The Yankees just signed Gerrit Cole for a ton of money and it felt like balance being restored to the Force, or at least to the Dark Side of the Force, for those of us who are old enough to live entirely within the Star Wars extended universe. On that point I’m doing my part, and on the others, the Yankees did theirs and now the Red Sox are doing theirs. You can’t have an underdog story without an underdog, and the Sox seem happy to support the narrative -- take their feet off the scales, so to speak, et voila, a comparatively scrappy resistance is born.
You’ll notice of course that there is balance to the Force in this case only when the Yankees are big and bad and better than Boston, and now it is so, and the widening process will only continue from here. Yes, the Red Sox will be elite again, but it will cost less money and take a little time, and yes, none of what happens in hotel rooms this December precludes the team from actually winning it all again next year, but the same is true for the Rockies. The games are not played on paper, which is good, except with all the extra paper laying around John Henry you might love to see it.
It doesn’t have to be this way except that the owner of the Red Sox sees fit for it to be this way the same way George Lucas CGIs trash into otherwise fine movies and does whatever this is. Mackunkey! Put another way: We’re relying on the Ewoks, but by choice. Henry, also a business maven and storyteller, is telling stories you don’t have to believe about how it’s not a choice. If the Red Sox won the title as true underdogs we’d all love it because no matter how you get there hey it’s fun to take down the big guy. The upside isn’t in question, especially because it’s cheaper.
The problem is just that it happens way less often than you’d like, with the supposedly randomness inherent in the baseball playoffs churning out the same exact title contenders year after year, with the biggest spending -- and best cheating -- teams still standing at the end. The Red Sox are intentionally leaving this tier for the one below it to save money and there’s no amount of spin that can change it. Right now, only money talks, and it’s dead quiet on that front. No bounty hunters are coming to the rescue.
I do think this will lead to a more narratively interesting Sox team than last year’s, though that’s not saying much, and fans demanding a title at the threat of seppuku gets a little tiring, as has been the case for the whole decade. It’s quite possible that a conscious step back will ease some of this, but it also might make it worse. There are some fans who view financial savvy as an end in itself and are certainly okay with seeing, say, David Price shipped out of town just to get under the luxury. I think both are mistakes, but hey, agree to disagree.
Wait no I’m gonna talk about it. First off, I have grappled with the idea that it’s okay to want the Red Sox to get under the luxury tax in theory and have come up empty. The entire operation is a literal luxury and should be treated as such. Second, the Sox should probably keep Price because he’s a fine pitcher on enough days, and capable of being better than that, which is exactly what you need in the playoffs. Jettison Price, and I take it as a tacit admission that competing in 2020 isn’t the goal.
All of this and I haven’t even mentioned Mookie Betts yet. If all of this is maneuvering or negotiating with the team’s best player, so be it, but it’s getting a little old. Maybe all of this is so the Sox can keep Betts, who’s the face of the league as much as he is of the franchise, but it just as easily could be undertaken with the opposite goal in mind, to show Mookie that the team could be fine without him. Until a deal is done, we won’t know. Until then, we’re left with our demons, and they reek of chicken, beer and Bobby V. It’s not what you want. But if you’re not spending money, you’ve got to work with what you have.
There is one last position, I suppose: That the Yankees overspent on Cole to such whopping degree that it’s actually silly and a sign they’re big dupes. This is not a straw-man thing, and the math is there: $100 million more than any other pitcher contract after two super-elite seasons on a scientifically advanced and morally questionable team. So is it true? Am I out of touch? Is it the Yankees who are wrong?
No. It is the Red Sox and that’s why I wrote this column, which is now over.