I've done a lot of yapping around here about how the Red Sox haven't made a single midseason prospects-for-veteran trade in the past decade, and how that precedent should encourage us to proceed with *extreme caution* as we consider a trade for Roy Halladay today, as it was set by perhaps the best-run franchise in the sport.
Since I had a little time to kill, I thought this deserved a fuller analysis. Let's take a closer look at the Red Sox of 2005, the year after their first World Series victory. Here are the basic facts.
Despite winning a title, going into 2005 the Red Sox had not yet become the juggernaut and model franchise they are today. For one thing, the 2005 Red Sox were freakin' old. Their three best position players were Manny Ramirez (age 33), David Ortiz (age 29), and Jason Varitek (age 33). Pitching-wise, Pedro Martinez signed with the Mets in the 2004-05 offseason, and Curt Schilling suffered through an injury-plagued 5.69 ERA season at age 38. The average age of Boston's starting lineup and its five best starting pitchers (not including Schilling) was 32.
Also, the Red Sox had a good, but not yet elite, farm system. Here's Baseball America's analysis of their farm system as of November 10, 2004. Their top ten prospects were, in order: Hanley Ramirez, Brandon Moss, Jonathan Papelbon, Jon Lester, Anibal Sanchez, Dustin Pedroia, Luis Soto, Kelly Shoppach, Abe Alvarez, and Manny Delcarmen. They also had a young Kevin Youkilis, although he played too much as a part-timer in 2004 to qualify as a "prospect" (99 OPS+ in 248 AB at age 25 in '04).
Finally, on the field, the 2005 Red Sox were a very good, but not dominant, team. While they led the American League in scoring, they had the AL's fourth-worst team ERA. They ended the season with a 95-67 record (.586 winning percentage), and their five-year winning percentage coming into 2005 was .560. (By way of comparison, the Phillies have a .579 winning percentage so far in 2009, and their five-year winning percentage coming into the season was .543.)
Now here's where the comparison breaks down a little: I don't remember if any bigtime pitchers were on the block in July 2005, but none were traded. In any event, the Red Sox made no major trades at the deadline. At the end of the regular season, three teams were tied for the second-best record in the league at 95-67 (Yankees, Red Sox, and Angels). The Red Sox were assigned the wild card slot on a tiebreaker, and played the 99-63 White Sox in the first round. The White Sox swept them out, 3-0. Game 1 was a blowout, but Games 2 and 3 were close ones that basically could have gone either way.
What I observe is that despite having an aging team with real weaknesses going down the stretch, and despite having a fair number of prospects and other young unproven players that had real trade value, the Red Sox didn't panic. There was no sign that they believed they needed to sacrifice the future for the present to take advantage of some "window of opportunity." Instead, they stayed calm and stayed the course. While they lost in the playoffs that year, they lived to fight another day. And as we all know, they eventually went on to win another World Series two years later, and continue to be a franchise that's in great shape for the long term, likely to contend as far as the eye can see. Some of the most crucial contributors on both the 2007 team and the 2009 team include Youkilis, Papelbon, Lester, Pedroia, and Delcarmen.
[Side note: Yes, it's true that the Red Sox later traded away Hanley Ramirez and Anibal Sanchez. However, they did not do so at the trade deadline, but during the offseason when the market is much more sane. They also traded those guys not for an aging veteran who had declared that he was dead set on testing the FA market in the near future, but rather, for a young stud pitcher, Josh Beckett, who hadn't yet even reached his prime years and who was open to signing - and ultimately did sign - a contract extension (not to mention they also got Mike Lowell). It also must be noted that this trade happened during Theo Epstein's brief hiatus from the GM position with the Red Sox. Epstein might not have made that trade himself, and although the Red Sox probably aren't sorry about it today, who's to say that they still wouldn't have won a World Series if instead of Beckett, they'd had Hanley Ramirez with his 145 OPS+ at shortstop in place of Julio Lugo? That lineup would have been downright terrifying.]
So, there are some real parallels here. In 2005, Boston was older than we are in 2009. Their pitching was worse than ours is in 2009. The quality of their farm system was comparable to ours in 2009. It's true that they didn't have the opportunity to go after a Halladay-type in 2005. But let's say they had had that opportunity, and the guy they acquired had then left a year-and-a-half later. Maybe that guy would have brought them a championship during his brief tenure there... but maybe he wouldn't have. What's clear is that despite their advanced age, the Red Sox did not just have a short window of opportunity to win. To the contrary, they were a team on the verge of a very long, extended period of title contention. They acted like they could be good forever, and today, they do, in fact, have a real shot at being good forever. But if they didn't have Papelbon, Lester, or Beckett (who I see as being closer to a continuation of Ramirez the prospect, than to a "cashing in" of Ramirez the prospect, for the reasons mentioned above), that wouldn't be the case.
The typical counterargument to all this is that we can't emulate the Red Sox because they're richer and smarter than we are. But that's kind of a fallacy. Yes, the Red Sox are richer than us, but the margin isn't that huge. In April, Forbes magazine ranked them as the third richest team in MLB, with $269 million in annual revenue. But we weren't that far behind: the Phillies are #7 in MLB, with $216 million in annual revenue. More to the point, while a $53 million difference in revenue is big, what's even bigger is the difference between Boston's competition and our competition. The Yankees have $375 million in annual revenue, but the Mets are more than a hundred million dollars behind them at $261 million. Also, how do you think the Red Sox got to be so rich? It wasn't always thus. While the Phillies will never have the nationwide following Boston has, they can become a much bigger revenue-generator if they have a sustained period of success. The cachet that comes from being a "name" team is quite valuable in terms of merchandising, road gate, and so forth. That gap between us and Boston can close to some degree.
As for whether or not we're smarter than the Red Sox: I'll concede that I think much more highly of Theo Epstein than Ruben Amaro (though Amaro's done some good things in his short time as the man in charge - I do think Ruben's smarter than a lot of other GMs out there who aren't named Theo Epstein). But I think the right way to approach this "problem" of "not being smart enough" is to act smarter and to advocate that the team act smarter, not to intentionally advocate that the team act dumb on the theory that if they don't, then it'll be fated to act even dumber than that down the road.
So all I'm trying to say here is: Don't give up too much for Halladay. We can win titles after 2010-11 if we just act like we want to win titles after 2011. Don't just "go for it." Don't just "git 'ur done" (stupidest, most annoying phrase ever). Either make a trade that's defensible on its own merits irrespective of the time element, or don't make a trade at all. Time is not of the essence. Do not overpay talent out of a misplaced sense of urgency. There is no window.