Incentive Key Ingredient In Ď10
Heading into the 2010 season, the Red Sox have one obvious and distinct advantage over virtually every other team in baseball: a monopoly on incentive.
From David Ortiz to Bill Hall, the Sox roster is loaded with players who have something to gain by having healthy and productive seasons, be it playing time, performance bonuses or a new contract.
The general rule of thumb in sports is that when a player has an incentive to perform well, he is more motivated and works harder, particularly if heís in the final year of a contact. Recent history offers numerous examples of players who excelled under such circumstances.
In his final year with the Dodgers in 2004, Adrian Beltre hit .334 with 48 home runs, 121 RBIs and a 1.017 OPS while playing half his games in pitcher-friendly Dodger Stadium. After that season, the Seattle Mariners signed Beltre to a five-year, $64 million contract.
The Red Sox have seven players who could be eligible for free agency following this season, including Beltre and Mike Lowell.
While itís unrealistic to expect that every player who hopes to have a good year will put up big numbers, any GM or manager will tell you that a hungry player with something to prove will help his team win games.
No player on the current roster fits this profile better than Jonathan Papelbon. As good as the Red Sox closer has been during his first four full seasons in Boston, 2010 could be his best year yet. Papelbon has pledged to use his meltdown in Game 3 of the ALDS vs. the Angels last October as motivation to up his performance.
Incentive often manifests into healthy competition and the 2010 Red Sox are no exception. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey, all legitimate aces, will be motivated to try and outduel each other every time they take the mound.
Meanwhile, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield and Clay Buchholz will battle for the remaining two spots in the rotation. The fact that one of these hurlers will be the odd man out will make each pitcher a more determined competitor.
It would be a mistake to assume that the Red Sox are substituting incentive for talent. On the contrary, Theo Epstein constructed the 2010 team with the idea of incentivizing talented players in mind.
Red Sox Nation was largely indifferent about the signing of Mike Cameron, a Gold Glove-caliber center fielder with power. Perhaps Red Sox fans would have been more excited about the addition of Cameron if they had considered the motivating effect heíll have on Jacoby Ellsbury, and vice versa.
Itís impossible to quantify just how much of a boost the Red Sox will receive from injecting so much incentive into this yearís team. No sabermetrician, no matter how many new statistics he creates, could feasibly explain human motivation.
Even if it were possible, injuries and struggles usually pop up over the course of a long season and challenge the best-laid plans.
No other teams around the league, particularly Bostonís chief rivals, can match the Red Soxí unique combination of talent and motivation. But will it be enough to vault the Red Sox back atop the baseball world?
That question will begin to be answered on April 4 at Fenway Park against the Yankees.
Justin Booth is a diehard Red Sox fan living in Brookline, MA and uses his above average writing skills to opine about his favorite team. He can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column was written on March 12, 2010.