Baseball players tend not to stick around forever. Part of what made recently-retired Red Sox Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek unusual was their long tenure with one team. And even then, neither player started their career in the Sox organization. The life of a ballplayer is often marked by multiple passport stamps. And part of being a fan is watching players shuffle in and out of your chosen organization.
Even though we're all used to this aspect of fandom, there are times when it can be hard to swallow. A promising prospect gets traded, and swiftly succeeds in a new uniform. A beloved veteran walks away in free agency, seemingly without any effort by the Sox to keep him. So which recently departed player do you most wish was still wearing the B on his cap?
I don't mean this just from a net WAR perspective, by the way. Although you can certainly come at it from that angle. But that's more the realm of trade analysis. I mean it from a joy of baseball perspective. The decision to let Orlando Cabrera walk, for example. From a strictly objective point of view, it was a good idea, killed only by the fact that Fenway soil affects Edgar Renteria the way kryptonite affects Superman (green kryptonite, of course, Edgar didn't spontaneously turn evil or die). But we all hated it, because Orlando was awesome. The flashy defense, the handshakes for everyone on the 25-man, the endless chatter in the dugout, the on-deck circle, the clubhouse... Orlando Cabrera was a fun dude to watch play baseball, and the Red Sox were more enjoyable with him on their team. Those are the guys I'm really looking at, the ones we miss not just as random-number generators, but as ballplayers.
As the photo above hinted, for me it's gotta be Adrian Beltre. I'm still comfortable with the decision to trade for Adrian Gonzalez and shift Youk over to third. I get that the Sox weren't going to match the Rangers' giant contract offer to Beltre. But, I mean... Well, just go watch this. Then watch it again. (I've watched it seven times while writing this, and just now realized the victim of the kneeling HR was Matt Albers. Ha.) Throw in the ridiculous defense and the endlessly hilarious "DON'T TOUCH MY HEAD" antics, and Beltre was just a fun guy to have on a team in addition to his obvious brilliance as a player.
For that matter, so was the guy who just wouldn't stop risking death by baseball bat to give Beltre a noogie: Victor Martinez. A catcher who could rake and keep the clubhouse loose? Hell yes. And again, Boston wasn't going to match the dump truck of money Detroit drove up to his house (and given the Prince Fielder-paying ACL tear, that may have been wise), but still a guy I miss.
From (perhaps) a more objective point of view, there's Justin Masterson, one of the guys Boston traded for Martinez, who spent last year in Cleveland tossing 216 innings of 3.21 ERA. Which, yeah, that might have come in handy last year. Or Jason Bay, who did nothing but smash baseballs for the year and change he was here and has seen his career collapse in New York. Or fan-knowledge scholar Jonathan Papelbon, the best closer in franchise history. And famously one of its most avid dancers.
So, dear readers, who's the player you stay up nights pining for? The guy whose latest highlight reel always provokes a wistful "man, I wish he were still at Fenway" or a bitterly sarcastic "why can't the Sawx get guys like that?" Chat it up.