Who is the team of this decade? We're starting a "Decade in Review" series in a couple of weeks, and this is one of the primary questions: What franchise most clearly defines this decade? On one hand, the answer is the Giants, considering they have won three of the first
Who is the team of this decade? We're starting a "Decade in Review" series in a couple of weeks, and this is one of the primary questions: What franchise most clearly defines this decade? On one hand, the answer is the Giants, considering they have won three of the first nine World Series (2010, 2012 and 2014). No team can match that. But I'd still be hard-pressed to go with any team over the Red Sox.
The Red Sox have won two World Series this decade, in 2013 and 2018, and after a rough stretch from 2010-12, they've made the playoffs four times. They have the fourth-most wins this decade (behind the Yankees, Dodgers and Cardinals), they have a particularly memorable championship series (2013, the "Boston Strong" year) and they have some superstars, spanning multiple generations. They've had drama, firings, roster turnover and even three last-place finishes: The club has been at the forefront of everything this last nine years.
But to truly nail down that title, to truly be an immortal, the Red Sox need to finish off the decade strong, perhaps even with another championship. They are trying to become the first team to repeat since the 1998-2000 Yankees and cement their status as the premier franchise in this current era of baseball. Boston has a chance to close this out right. Which is why it's curious, or maybe prudent, that they are essentially bringing the exact same team back in 2019.
As Joe Sheehan noted in his baseball newsletter this week, the Red Sox don't have anyone on their depth chart who wasn't on the team when they celebrated that World Series title at Dodger Stadium last October. They've re-signed a few of their own free agents, they agreed to Minor League contracts with Jenrry Mejia and Iván De Jesús Jr., two people who perhaps slipped out of your mind, and Dustin Pedroia will (presumably) play more than three games this year. Otherwise, same team.
To be fair, a lot of teams look similar to what they looked like at the end of last season, considering how slow the free-agent market has been to come together. The Red Sox did re-sign two key free agents (Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce), but this is particularly extreme. The last two decades in the American League East have mostly involved the Yankees and Red Sox competing with huge signings, often in direct response to something their opponent had done. But this year, despite the Yankees bringing in James Paxton, DJ LeMahieu, Adam Ottavino and Troy Tulowitzki -- not to mention bringing back Zach Britton, J.A. Happ and CC Sabathia -- the Red Sox seem perfectly fine with what they have.
One reason for this, as Sheehan points out, is that they are over the luxury tax again, paying $12 million in tax last year and taking the Draft penalties accordingly. They have spent like crazy over the last few years, so expecting them to go shell out for Bryce Harper or Manny Machado, particularly over other teams that aren't over the luxury tax, is maybe being unrealistic. (Particularly when, you know, the Red Sox have their positions more than covered.) The Red Sox won 108 games last season and breezed to a World Series title. I'd be tempted to just bring everybody back, too.
It is also worth noting that the Red Sox have all sorts of potential expenses coming. Chris Sale, Rick Porcello and Xander Bogaerts are free agents after this season, and there are more after 2020, including Jackie Bradley Jr. and the big one, Mookie Betts. That's not to mention all the players who will receive raises through arbitration. Boston has only one player among MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Prospects (No. 79 Michael Chavis), so there are not a ton of young players to fill spots. The Red Sox have to pay just to keep the band together in the first place.
But man, what a band. Remember, the Red Sox scored more runs than anyone in baseball last year despite getting essentially nothing from the catcher position and little from second base. If Pedroia can get healthy, this offense could actually get … better? The rotation looks fine, particularly if Eovaldi is what he looked to be in October, and while you can say the bullpen is thin -- Buster Olney did earlier this week -- you could say the same thing last year. But once October came around, the Red Sox cobbled together a bullpen that won it a World Series. (And Craig Kimbrel's still out there too as a free agent, just in case.)
All told, even with the Red Sox standing pat and the Yankees arming up (with possibly more to come), are we sure the Red Sox aren't still clearly the best team in the AL? FanGraphs has them as the best team in baseball, and only the Yankees are within a game of them. Their young players are now in their primes, and the stars they traded their other young players for are still stars. Boston has done it exactly right. They've got enough of their own players they're going to have to pay if they want to keep what could be a truly historic run going.
The Red Sox are going to have to retool at some point. These stars in their 20s will be in their 30s soon, and there are not obvious replacements on the farm for them. But right now, the club, simply by twiddling its thumbs this offseason, remains the best team in baseball. We have all talked about the many reasons for the slow free-agent market this offseason. This seems like a rather underappreciated one: The best team in baseball, with the highest payroll, is sitting still, and might be better because of it.
Will Leitch is a columnist for MLB.com.