The Boston Red Sox fell apart in one year. In other words, one of the most storied franchises in Major League Baseball collapsed 12-15 months after winning a World Series.
This franchise is a unique case of a big-market team going from prominence to darkness in the blink of an eye.
Boston beat the snot out of every obstacle in their way of a World Series championship in 2018. They won an MLB-best 108 games in the regular season and could’ve won more had they not rested some of their starters down the stretch; they beat their hated rivals, the New York Yankees, in four games in the American League Division Series, which included a 16-1 Game 3 massacre in Yankee Stadium.
They beat *the defending World Series-champion Houston Astros* in five games in the AL Championship Series; they beat the defending National League-champion Los Angeles Dodgers in five games in the World Series.
Little did anyone know that everything would go south from here.
Boston re-signed right-hander and postseason hero Nathan Eovaldi to a four-year, $68 million deal the ensuing offseason, and the bulk of their 2018 roster remained in place; they seemed poised to be a playoff team. Then we were reminded that you still have to play the games.
Boston came out of the gate struggling. While they gradually played their way out of the cellar, they never came close to posing a serious threat to anyone in the AL. The nail in the coffin came in an eight-game losing streak to the Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays in late-July/early-August.
After an impressive three wins in a row against the Yankees at Fenway Park, the Red Sox lost the Sunday Night showcase, which was followed up by the Rays sweeping Boston in Fenway and the Red Sox being swept in a four-game series in the Bronx. Boston never recovered.
On September 9, 2019 the baseball world woke up to stunning news: the Red Sox moved on from president Dave Dombrowski. Yes, the human who pulled off a multitude of monumental transactions that helped lay the groundwork for their soon-to-be championship core, albeit having ownership willing to write monster checks helps.
They ended up replacing Dombrowski with Rays president Chaim Bloom, who was present for one of the most infamous offseasons in Boston history.
There had been rumblings towards the end of the season about the Red Sox entertaining trade offers for star outfielder Mookie Betts. The thought of Boston moving on and not extending their franchise player sounded laughable. Well, funny story, here.
Betts, 27 and a free agent after 2020, and Boston apparently came nowhere near reaching common ground on a contract extension. After months of conversation and dialogue with teams, the Red Sox traded the 2018 AL Most Valuable Player Award winner and left-hander David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielder Alex Verdugo, top infield prospect Jeter Downs, and catching prospect Connor Wong.
Then it came out that Chris Sale, who was entering the first year of a five-year, $145 million deal, needed Tommy John surgery, which would keep him off the hill for 2020.
Boston is now, at best, the third-best team in the AL East. The Yankees and Rays are loaded around the diamond and on their respective pitching staffs; they’re each threats to win the AL pennant. Meanwhile, the Toronto Blue Jays bolstered their starting rotation in the offseason, most notably signing 2019 NL Cy Young Award finalist Hyun-Jin Ryu, and have arguably the best young positional core in baseball.
Oh, and there was that whole scandal thing.
The Red Sox were recently punished for illegal sign stealing in 2018. Team video replay system operator J.T. Watkins and manager Alex Cora were suspended without pay through 2020, and the Red Sox were forced to surrender their 2020 second-round draft selection. Cora, of course, is just a few months removed from being at the center of the Astros’ deep-rooted, sign-stealing scandal of which he was an integral part of.
So, does Boston’s championship mean anything? Well, do you think the Astros’ means anything?
Was there something that could’ve prevented Boston’s remarkable skid?
They payed everyone on their roster without seeming to care about future expenditures. Eovaldi got $68 million; Sale got $145 million; Xander Bogaerts got $120 million; the Red Sox are paying half of the remaining $96 million remaining on Price’s deal. Yes, Price is playing for the Dodgers.
Boston’s projected 2020 rotation is Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez, Martin Perez, Ryan Weber, and Collin McHugh. Their bullpen has been a shaky bunch in recent memory. The one thing Boston has going for them is their offense, which is still potent without Betts given the presence of Verdugo, Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi, Christian Vazquez, Mitch Moreland, and Michael Chavis.
Boston has sported one of, if not the highest payroll in MLB over the last few seasons, so you’d think paying up to keep a star wouldn’t be an issue. However, Boston payed everyone so much to the point where giving Betts the money he desired, which was supposedly close to Mike Trout‘s $427 million deal, would’ve put them in an unprecedented financial bind.
It’s not uncommon to see teams occasionally take a step back after winning a World Series. The Kansas City Royals haven’t made it back to the playoffs since winning the Fall Classic in 2015; the San Francisco Giants missed the playoffs after each of their last three World Series championships.
The difference is Boston has close to no chance of smelling a Wild Card in 2020. Their starting pitching is going to be reminiscent of post-2014 MLB trade deadline when they traded Jon Lester and John Lackey in a season where they were removed from playoff contention.
For a bullpen that struggled with a proportionately large workload (Boston’s bullpen was sixth in MLB last season in innings pitched), Sale, Price, and Rick Porcello being removed from the equation will only further their pitching woes.
Boston is one of the richest franchises in American sports. The idea that they don’t have the resources to keep their best player and stay competitive a year after winning the World Series is perplexing. Yet, here we are: the Red Sox have fallen off a cliff that will take multiple years to climb back up.
This is a situation that one would expect a small-market team to face, as they may make decisions that help them win in the short term in an attempt to capitalize on an opportunity to win. Instead, we have a big-market team in this situation. You don’t see this every day.