Larry Lucchino, Red Sox’ CEO, likes to stoke the fires of the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry every year, making barbed comments about their strategy to attract the top of the free agent market, including Jacoby Ellsbury, who left Boston for greener currency and a longer contract. He knows he can only sell more tickets by baiting the Yankees’ front office.
And the Yankees rose to the bait recently as their President Ben Levine, retorted,
“I feel bad for Larry. He constantly sees ghosts and is spooked by the Yankees. But I can understand why. Two years ago, under his and Bobby Valentine’s plan, the Red Sox were a last-place team.”
Besides keeping their managers in the hot seat all year, this is what team officers get paid to do: remind the fan base that the enemy is out there, and they have to rally around their team to keep them at bay.
Despite the huffing and hype, the Red Sox have shown incredible restraint in the free agent market and left themselves vulnerable to a dangerous Yankee line-up when the teams square off. With Ellsbury at the top of their line-up and Carlos Beltran and Brian McCann surrounding the recovered Mark Teixiera in the middle of the order, the Yankees are poised to do damage in Fenway and at home. Too many clutch hitters means not enough space to pitch around a lethal line-up.
And if these guys march intact through the season, it will probably be lights out for the Boston Red Sox. But the chances of all four of these guys staying off the disabled list during the season are slim indeed. They all have recent histories of injuries and, with the exception of Ellsbury, are probably past their prime years physically. Ultimately the Yankees’ success will depend on who fills in for these guys during their inactivity.
The Red proved they could respond to injuries in their championship season by pulling one magical replacement after another out of their hat. The most noteworthy was Koji Uehara, who stepped up after two big free agents went down for the season. Brandon Workman filled a chasm in the bullpen, when Andrew Miller was injured in the middle of his best season in the Majors. Daniel Nava stepped up when Jonny Gomes went down and proved the more reliable hitter and fielder. Mike Carp took up where Mike Napoli left off in the middle of the season and tore up the American League for a spell. Shortstop was a carousel of players from Stephen Drew to Jose Iglesias to Xander Bogaerts, each of whom could make us forget the one who was hurt.
Call it luck, if you will, but having capable replacements is what keeps a team alive in the long chase for the American League East Championship. It’s what made the Red Sox a long shot in 2013, but it’s what made them a team in the final month of the season.
Foresight or luck? If the Red Sox are also-rans in the 2014, we can concede it was mostly luck, but if the Red Sox show the same resilience, while the Yankees keep the infirmary busy, then you will have to say there’s a formula for success. Because the Red Sox are stocking their bullpen and rehabbing outfielders and trying out young pitchers just the same as last year.
The Yankees are betting $500 million that it was a lucky shot.