The Red Sox Are Who We Thought They Were, So Where Do They Go From Here?
October 10, 2016 — one year ago today. That’s when the David Ortiz Era came to an abrupt end at Fenway Park. For years, Red Sox fans had dreaded what the post-Ortiz Era might look like. Having been swept in the postseason in 2016 with Ortiz, it was hard to imagine that the 2017 squad could do much better without him. BUT BOY DID THEY PROVE US ALL WRONG, losing in FOUR games instead of three in the Division Series this time around.
Last offseason, knowing that they couldn’t just “replace” a guy like David Ortiz, and having seen what had happened in year-one of David Price’s seven-year, $217 million contract, the Red Sox went out and acquired perennial Cy Young candidate Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox. It was a move that proved to be well worth the asking price, regardless of what went down from the start of August through the end of the year. He’ll still finish top two in the American League Cy Young voting after becoming the second pitcher in Red Sox history to record at least 300 strikeouts in a single season, and had it not been for the decision to stick with him in the eighth inning of Game 4, he might’ve even been a postseason hero for his efforts on Monday.
But before Boston’s season could come crashing down around them for the second consecutive year in the ALDS, it first had to begin on April 3 at Fenway Park against the Pittsburgh Pirates. It seems funny now, given the year that he went on to have, but perhaps it might’ve slipped your mind that this game was started by none other than Rick Porcello. It makes sense, obviously, considering he was the reigning Cy Young award winner, but I’m gonna go out on a limb here and assume that we’ve seen Porcello’s last Opening Day start for as long as he shares a clubhouse with Sale.
Sale’s big unveiling would come on the following night, a night in which the Red Sox would win on a Sandy Leon walk-off home run in 12 innings. Boy, was that a sign of things to come. One of the big hot button topics on sports radio early in the season was about the team’s identity. What’s their identity? Who’s the leader of this team? As far as leadership goes, I think that’s still a very fair question to ask, especially with the fate of their manager John Farrell having yet to be decided. But their identity? They were a team that won late, and they were a team that won often when it took more than nine innings to decide a winner. Resilient, one might say. That just wasn’t the case in October, unfortunately.
And sure, there were a handful of positives in 2017 — Sale having a historic and Cy Young-worthy season, Craig Kimbrel having one of the most dominant years ever by a Red Sox reliever, Andrew Benintendi having a strong rookie campaign, Drew Pomeranz shocking the world with a really good season, Mitch Moreland surprising us with a good year as a low risk free agent signing, Christian Vazquez finally proving that he can swing it a little bit, and Rafael Devers making his presence felt as a 20-year-old rookie.
But other than that? Mookie Betts took a step back, Jackie Bradley Jr. took a step back, Xander Bogaerts took a tremendous step back, Hanley Ramirez fell well short of expectations, Dustin Pedroia’s season was marred by injuries, Eduardo Rodriguez once again battled knee problems that directly impacted his performance, Porcello had one of the worst (if not the worst) seasons ever by a reigning Cy Young award winner, David Price’s elbow landed him on the disabled list twice which caused him to miss two thirds of the season, Steven Wright needed season-ending surgery, Brock Holt dealt with vertigo and had his worst year ever, Pablo Sandoval was so bad that the Red Sox paid him $50 million just to get rid of him, Chris Young went from the guy whose only job was to hit lefties off the bench to not being able to hit lefties at all, and the Red Sox pretty much went the entire year without ever establishing who their 8th inning guy was.
Remember Tyler Thornburg? That dude was supposed to be the 8th inning guy to replace Carson Smith, who was supposed to be their 8th inning guy last year. Thornburg didn’t throw a single pitch for Boston this year, and while it was a small sample for Smith after his return from Tommy John surgery (6.2 innings), he didn’t allow an earned run until his final appearance of the season in eight appearances. Still never really was their 8th inning guy, though.
The Red Sox acquired Addison Reed to be their 8th inning guy, but he was kind of used all over the place and not just in the 8th inning, or apparently trustworthy enough to be used in that spot in the postseason. And let’s not forget Matt Barnes, who Farrell tried to make into their 8th inning guy, too, but by the end of the year, wasn’t even good enough to crack the postseason roster. Joe Kelly got a crack at the 8th inning role, but that didn’t stick, either.
