The Red Sox might have beaten the Yankees in the standings in 2017, but New York advanced deeper in the postseason behind a slugging lineup, a top-notch rotation, and a bullpen that’s the envy of baseball. So this rivalry is going to be delicious once again.
“I think it’s going to be interesting to see how each team approaches the offseason,” said one AL East general manager. “The Yankees don’t need to do anything if they don’t want to, except maybe re-sign CC [Sabathia]. The Red Sox need a power hitter. Both teams have excellent young players. Obviously [Aaron] Judge and [Gary] Sanchez are over the top. Sanchez can be the next Mike Piazza.”
Things started to heat up last season when the Yankees caught the Red Sox using an electronic device to steal signs. The Yankees turned the Sox into the league office and Boston received a slap on the wrist for the rule violation. That incident seemed to revive the animosity between the sides, in a good kind of way.
The Red Sox were able to neutralize Judge (.151 average, 2 homers, 5 RBIs, and 30 strikeouts in 73 at-bats in the 2017 season series), but the rest of the Yankee lineup was tough on Boston’s pitching. The Yankees took the season series, 11-8, and made the Red Sox huff and puff to clinch the division.
What can the Red Sox do to counter the Yankees’ strengths?
Obviously they need to add a bat, whether it’s White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu or free agents J.D. Martinez and Eric Hosmer. Would one of those players put the Red Sox’ lineup on the same level as the Yankees?
Judge could match his 52-homer rookie output. Sanchez has 53 homers in 177 career games. Shortstop Didi Gregorius is one of the best players in baseball. The Yankees will likely use Greg Bird at first base, and the feeling is if Bird can stay healthy he could be a 30-40-homer guy. We should also mention Brett Gardner and Starlin Castro, two other outstanding players.
The Yankees are going to need a DH to replace Matt Holliday. They’re the front-runners to land Japanese superstar Shohei Ohtani. They also could go large and pick off one of the top free agent hitters, be it Martinez, Hosmer, or third baseman Mike Moustakas, who would make sense unless the Yankees stay committed to Chase Headley or bring back free agent Todd Frazier, who fit well in a leadership role and as a righthanded power threat.
Because the Yankees now have a superior farm system to the Red Sox, they could pull off any type of trade they want. Or they could commit to youngsters such as third baseman Gleyber Torres, who missed most of last season following Tommy John surgery. He could be the next big thing in New York.
The Yankees are likely going to lose a player or two from their rich farm system in the Rule 5 draft, but they will be redundant players who would not have a chance to make the major league team.
The Yankees have some very good young arms (including lefty Justus Sheffield and righties Albert Abreu, Domingo Acevedo, and Chance Adams) who could make their way to New York by the end of next season. Their rotation will consist of Luis Severino, Masahiro Tanaka, Sonny Gray, and Jordan Montgomery, and the likelihood is strong that Sabathia re-signs.
Their bullpen should remain intact — Adam Warren, Bryan Mitchell, Chad Green, David Robertson, Tommy Kahnle, Dellin Betances, and Aroldis Chapman. And there are reinforcements in place.
The Red Sox also have a good rotation and bullpen, though Addison Reed is a free agent. They’ll rely on Carson Smith in a setup role and hope Tyler Thornburg can make it back sometime early next season. The Sox will also get Steven Wright back from injury, and Eduardo Rodriguez will be coming off knee surgery.
They’ll also have a full year of Rafael Devers, who got his feet wet at third base last season and gained valuable experience as a 20-year-old. The Red Sox will try to utilize Bryce Brentz’s righthanded power off the bench and they’ll have to hope Marco Hernandez can be a solid fill-in for Dustin Pedroia at second base the first couple of months. They’ll miss Eduardo Nunez, unless they can re-sign him to a one- or two-year deal. They’ll also have to find a way to utilize Blake Swihart, who is out of options and will likely play an outfield or corner infield spot rather than behind the plate.
Both the Yankees and Red Sox have high-priced veterans who need to play up to their contracts. Yankees GM Brian Cashman has already said Jacoby Ellsbury is the team’s fourth outfielder, with Gardner moving to center field, youngster Clint Frazier playing left, and Judge in right. The Red Sox need more production out of Hanley Ramirez.
And both will also have new leadership in first-time managers Alex Cora and Aaron Boone, another sidebar to monitor in this rivalry. Both spent years as analysts at ESPN and should therefore be savvy in the media atmosphere of two very big markets. Boone and Cora also understand the scope of the rivalry as former participants.
“It’s going to be tough for Tampa Bay, Toronto, and Baltimore to compete with those two teams,” said an adviser to an AL GM. “The other teams would have to have huge offseasons and improve their rosters. Take your pick — Red Sox or Yankees. They will be the class of the league along with Houston and Cleveland. If I had to pick one team that could win the American League and become the World Series winner, I would pick the Yankees. It’s going to be hard to beat their young talent and their resources. And if they land Ohtani, forget it.”
There’s no guarantee that Judge hits 50-plus homers again. Maybe Sanchez’s defense doesn’t improve. But the Sox have potential issues. too.
Will Devers and Andrew Benintendi get better or will they regress? Can Rick Porcello regain his Cy Young form? Can David Price return to being the dominant David Price or will he battle injuries again?
Ah yes, Red Sox-Yankees drama, alive and well again.
Roenicke will make bench mark
Ron Roenicke has a big job. He’s the bench coach for first-time manager Alex Cora in Boston.
Roenicke, who spent four-plus seasons as manager of the Brewers and was recently third base coach with the Angels, said he needed to hear “certain things” from Dave Dombrowski and Cora before deciding to leave his home in Southern California. When he heard the right things, he decided to jump on board.
“Pretty sharp guy,” Roenicke said of Cora, whom he managed at Double A. “I don’t think it’ll take him long.”
