The Red Sox Are Built for Sustainable Success

The Red Sox are edging closer to their first division title since 2013. At various times in recent memory, that seemed impossible. Too many collapses. Not enough nerve. But as the leaves change color and autumn truncates summer, things are falling into place just nicely this time. The offense is unstoppable, and the pitching has improved. Boston is galloping away with the American League East, and that may be the case for many years to come.

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This current success is rooted in fairly recent failure. The Red Sox have made just one postseason appearance since 2009. They’ve finished in last place three times since then, including the past two seasons, while winning eighty games has proved difficult. Managers have changed. Front office members have been fired. New players have arrived on bloated contracts. Yet, through it all, hope still pervaded, for an exciting group of prospects received playing time in which to hone its craft. Now, we’re seeing the fruits of that labor at the Major League level, and it’s pretty magical.

How the Red Sox Built a New Core

In darker days, back when Pablo Sandoval flailed at off-speed junk or Bobby Valentine lost control, we heard so much about the new core developing below. Well, it’s finally here. And it’s finally attuned to big league ball. Mookie Betts has over 200 hits, 30 home runs, 100 RBI and 20 stolen bases. Xander Bogaerts has 20 bombs of his own and he led the league in batting average earlier this season. Jackie Bradley Jr. may finish with 30 homers and 100 RBI with a late surge, complimenting his all-world defense. These players have an average age of just 24. They’re great, and they’re going to be around for a very long time.

Around that nucleus, there are more layers of young Red Sox talent. Andrew Benintendi is just 21, but his grace, poise and ability belies that fact. Yoan Moncada needs further refinement, but his raw skills saw him promoted to Boston before turning 22. Meanwhile, Eduardo Rodriguez has slowly returned to form, and he may be the Red Sox’ third playoff starter. Then we have Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez, one of whom will eventually become the starting catcher at Fenway Park.

Few Teams Can Compete With This Talent

Quite simply, no other team in the AL East can match that cadre of young, cost-controlled, Major League-ready talent. Toronto is a strong opponent, but many of their aging stars will soon hit free agency. The Yankees are transitioning to a youth movement, and their farm is loaded. But in developmental terms, New York is probably where Boston was in 2014. Many of those bright young players still have a lot to learn, and that can be a painful process. Meanwhile, Baltimore relies on a veteran core, and Tampa Bay is so far removed from contention as to be almost irrelevant.

The Red Sox will have tremendous flexibility moving forward, as these players should remain in Boston for many years. However, right now, veterans like David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Rick Porcello and Dustin Pedroia are providing valuable experience and leading the Red Sox back to contention. That blend of youth and know-how is crucial. It may just result in a deep championship run, if the magic dust doesn’t run out.

Whether the Red Sox win it all this year or not, fans can rest assured that other opportunities will arise in future years. At one point, just a few short years ago, that was a distant dream. Yet now, after building through the tough times, sustainable success is once again on tap in Beantown. It should be fun to watch.

A Young Core has Finally Arrived for the Red Sox

Entering the 2015 season, much was written about the Red Sox’ new core. The arrival of marquee players such as Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, coupled with the healthy return of Mike Napoli and Dustin Pedroia, theoretically gave Boston a robust nucleus around which to fashion a contender. However, as the season unfurled, and as those players merged into the background through injury or poor performance, a cadre of young starlets rose to the fore and took command of a rudderless ship. Now, the future finally looks bright for the Red Sox, with homegrown talent leading the way.

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Indeed, the foremost leader on this team is now Xander Bogaerts. Sure, Pedroia embodies what it means to represent the Red Sox, and David Ortiz is still a towering icon of Boston sports history, but Xander stays on the field more than Pedey and has more influence on the overall game than Papi. The 22-year old shortstop has been phenomenal this season, finally showing Red Sox Nation his full ability after so many years of uncertainty. Bogaerts is currently hitting .319/.349/.414 with 5 home runs, 26 doubles and 63 RBI. Xander also leads all American League shortstops in Fangraphs’ WAR, which is a testament to his improved defense and increased understanding of the game. In every respect, the Aruban is maturing into the fresh face of a changing Red Sox franchise.

Mookie Betts, the electric outfielder, is right there alongside him. Also just 22-years old, Mookie has become a fan favorite this year, with his potent blend of speed and hand-eye coordination enthralling the masses. Betts has a .275/.319/.454 slash line with 13 home runs, 31 doubles, 64 RBI and 17 stolen bases, making him one of the most dangerous and dynamic players in the Majors. With a fine glove and ever-developing bat, he figures to roam the Fenway lawn for many years to come, as a bright jewel in the Red Sox crown.

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Boston’s youthful spine is completed by Blake Swihart, the 23-year old catcher who has quietly enjoyed a very strong season since being promoted in May. Swihart struggled initially, with defensive deficiencies also having a negative impact on his offensive output. Before the All-Star Game, Blake hit just .241 with a poor .279 on-base percentage, as Red Sox fans worried. However, in the second half, Swihart has totally transformed his game, hitting .348 and reaching base at a gaudy .412 clip. Among all 247 Major League players with at least 100 second half plate appearances, only 11 have a higher OBP than Blake, placing him in the top 4.8% of batters. For the Red Sox, that certainly bodes well for the future.

The surge in performance from Bogaerts, Betts and Swihart is undoubtedly the biggest positive to be salvaged from this disastrous Red Sox season. However, even below that elite tier of homegrown players, the team has been buoyed by strong showings from its younger members. Jackie Bradley Jr. has showed rare competence with the bat; Rusney Castillo has benefited from continuous playing time to look like a more polished Major League player; and Eduardo Rodriguez has, on occasion, showed glimpses of true brilliance.

Thus, despite a poor won-loss record and another finish in the American League basement, Dave Dombrowski has inherited an organization with exceptional potential. We’ve waited years for this homegrown core to matriculate, remaining optimistic as Jackie battled the Mendoza Line and Blake had trouble framing pitches. The front office always promised this spine of young talent would be worth the wait; that it would one day triumph through adversity. In 2015, we’ve witnessed its long-awaited fruition, as the kids have taken the burden from the vets, giving Dombrowski a strong platform from which to build a winner moving forward.