Red Sox’s infuriating 2024 season puts damper on bright future

The Boston Red Sox have a lot of young talent to provide optimism for the future, but there are still several points of frustration.

Alex Cora, Rafael Devers looking serious. Angry emojis all over. Fenway Park in the background

The Boston Red Sox have something cooking these days. They’ve got Rafael Devers, one of the league’s best all-around hitters. They’ve got an exciting core of young position players, both on the field at Fenway Park and climbing quickly through the prospect ranks. And under first-year pitching coach Andrew Bailey, they’ve got a pitching staff shattering all preseason expectations, led by breakout ace Tanner Houck.

But despite several signs indicating the Sox should be a good bit better, they find themselves at the .500 mark 60 games into the season. It’s a place they’ve become accustomed to–the team’s overall record since the start of the 2020 season, when they traded Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers, is 302-304. It’s the third straight year of profound mediocrity and at a certain point, any fan base grows restless waiting for success.

And Red Sox Nation is far from a patient fan base. They’ve been sold a future promise for half a decade now and as close as that future feels, it rings hollow when it’s so obvious the current team is unnecessarily hampered. This could have been a clear-cut playoff team in 2024. Instead, it’s a nightly switch between excitement and frustration.

Red Sox ownership takes no blame

Boston Red Sox owner John Henry watches the game between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros during the fourth inning at Fenway Park© Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
There seems to have been a clear cognitive shift in how Fenway Sports Group, longtime owners of the Red Sox and now many other sporting enterprises, is prioritizing spending on baseball. When Dave Dombrowski was the general manager of the Sox from 2015-2019, he seemed to have carte blanche, making loads of expensive long-term signings such as David Price, Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi.

But when Dombrowski was fired and John Henry, principal owner of FSG, seemingly ordered the Betts trade, things clearly took a different tone. The Red Sox were going to operate on a strict budget and the new GMs, first Chaim Bloom and now Craig Breslow, were going to have to deliver a winner without much help from above. It’s an attitude CEO Sam Kennedy made pretty clear in the past week.

“I don’t think we’ve overperformed,” Kennedy said on Boston radio station WEEI Thursday. “I think, if anything, we’ve underperformed just given the talent and the competitiveness in that clubhouse.”

Perhaps all of that is true. Kennedy accurately underscored the issues the Red Sox have had with driving in runners in scoring position and poor team defense. But it’s a bit hard to take from a member of the ownership group that expressly made the decision not to spend a meaningful dime, to carry the 13th-largest payroll in MLB just five years after having the largest.

Red Sox could have been in contention this season

The most frustrating part of Kennedy’s comments is that they’re largely correct, short of acknowledging his and his partners’ own roles in the matter. The Red sox have a pythagorean win percentage of .540. Their +22 run differential is fifth-best in the American League. But it’s also clear to see why they lose winnable games with such obvious holes in their roster.

With four Opening Day starting position players on the injured list, Boston has had to run out a lineup half-stocked with minor league talent. Dominic Smith, who went unsigned this past offseason, has batted third the past three games. Connor Wong, a third-year catcher having a breakout season, is being forced to DH on his off days. The Red Sox have an astounding -2.2 fWAR from second basemen, the worst mark by any position group on any team.

“I actually talked to Sam today,” manager Alex Cora said in the wake of Kennedy’s comments. “We are who we are — under .500. We have expectations just like everybody else. We haven’t played well in certain aspects of the game, but there’s a lot of positives going on. I was joking with him, 6 a.m. is tough. You should do the 2:30 p.m. show and maybe he’ll say something else.”

That half-lighthearted, half-awkward response was a reminder not only of the Sox’ current roster predicament, but Cora’s own uncertain future with the team. The skipper’s contract is up at the end of the season, extension talks have been shelved and many are under the impression this is something of a farewell tour from a manager tired of dealing with penny-pinching ownership. If Cora chooses to leave, few who follow the team would find fault with his decision.

Waiting is getting old for Red Sox fans

Every Red Sox fan is aware at this point that the future looks bright. They aren’t the New York Mets, plagued by some kind of curse that turns everyone who signs with the organization into a choke artist. They aren’t the Los Angeles Angels, who have no talent now and no talent in the minors. The pieces are starting to fall into place for an exciting 2025 and beyond, but why couldn’t that bright future have started a bit sooner?

Watching this most recent series against the Detroit Tigers was a microcosm of the entire season. The youth shined, particularly in rookie center fielder Ceddanne Rafaela, who had a two-homer game and a spectacular diving catch in center field. Houck threw another gem to drop his ERA to 1.85, second-best in the AL. But somehow, the Sox only managed a split, once again remaining stuck at exactly .500.

All this team needed was another starting pitcher (signing Lucas Giolito wouldn’t have counted even if he was healthy, because they traded Chris Sale) and a right-handed veteran bat (Justin Turner and Adam Duvall both left for one-year deals in free agency). It wasn’t much to ask for, but Sox fans also seemed to know ownership wouldn’t deliver.

And at some point, even the most ardent supporters of any organization grow weary of waiting for necessary improvements they know aren’t coming. Yes, this young core is going to have the Sox in a better place sometime soon, but how much better? And can ownership be trusted to supplement that core enough to create a true contender? It’s hard not to feel just the slightest bit pessimistic.

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