The following is a part of SB Nation’s MLB Preview as every site takes a health check of their team in terms of both the coming year and what lies down the road.
Major League Baseball as a whole, but particularly the American League, is loaded with teams at the top who are poised to act as a super team in 2018 and have the looks of squads that are going to be in contention for years to come. The Astros just won a World Series with a young, homegrown core. The Yankees took a big leap in 2017 and should only continue to rise. The Indians have been terrifying for a couple years now. Fortunately for Red Sox fans, they belong right in the thick of that conversation. They’ve now won two consecutive division titles, and have a core that is elite now and should be around for a long time.
When you talk about Boston’s contention cycle and how long this team is likely to stick around, the most common response you’ll hear will be about the two-year window they are currently in. It’s a bit of an oversimplification of the situation, to be sure, but it’s a declaration that at least makes some sense. The biggest face of this so-called window is Chris Sale, the team’s ace and one of the very best pitchers in baseball. Sale electrified the city in 2017 and has been nothing short of elite for essentially his entire career. The lefty is under contract on a wildly below-market deal through 2019, so if the team is only going to have this built-in advantage for two more years.
It’s not just Sale, though, as the homegrown talent will get more and more expensive with each passing year, and they also face the possibility of losing key components of the roster like Craig Kimbrel, Drew Pomeranz, David Price, J.D. Martinez, Hanley Ramirez and Xander Bogaerts over the next couple of offseasons. So, this loaded roster that has won two straight division titles and just added one of the five-to-ten best hitters in baseball in Martinez could only be together in its current form for a couple of years. The window to win with this roster that has had so much success in recent years is a small, two-year window.
All of that being said, that two-year window does not mean the same thing for the Red Sox as it would for other teams around the league. While the team may look different in 2020, there is no reason the Red Sox should stop competing at that point. Despite all the talent that could theoretically be leaving, they still have a tremendous young core. Mookie Betts is one of the very best players in baseball and it would be a major mistake by the organization if he’s anything besides the face of the franchise for the next decade. Along with him, the team can look forward to years of production from Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, Jackie Bradley Jr., Christian Vazquez in the lineup and Eduardo Rodriguez as an up-and-coming pitcher. That is as good of a core as any team in baseball, particularly on the position player side. It has a perennial MVP candidate (at least in a fantasy world without Mike Trout), two recently-graduated top prospects who have already succeeded in the majors, and two of the best defensive players at two of the most premium of positions. Seems decent!
It’s not even just that core that gives us reason to be excited, either. Perhaps even more important than the core is that this is the Red Sox we’re talking about. This is not some stereotypical Boston-centric ego talking (don’t get me wrong that exists in me, but this isn’t it), but rather the facts. This team has all of the money, so that list of players who could leave in the next couple of years don’t all necessarily have to go. Boston has the money to keep anyone they deem worthy of sticking around, and if they do in fact leave they have the financial muscle to replace them. Some teams build a great core, but don’t have the money (or at least don’t want to spend it) to keep it around for more than a couple of years. The Red Sox should be able to keep this exciting young core, and even better they should be able add to it with the complimentary pieces required to win on a consistent basis.
So, the Red Sox have a two-year window with their current roster and should be able to contend for years after that as well, but that doesn’t make this 2018 season any less important. There are a lot of reasons why this coming year is a big one for the team. This could be their last year with Kimbrel, arguably the greatest closer of his generation, along with Pomeranz and Price, two of the key members of their rotation. Along the same lines, it’s a big reason for the farm system. While Boston has plenty of young position player talent, they could use some help developing pitchers. They have a lot of interesting names on the minor-league mounds — Jason Groome, Tanner Houck, Bryan Mata, Darwinzon Hernandez — and this is the year for them to take a big step forward. Plus, and most importantly, they have the talent to legitimately believe they can win a World Series if things break their way. Any time that is a possibility, there is reason to care about the upcoming season.
The Red Sox haven’t had the postseason success to go along with their regular season prowess over the last two seasons, and that’s undeniably frustrating. It’s also put their perceived talent level below the likes of Houston, New York and Cleveland. Don’t let the small October samples fool you, though. This team belongs in the same sentence as all three of those clubs, both for 2018 and their future projections.