Monday, November 28, 2022

The Moonshot: Boston Red Sox and the offseason road less traveled

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Oct 5, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2) waves to the crowd while leaving the game during the seventh inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 5, 2022; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2) waves to the crowd while leaving the game during the seventh inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports

Well, we believe in exit velocity, bat flips, launch angles, stealing home, the hanging curveball, Big League Chew, sausage races, and that unwritten rules of any kind are self-indulgent, overrated crap. We believe Greg Maddux was an actual wizard. We believe there ought to be a constitutional amendment protecting minor league baseball and that pitch framing is both an art and a science. We believe in the sweet spot, making WARP not war, letting your closer chase a two-inning save, and we believe love is the most important thing in the world, but baseball is pretty good, too.

Welcome to The Moonshot.

The poetry of the Red Sox offseason

Every winter, each Major League Baseball team’s fans feel as though their team has the most to gain or lose that offseason.

The club that just won the World Series must endeavor to navigate the offseason in a way that ensures a repeat championship. The one that lost to them seeks to find that elusive element that will put them over the top. A team that spent lavishly, but not wisely, will want to learn from last year’s mistakes.

Every franchise has much to gain or to lose. And every fanbase, by virtue of devotion to their team, feels most strongly that their offseason is the most crucial of all.

But it is undisputed fact that this is a pivotal offseason for the Boston Red Sox. Three years into Chaim Bloom’s tenure as Chief Baseball Officer, things are coming to a head. The farm system he was hired to rebuild is flourishing, Dave Dombrowski’s biggest contracts are expiring, the current payroll is Rays-esque, there is no pitching, Xander Bogaerts is a free agent, and Rafael Devers is unhappy.

But instead of talking about all of that, let’s talk about the poet Robert Frost.

Frost was a native of California, but a descendant of Massachusetts’ earliest settlers. After his father passed away when Frost was 11, the family returned to Massachusetts. The Boston area became the poet’s home until his death in 1963. Of course, that meant he was a Red Sox fan, though he’d first loved the Chicago Cubs, because, in his youth, they were the closest team to his first home in San Francisco. In his youth, he’d been a pitcher, and said that he’d loved the game so much his family worried he’d ‘waste his life’ playing baseball.

In 1956, Frost sat in the grandstand at the All-Star Game. Of the game itself, he commented for a piece in Sports Illustrated, “Prowess, prowess, in about equal strength for both slides… The day was perfect, the scene perfect, the play perfect.”

But it was his conclusion that rings truest: “I never feel more at home in America than at a ball game be it in park or in sandlot. Beyond this I know not. And dare not.”

The poet’s love of the game was so well-known that in 1960, the great sportswriter Roger Kahn drove into Vermont’s Green Mountains to interview an 86-year-old Frost about baseball, among other things. Of their interview, Kahn wrote, “Frost runs a conversation as a good pitcher runs a baseball game, never giving you quite what you expect.” Among the many witticisms within, Frost bemoaned that his beloved Red Sox were too gentlemanly on the base paths, telling Kahn, “Spike ‘em as you go round the bases.” At one point, Frost told Kahn, “if we had a ball, I’d pitch to you a little, and I’d surprise you.”

Frost was far from the only poet enthralled by the game. Walt Whitman once wrote, “Baseball is the hurrah game of the republic!” He even briefly worked the beat in the 1850s. And of course, Ernest Thayer, also of San Francisco, wrote the epic “Casey at the Bat.”

It makes sense that poets are captivated by baseball, a game I’ve long described as poetry in motion. It is a slow game punctuated by bursts of magic. It is moments of mundanity — men standing around on a field, waiting for something to happen — interrupted by feats of mythic proportions, like when that little white sphere with red stitching soars hundreds of feet into the night sky and over the towering green wall in left field.

Now, back to the Red Sox, who are currently living out one of Frost’s most iconic poems, ‘The Road Not Taken.’ Two roads diverge before them, they cannot travel both. For them, the road less traveled is the one upon which they finally break their pattern of overpaying free agents and finally do right by their proven, homegrown stars.

