 wRC+ and you know you’re at least getting good defense and baserunning out of him. A bounce-back year wasn’t improbable.

    Mike Napoli also had the 2nd best full season of his career and ALSO was only one year removed from a fantastic season (179 wRC+). He ALSO had the highest BABIP of his career at .367 which is high even for him as a strikeout machine.

    Jacoby Ellsbury also had the 2nd best full season of his career but also had what you would expect to be a typical Ellsbury season to be if he’s healthy. The same can be said for Pedrioa even though his ISO was much lower than past seasons. But he stayed healthy and gave you a typical Pedrioa year.

    Saltalamacchia, often underlooked, quietly had the best season of his career at 117 wRC+. He ALSO checked in with a .372 BABIP – the highest of his career over a full season.

    The Red Sox also continue to get massive production out of the DH spot. David Ortiz is a beast and a legit post season monster.
    That’s not even getting into the rotation and the bounceback years from Lackey and Lester. Lackey seriously came out of nowhere coming back from being literally one of the worst pitchers in baseball over two previous seasons.

    I think the 2013 Red Sox were a perfect combination of luck, intelligent risk taking, and most importantly, HEALTH. I think one good thing to take away in my opinion is that I would be shocked if the Red Sox repeat this level of success and health next season. They didn’t exactly get a “perfect storm” this season, but it was close. I personally don’t expect that to continue for another season.

  • Pee Wee Herman Ruth

    Every professional sports team that has ever won a championship has experienced “luck” and have had things fall into place at the right time. But, to credit the 2013 Red Sox success solely or almost entirely to luck is foolish.

    The 2013 Red Sox were successful because they combined a solid core with numerous FA acquisitions (as opposed to signing Josh Hamilton for example). In other words, the Red Sox diversified the risk associated with a FA acquisitions, as well as added depth.

    Given that the Yankees have numerous holes at C, 3B, SS, RF, SPs, bullpen…the only way the Yankees can be successful (and stay under $189 million) is to apply the very same model and acquire numerous middle-tier FAs (oh, and get lucky that they all pan out).

    • Guns

      Name a Red Sox player who underperformed by more than an insignificant amount.

      • Pee Wee Herman Ruth

        Ryan Dempster, Joel Hanrahan to name two players off the top of my head. Not sure what you’re are getting at thought…

        Undoubtedly, in any championship year, an overwhelming amount of a team’s roster is going to overperform.

  • mitch

    The Red Sox spent some money, experienced some good luck, made some solid roster moves, and stayed healthy. There’s the magic formula for winning a championship.

  • Batsman

    “The 2013 Yankees, as we all know painfully well, employed many bad players. Injuries did play a role in this, so it’s not completely the fault of shoddy roster construction (though that is a prominent culprit).” -Mike Axisa

    YES IT IS! YES IT IA a prominent culprit. Overbay, Wells, Stewert, Youkalis, and whoever was to play shortstop were not supposed to play every single day. These were all backup players….HOLDOVERS until Granderson, Tex, Jeter, Arod, Cervelli were supposed to play. Had our regulars been able to play at optimal (or close to it) levels, our regulars probably would have produced better numbers like Ichiro, Gardner, etc…

    If the injuries plagued the Yankees in 2012 like it did in 2013, does Mike Axisa think that Eric Chavez could play 120-160 games? Can you imagine the numbers Andruw Jones would’ve outputted? How about Raul Ibanez?

    Mike Axisa, it’s either you lack logic or your trying to score cheap points for a season long losing argument.

    Had the Yankees re-signed Swisher, Martin, Ibanez, Chavez…guess what? Those players would’ve been hurt too. That’s just the way the 2013 season went. It just wasn’t our year.

    • Batsman

      Sorry, not Mike Axisa. I meant Joe Pawlikowski

  • Revan

    Great article although it could use a disclaimer that to first analyze the Red Sox’s moves, one must build a time machine and ask Cashman why the hell he didn’t let the Dodgers take Teix and CC from us.

