In a season that begins full of unexpected events, the one that stands out the most for me is the Boston Red Sox’s moribund start. As of this writing, Boston sits 16-22, just ahead of the fourth-place Baltimore Orioles in the American League East. Their -8-point differential is mid-pack at best in the AL, dead even with the Texas Rangers who shouldn’t be competing. The Sox weren’t predicted by many, if anyone, to be at the top of the East this year, but they were certainly meant to be around the same level as the Yankees, at least fighting for a Wild Card a season. after doing the ALCS. Barring a huge turnaround at the 2019 Washington Nationals, that doesn’t seem likely.
The Sox hired Chaim Bloom from the Tampa Bay Rays to be their head of baseball after the 2019 season. Free Expenses by Dave Dombrowski. Boston isn’t the only franchise to insist that financial flexibility is the best way to manage their team.
There are ways it makes sense on paper – if the money saved is used to reinvest in a winning product. But despite coming close to winning the pennant last year, the Sox have very clearly taken a step back. Two years after trading Mookie Betts rather than trying to sign him to a mega-deal, Boston’s outfield is, frankly, bad. It might have worked in 2021, but those results weren’t repeated this time around.
Alex Verdugo, acquired for Betts, has a history of being between a two- and three-win player per rWAR, so he should rebound from the -0.4 mark he held coming into play on Thursday. Center fielder Kiké Hernández had a career season in 2021, but apparently returned to his mostly lackluster past results. And somehow Bloom got away going into the season giving a starting spot to Jackie Bradley Jr., who takes the “light hitting” to a new level, with a slugging percentage below 0.280 this season and last.
There are other places on the list with a brighter picture. Rafael Devers continues to torment New York relentlessly, Xander Bogaerts is more stable than ever and JD Martinez started strong. Except Bogaerts and Martinez are almost certainly free agents after this season – with Trevor Story’s signing and extensions pushed back, which potentially means the end is near for Bogaerts in Beantown, given his refusal – and any talk of extension with Devers was also unsuccessful. .
If in 2023 Bogaerts, Martinez and Devers (possibly traded as Betts in his last year under contract) are all gone, the Red Sox will get what, exactly? Story, who – despite the three-home run game – has yet to prove that the bulk of his offense hasn’t been provided by Coors Field? A 35-year-old Chris Sale, earning nearly $30 million? Garrett Whitlock, still torturing us? (That one is scary.) They will effectively be a blank slate, and that’s exactly Bloom’s mandate.
Theoretically, that all sounds good – their best prospects can play, supplanted by free agents that all this flexibility allows them to pay. In theory. In practice, prospects can explode and free agents can fail, as the team that signed Carl Crawford knows well. The likes of Devers and Bogaerts (and to be fair, in New York, Aaron Judge), are, on the other hand, household names.
The Red Sox of late have been boom or bust, a World Series contender or less than .500, in total malaise. Like the Yankees, they’re supposed to be a team that’s always in the playoffs. Still, their roster, at this point, is clearly inferior to New York’s — their bullpen is nowhere near close and the starting rotation lacks a true ace. And fans are supposed to accept that without flinching, knowing that it’s all about saving money, and without any guarantees.
Part of Bloom’s philosophy is that his current roster build will allow for lasting success, avoiding the highs and lows that have been Boston’s recent season records. That sounds good, but really the only teams that have consistently avoided the bad season rebuild cycle over the past decade are the Yankees and the Dodgers, and we all know it’s because of the way they combine spending player development. If the Sox can pull it off, good for them — but really, this hodgepodge list they’ve been rolling out so far is totally unnecessary. There’s no reason for a team like Boston to be bad.
As the judge flaunts MVP numbers and Brian Cashman tries to take his foot out of his mouth regarding his extension negotiations, today’s Sox serve as a model of what can happen when you insist on financial flexibility at the expense of common sense. Yes, Judge and Devers probably won’t “earn” their salaries in the last years of a long contract, but the future is far away. If you want someone like Judge, whose success can mask the underperformance of other players who might be cheaper due to a shorter success history, you just have to pay him what he’s worth. Cashman, like Bloom, wants fiscal responsibility, as defined by their bosses. Boston is showing what that can get you right now — needless rebuilding and even more out-of-reach success in a terribly competitive division.