The Boston Red Sox have designated third baseman Pablo Sandoval for assignment, ending a tumultuous tenure for one of the greatest free agent busts in baseball history. Sandoval, the overweight, oft-injured former World Series MVP was a fan favorite with the endearing”Kung Fu Panda” nickname in another life, but the Red Sox never got any of what made him so popular in San Francisco. The team is willing to eat the rest of his salary (pun intended, but almost too easy to acknowledge), and were willing to make him go away without getting anything in return, which speaks to just how bad he has been. Hopefully, the Red Sox will recognize what went wrong so the do not repeat the mistakes of this signing.
The blame game is never simple when evaluating acquisitions in Major League Baseball. Ben Cherington was the GM of the Red Sox in the 2014-15 offseason, when the Sox signed Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, and traded Yoenis Cespedes in exchange for Rick Porcello. But in order to cough up that kind of money, Cherington had to have the blessing of ownership, and former team president Larry Lucchino was still in the picture at the time. Lucchino was a great baseball executive, an inevitable and deserving Hall of Famer–from overseeing the building of two beautiful modern ballparks in Baltimore and San Diego to the renovation and revitalization of Fenway Park–but his track record of meddling in Boston’s baseball operation, particularly this decade, was not a great one.
Lucchino clashed with Theo Epstein, who left the Red Sox for the Chicago Cubs in 2011, and who will go down as baseball’s greatest executive since Branch Rickey. He brought in Bobby Valentine to replace Terry Francona, going from the best manager in Red Sox history to maybe the worst to manage a full season. He lowballed Jon Lester in contract extension negotiations, which set off a series of events that led to a player who never wanted to leave getting traded to Oakland at the 2014 trade deadline, signing with Epstein’s Cubs that winter, and being Chicago’s go-to big game pitcher in their 2016 World Series run.
The Sandoval signing had all the markings of a Lucchino move. He was a big name, one of of the most recognizable characters on a Giants team that had won the World Series three times in five years, including in 2014. Surely, he’d be just as marketable in Boston, right? Wrong. As it turns out, past success on a west coast team in the other league combined with never being able to stay on the field, and being absolutely terrible when you do play does not make for a marketable star in Boston.
Cherington left the Red Sox in 2015 and now works for the Toronto Blue Jays. He was replaced by Dave Dombrowski, the former Detroit Tigers GM with whom he made the Porcello trade. Lucchino retired in 2015, and now runs the Pawtucket Red Sox. Dombrowski inherited the Sandoval problem, but he did not make the third base situation any better by trading Travis Shaw for Tyler Thornburg, who still has not pitched for the Red Sox.
Nobody is innocent in this mess. Sandoval himself should have a better work ethic when it comes to keeping himself in shape. I’m not usually one for body shaming, but he’s a professional athlete. His job is to play baseball, and he has been well compensated for the poor job he did in Boston. San Francisco offered him a similar contract but with weight and health clauses written into it. The Red Sox did not hold him to that, and they got the player. It’s hard to feel sorry for the Red Sox as an organization when they sign a fat guy, and then are mad that he’s fat. Same thing when you sign an ace pitcher who has never won a start in the playoffs and is prone to social media meltdowns, and then are mad when he chokes in the playoffs and loses his cool with the media, social or otherwise.
For all their success this century, this is what the Red Sox are: constantly straddling the line between competence and dysfunction, between baseball decisions and marketing decisions, between joy and despair. This is what the Red Sox have been for a hundred years. They were the first dynasty of the 20th century, then they traded a young pitcher to New York, and he became the greatest power hitter of all time. John Henry is no Harry Frazee, and he may be one of the better owners in the game today, but he has had his share of slip ups to go along with his success.
The Red Sox may have broken through and broken the Curse, but they still have the DNA of the franchise that lost Game 7 of the World Series four times in 40 years. As great as David Ortiz was, and Pedro Martinez was, and Chris Sale is, and Mookie Betts is, they are always a couple of bad signings, or a couple of terrible trades away from it all falling apart. Such is baseball. Such is life.
