At The Ballyard ... with Steve Weissman

Monday, January 30, 2006

Sox Roster Overhaul a Masterstroke of Long-Range Planning

Remember when the Coca Cola Co. first introduced “New” Coke and then took it off the market claiming slow sales? The argument still rages as to whether this was a huge mistake or a masterstroke of long-range planning, for while the product no longer exists, the company’s mind- and market share both went up and stayed up.

The same question might be asked of the Red Sox, whose roster has been overhauled during the past few months. Franchise mainstays hit the road (e.g., Mueller, Damon) and were replaced by people whose health (e.g., Beckett) and viability (e.g., Lowell) may raise more questions than they answer.

But was all this a mistake, as some folks believe, a byproduct of the front-office disarray that drove GM wunderkind Theo Epstein to take his short-lived, well-publicized sabbatical? Or did it result from a remarkable ability to anticipate other teams’ needs and desires?

I don’t pretend to know what Epstein and his colleagues know. But I do find it interesting that the same logic that led them to jettison Edgar Renteria after one down season distinctly didn’t apply to the acquisition of Mike Lowell, who also had his struggles last year. I understand that taking Lowell’s contract off the Marlins’ hands was the cost of obtaining Josh Beckett. But on the face of it, the explanations seemed to be that Lowell would bounce back and Renteria wouldn’t, and that just doesn’t jive with the intelligent, careful reasoning that has characterized this Sox regime since it took control.

What does make sense is that the Red Sox knew they wouldn’t be able to re-sign Damon for the money they were prepared to pay; that they knew they wanted Coco Crisp to replace him; and that they knew the Indians wanted Andy Marte. So when Rafael Furcal bolted Atlanta for Los Angeles, the stage was set for the dominoes to fall as they did, even if the fine-tuning took a few days to work out.

“Chance,” Louis Pasteur once said, “favors the prepared mind.” In baseball terms, there have been few minds as well prepared as those on Yawkey Way this winter, and for this, the Sox are to be commended – even if half the club is new come opening day.

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