During the public autopsy on the disastrous 2014 Red Sox, plenty of theories were offered as to why the team just totally fell apart. Persistent injuries, under-performing coaches and World Series hangovers were all cited, but one important factor was often overlooked: Boston’s lack of a star veteran core.
Previous Red Sox teams always had a nucleus of superstars on which to rely for leadership. In 2004, it was Schilling and Martinez. In 2007, Ortiz and Ramirez took center stage. In 2013, how about Pedroia and Lester? Traditionally, these Red Sox veteran players provided a cornerstone around which the front office could build; a bedrock in which fans could believe; and a framework to which rookies could adhere. In essence, they were the heartbeat of the Boston Red Sox.
However, once Lester was traded and Pedroia got hurt last year, The Olde Towne Team found itself short of bona fide stars for the first time in living memory. Yes, Big Papi was still around, launching homer after homer, but even the most ardent sentimentalist must admit he is no longer among the elite. Thus, the Sox found themselves in a bind.
The lack of star power not only hurt the team commercially, but also in philosophical and leadership sense. After years of consistently developing homegrown Major League stars, the system spluttered somewhat in 2014, with Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Will Middlebrooks and Anthony Ranaudo all struggling to adjust to the big leagues. This, I believe, can be largely attributed to the lack of a robust veteran core in Boston for the first time since the 1990s.
Previously, raw rookies could venture to the Majors and blend into the background somewhat, growing acclimated while the established Red Sox veterans—stars—soaked up attention and carried the burden of production. For instance, when Pedroia was promoted, Josh Beckett, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were there to inform and advise, promote and protect. Similarly, Jacoby Ellsbury felt less pressure due to the presence of Jason Varitek, JD Drew and Kevin Youkilis. In both cases, the young guys weren’t expected to be immediate superstars, because the Sox already had that covered.
However, last year, who could Bogaerts learn from? Who could Bradley Jr. look to for advice and guidance? Aside from an increasingly surly Papi and an increasingly injured Pedroia, there was nobody to teach the neophytes, nobody to deflect the overbearing scrutiny, and nobody to lead a rudderless ship.
Thus, in 2014, the Sox had a galaxy of homegrown stars but, unlike years gone by, there was no sun about which it could orbit. Accordingly, the planet fizzled and died a horrid, 91-loss death.
Therefore, it was pleasing to see the Sox address their dire need for star power this winter, acquiring Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to effectively re-grow the Red Sox veteran core and erect a new frame of reference for the team’s philosophy. Now, with genuine superstars attracting much of the attention and doing a majority of the heavy lifting, perhaps Bogaerts, Betts and Swihart will be afforded a little more breathing room. Liberated from the instant need to provide leadership and create drama, perhaps they’ll finally flourish as prospects, becoming stars in their own time and fashion, just like Ellsbury and Pedroia before them.