The 2016 Major League Baseball season was one for the ages, capped off with an unforgettable World Series played between the Chicago Cubs and Cleveland Indians. It was a great year for baseball, I could not help but feel like my team, the Boston Red Sox, squandered a golden opportunity, when they were swept in the ALDS by the Tribe. The 2016 World Series, which featured a team built by Theo Epstein and a team managed by Terry Francona, and a half dozen other players between the two teams won earned World Series rings with Boston earlier in their careers, validated so many of my long held baseball beliefs, but was also a stark reminder that those people I believe in–particularly Francona, Epstein, Jon Lester, and Andrew Miller–are no longer with the Red Sox, and now, neither is David Ortiz. Where do the Red Sox go from here?
The David Ortiz Era is over in Boston, and what an era it was. Barring some kind of desire to play on always nagging feet again, and barring some kind of Instagram rumor being any more than that, we are more likely to see Dave Dombrowski or John Farrell go all Rick Pitino on the Red Sox press corps (Side note: having just re-watched that clip for the first time in a while, that press conference feels like a million years ago, but amazingly, Vince Carter is still playing in the NBA) than we are to see even one more Big Papi walk-off hit. The only David Ortiz highlights Red Sox fans should expect now are when the team retires his #34, when they induct him into the team Hall of Fame, and hopefully when the BBWAA votes him into the Baseball Hall of Fame (Although, I’m not sure when that will be. If it were up to me, Barry Bonds, Roger Clemens, Jack Morris, and Tim Raines would already be in Cooperstown, and Manny Ramirez would be elected in this year on his first ballot.). It would have been nice for Ortiz, the greatest playoff performer in Red Sox history and of of the greatest of all time, to get one last deep postseason run, but it did not happen. The pitching could not keep up with their hitting, and Cleveland’s pitching was really, really good. Now it’s time to pass the torch to a new generation in Red Sox baseball.
For a decade, Red Sox Baseball was all about David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, and Jon Lester. Ortiz is now retired, Lester is now going to be at least equally remembered for being a Chicago Cub as he was for his two stellar World Series winning performances with Boston, and while Pedroia is still here, I feel like going forward, it’s about the kids. Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts, and Andrew Benintendi are the present and the future of the Red Sox, and I am fine with that. These kids are alright, and I am really glad Dombrowski did not have to deal away any of them to get Chris Sale.
I have a feeling the Red Sox’ pitching will be better in 2017 than it was in 2016. I could be wrong, as I thought they were going to be better in the first half of last season than they were, but the way David Price improved in the second half was encouraging, even if he turned back into Playoff David Price in the playoffs. I think Rick Porcello had a great year, but he did steal the Cy Young Award from Justin Verlander. I have to agree with Kate Upton on that one. He has yet to pitch for the Red Sox, but I have wanted for years for them to make a run at Chris Sale. The guy has a bit of a nutty streak in him, best exemplified by that jersey cutting incident with the White Sox last summer, and every picture of him pitching on Google Images looks like his elbow is about to explode, but the dude can pitch, and pitchers with that kind of edge to them have done very well in Boston, from Clemens, to Pedro Martinez, to Curt Schilling, to Josh Beckett (when he cared), to Jonathan Papelbon, to John Lackey, and if any of that attitude rubs off on Price (Porcello showed a little bit of attitude last season too, which I liked), then everybody wins.