Roenicke said he hopes to offer Cora his experience and provide guidance “in various things and not just on the field things. I’m sure I’ll be able to help him that way also, but at first thinking right.
“No matter how long you coach, when you start managing, the thinking has to be different. You’re thinking about priorities and getting them right. When I first started managing, I would think wrong. I would think about things that I had time to think about later. It took me a little while just to know the sequence of the thinking and how when you think the right way you have plenty of time to do the things you want to do.
“At the beginning, it seems like it’s always going quick. I’ll help him with that part, with suggestions during ballgames, on what’s going on and keep him open to different scenarios that might come up and which way he’d like to go. And then off the field, just dealing with [the media]. I’ll try to listen to some of the interviews and just try to pick up things. I know it can get tricky at times. You have your responsibility to the players who you need to protect and you have responsibility to the ownership group who is your boss and sometimes that gets a little tricky with some of the questions that are asked. I can help him with all that.
“In the conversations we had, he wanted the help and he knew that being a first-time manager is not that easy to walk in there and do it. With those comments and comments Dave Dombrowski made to me, I felt really good about taking the job.”
Roenicke said he took lessons from his own bench coach in Milwaukee, Jerry Narron, who was once a Red Sox coach and now is bench coach for Torey Lovullo in Arizona.
“What Jerry did for me is really run the game well. Because Jerry was good with in-game management, we were rarely caught off guard with something,” Roenicke said. “Because I trusted him so much, it allowed me to do some other things that I thought were important as a manager, like walk down the bench and pump somebody up or get someone laughing. Having the bench coach I grew to trust freed me up to doing a lot better job.”
Roenicke said he’s always embraced analytics. However, he said it’s important to know how to distribute that information to the players.
“Anything we can get from the staff up above will be great,” Roenicke said. “How it comes into play is the biggest question. You can’t just get all of this information and then go load it on a player. Some players can handle it. It’s our job to learn the personality of that player and how much he can handle and sometimes the overthinking gets you into all kinds of trouble.
“It’s getting them to think the right way. If analytics can clear their minds, that’s outstanding. For instance, if a hitting coach is trying to get to a player and the player is disagreeing with him, he can show them the numbers that prove what he’s saying. That player is apt to change his mind and be more open to him.”
Apropos of nothing
1. The Red Sox have asked the White Sox about Jose Abreu, but don’t get too excited. According to a major league source, the White Sox will only deal him if they’re blown away with an offer of top prospects, and it doesn’t appear, at least for the moment, that the White Sox see that prospect package in the Red Sox’ farm system.
2. Interest in switch-hitter Carlos Santana is starting to pick up, according to his agency, Octagon. Santana is an excellent top-of-the-order hitter who enhances any lineup, and it will be a big loss for the Indians if they don’t re-sign him. The Red Sox have talked to Santana’s agents. While he’s not anyone’s first choice as the dominos fall, Santana will be a sought-after player. “He makes any team’s lineup better and he’s become a very good first baseman. I think he’s a notch above [Eric] Hosmer [defensively],” said one AL GM.
3. Two people who deserve managerial consideration are Rocco Baldelli and Luis Rivera. Baldelli, Tampa Bay’s newly appointed major league field coordinator, is baseball smart and someone players look up to. Rivera, Toronto’s third base coach, is someone players listen to, is great with Latino players, and has toughness and respect.
4. A Providence Journal story a week ago said that the Pawtucket Red Sox, stalled in their talks with Rhode Island, might consider moving to Attleboro.
5. The Giants’ interest in Giancarlo Stanton has reenergized their tremendous fan base following a rare down season. Team ownership will go over the luxury tax threshold for the fourth straight season, incurring a heavy tax.
6. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf and Red Sox executive Tony La Russa have had a longtime goal of getting impactful coaches into the Hall of Fame. Their efforts have fallen on deaf ears, but it’s time. Brian Butterfield, Perry Hill, and Dave Righetti would certainly qualify for such an honor. So would La Russa’s longtime pitching coach Dave Duncan, as well as hitting gurus Charley Lau and Walt Hriniak.
7. I’ve written about the sadness of the ballplayers who played before 1980, when pension rules changed. If you played after 1980, you only needed 43 days of service time to qualify for a major league pension. Players who played between 1947-79 don’t fall under the same rules. All they get is a nonqualified pension, which doesn’t amount to much. Author Douglas Gladstone has championed the cause of getting the Players Association to recognize these men. One such player is 95-year-old George Yankowski, who was born in Cambridge and was a player and coach at Watertown High as well as Northeastern University. Yankowski is a World War II veteran who fought in the Battle of the Bulge and earned a Bronze Star. Yankowski, who played parts of two MLB seasons, with the A’s and White Sox, makes no more than $2,500 in a nonqualified pension before taxes. In contrast, a retired MLB player who is vested can make $210,000. Even the minimum pension for a post-1980 player with only 43 game days of service is a reported $34,000. The MLBPA pension fund is valued by Forbes at more than $2.7 billion.
8. The annual Boston Baseball Writers Dinner is Jan. 19 at Boston Marriott Copley Place.
9. One longtime NL scout who watches a lot of Jackie Bradley Jr. said, “Forget the metrics, he’s the best center fielder I’ve seen since Paul Blair.”
From the Bill Chuck files — “The New England Patriots have not had a losing season since 2000; while the Yankees have not had a losing season since 1992.” . . . Also, “Over the last three seasons, only five pitchers have thrown 200-plus innings each year: Chris Sale, Max Scherzer, Jeff Samardzija, Corey Kluber, and Chris Archer.” . . . Happy birthday, Paul Byrd (47) and Damon Berryhill (54).
Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo. Material from interviews, wire services, other beat writers, and league and team sources was used in this report.