When I was younger, I dreamed of being the Boston Red Sox general manager. I’ve always had a knack for dealing with money and a love for sports, especially baseball, so it seemed like the perfect job. I’d have racks on racks on racks to spend on the best players and one of baseball’s best franchises at my fingertips. Now that I’m older and (maybe) wiser, I can see that the Red Sox GM position – or the Yankees’ for that matter – really is no one’s dream job. Any season that doesn’t end in a world series victory is considered a failure, millions of people are parsing and over-analyzing your every move and you’re probably sleeping less per night than a Colgate student on SPW.
Being Theo Epstein or Brian Cashman would have sucked at the end of last season. The Sox managed to pull off an unthinkable, historically epic collapse and the Yankees sputtered out against the overmatched Tigers in the first round. Typically, seasons that have ended on notes like they did last year for these two respective franchises have inspired big spending in the offseason to turn the mood from despair to intrigue and optimism. That is why the Sox’s and Yankees’ off-seasons this year were so interesting. Instead of making splashes with big name free agents, which were certainly within their budgetary capabilities, they lurked in the background as teams like the Tigers, Rangers and Angels wrote nine-figure checks.
When examining this year’s free agent market from the Sox’s perspective, it’s hard to find much fault with new GM Ben Cherington sitting on his hands. Neither Fielder nor Pujols make sense when you’ve already got Papi and Adrian Gonzalez. Jose Reyes is an injury plagued, if extraordinarily talented, speedster (remind you of anyone? Carl Crawford!), CJ Wilson was a number-two starter on an AL West team that doesn’t have a huge resume behind him (remind you of anyone? John Lackey!) and Yu Darvish is a Japanese phenom who’s supposed to be a sure thing and have unhittable stuff (remind of you of anyone? Dice-K?).
With the Sox having been burned by a good deal of their recent free agent splurging, it was in some ways refreshing not to see them make a forced move that didn’t make sense just for the sake of making a move. Undoubtedly, their biggest acquisition this offseason wasn’t even a player. Yes, I’m talking about good ol’ Bobby Valentine, who comes in ready to play sheriff after a stint in Japan and the ESPN booth. Certainly the argument of how much influence a manager actually has on a team’s wins and losses has been well played out and there’s pretty compelling evidence managers don’t mean much. But when you’re dealing with a team like the Sox who have no shortage of talent, a 7-20 September stretch has as much to do with an unhealthy clubhouse atmosphere as it does with slumping players. The Sox are still budding with enough talent that they’re poised to make a run if Bobby can mend a fractured clubhouse and if a bullpen now devoid of Jonathon Papelbon and Daniel Bard (who’s going to start) can hold up throughout the season.
Let’s turn to the Yankees. The 2011 incarnation of the Yankees fell apart largely due to starting pitching woes. Aside from CC Sabathia, who submitted another elite season despite looking like Vince Wilfork, the Yankees had no one they could truly trot out with confidence in a playoff game. AJ Burnett probably was responsible for 72 percent of the grey hairs accumulated by Yankees fans in the last couple years, Freddy Garcia and Bartolo Colon were somehow pretty serviceable but not much more, Ivan Nova was very good but inexperienced and Phil Hughes battled injuries. The fact that the Yankees won as many games as they did last year is pretty surprising when you read that last sentence.
But after some very logical moves this offseason, the Yanks rotation is suddenly far from a weakness. Though on a talent basis alone the Montero-Pineda trade was as fair as they come, it was a brilliant move on Cashman’s part. Montero doesn’t quite fit on the roster right now as a lot of the Yankees veterans will need to use the DH spot as a way to survive the toils of a 162-game season and Pineda has proven that he has ace-quality stuff. He’s shown control issues in his young career, but he’s big league ready right now and has one of the highest talent ceilings of any young pitcher in the game. Pineda isn’t just a short-term fix but could be the centerpiece of the Yankees rotation for many, many years. Yankees fans have every right to fret over the very real chance Montero becomes a star (I sure hope he does for the sake of downtrodden Mariners fans), but no matter how this move plays out over the next decade, it was impossible not to justify. Throw in the sneaky signing of Huroki Kuroda that should serve as a very servicable short-term fix, the fact that Ivan Nova should be able to build off his 2011 campaign and regardless of whether they get anything from Phil Hughes, the Yankees have a real pitching staff again.
Hitting has never been an issue for this group of Yankees and they didn’t really need to add a bat, so somehow the Yankees made themselves viable without splurging.
It’s going to be an interesting season to see how the two perennial powers of the East compete with the rising powers of the Rangers, Angels and Tigers, who’ve all made some pretty serious power plays. The fact remains that you’re still very likely going to have to come through Boston or NewYork to make it out of the East.
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