Time Out for Sports Talk: Anticipating Spring, Baseball and the Sox
Todd: After enduring a month of nor’easters and cold temperatures and looking at piles of snow still on the ground, it’s hard to believe that today marks Opening Day of the 2018 MLB season.
While I realize this tends to be the norm for New England sports fans this time of year, between the Bruins and Celtics both playing well and both anticipating long, deep playoff runs, it feels that it could be awhile before the Red Sox are foremost on everyone’s minds. Still, a preview of the upcoming season is a must, if only so I can believe that I’ll soon be able to walk outdoors without a winter coat.
Space is limited here, so if you want a comprehensive, in-depth look at the 2018 Red Sox, listen to the latest TOST ‘Todd-Cast’ here.
A team winning 93 games and back-to-back AL East division titles the last two seasons is hardly in need of an overhaul, so it was not a shock that the Sox made few changes during the offseason—perhaps it’s also because their $223 million team payroll is currently the highest in baseball. But Boston did make two significant additions that will hopefully help get the club over the hump of a 1-6 postseason record since their improbable title run in 2013.
The first big move comes in the dugout, where Alex Cora (who played for the 2007 World Series champs) replaces John Farrell, who was fired after five seasons. It was obvious to even the casual observer that despite last season’s on-field success, the clubhouse atmosphere was uncomfortable at best and toxic at worst. It was obvious to me that the players lost respect for ‘Manager John’ and that—combined with David Ortiz’ absence—made it a tough season behind the scenes. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts both confirmed that 2017 was a grind for the club with comments they made at the start of spring training.
To me, Farrell’s departure is addition-by-subtraction, and the Sox should improve based on that alone. But I don’t want to totally discount Cora’s presence isn’t going to add something positive to the mix. I think he’ll do a much better job relating to and communicating with these players based on being closer to their ages as well as being extremely fluent in both English and Spanish, which in turn should help Betts, Bogaerts and other players who underachieved somewhat last year, to raise their games to the level most of us expect they can achieve.
As for the big on-field add, it took months of waiting to see if a bidding war would break out for the services of J.D. Martinez, but Dave Dombrowski was eventually able to land the 30-year old slugger with a team-friendly 5-year, $110M deal after the hot stove season cooled off considerably. I know calling a $20M+ annual salary ‘team-friendly’ sounds ridiculous, but it illustrates the insanity of baseball contracts are these days.
I’ll confess to not being the biggest J.D. fan (maybe I’m still scarred by Boston’s last J.D. from a decade ago), but I like that the Sox didn’t bid against themselves and overpaid to get him. My concerns are whether his previous success with Detroit and Arizona will translate to the more intense Boston market, and if he can adapt to being a primary DH—in his 7-year, 772-game MLB career, he’s only been a designated hitter 38 times. Ortiz regularly stated during his playing days that not everyone is cut out to only appear on the field for 4-5 at-bats a game and then go hang out in the dugout or clubhouse the rest of the game. Martinez himself has stated he’d prefer to play in the outfield, but given his below-average defensive skills and the trio of Betts, Bradley and Benintendi more than effectively occupying that real estate, I’d rather see JDM holding a bat than a glove.
If you’re someone who prefers to be boundlessly optimistic and believe that history repeats itself, make note of these parallels between the 2018 Sox and the club that ended an 86-year championship drought back in 2004: Alex Cora and Terry Francona are/were both first-year Red Sox managers, Pedro/Schilling vs. Sale/Price leading the respective rotations, and the Yankees acquiring a 28-year old reigning league MVP that many thought would ultimately land in Boston—Alex Rodriguez then, Giancarlo Stanton now.
I suppose it should also be noted that Aaron ‘Bleeping’ Boone, whose home run ended Boston’s ’03 season and helped drive the ’04 team to ultimate success, is back in the picture again, having just moved from the broadcast booth to the dugout. Despite all the talent on the current Yankees’ roster, I’m curious to see how Boone manages and if he’s able to not interfere with the team’s likely success.
My prediction for the 2018 Red Sox is that I think it’ll be a tight race between the longtime rivals, and that New York wins the AL East by a whisker. Sox win 92 games and host the Wild Card playoff game. After that, health and a little luck will determine just how far they are able to go.
Mike: Wow, is it that time of year already? Spring is in the air and after a long winter, the most anticipated event on the spring sporting calendar is FINALLY here. I couldn't be more excited, so let's get right to it, and let's start with the huge free agent signing
The biggest news of course is the signing of the biggest free agent available just in time for the season. And let's take a look at the exciting introduction.
I couldn't believe it when I saw it, but it's true Ronda Rousey has been signed, and I can't wait to see what she is going to do when she joins up with the Olympic hero Kurt Angle against the dastardly Stephanie McMahon and Triple H!
Wait, we weren't talking about Wrestlemania season?
[Goes to the top of the column...reads Todd's stuff]
Oh, never mind. I guess it's baseball season we are talking about today. Sorry. But it should be said that Wrestlemania will be the conclusion of a perfect sports Sunday on April 7 as it comes on right after the final round of the Masters....No? Still baseball? OK.
In all seriousness, I am looking forward to this baseball season, not because I think the Red Sox have a strong shot at winning the World Series, but just at the fact that they seem like they are going to be a fun, young team to watch.
And it starts right at the top. From what I have seen this spring, Alex Cora seems to really have brought a new spirit to the team and it has shown this spring with a strong record.
Sure, spring records don't really mean all that much, but it does have to count for something, especially with a younger team.
And I like the addition of JD Martinez, especially because of the fact that they didn't overpay to get him, a fact that I think will work in his favor if he gets out of the gate slowly. If he had a huge free agent contract, and had a rough start, it would be easy to see the fans turning on him (see: Price, David). But, in this case, I think he's going to get a lot more leeway from the fans, and that should help him settle in to a place that can be tough to play in.
Besides, his contract signing went smoothly, not like this one...
Still no on Wrestlemania? OK, can't blame a guy for trying.
Getting back to the Red Sox, it's killing me to write this, but I think the Yankees take the division this year, they seem to have just too much to overcome. Like Todd, I will put them in the AL Wild Card game, but from there my crystal ball is a bit foggy.
But one thing I know, it's going to be a fun season. Play ball!
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