I know it’s been awhile. During a tumultuous period of time in Major League Baseball history where interesting columns could have practically written themselves, John and Luke have been even further off the grid than the state of Texas. It would be easy to blame our absence on Covid-19, but the fact of the matter is that both of our lives have been a blitz of personal and professional conflicts that haven’t left either of us with any time for blogging. Between working, having a kid, starting a new job, graduate school classes, writing a book, and trying to keep from losing our minds under quarantine, Bleacher Brawls has unfortunately had to take a back seat. But with pitchers and catchers reporting this week and a real season (as opposed to last year’s fake season) primed to get underway in a just over a month, it’s time to get back into the swing of things.
And make no mistake … 2020 was indeed a fake season. 60 games, numerous player opt outs, rule changes implemented to test the waters like it’s the NFL preseason, and Mookie Betts’ LA contract extension, there was no part of the 2020 season that any baseball fan should take seriously. And no, Dodgers fans, you don’t count as baseball fans. Talk to me when you start showing up before the third inning during the regular season and we’ll talk about opening the books for membership.
Fairweather fandom aside, congratulations to Mookie and the Dodgers for bringing home a title that is slightly more prestigious than the honorary crown that the 1994 Montreal Expos were unofficially awarded by the majority of fans that remember that dark year. Mookie got paid and is poised to spend the rest of his career as a superstar in Hollywood. Would the Red Sox have had a shot at bringing him back if he got to free agency? I think so. But Mookie fell in love with LA the moment he stepped off the plane. He had made it known to the world that he had every intention to test the free agent waters while he was in Boston. But between the celebrity scene, the nice weather, and being the centerpiece of a loaded team, Mookie changed his tune and signed a monster 12-year contract to be the centerpiece of a loaded team that is not afraid to outspend the rest of the league, eating a luxury tax equivalent to the GNP of Morocco in the process.
I’d be remiss not to point out that uncertainty of the Covid-19 situation last summer and a pending MLB labor dispute did give Mookie a ton of incentive to sign a long-term deal in the place where he was already playing in 2020. But the truth is that Mookie Betts quite simply did not see Boston as the place where he wanted to finish his career. I’ll always love him for 2018 and all of his incredible production during his Red Sox tenure. But he made his choice. Now we have to make our own choice to move on from the past and get with the times.
The problem is that the times kinda suck right now. The Boston pitching staff has been McGyver’d together with duct tape and Big League Chew, and nobody is sure when Eduardo Rodriguez and Chris Sale are expected back. For now, Nathan Eovaldi is the ace of the staff. Once his arm starts hurting around mid-May, that role will fall on the equally fragile shoulders of Garrett Richards or the perennially mediocre Martin Perez. And while I am fully on board with Chaim Bloom’s philosophy of building the farm system and surrounding Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, and Rafael Devers with good athletes that can play all over the diamond, this hack rotation and a bullpen headlined by the ghost of Adam Ottavino will make it impossible for them to contend this year. And we have one person to thank for that.
After winning the 2018 World Series, Dave Dombrowski torched a team with a solid foundation that had the potential of contending every year for a long time for the sake of making the quick, easy decisions of re-signing a couple of that year’s heroes to long-term deals. It didn’t take a genius to realize that Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi could not hold up over the course of a major league season. The 5-year/$145 million deal for Sale and the 4-year/$68 million contract for Eovaldi were irresponsible, uncreative moves that torpedoed a once-promising core into a rebuild in a single year. The injuries that followed surprised no one, probably not even Dombrowski. Stuck to the archaic mantra that high-priced starting pitching is the key to a championship, Dombrowski committed almost half-billion dollars to Sale, Eovaldi, and David Price. And while all three of them were irreplaceable anchors that played enormous roles in winning that 2018 championship, the hideous way that Dombrowski sacrificed the next four or five years by overpaying for past performance was borderline malfeasance.
All the dead money that the team will be carrying until 2023 is bad enough, but putting the payroll in a position where the Red Sox had to trade away the best position player the Red Sox system has ever developed out of fear that they may not be able to compete with his other suitors is an unforgivable travesty. But Dave was gone by then and he’d gotten his ring, so what did he care? Sure, Red Sox ownership knew that was his MO, and they certainly cannot get a pass for that. But Dave was at the wheel when the car crashed into the telephone pole.
Chris Sale ($30 million), Nathan Eovaldi ($17 million), Garret Richards ($10 million), and Eduardo Rodriguez ($8 million) are all making significant money this season, and all are expected to miss significant time this year. David Price ($16 million), Dustin Pedroia ($14 million), and Andrew Benintendi ($3 million) are also being paid well by the Red Sox, and they are all guaranteed to not play a single game for them. The good news is that all of the dead money comes off the books after next year. The bad news is, that leaves us two more seasons to view the Red Sox as scrappy underdogs despite having a payroll over $200 million.
Going all in for a championship is one thing. But emptying the coffers for the wounded warriors of that campaign after the hardware has already been claimed, while admirable on a human level, is a dereliction of duty on a professional level. Luckily, Dave Dombrowski now has a new big market team in a sports-crazed city to tear apart.
Have fun, Philly. He’s your problem now.
In times like these … and I’ve seen several times like these in-between championships over the past 16 years … I always think about the 2013 Red Sox. On paper, that team looked thinner than a bulimic horse jockey. But titles aren’t won on paper.
Well, except in 2020.