It’s going to be a long and interesting offseason, one would think. This might sound like a knee jerk reaction, but I think major changes are coming for this team. They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Do I think that they should fire the manager? Don’t care, really. I think there’s a real chance that they do fire Farrell, but that’s not going to make Red Sox starters pitch better in the postseason, and it’s not going to fix an underwhelming offense in the regular season. Sure, they were tenth in the majors in run scored (785), which is nice to be in the top third of the league, but that’s quite a fall from leading the majors with 878 runs last year.
Of the ten players who played at least 75 games with the Red Sox in 2017, only one of them, ONE OF THEM, had an OPS north of .800, and it was Mookie Betts, who had an .803 OPS, barely over the threshold, and he went into the last game of the season with a .795 OPS. The offense needs more power. Clearly. But how do you fix that? Moreland is a free agent, so there’s an opening at first base, but every other position is locked down going into 2018 barring any trade. Does Eric Hosmer put this team over the top offensively? All due respect to him — he’s a really good and durable player — but I don’t think that he’s the middle of the order bat that’s going to put this team over the top in that regard. Still wouldn’t mind having him, though.
The name JD Martinez is going to get thrown around a lot, solely because he’s the top free agent bat on the market this winter. Does he put you over the top? Well, if he has the kind of year that he had between the Tigers and Dbacks this season, then absolutely. However, I’m always weary about guys who have career years in their walk year. Bit of a red flag. He’d help out your lineup tremendously, but at what cost? Cost being the financial commitment it would take to sign him after the year that he’s had, and he’s an outfielder…so, who of Benintendi, Bradley and Betts are you moving to make room for him?
And if you’re going to move an outfielder to make room for an impact bat, you might as well shoot for the moon. You might as well go all in for the big one. You might as well go out and get Giancarlo Stanton. Fuck it. Why not? Because guess what? If you don’t make a play for Stanton, you’re now running the risk of allowing him to be dealt to the Yankees instead, and you bet your ass they’re going to try. Not only are they going to try, but they have the pieces to get it done. And not only do they have the desire to acquire him and the pieces to get it done, but in case you haven’t heard, Miami’s brand new owner has a pretty good relationship with the Yankees. Imagine Stanton and Aaron Judge in the same lineup? Have fun playing in that Wild Card game, Boston.
Everyone likes to think that the most recent peak period of the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry was reborn during the 2003 season, but the first shot was fired in the offseason prior to that year when the Yankees beat out the Red Sox in a bidding war for free agent prize, Jose Contreras. Contreras ended up being a dud and was dealt a year and a half into his Yankees tenure, but that was the spark that ignited the flame between Boston and New York once again. Could a bidding war for Stanton reignite the flame once again this winter? Time will tell.
The main takeaway here is that the Red Sox, quite simply, as they are currently constructed are not good enough to win a championship. This is not a hot take. We could’ve said this back in March when the Red Sox were inaccurately listed as co-favorites to win the World Series. They weren’t better than Cleveland, and now we know that they’re not better than Houston, either. Fire the manager. Knock yourself out. But this team isn’t going anywhere in October without some major shakeups on the 25-man roster. I’m talking Benintendi, Bogaerts, Bradley — all names that you shouldn’t be shocked to see come up in trade rumors this offseason. I’m certainly not advocating that they all be dealt, but nobody should be off the table when it comes to exploring all avenues to improve this roster.
Remember when fans used to sleep outside on Lansdowne Street just for the CHANCE to buy playoff tickets? Yeah. Good times. Anyways, tickets were still available for the home playoff games the day of and hours leading up to the games, which means that the Red Sox have to know that they can’t ignore this problem. Yeah, they won the division again, but this is Boston. The fans couldn’t give a fuck less about division titles if they lead to immediate postseason exits. This isn’t Atlanta.
Every year, the expectation is to contend for a World Series title. Of course, winning the World Series every year is completely unrealistic, but with the highest ticket prices in baseball (and climbing once again next year!), the fans deserve a team that can at least compete for a championship, and this group wasn’t it. Last year’s group wasn’t, either. Or the year before that. Or the year before that.
The 2017 Red Sox were exactly who we thought they were — a team that was good enough to get there, but that was about it. There were no surprises here. They were good enough to beat out the Blue Jays, Orioles, Rays and Yankees for the AL East crown, and they did. But when they drew the Houston Astros in the first round, they weren’t good enough to win more than one game in that series, and that’s all they did. Good luck, Dave Dombrowski. You’ve got your work cut out for you this offseason.