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Red Sox pinch pennies after beer-soaked collapse

Jeff Passan
Yahoo Sports

Editor's note: Yahoo! Sports will examine the offseason of every MLB team before spring training begins in mid-February. Our series continues with the Boston Red Sox.

2011 record: 90-72
Finish: Third place, AL East
2011 final payroll: $174.1 million
Estimated 2012 opening day payroll: $167 million
Yahoo! Sports' offseason rank: 6th
Hashtags: #bobbyv, #theyankeeway, #bouncebacks, #ellsburygonnagetpaid, #newbullpen, #shortstopfail, #newGM, #busy, #middlingowners, #beerandfriedchickenistooeasyahashtag

Offseason action

Halfway through this offseason, a competing executive looked at the Boston Red Sox's relative inactivity and mused: "They've got to do something, right?" He was reminded that the Red Sox lost a general manager, fired a manager, watched ownership nudge the new manager into place and came off a year in which they spent nearly $300 million on two players.

"Yeah, but they're the Red Sox," he retorted. "So what?"

He had a point. In the previous five offseasons, the Red Sox spent $514,475,500 on free agents. This year, they have lavished $7.35 million – $3 million for a year of Cody Ross, $3 million for two years of Nick Punto and $1.35 million for a year of Kelly Shoppach. Yes, there have been trades – three for relief pitchers – and a slew of minor-league signings, which the Red Sox hope will fill out their rotation in the same way New York did last season with Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon. Overall, however, the Red Sox are for better or worse the same team that stunk in April, thrived in May through August and saved its nadir for September.

The trade for Andrew Bailey was the most significant of the three, landing Boston a legitimate-as-long-as-he's-healthy closer to replace the departed Jonathan Papelbon. The price of promising starter Raul Alcantara and outfielder Josh Reddick wasn't usurious, as the surfeit of available closers made getting one this offseason a bargain.

All it took to get setup man Mark Melancon from Houston was Jed Lowrie, who still hasn't proven his everyday chops and will turn 28 in April, and starter Kyle Weiland, overmatched during Boston's meltdown last season. And the acquisition of Clayton Mortensen was more of a salary dump of Marco Scutaro – an odd salary dump with no other everyday-capable shortstop on the roster – than anything.

With $26 million worth of starting pitching recovering from Tommy John surgery – that would be Daisuke Matsuzaka and John Lackey – the Red Sox entered this offseason in a position similar to where the Yankees found themselves half a decade ago: loaded down by big contracts that can turn brutal with poor health.

[ Related: Former Red Sox pitcher says he used cocaine before most of his starts ]

The potential rotation replacements include everyone from Vicente Padilla to Aaron Cook to John Maine to Rich Hill. At least one will stick, maybe two if Daniel Bard's bullpen-to-rotation transition goes like Papelbon's did in 2007. And all the Red Sox can do is pray the rest of the rotation stays healthy, as Clay Buchholz's bum back last season threw Boston's plans into flux.

Their one remaining order of business: go to arbitration with David Ortiz within the next week, an uncomfortable-if-expected proposition should they fail to bridge the canyon between his $16.5 million request and their $12.65 million offer. Ortiz begrudgingly accepted arbitration knowing the DH market was cratering, and he'll return to Boston for at least one more season, the most expensive piece in Boston's thrift-store offseason.

Reality check

As much as it strains credulity that Boston – a team that would fetch well over a billion dollars on the open market – yearns to stay under the luxury tax and sheds a few million dollars to reach that mark, it's where ownership stands at the moment and something that continues to separate New York from Boston.

The Yankees care about responsibility, but only to a point. They may not go wild spending every offseason; they also never give a player away to free up some cash. The prospect of the Red Sox starting the decent-hit, bad-field Mike Aviles or the can't-swing, great-glove Jose Iglesias at shortstop instead of Scutaro can be read one of two ways:

1. The Red Sox adore their everyday lineup enough that they can survive a weak position.

2. What the hell?

Boston hasn't produced an impact player since Buchholz arrived in 2007. It's a tremendous drought for an organization that grew one of the game's best talent trees. Accordingly came the $82.5 million for Lackey and $142 million for Carl Crawford, who won't be ready for opening day after January wrist surgery.

[ Related: Boston star Kevin Youkilis is engaged to sister of Tom Brady ]

Among Crawford, Buchholz and Kevin Youkilis, the Red Sox have a handful of players who should perform better than they did last season. Whether Jacoby Ellsbury again plays at an MVP level and Ortiz continues to defy time and history and Beckett and Lester can succeed after the embarrassment of the beer-and-chicken revelations from the end of the season could differentiate between a 90-win team and one that threatens triple digits.

The Red Sox certainly are that talented, even in the butcher's shop that is the AL East. They may not have spent money, but there's a compelling argument to support that course of action: They may not have needed to.

[ Fantasy: Four Pressing Questions for the Boston Red Sox ]

Savior

So far, so good for Bobby Valentine. No enemies (yet). No feuds (gone public). No problems (for now). Hey, it's been only a few months, and problems don't often manifest themselves this early in a relationship, but Valentine has endeared himself to the Red Sox and their fans, and that's a good start considering his ability to put people off. It's just an offseason, of course, and just cursory relationships instead of the deep interpersonal connections that matter to players. He's yet to make any on-field decisions that lead to results that ultimately dictate a manager's popularity. Still, it's a good start, the sort the Red Sox could use after their chaotic end to '11. New manager. New GM. New start. Best of all, new year.

Red Sox in Haiku

Beer and Fried Chicken
Delicious combination
And awesome band name

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