I would also be remiss if I did not take the time to mention that Clay Buchholz is no longer a member of the Red Sox, and I am as overjoyed as one can be about something that should have happened three years ago. Clay Buchholz is my least favorite Red Sox player ever, and my least favorite Boston athlete who never (to my knowledge) murdered anybody. Yes, he had good stuff, but his flashed of brilliance were not worth the frustration of injuries and poor performances when Boston needed him. I got off on the wrong foot with him when he first pitched brilliantly after being called up from the minors in the summer of 2007, even throwing a no-hitter in his second career start, but then the Red Sox had to shut him down when he was too fatigued to pitch in the playoffs. I knew he was trouble back then, and when he took a summer vacation in 2013 because his child slept in an uncomfortable position on his shoulder, and then pitched like he did not want to be there in the World Series, I was done. No player has ever done less to earn two World Series rings in Boston. The Red Sox traded Buchholz to the Philadelphia Phillies for a minor league prospect named I Don’t Even Care. All that matters is I do not have to root for him anymore.
Going into 2017, the Red Sox are, on paper, the team to beat in the American League thanks to the addition of Sale. I have my concerns about how sustainable their operation is, though. The 2016 World Series validated how good the people who made 2004, 2007, and 2013 happen were, but with each passing season, fewer of those people are working in Boston. Dave Dombrowski has no emotional connection to that era, and he has not been operating the way Theo Epstein and Ben Cherington were, for better or for worse. The biggest knock on Cherington, who was the initial replacement for Epstein, and a longtime assistant GM to Theo, was that he did not pull the trigger on trades of prospects. With the departure of Mike Hazen (who last year served as general manager under Dombrowski as president) to become general manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, the Red Sox are drifting towards a new philosophy from what helped them win in a bigger way than they have since Dan Duquette was still in charge of the baseball operation.
Dombrowski has shown a fearlessness in dealing prospects from the Red Sox farm system for Craig Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz (and even after the San Diego Padres were penalized for improper medical disclosure before the Pomeranz trade, the fact that Dombrowski did not try to renegotiate the deal to get Pomeranz for a lesser prospect than Anderson Espinoza remains a head-scratcher to me), and Chris Sale, which is on one hand refreshing, but at the same time worrying because when he was the GM of the Detroit Tigers, he strip-mined their farm system for an octogenarian owner who demanded the Tigers win now. The Tigers were among the best teams in baseball for a good stretch, even reaching the World Series in 2006 and 2012, but they never won it, and when it was clear they would have to rebuild, Dombrowski was out of a job, and here he is in Boston. The fact that he is operating the same way here as he did in Detroit makes me wonder if he learned from what went wrong there, and while he did have his share of trade success (Miguel Cabrera, Max Scherzer, and David Price, to name three), it’s not the most sustainable way to win consistently. I hope this is what Dombrowski is doing to put his stamp on the team, to make the roster his roster and not Ben Cherington’s roster anymore, but that every offseason is not what the 2015 and 2016 offseasons, with the farm system eventually getting depleted. That is a long-term concern, but it will not be a major talking point in 2017 if the young guys continue to hit.
The Boston Red Sox traded a highly touted pitching prospect to the San Diego Padres for left handed All-Star starting pitcher Drew Pomeranz yesterday. In Pomeranz, the Red Sox gain much needed starting pitching help, and a guy on a good contract under team control for two more seasons after this one. The trade off is that in bolstering their roster in the short term, they let Anderson Espionoza go, taking one more promising young pitcher away from an already depleted pitching system. Trading the future for the present, sacrificing a high ceiling for a known commodity, and doing these things swiftly are what separate Major League Baseball executives from guys like me with a laptop and constantly open tabs of Baseball Reference and Fangraphs. It’s not an easy decision, and in the end, it may not be the right one, but this is what the Red Sox pay Dave Dombrowski to do.
With this trade, Dombrowski is signaling to the Red Sox and their fans that he is going for it this year. Dombrowski has not even been President of the Red Sox for a full year yet, having been hired late late summer after being let go be the Detroit Tigers, and I did not expect him to have the kind of personal attachment to the roster that former GM Ben Cherington, who had been with the Red Sox in various capacities since 1999. This fresh perspective could cut both ways. He might be more willing to deal away prospects he does not believe in and has no attachment to because he did not draft them, but it might not matter to him that the Red Sox continue to compete at a high level while they still have fan favorites like Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. By dealing an 18 year old prospect like Espinoza for Pomeranz, Dombrowski parted with a prospect before anyone could find anything wrong with him, and it improves their chances for the second half of Big Papi’s final season.
