BOSTON — There are many thanks the Red Sox can pass around for their World Series title. Certainly the Blue Jays, who allowed John Farrell to leave when they could have played hardball with a manager who clearly wanted out. But the big one has to go out west to the Dodgers, who got Boston out of salary lunacy by accepting the big trade last season that gave Sox GM Ben Cherington the room to maneuver during the winter.
Now, absorbing the money of Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto was hardly a ridiculous move from the Los Angeles point of view. Under new ownership, the Dodgers needed to make a splash and they certainly did. And let’s not forget they were two games away from seeing the Red Sox in the Series so it’s not like the trade had no value on the field.
But the Dodgers have already made it clear they’re not in the Robinson Cano sweepstakes because at some point, you can’t just spend-spend-spend because you’ll also spend millions in luxury taxes. The Red Sox needed to stay under the $178 million threshold to trigger the tax, just like the Yankees want to stay under $189 million for 2014 (and are thus desperate for Alex Rodriguez’s suspension to stand).
With the big-money, low-character guys gone to Los Angeles, what did Cherington do? He spent the winter adding the likes of Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Koji Uehara, Jonny Gomes, David Ross and Ryan Dempster. All except Dempster were Fall Classic heroes. Pretty amazing.
Let’s not forget that Cherington got roasted, and perhaps deservedly so, for Victorino’s three-year, $39 million deal. But Cherington clearly wanted winning players. Victorino was on back-to-back World Series teams in Philadelphia. Gomes had been on three division champions, four playoff teams and a World Series team (the ‘08 Rays) in the last five years. Napoli had played in the postseason with Anaheim and Texas and would have been the ’11 Series MVP if not for the Rangers’ collapse in St. Louis. That matters.
Victorino said prior to Game Six that he felt the Sox could make an instant turnaround from their last-place finish in 2012.
“I’m a fan of the game. I watch what is going on,” Victorino said. “Not too many teams have won two World Series in this century. That tells me what it’s all about. ... Even though they were in last place, I knew this was a first-class organization. They’re about winning. They want to be at the top. I know it’s a tough division. I learned myself a lot this year how tough this really was in the AL East.
“I paid attention to them from afar. I played them every year in interleague. I know what’s that like. Red Sox Nation, they’ve got a big following. That’s another thing that lured me to sign here in Boston.”
Cherington also wanted to avoid the Crawford Syndrome -- a player from a small market who couldn’t handle the bright lights and probing media of Boston. There was none of that in the Sox clubhouse this year. And Cherington chose role players who could win rather than throw, say, $88 million at Josh Hamilton, a player whose past would have been a daily media circus. How did that work out for the Angels?
“What’s happened here probably is taken note around the league,” Farrell said. “I think in the eyes of some Boston might present some specific challenges that might be intimidating for certain players. But I would hope what they’re witnessing would certainly become a place of destination for a number of guys that might have a choice.”
Going forward, the Red Sox have one of the best farm systems around. Look at how Xander Bogaerts and Brandon Workman started the year at Double-A Portland, went to Pawtucket and landed in the World Series. By comparison, the Yankees have basically no players in their pipeline. Watching Pawtucket and Scranton come through Buffalo the last couple years, it’s been obvious which organization is on the move and which is stagnant.
If the Sox lose Jacoby Ellsbury to free agency, a promising young talent like Jackie Bradley Jr., who spent most of the year in Pawtucket, could be waiting in the wings to help. And you know Cherington will find some veteran help too.
ESPN reported last week that agent Scott Boras turned down two big offers for Ellsbury from the Sox and the center fielder’s stock is going to be high after he had an AL-high 52 stolen bases to go with 92 runs in 134 games. He batted .400 in the first two rounds of the postseason before slipping to 6 for 24 in the World Series.
Even if Ellsbury leaves – and you wonder if Cubs GM and former Sox GM Theo Epstein might be at the front of the line – Boston will be fine. As we saw this October, the sum of their roster was far greater than most of their individual parts.
Ross’ pure joy
In a World Series full of memorable moments, reporters on hand will always remember the sheer delight of Ross, the Sox backup catcher, on the interview room podium following his winning hit in Game Five. Ross, remember, had battled concussions during the season and wondered if his career was over. Ross had not played more than 62 games any of the last five years and had not gone past the division series in his postseason career.
So he was soaking in the moment as he looked at the backdrop behind where he was sitting.
“I’m just in awe of being in the World Series, really,” Ross said. “That’s as signature as it gets. I’m on the podium, talking to you guys, with the whole World Series thing behind me, right? That’s when you see people on TV. I’m stoked!”
The room erupted with laughter and Ross wasn’t done. He was told by MLB’s Phyllis Merhige he could leave to catch the team bus to the airport and Ross said, “Heck, I’ll stay up here all night. The bus can wait for me.” Then upon hearing Jon Lester was coming into the room, Ross asked Merhige, “Can I stay up here with him?” She said sure and his smile was as big as a 10-year-old getting ice cream after a Little League game.
Finalists for all awards voted on by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America will be announced Tuesday in a live broadcast on MLB Network at 6 p.m. and repeated at 8.
In the Full Disclosure Department, I am a BBWAA member and was one of the voters this year for the American League Rookie of the Year. We are not permitted to reveal our votes until after the award is presented.
Starting Nov. 11, awards will be announced live on MLB Network at 6 p.m. The rookies of the year will be revealed that day, with Managers of the Year on Nov. 12, Cy Young Awards on Nov. 13 and Most Valuable Players on Nov. 14.
RubberDucks, you’re the one
You can have your Sand Gnats, Flying Squirrels, IronPigs, Lugnuts or the even the Chihuahuas that were announced a couple weeks ago for the new Triple-A team in El Paso, Texas. There’s a new clubhouse leader for most bizarre minor-league nickname.
The Double-A Akron Aeros, the club that fed players to Buffalo for the Bisons’ 14 years with the Indians, announced last week they’re now going to be called the “Akron RubberDucks.” Seriously. No idea if Bert and Ernie will be singing the national anthem at games next summer.
The rebranding is part of a new ownership group’s initiative and is in part a tribute to the city’s connection to the rubber industry. The logo features a snarling duck in black, orange and yellow with tire-tread feathers. The previous nickname, unveiled in 1997, was a tribute to Akron’s role in the aerospace industry.
Around the horn
• The Cardinals’ ultimate flameout has been distressingly similar the last two years. In the 2012 NLCS against the Giants, they batted .190 and scored just one run in losing the final three games. In the final three games against Boston, they batted .194 and scored only four runs.
• The Blue Jays have declined their $1 million option on absurdly popular, .218-hitting backup infielder Munenori Kawasaki, although I would imagine they would try to sign him to a minor-league deal with the Bisons and stash him here in case there are injuries up top again.
• Want a non-MLB city that’s going to be in the center of the action in the coming weeks? Easy call. It’s Orlando. The GMs/owners meetings are Nov. 11-13 and the Winter Meetings are also there, Dec. 9-12 at the cavernous Disney World Swan & Dolphin resort.
• While the 2014 season opens with the Dodgers and Diamondbacks playing two games in Sydney, Australia on March 22-23, the teams for the March 30 opening night game on ESPN have not been announced. Still, it’s fairly obvious the choices are either Red Sox at Orioles or Cardinals at Reds.