As sports profits have grown tremendously in recent years, a change in sports management has been illustrated. Contracts to athletes have gone through the roof and teams with the most money have been able to build teams almost entirely out of cash. However, recent seasons have proven that this may not be the best strategy to win. Several teams that have brought in several notable players over the last few seasons have not had success, with such playoff-missing teams as the 2012 Red Sox, 2012 Angels, 2012 Marlins and this year’s underperforming teams: the Angels (yes, again), Blue Jays, and Dodgers.
Meanwhile, certain teams have had plenty of success in recent years despite relatively small payrolls. Teams such as the Rays, Orioles, and Athletics have succeeded on primarily talent and team chemistry either with either homegrown players or those acquired in shrewd trades. Up until the advent of Ben Cherington as general manager, the Red Sox were in the prior category but lately, they have been moving into latter territory.
The Red Sox still have one of the largest payrolls in baseball, but it’s unfair to categorize them with the prior teams. However, this season the Red Sox have no huge contracts taking up space of their payroll after trading Adrian Gonzalez (7 years/$154M), Carl Crawford (7 years/$142 M), and Josh Beckett (4 years/$68 M). This leaves John Lackey as the largest contract on the team (~$34 million left on his deal plus a vesting option at the league minimum for 2015), and then a bunch of smaller contracts to an assortment of players.
Instead of bringing in the flashy superstars who had burned the Red Sox in the past, Ben Cherington went after role players this winter who are good clubhouse presences. The change has been momentous for the Red Sox. For the first time in years, they truly look like they are having fun playing the game and enjoying themselves off the field. Acquisitions like Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster, Shane Victorino, David Ross, and Mike Napoli appear to be really taking leadership roles on the team.
On paper, the Red Sox do not look like one of the best teams in baseball. However, with a 31-20 record and tied for the lead in the AL East, they have played like one of the best. Unlike last year’s team, who seemed ready to give up from the start, this year’s team has a fighting spirit executed to the tee in yesterday’s 6-5 comeback win which saw the Red Sox score four runs in the ninth inning and then burst into celebration after tying the Yankees at the top of the division.
Nobody can say for sure if the Red Sox will continue to play the way that they have to start the season. However, they have been a whole lot of fun to watch this season. With their spirit and clutch ability, they remind me of last year’s Oakland A’s, who surprised everyone to win the AL West and make the playoffs. However, the Red Sox are one of the teams trailblazing the importance of team chemistry over the pure talent level of a team.