So it appears Dave Dombrowski, for lack of a more fitting cliché, is keeping the band together.
Most everyone with a Red Sox rooting interest is pleased that postseason hero Nathan Eovaldi, who reached agreement on a four-year, $68 million contract Thursday, is sticking around — no one more so than his financial planner.
That 101-mile-per-hour fastball — not to mention that the two Tommy John scars on his right elbow didn’t prevent him from volunteering to use it any time he was needed between starts in the playoffs — makes it easy to ignore that his top career comp is the less-than-legendary Kevin Gausman. The guy is a champ, and perhaps one still rising toward his peak.
World Series Most Valuable Player Steve Pearce, a career have-bat, will-travel type, signed a one-year, $6.25 million deal to stay while the region was still in the happy haze of the franchise’s fourth championship since 2004. He’s a helpful supporting player who, like Eovaldi, seized the spotlight at the perfect time, one who probably should have had more stability in his career all along. Man, Dombrowski sure got it right at the trade deadline last summer, didn’t he?
So save for a few bullpen alterations — it seems the perfect time to move on from Craig Kimbrel, and who really knows what’s ahead in the career of that likable enigma Joe Kelly? — the vast majority of the roster that won 119 games from April through the last out of October will return for a title defense.
This is a good thing . . . I think. I mean, this team certainly earned the chance to try to do it again in unison, to attempt to become the first champion to repeat since the Yankees won their third straight World Series in 2000.
The Yankees were the last dynasty in baseball, way back in those ancient and foolish days when they had us believing in ghosts. I’m not sure the Red Sox can be the next given the major raises coming soon to almost all of their best players. But they sure deserve the chance to try.
But the quest to dominate again with this group will be especially interesting, because in previous tenures keeping the roster intact definitely has not been the post-championship mode of operation.
Theo Epstein has accomplished enough in baseball that he’s a lock for Cooperstown, provided, I suppose, that he never fails a performance-enhancing drug test. (It seems quite unlikely.) One of his theories of team-building was that even championship winners need tweaks and adjustments, because no two seasons are alike, even if the lineups and rotations are generally the same. Every year is different. So is every team.
It makes sense. Dynamics change. The culture can change too. Some players improve. Some get worse. Some get hurt. Some worry more about their contracts after they’ve won the ring.
Hard to argue with the merits of the theory given Epstein’s track record. But it’s also worth noting that his champions — the 2004 and ’07 Red Sox, and the ’16 Cubs — never won back-to-back titles, though all three did reach the postseason.
Epstein actually made some significant changes to the beloved 2004 Red Sox. Derek Lowe and Orlando Cabrera left as free agents. So did Dave Roberts. Edgar Renteria, David Wells, and Matt Clement were among the replacements. It wasn’t better, and it wasn’t the same. I still wish he’d kept Lowe, who was basically the Eovaldi of ’04, but with higher stakes.
The 2007 Red Sox team might have been the most well-rounded roster they’ve ever had, with Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell, Jon Lester, Jonathan Papelbon, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia among those who joined with the core holdovers from the ’04 champs. But by the end of the follow-up season, Manny Ramirez was a member of the Dodgers.
While manager Terry Francona has said he thought ’08 might have been the best team he ever had, they were eliminated in Game 7 of the ALCS by the Rays, having run into rookie fireballer David Price, who now has a pattern of being a postseason buzzsaw every 10 years.
Then there’s the 2014 season, when the Red Sox — put together by Epstein’s successor, Ben Cherington — fell off so drastically from their inspiring ’13 title that homegrown favorite Lester was a member of the Oakland A’s before August began.
You never really know how the sequel to a championship season is going to go. But you know it will be different, even if the cast is mostly the same.
Will Chris Sale be an ace? He looked quite dominant driving Manny Machado to his knees to end the World Series, but who knows what his health situation is. Will any potential free agents be distracted by their contract status? Will Eduardo Rodriguez (man, I loved that Gronk spike of his glove) emerge? Will Price finally be accepted and at ease after his awesome October?
All of the questions were answered in the fall, but there will be new ones to ask come spring. Still, you have to be happy that Eovaldi is sticking around, and that the core of the champs will be back together in Fort Myers when February rolls around.
I mean, they won 108 games in the regular season. They can fall off a bit and still have some wiggle room. Maybe they won’t play all the hits in ’19. But they sure look capable on paper of writing some new ones. Maybe even another classic.