By Marshall Hook, Special to 985TheSportsHub.com
There is so much joy in Mudville these days! The Red Sox Monday beat the Orioles at Fenway Park for what was their 106th win on the year. This, in a fitting bit of numerology, broke a 106-year-old record for the most wins in Red Sox history. The team also clinched the best record in all of baseball. If your metric is regular season wins, this is both the best team in the sport and the best Red Sox team ever. I’m here to tell you it’s time to break it up.
HOLD UP! Hear me out before angrily stabbing at your keyboard.
Here’s what we know:
The team currently sits at 107 wins with their three-game weekend set against the Yankees left to play. The last time a team won that many games was 17 years ago when the Mariners won 116. It’s happened fewer than a dozen times since 1900. Without looking at a single statistic about come-from-behind wins, interleague play, or opponents winning percentage (hello Orioles!) we can determine it is exceedingly unlikely that the Red Sox will win as many games next season as they will this year. In other words, we know they will be worse next season than they are this one.
But we’re not done. After a new World Series Champion is crowned, Craig Kimbrel becomes an unrestricted free agent. So, too, do lesser talents Ian Kinsler, Drew Pomeranz, Joe Kelly and some others. A team whose biggest achilles heel this season has been its bullpen will likely lose its best, most reliable arm in Kimbrel. In theory, David Price could choose to opt out of his deal and also become a free agent, but that is considered unlikely despite his 16 wins and 3.58 ERA. If he did leave there would be a not-so-small hole in your rotation.
Not done still, how about another year from now? That’s when free agency comes to Chris Sale. Oh, also Xander Bogaerts. And Rick Porcello, Eduardo Nunez, and Mitch Moreland. J.D. Martinez may have signed a five year deal but he has the right to opt out after next season. There are some pretty big potential holes there too.
Thankfully, the following season only brings one person. Phew! Who? Just that Mookie Betts fella – your perennial MVP candidate.
So in sum, it is conceivable that by the time the team takes the field in 2021, after just two more seasons of baseball, you’ll be without two MVP-caliber players in Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez, three Cy Young Award winners in Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello, your 7-time All Star closer Craig Kimbrel, and your 25-year-old shortstop who just set career highs in a number of meaningful offensive categories (plus all those other guys.)
This is the point where most teams would start to back fill their roster with their pool of minor league talent. Unfortunately for Boston, it is a shockingly shallow pool after Dave Dombrowski’s continued raids. It consists most notably of Jay Groome who hasn’t pitched this year after undergoing Tommy John surgery and third baseman Michael Chavis who played just eight games at AAA-Pawtucket after serving an 80-game PED suspension. Most of the rest of the top ten prospects have yet to appear above single-A. To say they’re unproven would be an understatement.
So: free agency? You can do that. Not really, though, the best or most reliable way to build a team. Also, this is a team that already has easily the largest payroll in the game and indicated they have ZERO interest in taking on more money.
Retaining your own free agents? Sure, you can do that too. But have you seen any indication from, for instance, the Betts camp that there is the remotest interest in talking about that?
There is one final way to build a team and that is trades. But not that kind that Trader Dave has engaged in so far. He’s great at dishing out the minor league guys to go get the veterans. His trades have almost all worked out. Kimbrel has lived up to his promise and so has Sale (as long we ignore late September and October.) Pomeranz, Nunez, Steve Pearce, Kinsler, and even Brad Ziegler have been generally positive deals. The Carson Smith trade has done nothing for Boston, but nothing for Seattle either. Only the Tyler Thornburg deal has been a disaster as Travis Shaw has hit 31 homeruns in each of his two season so far in Milwaukee. What I don’t know that we’ve seen a lot of (and none of in Boston) is how good he is at the other side of those deals.
I’m ready to see.
I get how crazy it must sound to think the right thing to do with this team is to break it up. This is a potential 110-game winning team that’s returning almost its entire roster. They’ve won their division for three straight years, another thing no Red Sox team has ever done.
But what if you don’t? Already Kimbrel is likely to walk away with nothing coming back in return. A year from now if Sale, Martinez, Bogaerts, and Porcello do the same, what does that team look like? Mookie Betts in his walk year and Andrew Benintendi? Are you really ready to call that a contending team? Are you ready to tell me that Michael Chavis, Jay Groome, and the rest of the unknown flotsam and jetsam will make it so? I can’t imagine you are.
The only way I see to fix the issue – the only way I see to set this team up for the long term – is to deal from the strength you have now. That strength is your major league roster. If you look at the Baltimore Orioles, they traded away two impending free agents in Manny Machado and Zach Britton and got eight young players in return. The deals for Darren O’Day, Kevin Gausman, and Jonathan Schoop (all of whom have varying amounts of contract term left) brought in another seven players. In sum, fifteen different players are now Orioles in exchange for half seasons of one elite player in Machado and four others.
What could then the Red Sox get for full seasons of Chris Sale, J.D. Martinez, and Xander Bogaerts? What could they get for two seasons of Mookie Betts after he wins an MVP?
I’m not saying they should necessarily trade everyone. I’m not saying that they should trade them all during the off season. But, trading no one? Returning the same roster next season with whoever you install in the bullpen? That seems a shortsighted and potentially fatal decision for the longterm health of the Boston Red Sox.
Whether they win the World Series or lose in the first round doesn’t change these simple truths: this team is built for the short term, peaking during this 2018 season and taking a precipitous drop one year later. They have virtually nothing in the minor leagues to fill the many upcoming voids. The only other way to retain your own players or bring in their replacements is to spend big money – much more money than your spending now – and this team has definitively balked at that.
That leaves trading your way out of the impending black hole. Big trades. If they don’t do that, if they continue to ride this current roster until it walks away, the next record they’ll be looking at breaking is one from 1932. That’s when the immortal Shano Collins and Marty McManus lead the team to 111 losses. Let’s all look forward to that.
You can hear Marshall Hook on the air on various 98.5 The Sports Hub programs. Follow him on Twitter @MarshallHook.
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