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The Red Sox Are Favorites to Win the American League … So, What?

Listen, I’m not going to sit here and tell you that when the Red Sox traded for White Sox’s ace Chris Sale my first reaction wasn’t Oh, crap.

Chris Sale is nasty. Many around baseball call him “the best lefty in the American League.” They’re always careful to qualify their statement by distinguishing between left- and right-handed pitchers. It’s one of my pet-peeves. (Full disclosure: I have many.) Ted Williams is the best left-handed hitter of all time. Manny Ramirez was the most feared right-handed hitter in the game for a time period. Paul O’Neill was the best left-handed bruiser of water coolers in history. I wish people would stop hedging their statements; offer an opinion and stand behind it.

By my measurements, Sale has been the third best pitcher in baseball since 2012. That is where he ranks in strike outs, OPS+ and ERA+, and he ranks fourth in BA-against. Of the pitchers he most compares to in innings pitched, only Madison Bumgarner is younger and only Clayton Kershaw is also under 30. In other words, Chris Sale is still in his prime.

Quick aside: it’s silly to look at pitching numbers over that span. Kershaw leads every category by such an absurd margin it makes me wonder why, and how, he has performed so averagely in the post season.

If you’re wondering how Sale has performed in the post season, well, he hasn’t made it there. But he has allowed only 32 hits and a 1.17 ERA in 53.2 career innings versus the Yankees. Yeah, he’s good.

So, why does Boston adding the third best pitcher in baseball who is still in his prime not upset me that much? 

It’s simple. The Yankees and Red Sox are going to be playing for different things in 2017. Sure, they will play their 19 ballgames against each other, and yes, those games will be nationally televised and probably average a sluggish 3 hours 45 minutes in length. I will want the Yankees to win those 19 ballgames more than any of the other 143 they play, but it’s an unfortunate reality that the Yankees and Red Sox will not be on level playing fields.

Boston had the best offense in baseball last season, and despite losing David Ortiz (maybe), their offense projects to be prolific once again. Their rotation, which had the big-name David Price and Cy Young-winning Rick Porcello, was actually a concern. Price’s postseason failures have made Kershaw’s performances look dominant and Porcello failed to pitch like his award-winning level in his one October start. Adding Sale gives Boston a “Big 3” that is arguably unmatched.

Dave Dombrowski is no stranger to building a “juggernaut.” In 2014 he compiled a video game team when the Detroit Tigers rotation featured Justin Verlander, the 2011 Cy Young and MVP, David Price, the 2012 Cy Young, and Max Scherzer, the 2013 Cy Young. It was an embarrassment of pitching riches to go along with an offense that scored the second most runs in baseball.

I suppose it’s worth mentioning how that season ended. The Tigers sat in the Camden Yards third-base dugout watching the Orioles celebrate a 3-game sweep over them in the Division Series.

There are examples of other super rotations that disappointed in recent memory. The Phillies went into October 2011 with Roy Halladay, Cole Hammels, Cliff Lee, and Roy Oswalt, but fell flat on their face in the DS against St. Louis. I know you probably don’t know this because the movie Moneyball failed to mention it, but the early-2000’s Athletics rotation was pretty good. Barry Zito, Mark Mulder, and Tim Hudson – the poor-man’s Tom Glavine, Greg Maddux, and John Smoltz (who at least won a damn World Series) – never seemed to figure out postseason play either.

Now, obviously, I’m not arguing Chris Sale doesn’t make the Red Sox better. My point is that he doesn’t guarantee them anything, and now anything short of a World Series trophy is an utter failure.

Since Dombrowski joined the Red Sox in August 2015, he has shipped-away half of the Red Sox top-10 prospects. In this Sale deal, Yoan Moncada – the unanimous number one prospect in the game – was shipped to the south side.

(Per MLB.com – Midseason ranking of MLB’s Top 10 farm systems)The Red Sox have the thinnest system on this list, in part because president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski used it liberally to make trades for Craig Kimbrel and Drew Pomeranz. But Boston still has the most dynamic duo of prospects in second baseman Yoan Moncada and outfielder Andrew Benintendi.

Without Moncada, the Red Sox, who were ranked as the 7th best system this summer, are now outside the top-10.

OK, so they’ve mortgaged their future?

Well, yes and no. While their farm system is no longer elite, Boston’s major league roster is still stocked with young home-grown talent like Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts, and the aforementioned Benintendi. There’s no sugar-coating it; the Red Sox are going to be a tough team for the next few years.

The best medicine for Yankees fans to accept this trade is that the Yankees are focusing on building their own crop of young home-grown talent. Now is not the time to deviate from that plan.

I’ve heard the argument that the Yankees could have and should have traded for Sale. Not only would they have added an ace to their uncertain 2017 rotation but it would have prevented Boston from creating a seemingly dominant pitching staff.

The Yankees have dramatically built-up their prospect pool over the past six months. They went from a middle-of-the-pack system to a top-5, punctuated by depth. One thing their system lacks, however, is a blue-chip prospect like Yoan Moncada, which was the make-or-break player in the Sale trade for Chicago.

Not having a blue-chipper is ok, though. While the Yankees top couple prospects may not be the best (the White Sox now lay claim to that), their top-10 match-up to any team in baseball. Quality and volume, at all positions, is what fans should hang their hat on.

Clint Frazier and Blake Rutherford, not to mention Aaron Judge, highlight a list of players that should be darting around the Yankee Stadium outfield soon. Gleyber Torres, the Yankees quickest rising star, and Miguel Andujar both had tremendous falls, and have eyes on the Bronx infield. Arms like James Kaprelian and Justus Sheffield also have the organization excited for the future.

2017 is about looking forward. In the meantime we can continue to hate the Red Sox and root like hell for their “super team” to fail like it did in 2011. Now is not the time to worry about playing catch-up. Enjoy the rebuild of the Yankees Empire and buckle-up for 2019.

 

Follow me on Twitter @Andrew_Rotondi 

 

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