The thing about prospects in every sport, but especially in baseball where there are so many rounds of the draft that it inspired one of the funnier Onion headlines of the last couple years, is that they’re not all going to make it in the Majors. Not every promising lefty out of high school becomes Madison Bumgarner, in fact most don’t. Ben Cherington fell in love with the guys he drafted. The Red Sox couldn’t possibly keep them all, but he let their stocks fall as they floundered in the minors or flamed out with the big league club, and that is why the Red Sox are in their current predicament. I think they overvalued the pitching talent they had in their farm system when they decided to low-ball Jon Lester in contract extension negotiations before the 2014 season, and they were left exposed in the starting rotation after they traded away Lester and John Lackey, who had led them to a World Series title the previous October. All this was happening while Ortiz and Pedroia weren’t getting any younger.
For all their shortcomings in the pitching department, the Red Sox have done an excellent job drafting and developing hitters the past few years. As much as I get on Cherington for not acting sooner on minor league pitchers like Henry Owens, the Red Sox were absolutely right to be patient and not make a panic trade involving Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, or Jackie Bradley Jr., all of whom appeared in their first-ever All-Star Game earlier this week. In those three guys, the Red Sox have the foundation for great lineups for years to come. The Red Sox offense far exceeded my expectations for this season, and kept the team in contention even with the pitching disappointing at every level from expensive free agent ace David Price to All-Star closer who cannot stay composed in a tie game Craig Kimbrel, to my least favorite Red Sox player ever Clay Buchholz (Seriously, I’ve been done with Buchholz ever since he was too fatigued to pitch in the playoffs as a rookie in 2007. No player has done less to earn two World Series rings in Boston in the 21st century.), but it’s July and for the first time since 2013, the season is not yet over.
This is the last chance the Red Sox have to make a playoff run with David Ortiz. Ted Williams might be the best hitter ever to wear the uniform, but the argument could be made, given the postseason success the Sox have enjoyed since Ortiz arrived in Boston in 2003, and given how many big hits in big moments the guy has had over the years, that Big Papi is the greatest Red Sox player ever. So much of what made him great happened in October, and failure to get there in his final season would be so disappointing. We just had to sit through a season of Kobe Bryant’s farewell tour from the NBA. Kobe, like him or hate him, is one of basketball’s all time greats and a five-time champion, but seeing him play out the string on a historically terrible Lakers team this year was just depressing, and I hate the Lakers.
The much more graceful exit this year was by Tim Duncan, who announced his retirement this week, and who never missed the playoffs in his 19 NBA seasons, all with the San Antonio Spurs. Duncan didn’t put us through a farewell tour, unlike Kobe or Ortiz, but right now the Red Sox have a chance to make Ortiz’ ending more like Duncan’s than like Kobe’s. In 2015-16, the Spurs set a franchise record, winning 67 games in the regular season, and while they did not even advance far enough to face Golden State in the Western Conference Finals, they showed they were as competitive as ever as Duncan became a supporting cast member on a TV show he created, wrote, and starred in for the first 19 seasons before passing the torch to Kawhi Leonard. In 2016, David Ortiz is still a valuable contributor, but wouldn’t another playoff run be the perfect ending before Bogaerts, Betts, and Bradley Jr. take ownership of the team going forward?
Drew Pomeranz probably isn’t the answer to all of Boston’s pitching woes, but the kind of thinking that led to him coming to the Red Sox that gives me hope the Red Sox can have a strong second half, and give the Greatest Designate Hitter of All Time the finale he deserves.
