During the Jan. 16 edition of the Bastards of Boston Baseball podcast, the hosts made some salient points about the Red Sox's 2021 trip to the ALCS.
Much like a lot of Red Sox news lately, it's nothing fans will be excited to hear.
Getting back to the playoffs in such a big way so soon after winning the 2018 World Series felt great for Boston fans. The Sox's bats beat up on the Yankees in the Wild Card and Kiké Hernández played out of his mind against the Rays in the ALDS — Red Sox fans were close to the top of the world, again.
But, looking back at the roster, that version of the Red Sox probably shouldn't have been able to get so far.
Boston's 2021 ALCS roster included the likes of Kevin Plawecki, Bobby Dalbec, Christian Arroyo, Darwinzon Hernández, Travis Shaw and Danny Santana, among others. Plawecki signed a minor-league deal with the Padres this offseason. Dalbec is hitting 515-foot bombs in Worcester. Arroyo hasn't signed a deal since the Red Sox DFA'd him in early August. Hernández has transferred to Nippon Professional Baseball. The Sox DFA'd Shaw in April 2022, then he retired. Santana signed a minor-league deal with the Red Sox in 2022 and was soon released.
The 2021 Red Sox gave a false impression of a successful, inexpensive team
The 2021 Red Sox were far from a team of All-Stars. Just one year after trading homegrown, fan-favorite Mookie Betts, Boston's payroll was relatively low — lower than the Yankees and Astros, at least — and it was reflected on the roster.
Many members of the 2021 team have faded into irrelevance, and shockingly soon after their playoff stint. In hindsight, Boston's most recent playoff run seems like pure luck.
It's possible that the Red Sox's lower-value 2021 team set a precedent that the front office took and ran with. The 2021 ALCS team gave John Henry, Tom Werner and the rest of the front office the impression that they can compete with an inexpensive team.
Maybe they could have competed four years ago. But in the current landscape of the MLB, specifically the incredibly contentious American League East, cheap teams' potential to succeed has plummeted.
And after Shohei Ohtani signed a record-breaking contract this offseason and Juan Soto made $31 million in arbitration with the rival Yankees, the fiscal landscape of the MLB may have changed, forever, in a way that the Red Sox front office seems unwilling to go along with.
Making the playoffs in 2021, let alone the ALCS, might have given the front office excuses to avoid spending money in the future. With a weak pitching staff and current minor leaguers in the starting nine, the Red Sox somehow found success in 2021. Now, Boston's prior success is hurting it in more ways than one.
The economy of baseball, and the world, has shifted a lot since 2021. Good baseball players don't come cheap, and they never really did. But Boston's most recent playoff team gave the front office an unrealistic vision of what they can do with very little money. The Red Sox need to get with the times if they have any hope of competing in the modern MLB.