Wednesday, December 07, 2016

December's Team

If Dave Dombrowski didn't already know Red Sox fans are bipolar, he sure does now. Trading a raft of well-regarded minor league prospects for Chris Sale and Tyler Thornburg was guaranteed to lift one of the two poles to heights of dizzy rapture while sending the other pole into a slough of winter despond.

In less fevered baseball climes, the additions of Sale, one of the best lefthanded starting pitchers extant, and superior reliever Thornburg to what was already a divisional pennant winner in 2015 would result in universal acclaim for the general manager who pulled off the deals, especially if he didn't surrender a single major leaguer in the process. And indeed, Dombrowski is getting a kind of universal acclaim. It's just that in Boston, all sports acclaim comes served with a side order of querulous doubt.

Adding Sale and Thornburg, especially the former, caters to one of the two prime neuroses of Sox followers -- their need to start each season and go through said season with the belief that their team should not ever lose a game. If Boston isn't a primeval juggernaut, it's nothing.

A headline on the Website of the Globe captures this twisted belief neatly. It read "Will Sox moves make Ortiz reconsider retirement?" (Note to Papi: For God's sake, man, don't do it.) Sure, a 95-win team just got better. But that's not enough. We need a 120 win team to feel good about ourselves.

Right underneath the cited headline was one for another story, one that showed how the Sox community will find perverse suffering even in moments of hot stove league triumph, when their 2017 really is undefeated. It read "Did Dombrowski gut Sox farm system?"

No fans in baseball obsess more about their team's minor leaguers than those here in New England. This has been true as long as the 40 years I've lived in Boston and doubtless long before. Writing about the Boston farm teams are how Peter Gammons got his start way back when. He saw a need and filled it.

The need to believe that Boston has a farm system stocked with can't-miss prospects who will make the team unbeatable in two-three-four years time is as strong a psychological imperative for fans and baseball media as the need to believe that the current Sox team is a cinch for at least the American League pennant. Forget that a farm system which has produced Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr, has already done its job for the next five years and then some. Forget that baseball teams run in cycles, and that there is a time to sow long term and a time to reap short-term pennants.
If there aren't possible replacements for guys on the big league roster who do something sinful like go 1 for 20 in a week in June, the Sox are doomed.

In other words, Sox fans believe that the future is now, and that's it's also not now. Worse yet, they feel very strongly both ways. Worst of all, there's no such thing as a cinch in baseball and never will be.

I've seen more than a few Red Sox GMs come and go in my time here. The above paragraph is why even the winners have moved on.


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