This Major League Baseball offseason has been terrific for trades and player movement, to the point that baseball is taking up time in the 24 hour sports news cycle during football/basketball/hockey season the way the NBA was during the middle of the summer when baseball was the only major sport playing games. The eager waiting of baseball fans everywhere for Jon Lester’s free agency decision did not have the ESPN flair of LeBron’s decision to take his talents to South Beach in the summer of 2010, but jokes about waiting for a new Pope, and anticipating red smoke if the lefty ace chose Boston and blue smoke if he picked Chicago (or orange smoke if he decided to take his talents to San Francisco, but they were out of the running before the Red Sox and Cubs) dominated Reddit and Twitter, and did not seem that far off from the reality of the situation. Not every offseason is this exciting, but 2014 has not disappointed, unless you’re a fan of the Orioles or Athletics (but even then, A’s fans must be used to Billy Beane’s wheeling and dealing by now, and they’ll be contending again soon enough).
One team that usually flies under the radar during the winter, and rarely makes waves during the regular season has been right in the thick of it this offseason, however. The San Diego Padres might not be good this year, but there’s more to talk about with that club than there has been in a while.
The Padres are one of those teams that you might forget are in Major League Baseball if you follow an American League team, and they’re not on the inter-league schedule. In recent years, the National League West has been dominated by the San Francisco Giants, and Los Angeles Dodgers, but the Arizona Diamondbacks (who beat the New York Yankees in seven games in 2001) and the Colorado Rockies (who actually beat the Padres in a one game playoff before eventually getting swept by the Red Sox in 2007) have both been to the World Series since Bruce Bochy, Trevor Hoffman and the late great Tony Gwynn led them to a National League Pennant in 1998, before being swept by the juggernaut Yankees. These days, Gwynn is in Cooperstown, but gone well before his time, and Bochy and Hoffman appear to be headed there eventually, with Bochy the skipper behind three World Series winning teams in the last five years, and Hoffman getting a new award for the National League’s best closer named in his honor, but none of them are doing anything to help the Padres right now.
The plight of small market teams in baseball is reflected in San Diego’s baseball club. Adrian Gonzalez was a good player for them, but they traded him to Boston in 2011 rather than sign him to an extension or lose him via free agency. This winter, however, the Padres went on the offensive with their trades, acquiring Matt Kemp from the Dodgers, Wil Myers from the Tampa Bay Rays, and Justin Upton from the Atlanta Braves, three outfielders with All-Star caliber bats. They also flipped veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan to the Red Sox for third baseman Will Middlebrooks. This is a low-risk trade that could potentially work well for both teams. Middlebrooks is a young player with plenty of power who gets injured almost as much as he strikes out, but a change of scenery could be good for him, especially since the Red Sox were ready to move on from him with the signing of World Series hero Pablo Sandoval earlier in the offseason. For the Red Sox, Hanigan is a local kid (from Andover, MA) who could play the role of mentor to young catcher Christian Vazquez, and replace David Ross (who signed with the Cubs to catch for Lester) as the team’s backup catcher.
The recurring theme seems to be a change of scenery, and there isn’t much better scenery than San Diego. I was always surprised that San Diego couldn’t attract free agents on its good weather alone, but it is exactly what these players need. Matt Kemp was a fan favorite and a legitimate superstar in Los Angeles, having been a two time All-Star, two time Gold Glover, and a two time Silver Slugger, but is now 30, and has had injury issues, and has fallen out of favor with the Dodgers. It’s interesting to note, though, that both Kemp and Dodgers owner Magic Johnson were mentioned by name in the Donald Sterling tapes, for being people that V. Stiviano had taken pictures with and posted to Instagram against Sterling’s approval. At any rate, it was probably time for Kemp to head south. San Diego should be a good change of pace after playing his entire career with the Dodgers.
