Red Sox

Off-season patience could position Sox for sustained success

839519.jpg

Off-season patience could position Sox for sustained success

Just five years ago this month, the Red Sox had won their second World Series in the span of four seasons, the future for the franchise could not have been brighter.

In addition to their recent success, the Red Sox roster was brimming with young starts in the making (Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester), and the minor league system promised more to come (Justin Masterson, Clay Buchholz).

The team was the envy of most organizations and the model to many.

Viewed through that same prism now, the Red Sox are barely recognizable. They just compiled their worst won-loss record in 47 years. They haven't won a post-season game since 2008 and haven't played a playoff game in the last three years.

Worse, for the second time in as many Octobers, the Red Sox will spend the first month of the off-season in search of a new manager.

Sustained success and stability seem like quaint notions from another era.

What happened?

For one thing, the Sox lost their way philosophically. Eager to maintain their high level of success (two World Series titles, two other trips to the ALCS in the previous five seasons), the Red Sox abandoned the practice of focusing mostly on homegrown talent.

The focus on being a "scouting and player development machine'' that former GM Theo Epstein has vowed to adhere to was suddenly discarded, with an eye toward TV ratings, marketing the brand and attracting more casual fans.

Moreover, the pressure to match the previous level of success led them to sacrifice top prospects (Masterson and Nick Magadone) for short-term gain (Victor Martinez).

But a depleted minor league system, coupled with underperforming (and costly) free agents -- John Lackey, Carl Crawford, Mike Cameron -- conspired to lead to a fallow period for the franchise.

In the end, 2012 may be regarded as the year the franchise bottomed out.

When the Red Sox unloaded Josh Beckett, Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Aug. 25, they did more than shed more than a quarter of a billion dollars from current and future payroll obligations.

They were also signaling a return to their roots.

The deal, aimed to give the franchise a re-set, also was a concession that the practice of handing out nine-figure contracts to free agents -- or, in the case of Gonzalez, recently-acquired, soon-to-be free agents -- was a losing proposition.

Even for a big market, high revenue team like the Red Sox, the club's free-spending ways proved particularly costly last winter. The Sox needed pitching to provide some depth to the rotation, but limited by the looming threat of the competitive balance tax (luxury tax), the Sox were unable to compete for such second-tier free agents as Hiroki Kuroda and Edwin Jackson.

When formerly front-line starters such as Lester and Buchholz stumbled badly and depth was in short-supply, the rotation imploded, sending the team on a downward spiral.

The blockbuster with the Dodgers was accompanied by public admissions from ownership and the front office that the Sox had lost their way and needed to return to a more "disciplined'' approach to spending.

It won't take long to put the Red Sox' new-found discipline to the test. The top two free agents this winter should come with warning signs: outfielder Josh Hamilton, a recovering addict, and starter Zack Greinke, who has battled a social anxiety disorder.

A more prudent course would have the Sox looking at more affordable, complementary players who could augment the core of players (Pedroia, Ellsbury, Will Middlebrooks), limit financial risk and help the Sox be more competitive in the short-term.

The organization's best prospects -- infielder Xander Bogaerts, outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. and pitcher Matt Barnes -- are considered a year away from being ready to contribute. But some short-term investments are needed to pull the club out of the basement for 2013.

If the team resists the lure of Hamilton and Greinke and returns to its original premise, a rebound might take longer, but could be longer-lasting.

ALCS: Judge, Sabathia help Yankees beat Astros, 8-1

yankees_aaron_judge_catch_101617.jpg

ALCS: Judge, Sabathia help Yankees beat Astros, 8-1

NEW YORK - Aaron Judge hit a three-run homer and a made pair of sparkling catches, leading CC Sabathia and the Yankees over the Houston Astros 8-1 Monday night and cutting New York's deficit to 2-1 in the best-of-seven AL Championship Series.

Sabathia allowed three hits over six scoreless innings for his first postseason win in five years. Todd Frazier hit a go-ahead, three-run homer for the Yankees, who stopped a seven-game ALCS losing streak dating to Sabathia's victory over Texas in 2010.

Sonny Gray starts Game 4 Wednesday on 11 days' rest, likely against Brad Peacock or Lance McCullers Jr.

Back in the Bronx after a pair of 2-1 losses in Houston, the Yankees led 8-0 after four innings. Houston scored on a bases-loaded walk in the ninth before postseason star Jose Altuve grounded into a game-ending double play with the bases loaded.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE

Brad Ausmus interviews with Red Sox, but Alex Cora appears frontrunner

Brad Ausmus interviews with Red Sox, but Alex Cora appears frontrunner

BOSTON — Brad Ausmus was the second person to interview to replace John Farrell as Red Sox manager, baseball sources confirmed Monday afternoon. The Sox are expected to interview Ron Gardenhire, the Diamondbacks' bench coach, as well.

But the net might not be cast too wide. More and more, it sounds like the Sox already know whom they want.

Astros bench coach Alex Cora, who met with Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski in New York on Sunday, appears the frontrunner to take the reins next year. The Athletic's Ken Rosenthal has reported that to be the case multiple times, and for some inside the Sox organization, that's a growing feeling as well.

MORE:

The criteria the Sox value most isn't hard to guess: a strong connection with players, an ability to incorporate data and analytics; and someone who can handle the market.

"I knew Alex for a couple of years before getting a chance to work with him and had tried to recruit him to work a few years ago and he had other options," Astros manager A.J. Hinch said Monday in New York, before Game 3 of the American League Championship Series against the Yankees. "To watch him develop relationships with the players, he's all about baseball. He's all about the competition and small advantages within the game, one of the brightest baseball intellects that I've been around. And to see him pass some of that on and transition from player to TV personality to coach, he's had a ton of impact.

"He challenges people. He challenges me. He's someone who's all about winning. And I think to watch our players respond to him, he's got a lot of respect in that clubhouse because of the work he puts in and the attention to detail that he brings. That's why he's the hottest managerial candidate on the planet and deservedly so."

Cora joined the Astros before this season.

Ausmus, whom Dombrowski hired in Detroit ahead of the 2014 season, grew up in Connecticut and went to Dartmouth. The 48-year-old spent 18 seasons as a big-league catcher, the last in 2010. He was working for the Padres before Dombrowski gave him his first shot at managing the Tigers. 

Ausmus went 314-332 in four years managing the Tigers, a more veteran team than might have been ideal for him as a first-time manager.

Ausmus pulled out of the running to interview with the Mets, per Jon Heyman of Fan Rag while Cora was expected to interview with the Mets on Monday or Tuesday, per the New York Post's Mike Puma.

What could change from here? One baseball source indicated a second interview with Cora was expected. Asked if he plans a second round of interviews generally, Dombrowski did not say.

"We have started the interview process," Dombrowski wrote via email. "I do not have any specific time frames at this point. Will wait and evaluate as we go through the process."

The Boston Herald's Chad Jennings first reported Ausmus' interview.

NBC SPORTS BOSTON SCHEDULE