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The Red Sox Way: Using free agency efficiently

The SportsXchange

ORLANDO, Fla. - Back in 2004, the Red Sox Way was blending new-age baseball statistics with old-school scouting acumen to produce the franchise's first World Series title since 1918.

The Red Sox still believe in stats and scouting, but they have thrown a new wrinkle in how to build a championship club.

When the Red Sox won their third World Series title in 10 seasons by beating the St. Louis Cardinals in six games in October, they were lauded for building a team through free agency without overspending on any one player.

That approach - along the Red Sox winning it all one year after finishing last in the American League East - is why general manager Ben Cherington was named the Major League Baseball Executive of the Year by The Sporting News.

"It was the result of the situation we were in," Cherington said as baseball's Winter Meetings began at the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel. "We needed to fill a number of holes and we weren't going to be able fill them all by paying top-of-the-market price at each position. We looked for players who we felt filled our needs and wanted to play in Boston. It worked out well for us."

It certainly did.

The Red Sox signed a total of seven free agents last winter: right-handed starter Ryan Dempster, shortstop Stephen Drew, left fielder Jonny Gomes, first baseman Mike Napoli, catcher David Ross, right-handed reliever Koji Uehara and right fielder Shane Victorino.

All seven players make significant contributions toward the title, and the Red Sox paid a total of $101.45 million to them. By comparison, the Seattle Mariners will pay $240 million over the next 10 years to second baseman Robinson Cano after agreeing to terms with him last Friday in free agency.

However, other GMs aren't quite ready to say that Cherington's way is going to become the hot new method of building a championship club.

"Ben did a great job and the reason he did a great job is he signed the right players," Los Angeles Angels GM Jerry Dipoto said. "It's hard to sign seven players and hit on all of them, that just doesn't happen in this game. The Red Sox did a great job and everything fell into place for them."

Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon's team finished second to the Red Sox in the American League East this past season. He, too, admires how Boston was able to go from worst to first in one year's time.

The Rays have made the postseason in four of the past six seasons despite having the lowest revenues in the major leagues, so Maddon understands the importance of good decision making. However, he makes one very basic point about the Red Sox's free agent jackpot from last winter.

"They did a great job of building a World Series champion, but there are a lot of clubs who can't lay out $100 million in one winter," Maddon said. "That's still a lot of money."

Indeed, that could be the biggest hurdle for a lot of clubs trying to build a championship the Red Sox Way.

"A lot of things have to line up just right to do the kind of job that Ben did last winter," said Pittsburgh Pirates general manager Neal Huntington, who played on the baseball team at Amherst College with Cherington. "First, you need a lot of holes to fill. You also need to have the resources to be able to fill those holes. Then you have to be right about all the players you sign and it's hard not to miss on someone.

"I just think we're not going to see what the Red Sox did last offseason happen anytime soon. It's a testament to Ben and his staff. They did a great job in a unique circumstance."

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