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MLB Teams Unlikely To Succeed At Becoming Red Sox Copycats

November 15, 2013

Most observers would undoubtedly agree that fashion and sports make for odd bedfellows, especially considering some of the uniform designs now in vogue, but, in reality, they share a common trait. Neither industry makes an attempt to hide its copycat tendencies.

If it looks good or works for you, other people are going to see whether it works for them. More often than not, a trend becomes a fad and quickly fades into the background. Think beehive hairdos and leisure suits here. On second thought, forget that notion -- but you get the idea. 

The fashion world spins its different looks pretty much on an annual basis, though some of us may wait until a style is going out the door (you can think beehive hairdos and leisure suits again). In the sports world, sometimes it takes a little longer.

Those who haven't heard of former MLB player and manager Lou Boudreau probably think Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon invented the shift defense in baseball. Those who have figure Hall of Famer Ted Williams, who had a career .344 average with the Boston Red Sox, must be spinning in what serves as his grave seeing .250 hitters get the kind of respect he commanded back in the day. But we digress.

The bottom line is, we live in a world of copycats, which brings us to the 2013 edition of the Red Sox -- and how various teams will try to emulate them going forward. General manager Ben Cherington has been generally acclaimed as baseball's makeover artist of the year. Unlike Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette, who earned that distinction a year ago, Cherington was named Executive of the Year. 

In the meantime, a lot of people are being duped into thinking that the Red Sox underwent a complete reconstruction after the 2012 season by shopping in the bargain aisle of the free-agent market -- and thus, any other eligible team should be a candidate to go worst to first in its division.

But it wasn't quite that simple.

MLB 2013: Dustin Pedroia (Boston Red Sox)
Photo Credit: Mitch Stringer/PressBox

This wasn't strictly an offseason makeover. It started in August 2012, when Cherington decided that the model that former general manager Theo Epstein had left behind wasn't running on all cylinders. Cherington traded key personnel such as Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez and Josh Beckett to the Los Angeles Dodgers, complete with their gadzillion contracts. 

At the time the makeover began, the Red Sox were little more than an underperforming contender, wallowing around the .500 mark. It wasn't until after the trio departed that the Red Sox sank to the depths of last place in the American League East, ruining Fenway Park's 100th anniversary celebration -- but setting the stage for the 2013 revival. 

Cherington made more ripples than splashes as he waded into the free-agent pool, and one noticeable plunge ended up paying off only after catcher-turned-first baseman Mike Napoli flunked a physical because of a hip condition called avascular necrosis. When that happened, Napoli was left dangling without a multi-year offer and had to settle for a "puny" $5 million, one-year contract. The deal puts him back on the free-agent market this offseason, and considering Napoli's 2013 statistics -- he earned the full $8 million in incentives for his 2013 contract -- the Red Sox may have to at least duplicate last year's offer to keep him.

There are going to be some teams out there this year trying to do what the Red Sox did a year ago. One of them will be the Toronto Blue Jays, who traded up into near unanimous preseason favorite a year ago. But then injuries decimated the team, which fell into the last-place spot the Red Sox had held the year before in the AL East. 

Like the Red Sox, the Blue Jays started doing some housecleaning before the year ended. Toronto finished the year with sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion on the disabled list. Blue Jays ownership is said to be adopting the Dodgers' philosophy of overspending (yet another version of copycat) in an effort to erase the memory of the 2013 disaster.

Don't bet on any team being successful trying to copycat the Red Sox, whose 2013 foray into free agency was more like a leisure suit than the classic After Six fit.


In what appears to be a case of over-evaluating, the Red Sox showed their willingness to gamble by extending a qualifying offer of $14.1 million to shortstop Stephen Drew, despite having prized rookie Xander Bogaerts in the wings. Drew was a defensive marvel, but an offensive bust during most of the postseason. Still, the Red Sox would overpay for one year to give themselves protection -- or to get draft choice compensation should another team offer Drew a multi-year deal.

Interestingly enough, Drew might find a suitor in the St. Louis Cardinals, giving him the rare opportunity of going from World Series winner to loser in one year.


I can't help but wonder whether teams will restrain themselves when it comes to bidding for free agents coming off suspensions related to performance-enhancing drug use. Detroit Tigers shortstop Jhonny Peralta and Texas Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz both took their 50-game suspensions at the end of the 2013 season to protect their free-agent status (teams would be less likely to up the ante for somebody who had to sit out the first 50 games in 2014).

A year ago, in the same situation, left fielder Melky Cabrera made a deal with the Blue Jays for two years and $16 million. MLB officials keep bragging about how the league now has the toughest drug program in sports, but if teams don't show some restraint in dealing with abusers, what good is it really doing? 


San Francisco Giants starting pitcher Tim Lincecum is not part of the PED crowd, but one has to wonder how (or why) he, coming off back-to-back mediocre years, was able to command a two-year, $35 million contract from the Giants -- without even going through free agency. Of course, this is the same team just now ridding itself of a ridiculous six-year deal worth in the neighborhood of $120 million for starter Barry Zito. But then again, it is also the same team that won the 2010 and 2012 World Series. Go figure. Never mind, save you time.


Detroit Tigers starter Max Scherzer is the 2013 Cy Young heir apparent, but I can't help remembering when some were speculating that his inability to get through a lineup more than once would end up putting him in the bullpen.


One last thought: Boston closer Koji Uehara was one of the best stories of this postseason, and I remember him throwing the splitter when he was with the Orioles. But it wasn't the same pitch it was this year. And if he can keep his pitch counts low, he might last three or four more years.

Jim Henneman can be reached at

Issue 191: November 2013