The return of your father's Red Sox
Xander Bogaerts stepped to the dais, placed a cap on his head and wrapped a crisp white jersey – number 2, naturally – over his suit. “This team really wants to win, and you can see how close it is,” said the mercurial shortstop, ink drying on an 11-year, $280 million contract. “I’m looking forward to playing the rest of my career here.”
It was a moment Red Sox fans had envisioned for months, if not years – the face of their franchise, a homegrown icon, finally getting paid. In those Boston daydreams, the cap was navy blue and the jersey was piped with red. The dais was at Fenway Park, and the contract cemented Bogaerts’ legacy as a lifelong Red Sock. In reality, though, Bogaerts’ coronation was a nightmare for Red Sox fans. The cap was brown with yellow insignia, the jersey white with yellow accents. The dais lay 3,000 miles to the west of Lansdowne Street – in San Diego, California. After 13 years in the Red Sox’ organisation, Xander Bogaerts was a Padre. The sky fell in over New England.
To some, Bogaerts’ departure was a shocking revelation, but to others – those more attuned to the Red Sox’ demise – it was sadly predictable. The failure to secure Bogaerts, their best shortstop since Nomar Garciaparra, was redolent of a bygone age, when everything the Red Sox touched turned to trash. Indeed, even after winning four World Series championships this century, the Red Sox remain fatally flawed. A dull, familiar stasis has replaced the must-win culture of yore, and four chaotic years have passed since the last duck boat parade.
Sure, the Padres were dumb to give Bogaerts 11 years, but the Red Sox’ reticence to look after their de facto captain affirmed their existential crisis. There was a finality to losing Bogaerts, a stark realisation that Boston is no longer The Hub of contemporary baseball. In fact, the latest bout of intransigence underscored a prevailing narrative: the return of your father’s Red Sox – a ransacked ruin prone to terminal stupidity.
The Red Sox were never cursed; they were just historically incompetent
Of course, for 86 years, between 1918 and 2004, this is how life went for the Red Sox, who failed to win a single World Series title in that span. Amid bad breaks, disastrous defeats and chronic collapses, The Olde Towne Team epitomised failure for generations. Such was their Calvinistic profligacy, the hapless Red Sox transcended sports and became a monument to blind faith. For the longest time, then, to be a Red Sox fan was to endure an existential struggle of hexes and curses, embarrassments and heartbreaks. No other team shot itself in the foot more often.
Everyone knows the dystopian story by now. It has been repeated ad nauseam in documentaries and films, books and newspaper columns. The sale of Babe Ruth. Pesky holding the ball. Repeated September collapses. Bucky Dent’s home run. The ball through Buckner’s legs. Aaron Fuckin’ Boone. For decades, a dark karma blanketed Boston baseball, a foreboding kismet of self-mutilation defining every diehard fan. Some blamed Ruth. Others blamed Dan Shaughnessy. All were preoccupied by the Jobian drought, which became the collective morbid obsession of New England.
Alas, when the sainted sons finally won it all in 2004, hyperbole ripped through baseball. The grand Kingian horror story – the lingua franca of Red Sox Nation – was embellished with a happy ending: Manny Ramirez, David Ortiz and their merry band of Idiots vanquishing ghosts, ghouls and the hated Yankees en route to a fabled championship. Never had baseball weaved such a beguiling yarn, and never had sports witnessed such a runaway bandwagon. Everyone felt kinship with those Red Sox, whose belated triumph inspired poetry on the strength of human perseverance.
In truth, though, there was never a curse in Boston. The Red Sox were never haunted by the vengeful spirit of baseball’s defining superhero. Fenway Park was never beset by voodoo and witchcraft. More than mystical miasmas and prophetic palls, the Red Sox’ drought was attributable to executive myopia, rampant nepotism, institutional prejudice and plain stupidity. For almost a century, those defective inputs – philosophically and strategically bankrupt – yielded terrible results, and the Red Sox never learned from their mistakes.
The aforementioned lowlight reel is often regurgitated, but less ink is spilled on the organisations’ penchant for off-field self-sabotage. For every booted groundball, there was a senseless trade scuppering a dynasty. For every pop fly homer, there was a bigoted decision ruining a generation. And for every bullpen meltdown, there was a cancerous culture undermining attempts to progress.
