As a life-long Yankees fan, Neil Cohen has to tip his hat to the Red Sox, who, in the wake of April’s terror attacks on Boston, are forging a feel-good, worst-to-first season.
I’ve never watched a Boston Red Sox game in which the Yankees weren’t playing. Why would anyone want to subject themselves to watching Josh Beckett take 30 seconds to throw a pitch or David Ortiz spit in his hands, or Curt Schilling, well, be Curt Schilling?
On Monday, April 20, 2013, however, I not only watched a Red Sox game but I rooted for them, something that isn’t actually so hard to admit given the circumstances.
Following the devastating terror attack at the Boston Marathon on April 15 that claimed the lives of three people and injured 264 more, the Red Sox returned home to honor the victims, first responders and their city. Much like following the attacks of September 11, 2001, we were all Bostonians that day.
David Ortiz ended an emotional pre-game ceremony with “This is our fucking city, and nobody’s going to dictate our freedom. Stay strong!” Daniel Nava followed it with a go-ahead three-run homer to give the Red Sox the victory. Any Yankee fan should have known then and there it was going to be a long year. (Yankee fans could have also looked at their starting line-up to know that as well).
But the Sox amazing worst-to-first turnaround didn’t start on April 20; it started on July 25, 2012 when management made a trade for the ages, sending underperforming stars Adrian Gonzales, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford (along with Nick Punto) and their more than a quarter of a billion dollars in salary to the Dodgers for prospects and a chance at a new life. One could only imagine Yankee GM Brian Cashman desperately calling the Dodgers too begging them to take his over-priced, underperforming third and first basemen off his hands. One can dream.
The Red Sox followed this move—and a disastrous 69-93 last place finish in 2012—by also firing their manager Bobby Valentine (not sure how to even describe that relationship) and replacing him with favored son, and pitching guru, John Farrell. They then signed good (not even remotely great) players and known “clubhouse guys” Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster and Mike Napoli to short term contracts. In all, according to Baseball Prospectus (BP), they acquired eight new players with a combined 2012 Wins Above Replacement Player (WARP) of 11.4 compared to the eight former players’ 8.0 WARP. A move in the right direction for sure, but clearly not enough to account for the Sox’s first place 61-42 record so far this year. In fact, BP picked them to finish fourth at 72-90.
So how do we explain a Red Sox team currently in first place, on pace to win 96 games, that BP now says has an 89% chance of making the playoffs? By comparison, BP says the Yankees have an 18% chance to make the playoffs. (Ouch, that hurt to even type).
The Red Sox are in first place because their core players are healthy and performing at expected levels. Position players Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, and pitchers Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and John Lackey are all playing at or above what one would have expected after 2012. (To be fair, Buchholz has been injured lately and may be out another month and Lester just recently ended a long slump in beating the second place Tampa Bay Rays last week).
The Red Sox demonstrated their confidence in players that do it the right way by rewarding Pedroia with baseball’s first $100 million contract for a second baseman (surely beating Robinson Cano, who becomes a free agent at the end of this year, by only half a season). Perhaps they’ve learned (perhaps not) from the large contracts they recently traded to the Dodgers.
Pedroia is one of only three players, along with Victorino and Buchholz, that are under contract beyond 2014, giving the Red Sox great flexibility to sign free agents, take on salary via trades and allow their top prospects to blossom in Boston (are you paying attention yet, Cashman?). The Yankees also have only three players signed for 2015 (Rodriguez, Teixeira and Sabathia), however they are owed a whopping $68M in 2015 and let’s not even get into whether they are worth it.
However, all is not sunshine and roses for the Red Sox. Their bullpen has been devastated by injuries and their line-up still could use another reliable bat. They continue to rely on oft-injured stars and Buchholz will be out for a while. And the Rays are knocking on their door pretty hard, having recently won 21 of 25 games thanks to stellar starting pitching.
So to my fellow Yankees fans, remember that anything can happen. It’s not too late for the Red Sox to have another 2011-like collapse. One can dream, after all.
Still, even as a Yankee fan, it’s hard not to like this Red Sox team. And considering what Boston went through back in April, it’s hard not to pull for them just a little bit.
Photo: AP/Michael Dwyer