Before you dismiss this headline as an overreaction, it’s important to understand that the declining interest of fans when it comes to the Boston Red Sox is real. While this decline can’t be attributed solely to any one cause, there is one major factor that is helping slowly but surely drive the interest of the fans directly into the ground, and if those who are at the root of this problem continue to ignore it, rather than facing it and making the necessary changes, then we will continue to see ticket sales, TV ratings, and overall interest in the Red Sox continue to decline in the coming years.
Contrary to the issues that owners in other markets/sports commonly face, the problem with Red Sox ownership is not their willingness to spend money, nor is it their overall strategy with the team. They’ve won 4 World Series titles over the last two decades for a reason. I honestly think that they’ve had (and have) a pretty decent plan.
In late 2015 when they brought in Dave Dombrowski, everyone knew why he was here. Dombrowski is a dealer, and he was brought here to deal every last one of the prospects that had been hoarded throughout the Ben Cherington era, with the goal of building a World Series winning squad. Likewise, Dombrowski was given John Henry’s blessing to hand a blank check to any available free agents whom he believed could help the Red Sox accomplish this goal. Fast-forward three years later, and the Red Sox are World Series Champions. Mission Accomplished.
With this in mind, throughout the Dombrowski era, it was commonly referenced that the Red Sox had a 4 year window from 2016-2019 in which their young, talented core were under affordable contracts that would allow for Dave Dombrowski to spend out the wazoo to bring in big name players who could help them win (David Price, J.D. Martinez, etc.) while cutting their losses on some of the failed signings from the Cherington era (Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez, Rusney Castillo). Well, we’ve officially reached the end of this four year window, and while the Red Sox are by no means in a position in which trading all of their major pieces and tanking in 2020 is their best option, it was clear that some difficult choices needed to be made regarding their long-term plan.
On one hand, if the Red Sox had chosen to disregard the luxury tax and its consequences for one more year, they could’ve gone into the 2020 season with roughly the same roster that won a World Series title in 2018, minus the back end of the bullpen. This is the most common argument that I’ve heard in favor of keeping Mookie Betts without an extension. However, this also would have been essentially the same roster that just underperformed for an entire season in 2019. Yes, the one that fell to third place in the American League East below the New York Yankees and the small-market, moneyball-playing Tampa Bay Rays. This, in my opinion, is an entirely valid reason for ownership to steer in the other direction.
Call it a bridge year, call it a re-tool, call it whatever you want to call it, but accepting their fate as a middling team and setting themselves up for future success was the correct choice. Trading Mookie Betts and David Price allowed the Red Sox to get under the luxury tax, ensuring that they do not lose draft picks that they can turn into prospects that can be traded in a future deal to help the team improve (or who knows, maybe we’ll get our first competent homegrown starting pitcher in a decade and a half! Lol, just kidding). Meanwhile, in return, they’ve received a trio of seemingly half decent prospects that, character flaws and broken backs aside, can help add to the farm system that Dave Dombrowski spent 4 years blowing to smithereens.
Now, if you’re looking for the part of this article where I tear Red Sox ownership to shreds, START READING HERE. The problem is their lack of accountability and disregard for their own fanbase. Red Sox ownership held a press conference in Fort Myers on Monday in which they attempted to address the fans concerns about their plan and why that plan included trading their best player, whom many consider to be the second or third best baseball player on the planet. Instead of being honest and saying that they were not confident in their ability to resign him after going through their preliminary negotiations, and that they believed there would be more long-term value in getting under the luxury tax and acquiring some young talent in the process, they lied to us. They lied to each and every one of us. They claimed that they believe this is a valuable move for the ballclub, as if it was going to bring them closer to winning a championship in 2020. It seems that they truly think their fans are unintelligent. Hell, it doesn’t take intelligence to know that trading a top-5 player in baseball for 2 prospects and a young player with more baggage than a Logan Airport carousel doesn’t make the team better in the immediate future. Not to mention, the Red Sox accepted a lesser package of prospects just so they could pay David Price $15 million to pitch for someone else, rather than paying him $30 million to add a viable option to their broken starting rotation. THIS WAS NOT A BASEBALL MOVE. THIS WAS A SALARY DUMP.
This was followed by a media member questioning if they were going to follow through with their “modest” increase to the ticket prices despite trading their most marketable player, to which Sam Kennedy had the AUDACITY to begin making a sales pitch for the Red Sox $99 family ticket packs and $9 student tickets. Please Sam, explain to me WHY I should give you my $9 to go to a Red Sox game? Is it so I can enjoy sitting in the Grandstands where my view is obstructed by massive poles and the 100+ year old wooden seats further damage my previously stress-fractured back (it’s been three years and it’s still nagging. Godspeed, Alex Verdugo). Is it so I can stand up proudly and sing ‘Sweet Caroline’ after watching Heath Hembree get rocked for 4 earned runs in the top of the 8th? Is it so I can get a picture doing the Wally Wave with Wally while I wear my $50 Wally hat and eat dining-hall quality soft serve ice-cream out of my $10 Wally bowl??? Is that it? Because if you’re calling this a value move that was geared towards competing in 2020, then there must not be much to see out on the field.
I firmly believe that Boston sports fans are the most intelligent sports fans in America. We’ve been so spoiled by winning over the last 2 decades that we know what winning looks like, and we can smell BS from a mile away. As Red Sox fans, we’ve seen turnover from and to different GM’s, and we’ve experienced the Red Sox taking a year or two to reset and re-tool before making another run at a title. All we ask for is for ownership to have a viable plan, to let us know what that plan is, and for them to see it all the way through. Instead, they are lying straight to our faces, while outraging the vast majority of their loyal fans and accelerating the decimation of interest in the already-dying game of baseball.
Mr. Kennedy, Mr. Werner, if you want to tell me that starting Kevin Pillar in right field on Opening Day and having some no-name bullpen pitcher start every fifth game is going to give the Red Sox a better chance to win the World Series in a few years, then that’s fine. Great. Understood. But if you’re going to sit there and claim that I should be unconditionally excited to watch what could be the worst overall Red Sox team since 2015 stumble their way to an 83-win season, then I don’t know what to tell you. You just don’t get it.
Photo: (Jason Mastrodonato – Boston Herald)