Wil Myers was part of a big trade two years ago that sent pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Kansas City Royals. Myers, a top prospect in Kansas City’s farm system was believed to be a steal at the time, although Shields and Davis were a big part of the incredible, improbable, no joke, very exciting run to Game 7 of the World Series that Kansas City went on this past October. Myers was no slouch, either. He won the 2013 American League Rookie of the Year Award with Tampa, and at 24, still has a promising future ahead of him in the game of baseball. It may be a very Boston-centric sports take, but it might do Myers a lot of good to spend less time at Fenway Park. Myers made a costly error at Fenway in the 2013 ALDS, which helped kick off the Red Sox postseason success that year, and in 2014, he collided in the Fenway outfield with Desmond Jennings resulting in a wrist injury that would derail his season (as well as the Rays’ season, which resulted in Tampa trading David Price to the Detroit Tigers, general manager Andrew Friedman leaving to become President of Baseball Operations for the Dodgers, and field manager Joe Maddon leaving to become manager of the Cubs). With the Padres, Myers won’t even have to go to Fenway every season.
Justin Upton is another player who could use a change of scenery because things just weren’t working in Atlanta. The Braves had plenty of bats, but had poor plate approach as a team. Upton and his brother B.J. did not live up to the hype that came with them arriving in Atlanta the same year. After the Braves dealt Jason Heyward to the St. Louis Cardinals, it seemed as if they were ready to blow it up and start rebuilding.
It’s unclear at this time if the Padres will be good, but it’s the first time I can remember that there is buzz around the Padres in the offseason, and it just might lead to regular season buzz. At the very least, the Giants and Dodgers are looking over their shoulders because the division has a chance to be more than just a two team race in 2015.
All the talk at the Major League Baseball non-waiver trade deadline a month ago was centered around the bold acquisitions made by the Oakland Athletics and the Detroit Tigers, with the A’s acquiring Jon Lester from the Boston Red Sox and the Tigers acquiring David Price from the Tampa Bay Rays. While Oakland and Detroit have had their share of struggles since acquiring their lefty aces from the cellar of the American League East, another team has quietly risen to the top in the American League. It’s hard to quietly do anything with all the power the Baltimore Orioles have in their lineup, but they have much less hype than the other good teams this year, and they were built by a group just as eager to prove themselves as Billy Beane.
Baltimore Orioles general manager Dan Duquette and field manager Buck Showalter have both earned reputations in the game of baseball as being he guys who can take a bad team and make them a playoff team, but will lose their job before they take a step further and become a real championship contender. Duquette was previously the GM of the Montreal Expos, where he built the best team of the strike-shortened 1994 season after trading for a dynamic and diminutive relief pitcher named Pedro Martinez from the Los Angeles Dodgers, and turning him into a starter. Later, as GM of the Boston Red Sox, Duquette would trade for Pedro again, just as Martinez was entering the epic prime of his pitching career. Duquette also acquired Derek Lowe and Jason Varitek in a trade with the Seattle Mariners, and signed Johnny Damon and Manny Ramirez in free agency. Duquette was fired when the current Red Sox ownership group bought the team, and the narrative spun was that Duquette was the buffoon who let Roger Clemens leave as a free agent, when The Rocket had a solid decade of pitching at a high level left to do, but that was the Steroid Era, and conventional wisdom was being proven wrong all the time. With the team Duquette had already built, his replacement, Theo Epstein, inherited a much easier situation to turn around quickly than the one Epstein currently has to deal with in Chicago, because Duquette had already done most of the leg work in getting the Red Sox back to the World Series. It took Duquette ten years to get another GM position in Major League Baseball, but he has a pretty good thing going in Baltimore right now.
Buck Showalter managed the New York Yankees in the early 1990s, but was fired in 1995. In 1996, Joe Torre led the Yankees to their first World Series title since 1978, and they would go on to win it again in 1998, 1999, and 2000, and win the American League Pennant two more times in 2001 and 2003, helping Torre land in the Baseball Hall of Fame earlier this summer. After New York, Showalter managed the National League expansion franchise, the Arizona Diamondbacks, but was fired in 2000. In 2001, the D-Backs, led by ace pitchers Curt Schilling and Randy Johnson, were the team that knocked off the Yankees in a thrilling seven game World Series. Showalter managed the Texas Rangers from 2003 to 2006, but did not have a team with World Series potential. In 2010, he was hired by the Orioles, and has helped them get better and better. Right now, he and Duquette seem to make a really good team, and against all odds are running away with the AL East Division Championship.
