Baseball is back! The waning days of spring training having arrived, the crocuses are primed to sprout and the voice of the turtle rises across the land. It happens every spring.
As do the lame efforts of everyone in this dodge to tell you what’s going to happen before it happens. We won’t go that far, prophecy being the least of ours skills, but a setting of the agenda, if you will, is reasonable. What might happen if what shouldn’t happen does happen? That sort of thing. You get my drift.
For example, what if the Red Sox, overwhelming winners of the off-season bartering and unanimous pre-season pennant choice of the most knowing savants, spectacularly bomb once again? Guided by the long-held principle that where these guys are concerned, skepticism is always the best policy, one finds plenty that could backfire for your BoSox this season. Moreover, bear in mind that this has never been a team comfortable being labeled “the favorite.”
Questions abound. For $32 million you may not get a bonafide David Price more than half a season. Is it too late to demand the Padres take back Drew Pomeranz? What of the catching? Could you pick Tyler Thornburg out of a (real) lineup? Can Mitch Moreland make you forget David Ortiz? Will Pablo Sandoval still seem svelte come September? Dustin Pedroia turns 34 in August. Jackie Bradley Jr. hits lousy in odd-numbered years. We’ve had two Hanley Ramirezes. Which is the real one? Most important, Dave Dombrowski is running out of marketable prospects to dangle, and John Farrell is still the manager.
But Farrell will no longer be so if this team sputters, nor will a cameo post-season appearance like last season’s be acceptable. Farrell had the talk shows sputtering mindlessly last August. They’ll pick up the drumbeat in a heartbeat if the Townies sag even a soupcon in April. This town devours baseball managers and Mr. Farrell starts this season very much on the menu.
Nor will it go well for Dombrowski if Messrs. Price, Pomeranz, and Thornburg don’t allay pre-season doubts, the latter two being his own pricy acquisitions while his identity with Price is even firmer. An inveterate wheeler-dealer, Dombrowski has swiftly strip-mined the once teeming Red Sox farm system, and if that reaps a couple of championships no one will complain. But if not, the disenchantment of the ever-antsy Nation will come swiftly, too. Never overly patient as GMs go, he’s been known to burn bridges. In Detroit, where he underachieved, leaving the Tigers old and brittle, his departure was not heavily lamented you may have noticed (although the Red Sox clearly didn’t).
Here – so far at least – Dombrowski remains on honeymoon, his fortunes soaring with the daring deal landing prized lefty Chris Sale in MLB’s foremost winter caper. If Sale has done nothing to diminish the wild expectations he has generated, remember that it’s only March. Just as relevant, however, is the fact that the equally prized prospect Dombrowski surrendered for Sale, Cuban phenom Yoan Moncada, has been every bit as stunning as Sale, at least in March (for whatever that’s worth).
Methinks Red Sox Nation and the adoring media that chronicle its every tender whim has not fully appreciated the largeness of Dombrowski’s gamble. There’s no questioning Sale’s legitimacy as a huge chip, and it’s true Moncada, however brilliant, remains just a prospect until proven otherwise.
But GMs have historically been wary of trading an every-day stalwart for one able to help you only every fifth game. You might call it the legacy of poor Milt Pappas, the fine pitcher the Orioles smartly traded to the Reds for illustrious slugger Frank Robinson. It happened a half-century ago, but the lesson remains fresh and haunting.
Mr. Sale will get the chance to make an impact on Boston’s fate every five games. He can no more deliver his new team by himself than he could his old team, which was fairly abominable. The big question in all this is, can Moncada be another Frank Robinson? We begin to find out shortly.
And so, too ,we discover if the alleged Yankee renaissance is the real thing or just the stuff pipe dreams are made of. It will take more than the infusion of a Greg Bird and Gleyber Torres to overcome the shortcomings of their weak pitching. Sacrificing Didi Gregorius in the ridiculous World Baseball Classic hurts the more. It’ll be a long summer in the Bronx.
In Baltimore, Buck Showalter guarantees the Orioles remain at least dogged. But one expects little more from Toronto and even less from Tampa. Might all this make the AL East a veritable cupcake for your Red Sox, old Sport? The savants believe Tito Francona’s spunky Indians, reinforced by Edwin Encarnacion, remain every bit Boston’s equal. Yes, says I.
In the NL. the gonfalon is already conceded to the Cubs, but one warns their pitching is aging and they’ll miss Aroldis Chapman. Always favored, the Dodgers never win. Maybe this year, it will be – at long last – Washington’s turn. Yes!
The voice of the turtle ripples across the land, intoning “Play Ball!”