John Henry does not give Red Sox fans nearly enough credit. They're not angry about the payroll. They're pissed about the plan.
The reclusive Red Sox owner poked his head out Sunday in a pair of e-mailed interviews with The Athletic and Boston Sports Journal. Sounding equal parts wounded, defensive, and I'm sorry to say, delusional, Henry fired back at the "false narrative" surrounding his team.
He suggested he wasn't booed at the NHL Winter Classic despite witness accounts to the contrary. He asked why no one reported the standing ovation that closed the town hall of an otherwise hostile Winter Weekend. He cited Johnny Damon, Pedro Martinez, and Jacoby Ellsbury as popular players lost previously in free agency to suggest that Xander Bogaerts' departure was nothing new.
Putting aside the nod in the direction of "fake news!" by the owner of New England's biggest newspaper, Henry's responses entirely missed the point of why interest in his team has cratered and boos suddenly rain despite four World Series titles in 20 years.
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It's not that he's cheap -- although clearly the club has become more judicious in its expenditures. It's that we don't buy the plan.
The Red Sox are attempting to build a sustained winner, but there's skepticism that the farm system can support it. While we wait, we're being force-fed yet another stopgap roster prioritizing depth and versatility over talent, and we'll probably do it all again next year. Foundational homegrown stars keep walking out the door with little (Mookie Betts) or nothing (Bogaerts) to show for it.
The restlessness over the state of the team isn't simply a matter of spending, because they're not Rays North, not with a $200 million payroll. But that's not the point.
Maybe fans simply don't like the team because they think it kinda stinks and won't be able to compete in a loaded American League East.
Chaim Bloom's roster feels like mixing two sets of puzzles and then wondering why only half the pieces fit. Kiké Hernández is your best center fielder (and probably second baseman, too) and he's playing shortstop. Your best left fielder (Alex Verdugo) is playing right, because your new left fielder (Masataka Yoshida) can't play anywhere else.
Your best right fielder (Adam Duvall) is playing center, even though his hottest stretch of last season coincided with a move out of center because of the toll it was taking on his legs. Your starting catcher (Reese McGuire) is a career backup. Your backup catcher (Connor Wong) is a career minor leaguer.
In short, unless a lot of good fortune breaks your way, your team isn't remotely good enough to compete for a playoff spot, and it's hard to see how that changes next year or the year after, either.
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It's all about the plan. Lowballing Bogaerts and then desperately declaring him your No. 1 priority reflects a lack of planning. So does acquiring a series of middling prospects from other organizations since stealing Garrett Whitlock in the Rule 5 draft. So does failing to maximize assets last August at the trade deadline. So does being outmaneuvered on Jose Abreu. So does settling for the remainders in free agency because you need to field a roster and, oh man, it's already February.
The Red Sox have retrenched over the last three years, consistently thinking small. If Henry believes the criticism is unfounded, and that his club is actually in better shape now than it was following the 2021 American League Championship Series, he'll have a chance to prove everyone wrong on the field.
Forgive those of us who instead feel disheartened and depressed. Maybe we're believing the wrong narratives. Or maybe we simply don't like what we see.