Red Sox built to win multiple titles
Pieces in place for perennial championship contender
DENVER -- It is, for now, a Red Sox world. The rings say as much -- two of the past four championships, making Boston the first team with two titles this decade.
But it's how they got the rings, and how they plan to add more, that really tells the story of the Old Towne Team's preeminence in baseball today. The Red Sox were never built to win a single title, even if that's all that generations of fans ever wanted to see. The plan, always, was to win lots of them, and always to be in position to win.
The Red Sox, in a word, have everything. They have the resources, with a payroll exceeded only by the Yankees. They have the steady infusion of young talent, with four homegrown, pre-arbitration players filling vital roles on this year's championship team. They have stability and excellence in the front office, commitment from ownership and a manager who has established himself as one of the game's elite.
Their rise to the top of the heap just happens to coincide with a changing of the guard by the rival Yankees, who are moving on without esteemed manager Joe Torre and soon will hire a manager with zero postseason games won. And, as the Red Sox were closing out the Rockies in Denver on Sunday night, the Yankees learned that Alex Rodriguez had exercised the escape clause in his contract and the best player on the planet will either a) leave the Bronx or b) cost the Yankees millions of dollars more to retain, something they have vowed they will not do.
Who would you rather be right now?
"The goal is to build something that can be sustained," said general manager Theo Epstein. "To not just have success, but to have sustained success over a long period of time. It's hard to do, because you have to try to win at the Major League level while also cultivating a future in the Minor League system."
Epstein took over as Red Sox GM in November of 2002, and Francona took the reins of the team on the field for the 2004 season. It has been a brilliant combination. Whereas previous manager Grady Little often didn't see eye-to-eye with the front office, Francona is most assuredly on the same page with his bosses.
Francona has distinguished himself in every aspect of managing this historic franchise. He's adept tactically. He manages the men in his clubhouse smoothly and savvily. He is outstanding with the rough and tumble Boston media. And the results on the field aren't bad, either. In four years he's won 375 regular-season games, and gone 8-0 in the World Series.
"Theo and I -- there's a lot of other guys down there, too, but we have a great working relationship," Francona said. "We have the ability to argue, to disagree, to move on the next day, and that's important, because you get into these positions, you have to have a strong opinion or you don't survive. But his opinion is always welcome and respected, and he knows that."
The whole organization is in synch, in fact. Players are scouted and drafted with an eye towards not only their future ability, but whether they will be good Red Sox players. The farm system develops young players who are expected to be able to handle themselves on the field and off. Everyone knows the goals, and the stakes. They start learning from the day they join the organization.
"Our scouts try to identify players who can succeed in Boston," Epstein said. "And then our player development department tries not only to develop Major League players, but winning Major League players who can thrive in Boston. So our development processes are geared toward developing players who can perform on this stage and handle the media and play well at the most important times and come up with a pretty quick adjustment period."
That doesn't quite mesh with the notion of the Red Sox as some sort of robotic, numbers-driven organization. Which makes sense, because they're simply not. They do what all of the smartest organizations are trying to do these days: melding data analysis with all sorts of other information to make the best possible decisions.
Sometimes those decisions involve bringing players in. Sometimes it's about letting players go. Boston took a tremendous amount of grief for letting several key members of the 2004 World Series team leave in free agency, but the Sox have been proven right in nearly every case. Meanwhile, though they paid a stiff price to acquire Josh Beckett, it's clear that Beckett's value stretches beyond game No. 162.
These guys know what they're doing. And you can bet that once the champagne has dried, they'll be working on how to build yet another championship team.
"There always is turnover, but I think this team is in a position where we can keep this core intact, keep the young core intact and build on it from our farm system and hopefully play at a high level for a long time," Epstein said.
Look out, baseball.
Matthew Leach is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.