It took three months longer than it should have, but after much hand-wringing and anxiety from the Boston media market, Dave Dombrowski pulled the trigger on top free agent outfielder J.D. Martinez.
I could see this coming. You could see this coming. Your grandpa who thinks David Ortiz still plays for the Red Sox could see this coming. Boston always needed JD, and JD was always going to Boston.
It was predictable. It was obvious. Frankly, it was all a little boring.
But maybe that’s exactly what Boston needs this year.
The 2017 season started with high expectations, as every season does in Boston. Hot-shot general manager Dave Dombrowski pulled off a blockbuster deal to acquire Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox. Boston’s media analysts worked themselves into a frenzy salivating over a rotation that included three front-line starters in Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello, with strong depth options like Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz, and Steven Wright. Maybe not quite the Phillies “Four Aces Plus One” of 2010-11, but “Three Aces Plus Four Pretty Solid Guys” is still championship-caliber.
Or, it could have been. David Price went down in the spring with a left elbow injury, though he and the team kept playing coy as to the exact nature of the injury. Later in the summer, he started picking fights with Red Sox superstar Dennis Eckersley and the rabid Boston media market–fights that made everyone look petty and insecure. Rick Porcello failed to live up to his 2016 Cy Young campaign, posting a painful 5.06 ERA through the end of June. The only one of the three aces that performed was Cy Young winner Chris Sale–and he managed to make it through the full season without going Edward Scissorhands on Boston’s uniforms.
Nothing went right in 2017. Dustin Pedroia’s knees couldn’t hold up. Andrew Benitendi struggled in the beginning of his first full big-league season. Third base was the Bermuda Triangle until Rafael Devers was called up in July, and his defense continues to be suspect. The team missed Big Papi’s big personality in the clubhouse. And try as they might, the team just couldn’t get the ball over the fence.
Boston’s woes only continued in the offseason. John Farrell was sacked after suggestions that he had lost control of the clubhouse. Steven Wright was charged with domestic assault in December, and could still face suspension from MLB. Eduardo Rodriguez had knee surgery, and may not be ready for Opening Day. And in a slow offseason, Boston didn’t sign the one free agent that was an obvious solution to some of their problems.
All the while, Boston fans looked 200 miles southwest, where the New York Yankees were on top of the world. Writers have already christened the lineup of Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Giancarlo Stanton as one of the greatest of all time. No team can stand up to that 21st-century Murderer’s Row, they say. The race for the AL East is all but over, and the Bronx Bombers are back where they belong–on the top of the pile.
New York has always gone for the glitz and the glam. They’ll shower Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge with all the hype that America’s largest city, and it’s largest media market, has to offer. Boston hasn’t been flashy, and they haven’t been overstated. But their offseason moves, now that they (finally) reached an agreement with JD Martinez, keep them in touch with the Yankees.
Boston needed two things in this offseason: a change in attitude in the clubhouse, and someone that could hit a home run (or 45). Alex Cora’s aggressive, youthful approach has invigorated spirits around Boston’s training camp, and he brings with him a World Series pedigree from Houston. JD “Just Dingers” Martinez injects a much-needed power surge in the middle of a deep Red Sox lineup, and can provide outfield depth while slotting in as the everyday DH (removing Hanley Ramirez’s woeful bat from the lineup).
Neither of them are a superhuman, dinger-machine coming off an NL MVP campaign. But a World Series-winning coach and a hitter with a higher slugging percentage than Giancarlo Stanton (seriously. Look it up.) may make more of a difference to their new team.
Last year, Boston came in with all the hype and the expectations, and they crumpled under the weight. This year, the pressure and the hype is all on New York, and Boston has skated under the radar of the national media. A new manager, and a new power-hitter in the middle of the lineup, gives the Red Sox a new feeling heading into 2018.