Take the Red Sox’ refusal to sign Willie Mays or Jackie Robinson, for instance. Take the metronomic dumping of stars, from Ruth to Speaker to Fisk, from Tiant to Lynn to Lyle, from Boggs to Clemens to Vaughn. Take 25 guys getting into 25 cabs. Take beleaguered owner Harry Frazee using the Red Sox as his personal checking account. Take the Yawkeys running the team like a country club. Take Carl Everett destabilising the club with volcanic implosions. These were the real curses of Boston baseball – a critical mass of lunacy, typically in the executive suite, contributing to decades of futility. And, if you look hard enough, the same recurring issues can be seen in 2022.
Even while winning, the Red Sox disrespected key players
After winning in 2004, Red Sox fans thought such stupidity was a relic of the past. With John Henry, a shrewd commodities trader, owning the team, Boston’s inefficiency seemed consigned to history. With Larry Lucchino, a proven baseball operator, setting the tone as president and CEO, the Red Sox focused on winning. With Bill James, the godfather of sabermetrics, advising the front office, every decision passed through a new-age analytical filter. And with Theo Epstein, a sophisticated Yale brainiac, shaping the roster, Boston pressed forth with sharp intent.
Once derided and mocked, the Red Sox became a model franchise, and further championships in 2007, 2013 and 2018 appeared to validate their modus operandi. Old habits die hard, though, and familiar contagion spread backstage. The Red Sox forgot their own creation myth, and those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. That is how we got here, with Boston baseball mired in its worst crisis for a quarter-century, but many refuse to admit it through fear of sullying their memories.
In hindsight, even as the good times rolled, cryptic clues to an inevitable demise lurked beneath the surface on Yawkey Way. Garciaparra, the most beloved icon of a New England generation, was sacrificed en route to the 2004 grail, for instance. Pedro Martínez, ace par excellence, was allowed to leave as a free agent in the immediate aftermath. Johnny Damon, Derek Lowe and Mark Bellhorn – flawed folk heroes of the ascendancy – wound up in pinstripes. Manny Ramírez was excommunicated. Curt Schilling was banished. Even Epstein grappled with periodic disillusionment, lamenting the Sox’ newfound focus on ‘feeding the monster’ – all pink hats and Neil Diamond concerts – rather than producing a sustainable juggernaut.
Paradoxically, that which freed the Red Sox from purgatory – a wholehearted belief in impartial data – contributed to their subsequent downfall. Henry made his fortune by stripping human emotion from trading decisions, and his non-discretionary investment model left no room for subjectivity. Similar mathematic principles helped the Red Sox identify undervalued assets that congealed into a winning core, but the same lens of algorithmic value deprioritised human intangibles to such an extent that many hometown heroes were brutally discarded. Henry swapped soybeans for ballplayers, but his paradigm remained unchanged: buy low, sell high, and never let your heart rule your calculator. That ethos made and broke the Red Sox, almost simultaneously. Their iconoclasm became a blessing and a curse.
John Henry and FSG buying Liverpool sparked the Red Sox’ gradual demise
Indeed, for all the transformational work of Henry and co-owner Tom Werner, their interest in the Red Sox became increasingly fractured from 2010 on. That year, Fenway Sports Group (FSG) – a consortium named after and enriched by the undying fervour of Red Sox fans – purchased Liverpool, an English football club, for $477 million. While the teams operated independently, with separate bank accounts and distinct revenue streams, no business owner can be in two places at once, and the Red Sox suffered without consistent, accessible guidance from the top.
Boston suffered an infamous collapse in 2011, finishing third amid rumours of a toxic clubhouse that had star players chugging beer and gorging on chicken wings during games. However, perhaps more worrying than the rapid degeneration was the startling lack of vision or identity that suddenly besmirched the Red Sox. Before the season, Boston acquired Adrián González and Carl Crawford, mercurial malcontents, in moves devoid of philosophical consistency. When those additions backfired, Epstein and his erstwhile field manager, Terry Francona, were unduly scapegoated. Epstein soon left to run the Chicago Cubs, while Francona was forced out amid a distasteful character assassination. Oh, and Jonathan Papelbon, another homegrown favourite, was allowed to leave in free agency – a harbinger of things to come.
The 2012 Red Sox were a complete abomination, of course, as Bobby Valentine oversaw a 93-loss season, Boston’s worst since 1965. Extending the philosophical vacuum, González and Crawford were dumped, along with Josh Beckett and Nick Punto, on the Dodgers. Kevin Youkilis, another homegrown favourite, was traded to the White Sox. Then Valentine was swiftly dismissed following the season, another victim of the Sox’ capricious belief system.
Even the miraculous World Series campaign of 2013 – during which the Red Sox surprised everyone, propelled by immense civic pride following the Boston Marathon bombings – was undermined by short-term thinking in the aftermath. Jacoby Ellsbury, another homegrown starlet, left for the Yankees, to be replaced in 2014 by a washed-up Grady Sizemore. Jon Lester, the homegrown ace, was repeatedly lowballed in acrimonious contract negotiations and eventually traded to Oakland – of all teams – midway through 2014. Meanwhile, AJ Pierzynski, Jake Peavy, Rusney Castillo and Yoenis Céspedes came aboard the island of misfit toys assembled by general manager Ben Cherington – a former Epstein assistant – as Boston became the first team to go last-to-first-to-last in baseball history. Inconsistency of results mirrored inconsistency of ethos.
Boom or bust amid philosophical flip-flop
To wit, during the 2014-15 offseason, after repeatedly refusing to invest in proven assets – Papelbon, Ellsbury, Lester – the Red Sox gave $190 million to unproven enigmas – Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramírez. Another debacle ensued as Boston again finished last. Cherington, an agent of plodding continuity, stepped down in August, signalling the end of Epstein’s baseball operations bloodline in Boston. He was replaced by Dave Dombrowski, an agent of win-now chaos, whose traditional vision departed from the Red Sox’ typical methodology.
Adding to the ideological vacancy, Lucchino ceded day-to-day control of the Red Sox to Sam Kennedy, another of his protégés, ending 13 years of presidential continuity. At 70, Lucchino took a ceremonial role with the Red Sox, but his deep expertise was sorely missed on a daily basis. A four-time World Series champion, Lucchino had almost 30 years’ experience as president and CEO of the Orioles, Padres and Red Sox. A seasoned dealmaker, Lucchino served as a versatile conduit between ownership and baseball operations in Boston. He was the most trusted lieutenant of FSG while nurturing a stable of young baseball savants, including Epstein, Cherington, Jed Hoyer and Kevin Towers. For all the change around him, Lucchino was a constant in the Red Sox’ success, and his departure left a void – fusing business with baseball – that has never been filled.
Upheaval continued in the Red Sox’ press box, too, as beloved announcer Don Orsillo was harshly ousted by NESN, the team’s television network. The broadcast booth needed to be ‘re-energised,’ according to the increasingly elusive Werner. Apoplectic fans had similar reservations about the 84-loss ballclub, but their protests – and an online petition signed by thousands – fell on deaf ears. Voice of the Red Sox since 2001, Orsillo was another ever-present during the good times, and his needless ouster smacked of corporate gentrification.
Dave O’Brien, Orsillo’s replacement, had plenty of highlights to narrate in his first seasons behind the mic. In fairness, Dombrowski did an excellent job as the Sox’ president of baseball operations, winning three straight division titles for the first time in franchise history and engineering the 2018 World Series triumph. Boston continued to make incongruous hires, including Tony La Russa as vice president and Rubén Amaro Jr. as first base coach, but the big league club evolved into a competitive force.
Indeed, under Dombrowski’s tutelage, and the cutting-edge management of Alex Cora, the Red Sox set a new single season wins record (108) while nurturing a fine core of young, talented stars. Mookie Betts (26) became American League MVP with supreme five-tool genius. Rafael Devers (21) emerged as a cornerstone at third base. Andrew Benintendi (24) looked like a future batting champion in left field. Christian Vázquez (27) became a clutch catcher on both sides of the ball. And Bogaerts (26) solidified his spot as the Red Sox’ beating heart. Complemented by a supporting cast of in-prime veterans, the Red Sox had dynastic potential. Instead, they promptly fell apart amid oscillating priorities.
Myopically, the fiscal burden of employing those supplementary veterans handcuffed the Red Sox when they attempted to lockup their precocious core. A prolific dealmaker, Dombrowski gave $217 million to David Price; $145 million to Chris Sale; $95 million to Rick Porcello; and $68 million to Nathan Eovaldi. However, preliminary extension talks with Betts, Bogaerts and Benintendi stalled, highlighting a fundamental paradox in Boston’s long-term vision, set by ownership.
Still, Dombrowski was a proven winner, and his sudden firing in September 2019 amid a minor downturn shocked many baseball insiders. Dombrowski had a .587 regular season winning percentage with the Red Sox – better than anybody to ever do the job – but the axe fell in knee-jerk fashion, and the canning of such an accomplished baseball architect has never been adequately explained.
Cheap Red Sox owners made Chaim Bloom the public face of their absurd cost-cutting mission
Indeed, as media appearances by Henry – who added the Boston Globe and a NASCAR team to his investments – became few and far between, frustrated fans were left to concoct their own theories of causation regarding the Red Sox’s boom-or-bust volatility. The team’s continued bungling of contract negotiations with homegrown stars led many to brand FSG cheap, disinterested, duplicitous and stubborn. Ticket prices soared at Fenway Park as trophies for Liverpool – a Champions League crown in 2019, a Premier League title in 2020 and the FA Cup in 2022 – coincided with moribund failure for the Red Sox. A narrative of accepted mediocrity took root, and the Red Sox – once the crown jewel of Henry’s empire – resembled just another pawn in his mercenary portfolio.
Ultimately, Dombrowski was fired for being himself – a no-nonsense, big-market, win-at-all costs impresario who never lets worries of tomorrow jeopardise dreams of today. Henry and FSG did not want that. On the contrary, they wanted a steady hand on the tiller – a lame duck puppet to front their austerity program. Somebody to take the heat for cutting payroll and shipping away stars, perhaps towards the long-term end goal of presenting a pristine balance sheet to potential bidders in a future Red Sox sale. After all, Forbes values the franchise at $3.9 billion, and Henry will likely cash in his chips at some point – hence minimised expenditure in the interim.
Rather unfairly, Chaim Bloom became that lame duck, that puppet, that public piñata. Plucked from the Tampa Bay Rays, where he assisted Andrew Friedman and Matthew Silverman, Bloom was named chief baseball officer of the Red Sox aged 36. A Yale graduate in the Epstein mould, Bloom was woefully ill-equipped to oversee baseball operations for such a prestigious organisation, and his sudden exposure to a baying citizenry was tantamount to abuse by FSG. With that dazzling nucleus in place, the Red Sox’ future seemed bright, but Henry hired a raw executive to be the martyr of a broader mission: getting Boston under the luxury tax threshold so FSG could maximise profits and cleanse the company accounts.
Why did the Red Sox trade Mookie Betts?
Fatefully, Bloom wasted little time enacting orders from above. When Betts rejected a reported 10-year, $300 million contract extension in January 2020, countering with a 12-year proposal closer to $400 million, the Red Sox deigned to enter that echelon – despite Betts’ standing as the game’s most dynamic star. Boston made no counteroffer, and in an earthquake reminiscent of the Babe Ruth sale itself, Betts was promptly traded to the Dodgers. Price was thrown into the deal as the Red Sox sought relief from his albatross contract. That decision weakened the overall return, with Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs and Connor Wong swapping Los Angeles for Boston – a lukewarm haul questioned by prospect gurus.
“No player boasting Betts’ combination of excellence and youth has ever been traded before,” wrote Ben Lindbergh of The Ringer, analysing the unprecedented move. Indeed, no player aged 28 or younger had ever produced more WAR in the two seasons preceding a trade than Betts. The closest were Jimmie Foxx, Alex Rodriguez and Tris Speaker – bonafide legends. More ominously, Betts’ 42 career WAR between 2014 and 2019 outperformed Ruth’s 39.8 WAR with the Red Sox between 1914 and 1919. The similarities were eery, as Boston dumped peerless generational stars a century apart.
Adding insult to injury, the Dodgers gave Mookie a 12-year, $365 million contract extension within five months of having him in Los Angeles. The Red Sox had 10 years with Betts in the organisation and could not tie him down. Mookie immediately led the Dodgers to a World Series title in the ill-fated, eminently-forgettable, Covid-shortened 2020 season. Meanwhile, back in Beantown, the Red Sox endured a miserable campaign – a year that began with the suspension of Cora for his role in the Houston Astros’ sign-stealing scandal ending with another last-place finish.
The Red Sox became a rudderless ship, and a paucity of belief among Red Sox fans hearkened back to the bleak 1990s. Old unforced errors and regurgitated rhetoric seeped in, and older fans smiled wryly while shaking their heads. For some, it was like bumping into that boozy high school friend who forgot to grow up – awkward yet strangely predictable. These were the Red Sox we all once knew – the lovable losers who could never catch a break.
The incompetence of Chaim Bloom as Red Sox chief baseball officer
The Red Sox did return to postseason play in 2021, clinching a wildcard berth en route to ALCS elimination by the Astros, but the C-suite circus continued apace. In March, basketball demigod LeBron James joined FSG, somewhat randomly becoming a part-owner of the Red Sox despite having zero ties to Boston. Then, a few months later, FSG bought the NHL’s Pittsburgh Penguins for $900 million, further expanding its faceless confederation. In the meantime, Bloom traded Benintendi to the lowly Kansas City Royals – for a package headlined by Franchy Cordero, a .236 career hitter to that point – instead of extending his contract. Angry Red Sox fans queried FSGs allocation of funds – the team that made Henry the most receiving the least of his scattered resources.
Indeed, as the Red Sox owners receded into anonymity, Bloom’s ineptitude became even more apparent. Yes, Bloom was hired to be a verbal punching bag – baseball’s version of a useful idiot – but he is not blameless in the Red Sox’ rapid demise. In 2022, for example, Bloom built a team that exceeded the first luxury tax threshold, incurring penalties, despite an earlier desire to remain under the threshold motivating the asinine surrender of Betts. Remarkably, though, the 2022 Red Sox again finished in last place, an inexplicable dichotomy steeped in incompetence.
In the history of MLB’s luxury tax, 63 individual teams have surpassed the lowest penalty threshold, and just four of them have finished last – the 2008 and 2017 Tigers, and the 2015 and 2022 Red Sox. There may be no more damning factoid for an organisation devoted to so-called efficiency. Within the framework handed down by FSG – parsimonious or not – Chaim Bloom failed spectacularly to build an adequate ballclub. Said failure was compounded by a disastrous trade deadline ruined by vacillating dogma. Trying to buy and sell simultaneously, Bloom traded Vázquez, integral to the team’s chemistry, while acquiring Tommy Pham, Reese McGuire and Eric Hosmer. The moves made little sense and had minimal impact on the season’s second half.
Over in the National League, meanwhile, Dombrowski added a fourth pennant to his remarkable resume, this time with the Philadelphia Phillies, featuring slugger Kyle Schwarber, another guy the Red Sox failed to extend. “I still don’t have any idea why John Henry fired him,” said Phillies owner John Middleton. “I really don’t understand it. But I’m grateful he did. If he didn’t, we wouldn’t have Dave Dombrowski, and we wouldn’t be in the World Series.”
Why didn’t the Red Sox keep Xander Bogaerts?
Against this backdrop of existential dread, Boston approached the present offseason, already on the backfoot in negotiations with Bogaerts, its clubhouse standard-bearer, thanks to persistent lowballing. During 2022 spring training, for example, Bloom offered Bogaerts a four-year, $90 million deal, a veritable slap in the face for one of baseball’s most accomplished shortstops. In turn, Bogaerts opted-out of his contract after the season, becoming a free agent. He just wanted to be paid his true worth.
Bloom said keeping Bogaerts was the team’s top winter priority – another statement that seemed shallow when the shortstop signed with San Diego. According to Boston Globe scribe Alex Speier, the Red Sox’ top offer to Bogaerts was for six years at ‘roughly $160 million.’ When San Diego offered five additional years and $120 million more, Xander could not reject such a proposition. The Padres valued Bogaerts immensely, and the Red Sox did not.
“The whole point of rooting for a franchise is that these guys stick around and you get attached to three or four of them over the course of a generation,” said Bill Simmons, speaking for Red Sox Nation on Off The Pike with Brian Barrett. “And if you are not going to do that, there is no point having any sort of sports team.”
Where did it all go wrong for the Red Sox?
Sadly, this is the logical endpoint of a data-driven ideology that, in moderation, helped author a golden age of Red Sox baseball. This is what happens when the number-crunching nerds take over with no checks or balances. This is what happens when you outsource decision-making to algorithms and spreadsheets – an emotionless, sycophantic drive to extract every cent of value crushing the sentiment that made Red Sox baseball so lovable in the first place. Once a paragon of sporting lyricism – a cultural fulcrum inside big green walls – the Red Sox are now a case study in vapid gentrification – a cliched corporation with few unique selling points.
“All literary men are Red Sox fans,” John Cheever once wrote, tapping into the poetic resonance of Boston baseball. For decades, that was true – win or lose. Arguably, each agonising defeat made the Red Sox more meaningful and idiosyncratic. That is no longer true, however. Right now, there is no fun in being a Red Sox fan. The forlorn crimson B no longer signals virtue. Instead, it signifies a clinical approach to sports that puts numbers before emotion. There is no affection with the modern Red Sox. No romance or humanity. The team’s soul has been hijacked by cold-blooded entrepreneurs and callous mathematicians, whose only appreciation of nostalgia is in its ability to be sold. And that is the saddest realisation of all.
Everything the Red Sox do is based on the principle of positive arbitrage – a Wall Street strategy, preached evangelically in Tampa Bay, that aims to accumulate small compounding gains by buying and selling simultaneously. A former Bear Stearns analyst, Friedman espoused this ethos with the Rays, attempting to eke ‘the extra 2%’ out of every transaction. Such a blueprint worked wonders in Tampa Bay, the smallest of small markets, but Bloom’s application of it in Boston – at the behest of Henry – is incongruous. These are the Boston Red Sox, among the most lucrative sports teams in the world. They do not need to sell their car for gas money.
Ironically, though, the Red Sox are not even good at positive arbitrage, for all they bang on about it. They have made several bold decisions under the auspices of maximising efficiency, but their chronic mishandling of negotiations – and their fickle philosophical undergirding – has been hugely inefficient. The Red Sox had countless opportunities to secure Betts and Bogaerts on bargain contracts early in their careers – as the Atlanta Braves do with just about every homegrown player – but they never got it done, due to a mix of short-sightedness and obstinance. Now, they are living with the dire consequences.
Remarkably, a small group of Red Sox fans – known derisively as the Bloominati – still defends the indefensible. Many Bloom proponents laud his supposed trading ability, citing successful deals during his Rays tenure – despite Bloom never having sole autonomy over Tampa’s baseball operations. We are often told that Bloom is obsessed with winning every trade, in keeping with the positive arbitrage playbook, but his Boston transaction log is terrible. Bloom is literally the guy who turned Betts, Price, Bogaerts and Benintendi into Verdugo, Cordero, Downs, Wong, Josh Winckowski and three low-level prospects. From that group, only Verdugo has been a serviceable major leaguer, while Cordero and Downs have already been designated for assignment. Viewed through such a prism, Bloom’s continued employment is rather miraculous.
Ultimately, the Red Sox were once the hottest, most trendy team in all of sports – globally. Now, they are the fourth most popular team in Boston, behind the Celtics, Bruins and Patriots. That was once unthinkable in a region so besotted with baseball, but it is the present reality, as the Red Sox straddle the precipice of irrelevance. More discouraging, still, is that ownership chose this path voluntarily and has repeatedly refused to change course. The complete lack of vision is surpassed only by the total failure of leadership.
Where do the Red Sox go from here?
I doubt the Red Sox will wait another 86 years to win a world championship, but the organisation has not been in worse shape since the mid-1990s, when John Harrington ran the show as a nepotistic functionary of the Yawkey Trust. Ultimately, resurrecting the Red Sox will require major strategic surgery and deep cultural shifts that may be unattainable under the current business model.
Immediately, the 2023 team has more holes than a Swiss cheese, and options for plugging those gaps are disappearing daily. Who is playing shortstop – a noodle-armed Trevor Story? Who is the Opening Day starter – Nick Pivetta? Are the Red Sox really going to rely on Reese McGuire and Christian Arroyo as full-time regulars? Underwhelming barely describes such unimaginable scenarios.
Incredibly, the Red Sox are still haemorrhaging talent, rather than adding it. Just yesterday, JD Martinez, a critical cog in Boston’s most recent success, signed a one-year, $10 million deal with – yes, you guessed it – the Dodgers. According to industry whispers, the Red Sox had interest in re-signing Martinez, but like many peers, he chose to go elsewhere, leaving just four players from the 2018 championship team on the current Boston roster.
The Red Sox have signed Kenley Jansen, but what use is an elite closer on a 100-loss team? Likewise, Masataka Yoshida might be a decent pickup, but the guy has never played a major league game, so spending $105 million to acquire him seems utterly random. To that end, the Red Sox are now defined by an untrammelled, ineffable ad-hocism. In the absence of a clear plan, they nickel and dime their way to a breathing lineup devoid of logical consistency from one season to the next. At some point, Bloom must make a signature Hail Mary addition, but the dwindling candidates for such a move leave a lot to be desired.
Aside from the Bogaerts debacle, Boston has whiffed on several free agent targets this winter, including José Abreu, Zach Eflin and Tommy Kahnle. The Sox were never likely to pay Carlos Correa or Dansby Swanson, who signed with the Giants and Cubs, respectively, but their early restraint leaves late panic in a diluted market. The best free agents still available are accent pieces like Jurickson Profar, Michael Brantley and Brandon Drury, or broken veterans such as Jean Segura, Justin Turner and Elvis Andrus. In other words, there are no free agents left who could transform the Red Sox into a competitive ballclub next year, and that is a dereliction of duty for a big market team currently ranked 16th in 2023 payroll.
More worryingly, the Red Sox have another contract saga brewing, and their fans have little faith in ownership to clinch a satisfactory deal. Devers will be a 26-year-old free agent after the 2023 season, and his meteoric rise, coupled with a spiralling market, may put a $400 million contract on the agenda. Boston has already insulted Devers with standard below-value offers, and his friendship with Bogaerts may weigh heavily in an eventual decision. One possible scenario has Bloom trading Devers, à la Betts, before he even reaches free agency – in which case, I would not like to be the Red Sox’ social media intern.
Boston does have some talented young players – Brayan Bello, Triston Casas, Marcelo Mayer – around which to build a long-term winner, but a lot can go wrong with prospects, as evidence by the failure of Downs and others. Moreover, when ownership has so routinely disrespected key farm system alumni, will the next wave of homegrown stars be keen to stick around? Maybe, but maybe not. A lot of damage has already been done.
Given the lack of remaining free agents, the paucity of internal options and the sheer amount of holes to be plugged, the Red Sox will need to swing some major trades if they are to build a ‘sustainable winner,’ as Bloom promises, from 2023 on. Who is even available, though? Fernando Tatís Jr., perhaps? Christian Yelich? Corbin Burnes? They are the kind of cornerstones the Red Sox need, but seeing is believing at this point, and making such blockbuster additions has rarely been part of the FSG roadmap.
The mass uncertainty is driving Red Sox fans wild, and while moaning after so many recent championships smacks of entitlement, their concerns are credible. For the longest stretch, you knew what the Red Sox represented – guts, guile, grime, greatness. Dustin Pedroia writ large. What do they stand for now? How are they even attempting to turn this thing around? What is the vision, and where is the template? From the outside, it seems non-existent, and that makes a sudden uptick in fortunes even less likely to occur.
If they are no longer interested in the Red Sox, John Henry and FSG should sell the team
FSG are unlikely to have a spontaneous change of heart and reinstate the Red Sox as their undivided priority. Yes, Henry and Werner are exploring a sale of Liverpool, but they have been mentioned as possible bidders for the NFL’s Washington Commanders. Meanwhile, landing an NBA expansion franchise in Las Vegas seems to be the endgame of their awkward flirtation with LeBron. When all is said and done, FSG is a private equity consortium looking to diversify its portfolio. A move away from baseball and soccer, towards hockey and basketball, may be their way of keeping investments fresh.
At this stage, few Red Sox fans would cry if FSG announced its intention to sell the team. Yes, the Red Sox have won four World Series titles under Henry and Werner, but they have also finished last five times and missed the playoffs on 10 occasions. They have disrespected and discarded countless franchise icons – from Nomar, Pedro and Manny to Francona, Damon and Papelbon; from Ellsbury, Youkilis and Lester to Orsillo, Betts and Bogaerts. They have jettisoned two Hall of Fame architects –Epstein and Dombrowski – and driven baseball’s most loyal fans into hopeless apathy. They have taken a unique jewel of professional sports and bungled it into just another faceless franchise. Red Sox fans deserve better than that, and they must receive it immediately.
Sleek businessmen may play around with other baseball teams in less devoted markets, but not in Boston, and not with the Red Sox. This team means too much to too many people to languish as the fourth priority in a mismatched portfolio. If Henry and Werner no longer share the desperate intensity of a ravenous fanbase, they must step aside and sell the team to people who do. Things could turn toxic without significant change, because Red Sox fans will tolerate teams that lose, but they will never abide ownership that does not try.