The Boston Red Sox won 119 games in 2018, including 11 in the playoffs en route to a World Series Title, their fourth since the turn of the century.
During their run, the Sox handed the Yankees their worst home loss in playoff history, before disposing of the Houston Astros in the ALCS and the Dodgers quickly in the World Series. The sheer dominance of this Boston team led many to question whether or not the 2018 Red Sox were the best Red Sox team in franchise history.
As good as they were, repeating as champions in any professional league may be the toughest task. In 2013, the last time Boston won the World Series, they failed to even make the playoffs the next year- finishing dead last in the AL East at 71-91. As always, the next season starts in the offseason, and Dave Dombrowski has certainly sent some messages to Red Sox Nation through his actions, or lack thereof, this winter.
Dombrowski and the Sox entered the offseason with a few issues already on hand- the free agencies of World Series MVP Steve Pearce, Nathan Eovaldi and Joe Kelly, who both had monster Octobers, and Craig Kimbrel. On Oct. 30, the Sox picked up Chris Sale’s $15 million player option for next season (duh). The next day, David Price opted into the second half of his contract, announcing that he’d be staying in Boston for the next four years. The day after that, Eduardo Nuñez exercised his $5 million player option for next season. Before election day, Sale, Price, and Nunez were all locked up for at least the 2019 season.
Just a week or so later, on Nov. 12, Steve Pearce was resigned for a one-year deal. Dombrowski’s office was quiet for about a month, only managing to sign Tyler Thornburg to a one-year deal to avoid arbitration. On Dec. 5, big news came from Boston, as the Red Sox announced that they had signed Nathan Eovaldi to a four-year contract. Many fans feared that after a strong end to the regular season and an even stronger October, Eovaldi was due for big bucks that Dombrowski wasn’t willing to pay. He signed for $68 million over his four years, giving him an even $17 million a year until age 32. 2B Ian Kinsler also left for San Diego, after spending half the year in Boston.
Joe Kelly signed a deal with the Dodgers after a lights-out postseason, becoming the first major piece of the title team to depart. Kelly signed with his hometown for three years and $25 million after winning over Sox fans with his personality and right fist, notoriously fighting Yankees Tyler Austin early in the season.
Kelly’s departure left the Red Sox with one more big, in-house free agent to deal with- Craig Kimbrel. Kimbrel’s free agency has been controversial. He was awful in the postseason, just turned 30, and is looking for big money and a six-year deal, according to rumors. Dombrowski, logically, is hesitant, and nothing has been done about Kimbrel yet.
Just this week, the Sox reached a $20 million agreement with Mookie Betts to avoid arbitration. Aside from that, Dombrowski has been asleep in the den, with a picket sign saying “Don’t Poke the Bear” in dripping red paint posted outside.
I can describe the 2018-19 MLB Offseason via metaphor- an overhyped title fight that ends up drawing yawns from the audience. With once-in-a-lifetime players like Bryce Harper and Manny Machado hitting the markets this winter, many baseball fans expected an offseason almost as exciting as midsummer baseball. Neither of those two have marked a landing spot, though many think Machado is on his way to the Yankees. New York also signed Troy Tulowitzki and closer Zach Britton to join Aroldis Chapman, Dellin Betances and David Robertson in their bullpen.
Around the AL, the Astros already lost Charlie Morton to free agency, and they expect Dallas Keuchel to find a home elsewhere, too, putting them in the market for starting pitching. They signed OF Michael Brantley for two years, but still are looking at an incomplete offseason, much like Boston.
The lack of moves this winter is either a display of unwavering confidence or complete ignorance from Dombrowski and his front office staff.
The confidence is understood. The Sox just absolutely dominated the entire MLB; they lost just three games in the entire postseason, and finished eight games above the Yankees, who won 100 games and led the league in HR’s.
But what won games in the postseason was the bullpen, with the exception of Kimbrel. Going into the ALCS, the bullpen had given up zero runs before the ninth. With Kelly gone and Kimbrel’s return questionable, the Sox have a huge gap at the closer and set-up position.
At that same position, their AL East Rivals have been bulking up. The Yankees, if Machado does sign, will have significantly boosted their offensive attack, as well. While Boston still boasts a rotation of Sale-Price-Eovaldi-Eduardo Rodriguez, a starting lineup with Stanton-Judge-Machado as well as Miguel Andujar, Tulowitzki Greg Bird, and Gary Sanchez is intimidating. For anyone.
JD Martinez proved he was one of, if not the best hitter in baseball last season, nearly winning a triple crown. With Mookie and the rest of the young core coming back, Boston still has an offense that can beat anyone.
However, everything changes in an offseason, even with players that stay. Take the 2013-2014 Red Sox, for example. They returned practically the same core of guys, and wound up in last place in their division following the title season. The 8th and 9th innings are critical down the line in a season, and having a question mark there in April is a recipe for disaster.
With Dombrowski’s history, teams are known to crash and burn following success. His long term planning is weak compared to his win-now attitude, and this has worried for Red Sox fans throughout his tenure in Boston. Everything changes with a ring on your finger, and not just in baseball. Red Sox Nation should start getting anxious if Dombrowski doesn’t come out of the cave.
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