The last few weeks have been hard for Red Sox fans, and especially for this one, but baseball is back and my mood is improving because of this baseball. I am finally somewhat reassured that the organization will be effective moving forward, because I have seen balls fly over the wall and, as I have argued in these virtual pages in other contexts, the team is a multi-billion dollar killing machine that clearly knows what it is doing.
To this end, Jon Couture of Boston.com wrote that if the Red Sox win a World Series in the next few years the sting of the Mookie Betts trade, which is already waning, will abate near completely. Specifically, while addressing general criticisms of the deal that echoed my own extended, very pointed ones, he wrote:
Has Henry earned his invective this winter? Sure, though I’m not super interested in the debate. Every time that chatter gets louder, his team wins another championship and it dissipates.
Because that’s how this works. For all the righteous indignation of the last few weeks, the tears about Betts and Brock Holt and everything else, we know that to be true, don’t we?
I don’t find this persuasive except as a matter of historical record. The Red Sox have been the most successful franchise of the century, but it hasn’t been for lack of competition, and expecting it to continue for another two decades is probably a fool’s errand no matter how good you think the team will be overall. The playing field is too flat for any team to have a huge advantage minus an abundance of star players, and on that front, I have some bad news...
But seriously, if I had to identify one throughline for between the championships, it would be the best players in baseball, usually in the form of David Ortiz, playing their best baseball when it “matters most:” this is why the Mookie Betts trade was particularly distasteful for me; it robbed us of his highest-leverage production (and for the Dodgers, my guys, I hope it works). There have been enough examples of using the the value of superstar players in their walk years more directly and immediately into playoff wins (see: every deadline deal ever) than John Henry and Chaim Bloom are trying to do this season, to call a “bridge year” no matter what the team says. At the very least it *will* bridge the time, like any year. Shout out to time.
If it does not seem honest to to call this a “bridge year” it’s less because the total payroll, as Henry suggested at the bad press conference, is still about $190 million, and more because this is probably just the new way of doing business in all years. Is it the “Rays way?” Sort of. In Sunday’s preseason game against the Orioles, WEEI’s Will Flemming, who I heard for a grand total of two innings and I’m willing to declare “quite good,” said that for the degree Bloom has been painted as a Rays guy he has also been a Red Sox guy, canvassing everyone in the organization to make sure he knows every angle on every player. I’m pretty sure exploiting value at all levels of an organization is part of the Rays way, but it’s the good part, at least, and I think the Betts trade represents the bad part, in that it, like the Rays, was a crime against the sport.
(One thing I’ve downplayed in assessing the terrible Betts trade and roster move are the penalties for sign-stealing that the Sox may or may not see in 2020. The interview with recently retired Ian Kinsler, who stressed the Sox were good at stealing signs the old fashioned way, especially on the heels of J.D. Martinez saying the league wouldn’t find very much, makes me believe both of them. Whatever they do find I expect them to punish at like 130 percent, but the scale shouldn’t be enough to matter too much, but they keep pushing it off.)
If there’s a gang of culprits leading us to underrate how hard this has all been, it’s the 2013 Red Sox. That team has unwittingly poisoned the dialogue about what it means to win a title, and not because they were bad. They were the best! They also really weren’t supposed to win, which is of course why they were the best (that and Koji), and that distinguishes them from the other title teams in this century. The 2007 and 2018 teams were hands-down better than the league, and the 2004 team was tied for that honor with the Yankees. Especially in light of the 2018 championship, the 2013 title reads more like a birthright than the miracle it was.
All of this is basically a mild rejoinder to what I wrote about the trade in its wake. In the small sense, I have no doubt Bloom is going to be very good at the job and that the Sox will be good-to-great at baseball as soon as this year. I also know that and three bucks gets you on the subway. There’s no reason the good fortune of the last two decades has to roll over to the next one. And if it does, there’s no problem. We’re already playing with house money. But the house always wins.