Red Sox

Red Sox will make culture change with blockbuster deal

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Red Sox will make culture change with blockbuster deal

In one dramatic gesture, the Red Sox this week set about the process of changing their clubhouse culture, re-stocking their system with two high-end pitching prospects and, not
incidentally, saved approximately 260 million in future payroll obligations.

Even in the make-believe world of pro sports, where a million here or there begins to feel like pocket change, 260 million is, you know, real money.

Think of it: more than a quarter of a billion dollars that had been earmarked for Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Nick Punto will now go back into the owner's coffers.

It's reasonable to expect that, in time, the Red Sox will re-invest the money saved. After all, since the Henry-Werner-Lucchino group took over in 2002, the Red Sox have annually been among baseball's handful of biggest spenders.

You can say that the Sox haven't spent wisely; but it's impossible to charge that they haven't spent.

A lone recent exception came last winter, when, much to their detriment as it turned out, the Sox wouldn't spend to improve their pitching depth. Huroki Kuroda and Edwin Jackson were deemed too expensive, even on short-term deals.

The reason for the sudden stinginess was the new collective bargaining agreement, which changed the rules and the financial landscape. The Sox didn't want to put themselves in position where they would be over the competitive balance tax (CBT), thus incurring
stiff penalities for luxury tax payments.

Thanks to the deal with the Dodgers, the Sox are out from underneath appoximately 57 million in obligations for the 2013 payroll.

The trick, however, is to not spend that money on the first shiny bobble or two that happens along on this winter's free agent market. That, after all, would simply result in the team rushing back into the burning building from which they just escaped -- with the help of the Dodgers' new ownership group, of course.

The deal itself would seem to be a recognition that the franchise has gotten away from its own blueprint, which focused not on high-ticket free agents, but rather, scouting and development.

When the Red Sox consistently won - from 2003 through 2008 -- they did so with an emphasis on homegown players: Nomar Garciaparra, Kevin Youkilis, Trot Nixon, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Dustin Pedroia, and Clay Buchholz.

True, the team augmented those with some significant - and costly -- free agents or trade acquisitions such as Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke and others -- but nearly as many were shrewd, relatively low-cost players such as David Ortiz, Bill Mueller and Kevin Millar.

It was only recently that the organization was sucked in to the allure of big-name free agents, or, what former general manager Theo Epstein alluded to as "the Monster.'' And look where that got them: John Lackey. Carl Crawford. And to a lesser extent, Adrian Gonzalez.

The worst possible path the Sox could now take would be to chase after the likes of Zack Greinke -- the top starting pitcher on this fall's free agent market -- or Josh Hamilton -- inarguably, the most talented position player.

Beyond the notion that doing business with free agents almost always results in overpaying for performance, it would be hard to imagine two players less suited for the Boston marketplace.

Greinke suffers from a clinically-diagnosed social anxiety disorder. That's been enough to scare off the New York Yankees in the past, who have expressed concern over how Greinke would deal with the pressures, scrutiny and expectations that come from playing in the nation's biggest market. But would Boston be any less forgiving.

Hamilton, a recovering addict, also seems like a spectacularly poor fit for Boston. After two public relapses -- one in Arizona several off-seasons ago, and one in Dallas earlier this year -- Hamilton would be under a microscope in Boston.

Moreover, there's his lack of durability. As talented as Hamilton undoubtedly is -- and some have said he may well be the most skilled player in the game -- he has played more than 133 games just once in his major league career. It's not likely that he will become
more as he gets into his mid-30s.

Do either of those sound like good investment

The Sox would be better off waiting until after 2013 when Josh Johnson, Tim Lincecum and Matt Garza all reach free agency.

Even then, however, the Sox should adopt a caveat emptor approach. Beyond Manny Ramirez, which eight-figure free agent has been worth the investment for the Sox in the last decade.

"Free agency,'' said one talent evalautor, "is a losing proposition.''

It's easy for the Red Sox to say that now. The real temptation will come this winter, when the team faces the difficult mission of attempting to sell tickets following a third consecutive DNQ for the post-season.

Then, the Sox will undoubtedly hear complaints from fans that they're attempting to slash payroll in preparation for a sale. Or that they're turning into small-market players in a big-market town.

The tough part will be to resist that sentiment, that call to spend the money they've saved.

For a team whose owners are as PR conscious as these, it will not be easy to avoid the quick fix, the showy signing that will supposedly signify commitment.

As the last few years have demonstrated, that's not the right route back to contention.