Every team goes through adversity over the span of a 162 game regular season, but the Orioles have certainly had more than their fair share, but keep on winning. In a year when exciting young third baseman Manny Machado has taken a step backwards in his development and maturity, and they lost star catcher Matt Wieters to season ending Tommy John Surgery (a rare procedure for a catcher, but they have to make as many throws as the pitcher, so I guess it makes sense), they keep finding ways to score and keep finding ways to win. They’ve certainly been helped by the struggles of the Yankees, Red Sox, Rays, and Blue Jays this season, but saying that the division is weak would discredit what the O’s have done this year.
They may not have the starting pitching of Oakland or Detroit, but the Baltimore Orioles certainly have as good a lineup as any team in baseball. Even without Wieters, they have a deep core of hitting that includes Manny Machado, Chris Davis, Adam Jones, and Nelson Cruz. Those are four professional hitters that will make any pitching staff earn their money.
The thing about baseball is that it’s not all about pitching (and that’s why you hardly ever see a cleanup hitter traded away by a playoff team in the middle of the season, even if you’re getting a pitcher like Jon Lester in return), and it’s not all about hitting. It’s not all about the advanced statistics, and it’s not all about old school baseball wisdom all the time, either. You have to find a balance, and even then, something can go wrong. The beautiful thing about baseball is that it can’t be scripted, and you can have the best team all year, but be out of it in three games if the bats go cold. It’s all about getting hot at the right time, and while there’s still a month before the playoffs, it’s looking like Baltimore is the hot team in 2014. They’ve been through a lot, but this isn’t the year for the Orioles to be making excuses. They have plenty of solutions.
The Boston Red Sox have won the World Series three times in my lifetime, and that’s three times more than they won it in my grandfather’s lifetime. I am grateful for being able to see the great local baseball I have seen, and I will do my best not to take it for granted. The current Red Sox owners deserve a lot of credit for accomplishing what they’ve accomplished, between renovating and revitalizing Fenway Park as well is turning the club’s fortunes around, winning more titles than any other Major League team in the 21st century.
Each championship team was distinct. We had the Idiots of 2004, who were just dumb enough to end an 86 year drought that dated back to Babe Ruth’s pitching career and the Woodrow Wilson administration. We had the 2007 club that dominated the American League all season, and could so it all. And then we had the Band of Bearded Brothers in 2013, who took baseball by storm righting the wrongs of the recent years. Turnover is natural and healthy in baseball. By 2011 and 2012, there were too many satisfied and overpaid guys on the roster, and changes needed to be made. While I’m okay with parting ways with members of the 2013 team (like the Red Sox did yesterday, sending Jake Peavy to the San Francisco Giants), there is one guy they need going forward, that the Sox are in danger of losing because of their own hardball tactics. If Jon Lester gets traded this week or leaves in free agency, Red Sox fans will have every right to be angry with the team and have every right to turn on the ownership.
David Ortiz is the only player take part in all three World Series titles in Boston in the past decade, but the list of players to play on two of them is not that much longer: Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling, Kevin Youkilis, Mike Timlin, Jason Varitek, and Tim Wakefield were part of the ’04 and ’07 squads while Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz (although Buchholz did not play at all in the 2007 playoffs), and Jon Lester were part of the ’07 and ’13 championship teams. With Big Papi getting up there in age, and Pedroia under contract for the years to come, Lester should be the priority for the Red Sox, but they insulted him with an offer well below his market value during spring training. Lester has had a great season, and was one of only two Red Sox players selected for the 2014 All-Star Game in Minnesota last week (along with 39 year old closer Koji Uehara). He has been a model of professionalism and consistency, and has handled pitching in Boston, one of the toughest markets in North American professional sports, as well as just about anyone. The Red Sox have taken a step back, and the magic of 2013 seems like a distant memory, but one thing Red Sox fans have been able to take solace in has been how well the pitchers have pitched. Lester has been the ace and the leader in every sense of the word. Without him, the one certainty the Red Sox have anymore would be uncertain again. That does not bode well for the future.