This offseason, they must choose which road they want to take. And it will make all the difference.

— Gabrielle Starr

The only good thing to come out of the Astros winning the World Series

Justin Verlander finally winning a game in the Fall Classic? Nope. Lance McCullers’ cringeworthy speech after Houston sealed the deal? Nope. “Validation” for the Astros to help them get beyond the cheating scandal? NO WAY.

The answer is Dusty Baker’s now-ironclad Hall of Fame case. Those rooting against the Astros since 2020 after MLB’s investigation were found conflicted because of Baker’s insertion as the team’s manager. Who dislikes Dusty Baker? Nobody! That’s why the Astros making this decision spurred even more disdain for the disingenuous franchise.

Baker was never going to make the Hall of Fame as a player, but his growing case as manager (25 years!) aided in his overall influence on the game. He made one World Series back in 2002 (before joining the Astros) and his San Francisco Giants fell to the LA Angels. Before his arrival in Houston, he was just 23-32 in the postseason.

But now he’s 51-46 overall and finally captured that elusive ring. He’s now won three pennants as a manager, too. His 230-154 mark in the regular season with the Astros bumped his overall winning percentage to .539.

Baker is one of the most genuine, honest, affable and exemplary figures in the sport. The 73-year-old deserved every bit of success and positivity headed in his direction, especially after his unceremonious exit from Washington after two seasons as manager (two division titles!).

Now, can we just get him to take over as skipper for another team? Any other team. Please.

— Thomas Carannante

The latest episode of The Baseball Insiders

The Baltimore Orioles can’t wait for next year

This MLB season ended in many ways nobody saw coming, like the Philadelphia Phillies playing in the World Series. The playoffs were truly incredible this postseason, but there are some underdogs from the regular season that may just be on a path like the 2022 Phillies.

The non-playoff team that appears to have the most potential following the regular season is the Baltimore Orioles. The Orioles have been notoriously bad in the extremely competitive AL East division, and they never seemed to stand a chance. However, that outlook is changing as they finished above .500 and even above the Boston Red Sox.

The Orioles don’t typically end above .500. In fact, the last time the Orioles finished above .400 was 2017 (excluding the very partial 2020 season). The last time they made it to the playoffs was 2016, but they didn’t win a single game in the Wild Card series. They also made the playoffs in 2014 and 2012, but before that, they hadn’t been since 1997. Over the course of their 118-season franchise, they’ve only made the playoffs 14 times.

It’s easy to laugh at the Orioles when they’re usually getting smoked by the rest of the division and performing under league average. They’ve done some clear development, especially to their rotation and bullpen, and they may be on the upswing.

Sure, they probably won’t have quite as much success as the Phillies did this season. They are far from World Series contenders, even with the development they’ve gone through, and not a single trade deadline or offseason will be able to address every single issue the team has. It may take a few years of development, but they’re on a clear upswing that may make them contenders over the next few seasons (maybe by about 2026?).

When comparing 2021 and 2022 alone, they drastically improved in pitching. In 2021, they had the worst ERA of the league (5.84), opponent batting average (.273) and WHIP (1.48). In 2022, they’ve fallen much closer to league average with the 17th-best ERA (3.97) and 19th-best WHIP (1.29). Their OBA was unfortunately the fifth-worst (.256), but coming up a few spots from rock bottom is still notable.

Their lineup improved slightly with, most notably, more power added.

As far as next season, there’s a solid shot of them ending their postseason drought, though they probably would only make it as far as the Wild Card series. Of course, this is dependent on if the Red Sox can manage to get themselves together and if the rest of the division performs up to their typical standards. The closer the rest of the AL East is to their potential, the more of a challenge it is for the Orioles to succeed. They are, however, certainly on the rise and undergoing effective roster construction. They appear to have the best shot of success among all of the non-playoff teams of 2022.

— Rylie Smith

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