If there were questions about the rivalry, they have been put to rest. With authority.
In 2017, the AL East race wasn’t decided until the last week of the season when the Boston Red Sox took a two-game lead over the New York Yankees and held on for dear life. Now, both teams have upgraded what were already talented rosters as they get set for another chapter in their long and embattled rivalry.
Did the Yankees need the reigning NL MVP?
Probably not, but Yankees GM Brian Cashman saw an opportunity to gain the man who hit 59 home runs and drove in 132 RBI and didn’t hesitate. A right fielder for his entire career, Stanton gives the Yankees dependability on both sides of the baseball. His .988 fielding percentage was just above the league average for his position (.985). He was also worth 10 defensive runs saved, which was one more than reigning Rookie of the Year Aaron Judge.
Stanton’s acquisition causes a few problems, albeit good ones. It will be up to neophyte manager Aaron Boone to navigate the logjam that is right field with Judge and Stanton. Do they split time at DH? What about budding superstar catcher Gary Sanchez? He will surely need days off from behind the plate while keeping his bat in what is shaping up to be Murderers’ Row 2.0.
There is the more difficult left field, but Brett Gardner has been there for 10 years. His combination of veteran leadership and reliable offensive and defensive production makes it all the more difficult to give him fewer games throughout the season.
Welcome to Fenway, JD
And your 45 home runs are welcomed, too. Only Stanton and Judge had more home runs than Martinez, whose career year saw him shipped from a lowly Detroit Tigers team to the Arizona Diamondbacks during a playoff race. Both his home run output and RBI total (104), like Stanton, were career highs, but it was another year plagued by injury as he only played in 114 games, which makes you wonder what he could do over a full 162 game schedule.
It’s expected Martinez will be used full-time at DH. His defensive runs saved of minus-five last year shows he’s a liability in right field, but there is no chance he’d usurp Mookie Betts’ stranglehold on the position. Martinez doesn’t have to worry about navigating right field’s difficult dimensions, nor would his body take as much of a beating. However, the Sox are left with Hanley Ramirez, who is on the wrong side of 30 and isn’t as spry as he once was. Sure, they can platoon him at first with Mitch Moreland, but Moreland is by far the superior defender even if Ramirez has more pop.
Which team won the offseason?
It’s too difficult and too soon to say. The Yankees have the power to beat any rotation in baseball, but will that power be negated by their propensity to striking out? The possibility of the Judge/Stanton combination invokes the feverish dreams of ticker-tape and frenzied crowds down the Canyon of Heroes in Manhattan, but the season is long and unpredictable. Can Stanton remain healthy and turn these dreams into fruition?
Meanwhile, the Red Sox won the division on the strength of their pitching, a well-balanced lineup, and solid defense. But they haven’t been able to get past the first round since their World Series championship in 2013. Is Martinez, who has hit 105 home runs in the past three years compared to Stanton’s 113, the answer to their problems? Will Martinez be able to stay healthy as well?
The state of the rivalry
Is it possible for two teams to be in a “win now” mode and yet be trending in two opposite directions?
The championship window for the Red Sox closes a little each year, and such will be the case in the years to come. David Price, who costs about 13 percent of the Red Sox payroll and has feuded with Boston media since the day he arrived, has the ability to opt out of his contract after the 2018 season. Martinez’s sparkling new five-year contract has two available options, one after the 2019 season and one after the 2020 season. Chris Sale becomes an unrestricted free-agent after his age- 29 season and will be in line for a raise, considering his teammate David Price makes $31m compared to Sale’s $12.5m.
While the Sox have one of the top closers in the game in Craig Kimbrel, he also carries a $13m salary for 2018. He’ll also become an unrestricted free agent after this season.
With the Red Sox payroll already over $229m, they are expected to get hit by a hefty luxury tax penalty that will make it difficult for them to keep their current roster together. Their farm system has been depleted by trades for Kimbrel, Sale, and others after being ranked in the top five systems as recent as 2015.
So then what happens if a team that has placed the expectation on themselves to win a championship fail to do so? Does Price, marred by his rollercoaster experience in Boston, leave for a small market team since he’s been comfortable pitching in that atmosphere? Does Kimbrel receive a huge raise, the likes of which the Red Sox can’t match? If the market suddenly proves to Martinez he can receive the $200 million price he was asking for, and if the Red Sox are trending downhill, does he opt out?
For the first time since the dynasty of the 1990s, there Yankees have a palpable hunger for a championship. Their core of Judge, Sanchez, and Chad Green isn’t arbitration eligible until 2020, where they will receive raises from their league minimum contracts. For Greg Bird and Luis Severino, they aren’t arbitration eligible until after 2019. Stanton’s player option isn’t until 2020 with a contract that runs until 2029 and even if the Yankees lose a few pieces by then, they have a farm system brimming with the talent that could make the jump to the big leagues.
It’s World Series or bust for these two teams from this point forward. After years of an aging Yankees team watching the Red Sox successfully change the old guard, the roles may be switching. Time is short for Boston, with their players getting older and their prime years behind them. The Yankees’ window has just opened. They have the vigor and hunger of the youth eager to prove their mettle. Time will tell what is to happen between these two ball clubs, but one thing is for certain:
The rivalry is back on.
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