The Red Sox have a lot of young pitching prospects in the system. The ones we have seen the most of so far have been Brandon Workman and Rubby De La Rosa, with Allen Webster (who, along with De La Rosa, was acquired from the Los Angeles Dodgers in the franchise-altering Josh Beckett/Adrian Gonzalez/Carl Crawford/Nick Punto trade of 2012) and Henry Owens in the big league club’s future plans. The thing about prospects is that they have plenty of upside on paper, but potential doesn’t always pan out. Remember Lars Anderson? Drafted by the Red Sox in 2006, we heard for years from the team and the writers who cover the farm system that he would be the power hitting first baseman of the future, but at 26, his rookie status is still intact and he’s playing in the Chicago Cubs’ farm system because it never happened. He has played in a total of 30 Major League games, has not reached the Majors since 2012, and has never hit a big league home run. Proven talent is always more of a certainty than unproven talent, and Lester is only 30, so he should have more than a few good years in his left arm. The young pitching talent could be good in the future, but to compete in the meantime, the Red Sox need Jon Lester, and he also doubles as the perfect role model for the young pitchers.
In a lot of ways, Lester has been underrated and taken for granted by Red Sox fans. Part of it is his consistency, but another aspect the near death experience he had earlier in his career that he recovered from so quickly. After a strong start to his rookie season in 2006, Lester was diagnosed with cancer. He fought it, and he beat it, and a year later he was pitching for the winning team in the World Series. It reminds me a lot of what Paul Pierce went through early in his career. In September of 2000, just two years into what has become a Hall of Fame career, Pierce was stabbed 11 times at a club in Boston, and needed surgery to repair his lung. In spite of that, Pierce played all 82 games for the Celtics that season, and with the exception of the 2006-07 season when the C’s were holding him out to try and improve their chances of drafting Kevin Durant, was an incredibly durable and consistent player during his 15 year tenure in Boston. Since his battle with cancer, Lester has been so good, people have largely forgotten what he went through, and the 2007 World Series was just the start.
In 2008 and 2009, Lester established himself as Boston’s best starting pitcher. While Josh Beckett held the honor of being the Opening Day starter both seasons, Lester was the guy Terry Francona wanted on the mound for the first game of the playoffs, a decision John Farrell also made when the Sox returned to the postseason in 2013. Lester has demonstrated a great ability to go blow for blow with everyone else’s ace pitchers whether it was rival turned teammate John Lackey, or “Big Game” James Shields, or David Price, or Max Scherzer, or Adam Wainwright. In a year when pitching has been the only thing to write home about for the Red Sox, Lester has been the best. If the Red Sox don’t pay a Jon Lester what he’s worth, there is no reason to believe they would do that for someone who has never pitched in Boston. They won’t replace Lester with Price or Scherzer.
Jon Lester has said that he wants to pitch for the Red Sox, but there are plenty of teams who are willing to spend money that would love to have him. The New York Yankees come to mind. He’s pitched well against them his whole career, and knows what it’s like to compete in the American League East. The Detroit Tigers could also be in play, especially if Max Scherzer leaves in free agency. Lester’s hometown Seattle Mariners, who are as close to being a contender as they have been in a decade with the offseason addition of Robinson Cano, might also make a push to acquire the Lester, and create a deadly one two punch at the top of their starting rotation with Felix Hernandez. If anything, it’s worth it to the Red Sox to overpay Lester so he isn’t pitching against him in pinstripes for the second half of his career. I don’t care how much it costs and I don’t care if they sign Lester for longer than they should, but the Red Sox cannot win in the next two or three years without him. The title of this post says it all. Pay this man. He’s earned it.