It would be far wiser to invest a chunk of the money saved into scouting -- both international and domestic. Do it well enough, and before long, the Sox will have enough prospects to not only fill their own roster, but also, to trade off in the search for more established help.

It wasn't that long ago that the Sox understood that drafting and development -- while far less showy and unquestionably slower -- is the best path. Should they forget, they can remember this week when it took a team more desperate than they were to help undo several years of misguided spending.

NLCS: Cubs avoid sweep, top Dodgers 3-2 to cut series deficit to 3-1

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NLCS: Cubs avoid sweep, top Dodgers 3-2 to cut series deficit to 3-1

CHICAGO - Javier Baez snapped an 0-for-20 skid with two home runs, Wade Davis hung on for a six-out save and the Chicago Cubs avoided a sweep, holding off the Los Angeles Dodgers 3-2 Wednesday night in Game 4 of the NL Championship Series.

Jake Arrieta pitched three-hit ball into the seventh inning to held the defending World Series champion Cubs close their deficit to 3-1. Manager Joe Maddon got ejected for the second time in this series in the eighth, and a packed Wrigley Field crowd watched Davis get Cody Bellinger to ground into a game-ending double play.

Maddon was heavily criticized for not using Davis during a 4-1 loss in Game 2. This time, the Cubs closer threw 48 pitches to finish the job.

Willson Contreras also homered for the Cubs. Bellinger and Justin Turner connected for the Dodgers, who had won a team-record six straight playoff games.

Game 5 is Thursday, with Jose Quintana pitching for Chicago against Dodgers ace Clayton Kershaw.

Baez hit solo drives in the second and fifth after going hitless in his first 20 playoff at-bats. Contreras added a long homer against Alex Wood.

Davis entered with a 3-1 lead in the eighth. He gave up a leadoff homer to Turner, who went 2 for 2 and drew two walks.

Maddon became incensed that a swinging strike three against Curtis Granderson was ruled a foul after the umpires discussed the play. Maddon got tossed, and Granderson struck out swinging at the next pitch.

And after walking Yasmani Grandal to put runners on first and second, Davis struck out Chase Utley, who is hitless in his last 24 postseason at-bats.

All seven of Chicago's runs in this series have come on homers. And long drives in the second by Contreras and Baez made it 2-0.

Contreras' homer banged off the left-field videoboard and Baez's landed beyond the left-field bleachers on Waveland Avenue.

Bellinger cut it to 2-1 with his drive to right in the third. But Baez got the lead back up to two with a shot to the left-field bleachers in the fifth, the raucous crowd chanting "Javy! Javy!" for the flashy young star who was co-MVP of the NLCS last year.

No Cubs player had hit two in a playoff game since Alex Gonzalez went deep twice in Game 2 of the 2003 NLCS against Miami.

Arrieta exited with runners on first and second in the seventh after walking Chris Taylor on a 3-2 pitch. He tipped his hat as fans gave him a standing ovation, a fitting show of appreciation for a pitcher with an expiring contract.

Arrieta turns 32 in March and figures to land a huge deal in free agency. The trade that brought him from Baltimore helped fuel Chicago's rise, with the right-hander capturing the 2015 NL Cy Young Award and contributing to last year's drought-busting championship run.

Limited by a right hamstring injury in the final month of the season, he threw 111 pitches. Brian Duensing retired Bellinger on a fly to end the seventh.

Turner made it a one-run game with his homer off the left-field videoboard against Davis in the eighth.

A career-high 16-game winner, Wood gave up three runs and four hits in 42/3 innings.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

ALCS: Tanaka, Yankees top Keuchel, Astros 5-0 for 3-2 lead

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ALCS: Tanaka, Yankees top Keuchel, Astros 5-0 for 3-2 lead

NEW YORK - Masahiro Tanaka pitched seven innings of three-hit ball and the New York Yankees finally solved Houston Astros nemesis Dallas Keuchel, beating the ace lefty 5-0 on Wednesday for a 3-2 lead in the AL Championship Series.

Gary Sanchez hit an RBI single off Keuchel and later homered to help the wild-card Yankees win for the third straight day at home and move within one victory of their first trip to the World Series since 2009.

The teams head back to Houston for Game 6 on Friday night, when Justin Verlander and the reeling Astros will try to regain their footing following an off day and force a decisive Game 7. Luis Severino is scheduled to start for New York.

Just days ago, Houston was up two games to none and appeared to be closing in on its second World Series appearance. But the Astros, like defending AL champion Cleveland before them, have been unable to put away these poised Yankees, who improved to 6-0 at home in this postseason in front of their cheering, chanting fans.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE