Red Sox struggles after winning World Series are nothing new
If history is anything to go by (and it usually is), the Red Sox are probably in for another rough season in 2020. As we all know, there’s been a lot of turmoil with a new President of Baseball Operations in Chaim Bloom, mixed messages coming from ownership, uncertainty surrounding the long-term status of Mookie Betts, and a now-vacant managerial seat with the firing of Alex Cora. With little having been done to improve the talent on the roster this offseason, it looks like the Red Sox will have a hard time contending for the Wild Card.
John Henry himself recently lamented that he doesn’t understand why the Red Sox always struggle after winning a World Series. I’ve wondered this myself over the last two decades. While other teams that win it all like the Astros, Giants, and Cardinals are able to remain competitive for a few years afterward and even teams who come up short like the Yankees and Dodgers are able to do so, for whatever reason the Red Sox have not been able to do that apart from 2008.
Why is this? Part of it is the so-called “World Series hangover” which, as we saw in 2019 especially, is very real. After playing longer than every other team and in more pressure-packed games, the mental and physical toll carries over into the next season. This can manifest itself in injuries, fatigue (physical, mental, or both), and complacency. The Red Sox have seemed to suffer from all of these in their follow-up seasons (and especially in 2019).
There is also the matter that it is exceedingly and increasingly difficult to keep championship teams together long-term in any sport, including MLB. Everyone wants a piece of that winning formula after a team wins and free agents are ripe for the picking. Oftentimes players want more money after they win, especially if they had a significant role in getting there. Egos grow and clash, demands for playing time escalate, and the spoils of victory exacerbate issues that had been precariously kept in check before the team won.
None of this, however, is unique to the Red Sox, so why do they always seem to fall into this trap? I think it’s a combination of the expectations and pressures of playing in the Boston market and an ownership group that’s willing to spend, but not always wisely. The team’s player development system also leaves something to be desired as while they’ve developed a lot of quality homegrown position players over the last twenty years, their track record developing pitchers in that time space has been dismal. As we all know, the key to sustained success usually begins quality pitching.
Heading into 2020, the Red Sox seem to be pinching pennies when it comes to improving the team before making a run at Mookie after the season to sign him long-term. There’s a leadership vacuum at manager with less than a month until spring training and the cloud of MLB’s potential punishment for Alex Cora’s involvement with sign stealing during the 2018 season hanging over the team. With several holes still left to fill on the roster (second base, first base, a closer, a fifth starter), it looks as though the Red Sox post-championship woes are set to continue for at least another year.