Playing nine innings while finding it fitting that baseball will miss Dennis Eckersley in retirement more than it ever will David Price …
1. Here’s where I fall on The Xander Bogaerts Situation. I understand why it may not be wise to sign him to the contract his past production suggests he deserves. The Red Sox need to do it anyway.
Caution about giving Bogaerts a deal well over nine figures for the next five or six years is wise, and you know the reasons. He’s 30 years old. He plays a position where the spryness of youth is essential. His exit velocity dropped slightly this year, and his slugging percentage fell for the second straight year. He’s still an outstanding player. But will he be at 32, or 34, or 36? It’s hard to figure the answer will be yes in those later years, at least if he remains at shortstop.
But Bogaerts is a special case. He’s a clubhouse pillar who brings people together. He’s so dedicated that he actually improved his defense and accompanying metrics this season. Even if his power wanes, he will remain a helpful, smart offensive player. He thrives and wants to remain in this market, and Chaim Bloom had better recognize the value in that if he doesn’t already. Oh, and the Red Sox can afford him without having to cut financial corners elsewhere.
Carlos Correa might be a slightly better player. Trea Turner is more athletic, and Dansby Swanson is having a career year. All three are younger than Bogaerts. But Bogaerts has thrived in Boston, he’s won in Boston, and he wants to remain in Boston. This is not a situation where you try to make an incremental improvement. This is where you ante up for the cornerstone who should never play anywhere else.
2. I am certain the Red Sox will spend significantly this offseason, but the degree of difficulty in filling the roster’s glaring needs is going to be high for Bloom. The player pool in free agency doesn’t line up all that well with the Red Sox’ needs, especially when it comes to starting pitching.
The best starter likely to be available, Carlos Rodon, has been fabulous the past two seasons with the White Sox and Giants, posting a 2.67 ERA, 157 adjusted ERA+, and 27 victories in that span. But he has a long and alarming injury history that limited him to just 41 starts from 2017-20, and he had a not-exactly-sparkling 4.45 ERA in that span. I’d be very wary of making a major financial commitment there.
3. The outfield pool isn’t very deep either, with the Mets’ Brandon Nimmo ranking as the best available after new American League home run king Aaron Judge.
It looks more and more like Bloom is going to have to swing some creative trades — and sacrifice precious prospect depth — to enhance the roster. Count me among those who would give up Alex Verdugo as part of a deal for pitching or an outfield upgrade. He’s a likable player and a capable hitter, but the power hasn’t come around — he was tied for 86th in the AL with 11 home runs — and he runs the bases as if his shoelaces were on fire.
4. In the spirit of full disclosure, these were the AL teams I picked to make the playoffs in our baseball preview back in April: Blue Jays, White Sox, Astros, with the Red Sox, Rays, and Mariners as the wild cards. Somehow overlooked those upstart Yankees.
In the NL, I went Phillies, Brewers, and Dodgers, with the Braves, Padres, and Cardinals as wild cards.
Nine of 12 isn’t bad, but that Dodgers-Blue Jays World Series prediction is guaranteed to be half-wrong already, and I tweeted a few weeks back that this is the Mets’ year. Apparently it is not.
5. Count me among those glad to see the Rays bounced from the postseason by Terry Francona’s Guardians. The Rays have won at least 90 games eight times since 2008, and they’ve made the playoffs eight times in the same span, but they’ve never come all that close to winning a World Series.
They lost to the Phillies in five games in ‘08 and to the Dodgers in six games in ‘20 in their only two Fall Classic appearances. This should be considered further evidence that the Rays’ method of team-building is not the model the Red Sox should be following.
6. The Rays are usually good enough to get a kick at the postseason can, but they’re never talented enough to win the thing. The Red Sox’ inspiration at the moment should be the Braves, who have a shot at a second straight World Series title and have done an extraordinary job of locking up their young talent, most recently Spencer Strider.
If the Red Sox want to mimic the Dodgers and actually pay for elite talent, well, that would be swell, too. It was all too fitting that on the last day of this lost season, Bloom made one last transaction, claiming pitcher Easton McGee — a Rays discard, of course — on waivers.
7. Hard to believe that Francona, the best manager to ever operate out of the Fenway home dugout, has been with the Guardians for a decade now, two years longer than he led the Red Sox.
It’s sort of like when you realize Carlton Fisk spent more seasons with the White Sox (13) than he did with the Red Sox (11, including a total of 16 games in 1969 and ‘71). Or, what it will be like when 63-year-old Tom Brady plays his 21st season with the Buccaneers in 2040.
8. The Guardians don’t feature a lot of star power beyond the perennially underrated José Ramírez, but underestimating them against the Yankees (that series starts Tuesday) would be a mistake.
Gerrit Cole, sort of a two-true-outcomes starter in that he led the league in strikeouts and home runs allowed, seems to grip the ball a little too tightly in big moments, which of course will ingratiate him to all of those sympathetic Yankees fans should he melt down into 2004 Kevin Brown over the next week.
9. I don’t think it will pertain to this postseason’s matchup, but Cleveland hasn’t had much success against New York during Francona’s tenure. The Yankees prevailed in five games — after dropping the first two — in the ‘17 Division Series, then took both games of the wild-card series in the abbreviated 2020 season.
So Francona has lost his last five playoff games against the Yankees. His four-game postseason winning streak against them as Red Sox manager remains intact for an 18th straight year, however.