Despite playing in one of the most baseball-crazy regions of the country, the Boston Red Sox find themselves increasingly irrelevant after a dismal offseason.
In their long and storied history, there have been just as many downs as there have been ups for the Boston Red Sox. Somehow, their faithful fans have continued to root for and support the team passionately and unconditionally despite the numerous missteps they’ve made over the years.
Regardless of how previous seasons have ended, the approach of spring training and the new season after a long winter has always brought hope and excitement to baseball fans in general, and Red Sox fans in particular.
However, this has been as bad an offseason as any in recent memory. While the way the 2011 squad crashed and burned was shameful and embarrassing for all involved, that team was still really talented heading into 2012.
It was the addition of Bobby Valentine as the new manager that torpedoed the season before it started. Although it should be remembered that that team was still over .500 as late as August before they faded into last place.
The 2011 Red Sox were a team of malcontents and underachievers led by a complete clown who alienated everyone from the owners and players to the fans and media. Still, they had talent and it was only some shrewd maneuvering by then-GM Ben Cherington to unload Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford, and the immortal Nick Punto, as well as their bloated contracts which set up the next phase for the Red Sox.
As we all know, the 2013 team overachieved and won the World Series, but the two seasons following had the team back in last place before the next wave of homegrown stars matured and began to contribute.
After a string of first-place finishes in the AL East and a World Series win in 2018, it seemed as though the Red Sox were finally set up for a nice, long run of contention with a team made up predominantly of homegrown talent.
How, then, did we arrive at the disaster that the 2020 Red Sox are before they’ve even reported to spring training? The problems the 2019 team had are well known, but there was a massive sea change in organizational philosophy as the summer turned to fall. All of a sudden, the free-spending Red Sox were wailing about being over the luxury tax threshold and their need to get under it.
So here we are a week before spring training begins and the Red Sox:
– have no manager
– are awaiting MLB’s punishment for Alex Cora’s role in the sign-stealing scandal
– have done nothing of note to improve the talent on the major league roster
– have done nothing of note to improve the talent in the minor leagues
– shed enough payroll to get ~$20 million under the luxury tax threshold (the only good outcome any of their decisions this offseason have amounted to but at a steep cost)
While there has been very little excitement from most of Red Sox Nation during this rather dismal offseason, the collective outrage from fans, as well as the beating the team is taking from the media in the wake of the Betts trade, has been something to behold. While we can all agree that financially the deal was good for the team, there’s nothing else about it that is palatable or beneficial.
In an offseason already teetering on irrelevancy, the Mookie Betts trade pushed the Boston Red Sox fully off that cliff. They now probably rank third or fourth in the Boston sports pecking order at this point, which is no easy task in one of the most rabid baseball regions of the entire country.
At a time when the Patriots’ dynasty is in its final days but still contending, the Celtics are young and exciting contenders in the East, and the Bruins are coming off a Stanley Cup run. The Red Sox are currently the most irrelevant team on the Boston sports scene.
It’s a “what have you done for me lately” region of fandom, and right now what the Red Sox have done lately is get less talented, save their owner a bunch of money, and try to sell to the fanbase that operating like a small-to-mid market team is not only wonderful but that they should enjoy it.
The Red Sox were already looking at a second consecutive third-place finish in the division (in my opinion), but now it looks like they’ll be battling Baltimore for fourth place for the next few years while wasting the primes of Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Andrew Benintendi.
Every other team in the AL East has improved this offseason except for the Red Sox and Orioles. The Orioles at least have money to spend (which the Red Sox also do, now) and a stocked farm system (which the Red Sox don’t).
Outside of the division, the Twins, Astros, Indians, Rays, Athletics, and White Sox all improved while the Red Sox have been stuck in neutral. I’ve banged this drum to death this offseason as have several others, but the Red Sox chances lie solely on pitching and right now, they’re worse in the rotation and in the bullpen than they were in 2019.
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With fans calling for John Henry’s head on a pike and threatening to spend less money on trips to Fenway Park and Red Sox merchandise (a friend of mine who has been debating giving up his season tickets over the last year said this pushed him over the edge), the Red Sox went from the best team in the league to one of the worst in the span of eighteen months.
There’s still a lot of talent on this team, albeit less than there was a week ago, and they’re not going to be the Orioles or Tigers, but right now they’re closer to those teams than they are to the Yankees, Astros, or Twins.
Chaim Bloom still has a month (and a lot of money) to make further additions to the team, but with spring training starting in a week this is, for all intents and purposes, the team the Red Sox will field in 2020.
Diehard fans (myself included) will follow this team religiously all season, but in a crowded Boston landscape that demands teams do whatever they can to try and compete. This attempt at forcing a passionate and devoted fanbase to smile as they choke down a fiscal austerity sandwich will be an impossible sell.
The Red Sox very well may and probably will win another World Series in the next decade, but right now in February 2020, they are despised by most of the fanbase and irrelevant on the Boston sports scene. For a team with as much money, history, and devotion, that’s the biggest crime of all.