Sunday, December 29, 2002

Mental Preparation

Now, don't get me wrong here: I'm not trying to emulate a doomsday cult's prognostications of the end of the world. Instead, I just want to help us prepare ourselves for what could be some ugliness ahead.

It's easy to say you're on board with the "this isn't your father's Oldsmobile" mantra regarding the less traveled path Epstein and the new owners are taking the Red Sox, but I'm not convinced many of us, myself include, are really prepared for what this path may very well entail.

''If the Yankees can spin a few guys off,'' one American League executive said, ''I wouldn't count them out [of dealing for Colon].''

That's a thought too horrible to bear for most Sox fans, but the threat of Colon also winding up in pinstripes is unlikely to force the Sox to deviate from their stance that they will not sacrifice both All-Star third baseman Shea Hillenbrand and young lefthander Casey Fossum to acquire a pitcher who could leave within a year as a free agent. …

The Sox' decision to hold that line - if indeed, they do - surely will be debated if they don't get Colon. It flies in the face of those who would argue that the window is closing on winning a championship while Martinez is still here and healthy, and the Sox should do whatever it takes. But it underscores the belief that unlike the previous regime, which couldn't resist throwing around huge sums of cash, the current ownership really believes there's another way (Edes, Globe).

OK. I'm 100% on board with that. I do believe the correct path to Red Sox victory is to focus on scouting and player development.

However, I realize how mentally unprepared I still am to deal with the immediate consequences of this new way. I'm like the guy who is talking the talk about losing some weight after the new year, but is really not prepared for what that means, namely, portion control and calorie cutting that more often than not will leave his stomach grumbling and a voice inside his head imploring, "eat, eat, just a little donut won't hurt you."

Know what I'm saying?

Have you thought about this scenario for 2003? Yankees do get Colon. Red Sox don't sign anyone beyond some minor league guys for the future. Yankees explode. Contreras is as good as expected, wins 25 games. Matsui hits close to .400 and by the All Star break the Yankees are already 14 games up. Meanwhile, the Red Sox are a solid team. They're playing better than .500 and are on a pace to finish better than '02. But it's not enough. By August the front office knows this is not the year and begins to shed big name players to teams who are in the playoff hunt for future prospects …

Are you ready for that? Well, you better get ready.

Again, I'm not writing off the 2003 season. After all California won the World Series last year with a payroll less than half that of the Yankees. Good things can and do happen. (But so do bad things.) Prepare yourself.

[Note: I'll be out of town today and tomorrow. Normal posting should resume on Tuesday.]