Sometimes, the ebb and flow of the rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees is as predictable as, well, the tide. The Yankees make some kind of move in the offseason -- the latest being a three-year deal for Adam Ottavino that makes a formidable bullpen into perhaps the
Sometimes, the ebb and flow of the rivalry between the Red Sox and the Yankees is as predictable as, well, the tide. The Yankees make some kind of move in the offseason -- the latest being a three-year deal for Adam Ottavino that makes a formidable bullpen into perhaps the best ever -- and the coverage, especially in New York, is that the other teams in their league are going to be afraid to come out of the clubhouse this season. It was the same way last offseason after New York traded for Giancarlo Stanton.
And there is often a reaction in Boston that the sky is, once again, falling. With the Ottavino signing, that is because a strength for the Yankees just got even stronger. And the Red Sox's bullpen, at least in the eyes of Red Sox Nation, has gotten considerably weaker since they were all posing with the World Series trophy in Los Angeles. Joe Kelly has gone to L.A. to pitch for the Dodgers. Craig Kimbrel, who was such a reliable closer for the Red Sox until he became a scary theme-park ride in the postseason, is still out there as a free agent.
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So the narrative, at least for now, is that the Yankees are winning this offseason the way the Red Sox won the last one simply by signing J.D. Martinez, who did for Boston what we all thought Stanton was going to do for New York.
Maybe that's why Ottavino, who had such a fine season for the Rockies, is now being covered as if he's a young Mariano Rivera.
The Yankees have added Ottavino, retained Zach Britton, lost Player Page for David Robertson to the Phillies, and still have Albertin Chapman and Dellin Betances.
The Red Sox retained starting pitcher Nathan Eovaldi (whom I still think could be their closer someday), and have not replaced either Kimbrel or Kelly, at least for now. If president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski, who did hardly anything wrong last season, makes no further bullpen moves, his closer in 2019 will either be Matt Barnes or Ryan Brasier.
So on Friday morning, I had two questions for Mr. Dombrowski.
The first was if he would be comfortable starting the season with the bullpen he has now.
Dombrowski: "Yes, we would."
The second question wasn't about Kimbrel specifically. I just wanted to know if he was done, this close to pitchers and catchers reporting.
Dombrowski: "Not sure if we are done or not. Nothing is imminent at this time."
If there was one thing that was supposed to separate the Yankees from the Red Sox in the postseason, it was the Yankees' bullpen: Chapman, Betances, Britton, Robertson, Chad Green. Of course, by the time the Red Sox won the World Series, the Sox had turned their bullpen into a great strength, mostly because Boston manager Alex Cora had brilliantly used four starting pitchers in key relief roles: David Price, Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and Eovaldi. In fact, you could argue that Eovaldi was every bit as much a pitching star as Price was in October. And it was Sale who eventually got the last three outs of Game 5 of the Series, striking out the side in the bottom of the ninth.
I now see the Yankees' bullpen called a "super bullpen" and the greatest of all time. But, really, is it all that much better than the one with which they ended the 2018 season? Is Ottavino all that much better than Roberston, an inning at a time?
Listen: Have the Yankees clearly improved their team and their chances of beating the Red Sox since the season ended? They have. They picked up James Paxton, who is the kind of big arm they need in their rotation, and now we'll see if things work out better for him in New York than the last big arm they got from the Mariners (Michael Pineda). They picked up Troy Tulowitzki for a song and signed DJ LeMahieu to play all over the infield. Now they have Ottavino. It seems that spending the money they have takes them out of the game on Bryce Harper and Manny Machado, but who knows? They're the Yankees.
But the Yankees are in the heavyweight division of Major League Baseball -- the American League -- which means they must compete with the two most recent World Series winners in Boston and Houston. And just because neither the Astros nor Red Sox have made a really big deal in this offseason doesn't mean that Jeff Luhnow and Dombrowski are going to sit things out between now and Spring Training, or beyond.
Dombrowski, in particular, is coming off as good a year as a baseball executive can have, after having added Cora, Martinez, World Series MVP Steve Pearce, Eovaldi, Brasier and even Ian Kinsler to the Red Sox team that lost in the 2017 AL Division Series to the Astros. I won't be shocked if he adds another starter and reliever between now and Spring Training.
Dombrowski made some of those moves in-season -- he didn't build his World Series winner last offseason, and he probably won't this time around. He still has the best team. A bad bet right now in baseball is betting against him.
Mike Lupica is a columnist for MLB.com.