BOSTON — The 2018 playoffs mean a ton to the Red Sox because they might not have many more chances. Because management took a path that likely will wind up reducing the number of opportunities the Sox have at the postseason.
The window will not shut after this year, but you can see how easily it may begin to close. Craig Kimbrel is a free agent after this year. Chris Sale, J.D. Martinez and Xander Bogaerts are all potentially free agents after 2019. Mookie Betts is a free agent after 2020, and there is every expectation he will test free agency, unless the Sox decide to pay him the kind of money he would receive on the open market.
The farm system is thin, and the issue isn’t solely the fact that the Red Sox have traded away a ton of talent under Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. Dombrowski, in charge of the organization on a whole, hasn’t replenished their coffers, either.
The Sox won a franchise-record 108 games in a wonderful regular season. Dombrowski and ownership get a ton of credit for a marvelous year. But if the methods that produced that marvelous regular season amount to an unnecessarily shortened window without a championship in return, they may be asking themselves later on: was it worth it? Was this process correct?
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A championship this year, and no one could argue that things worked out. A failure to win a championship, and the overall approach will take center stage. How did we get here, and why?
In 2009, Theo Epstein — whose Cubs could be eliminated entirely on Tuesday, so what does he know? — spoke to Adam Kilgore (then of the Boston Globe) about the outset of the postseason. About the feeling of “watching the fates unwind.”
The interview is a reminder of the guiding philosophy the organization once had.
“There’s not a lot we can do at this point,” Epstein said nine years ago. “It’s interesting. I feel like some people watch the postseason and say, ‘Let’s see how good this team really is.’ I don’t feel that way. I feel like I know we’re a good team. I know what we’ve accomplished to get here over 162. I feel more like we’re watching the fates unwind.
“If you played the postseason 100 times, 50 times you might get bounced in the first round, and 25 times you get bounced in the next round, 12 times you might lose in the World Series, 13 times you might win the World Series. You’re not sure what you’re going to get.”
The 2018 Red Sox, no matter how many games they won in the regular season, are unsure as well.
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“Part of the thinking is that if you make the postseason multiple times, you improve your chances of making the World Series,” Epstein said. “I don’t believe in building a team with the season goal of winning the World Series, and the next year you look up, you’re old all of a sudden, you don’t have any options. ‘Now we’re a 75-win team. Hey, we won the World Series two years ago.’ It doesn’t work that way.
“We want to try to always operate with the broadest possible lens, so we have a solid foundation so that every year, or just about every year, we’ll be in a position to win 95 games and get in, and then trust our players, trust our manager, trust our coaching staff, trust our advanced scouting, trust our ability to perform under pressure to go win a World Series.”
The Red Sox don’t appear to operate with that philosophy anymore, not first and foremost. And that adds up to more pressure for the franchise to make good on this year’s lottery ticket, its entry into the postseason.