    I would gladly let them take them even if they were at their 2009 versions which they clearly weren’t, so no don’t accuse me of 20/20 hindsight dead horsing.

    A lot of what they did was only possible because they were lucky enough to get rid of Crawford, Beckett and AGon. Of course that’s only half the battle and they did a great job of the other half. But give half that trophy to the $$$ machines in LA.

    • jjyank

      Wait…you would have traded CC and Tex at 2009 levels? All credibility: lost.

      Moving on to the next comment now.

      • WhittakerWalt

        Do I even want to ask who he thinks we’d have used as a first baseman if Tex gets traded?

  • blehmann

    I would argue that the Sox were better positioned to benefit from good luck than the Yanks even had Granderson, Tex, Jeter, Arod, and Cervelli been available for more of the year. The Yanks did not make any bets like Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Shane Victorino, Mike Carp, or Jonny Gomes, much less have all of them work out. They had to have good luck to have these guys all produce much more than expected and for the rotation to bounce back the way it did. But they had to have skill enough to place these kinds of bets. The Yankees seemed to believe that their 95 win team from a year earlier minus 100+ home runs plus old, high injury risk players a year older did not require such bets at all even before the Jeter/Arod/Granderson disasters. This made little sense at the time and it makes little sense now.


  • Tom

    The single biggest statement:

    “They were bad at only one position”

    The Yankees went into 2013 punting 2 positions (RF, C) and they had terrible IF backups with 2 injury risk guys planning to start (Jeter, Youk). Injuries happen and the Yankees had more bad luck than most, but heading into the season there were going to be MANY games with 1/3 of the lineup being terrible (Ichiro, Stewelli and Nix/Nunez on Youk/Jeter rest days)

    Even with full health, unless the Yankees upgrade RF, C and/or Util IF, there will still be many 2014 games where 1/3 of the lineup is more or less a black hole.

  • Justin

    Someone ask Bill James, what did you think of the Jeter signing?

    Seems unremarkable.

  • IronHorse

    13 HR,52 rbi, 247 ave…..Joe do you think you’ve overated Gomes??
    must be good in the clubhouse I guess.

  • OhioYanks

    I disagree with the premise that the Yankees cannot or should not follow the Red Sox model. I don’t think that you’ve actually identified what the Red Sox model was. Certainly they had great luck to win the most games in the AL and eventually the WS, but being blinded my that luck has caused you to miss what their model actually was.

    Their model was to play the FA market and look for players who were undervalued. Players who slipped through the cracks because they weren’t coming off strong years, which is a huge market inefficiency in baseball: players coming off strong years get paid more, as if last year’s performance is a great predictor for next year’s. They managed to keep draft picks and pay fair prices for FAs without giving out long-term deals, which is really tough to do. Sure, most of those guys went out and exceeded expectations. Even at expectations they were solid values, though.

    What the Yankees are reportedly looking to do is the opposite of this. We’ll have to see what they actually do. The rumors, though, are that they are looking at the top of the market for QO guys coming off strong seasons (plus the very top of the market for Cano, obviously). The advantage with that strategy is stability and predictability, which has always served the Yankees well the last twenty years (when these guys decline or have an off season, they’re usually still pretty good). The disadvantage is that you’re likely overpaying based on historical performance that the player is unlikely to repeat. With a new budget potentially in place and many holes to fill, that might not be the model to use. Paying ~$15 million for a 2 win Beltran to DH half the time and giving McCann a, say, 5 year deal might really bite you in the ass when you can’t fill your other holes.

    I think that this is actually a reasonably strong FA class. There aren’t marquee guys out there, but there’s good depth at SP, C, and OF. Those are all positions where the Yankees need help probably as much as 3B, if not more.

    So, overall, I would like to see the Yankees try a Red Sox strategy of playing the market to find the undervalued guys. It is unlikely to work out as well as it did for the Red Sox, but I still think it might be the best way to fill a bunch of holes on a budget.