The Red Sox will kick off the 2014 season in Baltimore on March 31, and the fact that Jacoby Ellsbury won’t be in the lineup is just about the least surprising development in recent Boston sports history.
The fact that, instead, Ellsbury will spend that afternoon hanging out at a hotel in Houston, preparing for his first game in pinstripes is only surprising in that the terms of his seven-year/$153M deal with the Yankees seemed to materialize out of nowhere. There was no build up. No significant buzz. No early reports of meetings between Ellsbury and the Bombers. No indications that a deal was even close. That’s unheard of in this day and age, especially with a psycho like Scott Boras pulling the strings.
But now that the initial shock has worn off, we’re left with this somewhat predictable reality, and a full winter’s worth of questions and speculation.
In New York, the best-case scenario is that Ellsbury will spend the next seven seasons, or at least the next three or four, as the most dominant leadoff hitter in the game. He’ll get on base, and once he does, he’ll be a holy terror. He’ll be backed by a stacked line-up. That short porch in right field could very well bump his home run total up towards the neighborhood of the 32 he hit in 2011. He’ll certainly top the nine that he hit last year. Of course, injuries will be an issue, as they always are, but as long as he avoids something massive, even if he only plays around the 130 games he did in 2013, the Yankees will get by. Ellsbury proved last year that when everything’s on the line, he’s very willing and able to play through pain. If that wasn’t the case, the Red Sox wouldn’t be World Series champs.
Worst-case scenario for New York, he does get hurt and keeps getting hurt. He never gets comfortable and the contract is a bust. In that case, they’ll just buy someone else.
In the meantime, the addition of Ellsbury and the eventual re-signing of Cano does nothing to improve upon the biggest issue facing the Yankees which is pitching.
In Boston, while Ellsbury’s departure wasn’t a surprise, it still leaves a gigantic hole. Even with the Jackie Bradley ready to step in to Ellsbury’s role, it’s crazy to think that he’ll fill those shoes right away. Maybe in the field, but Bradley’s bat remains a question. He had 107 at bats last year, and hit .189. And even if that’s just a small, maybe unfair sample size, there’s zero expectation of Bradley ever becoming the offensive presence that Ellsbury was. There’s zero chance that he’ll match Ellsbury’s impact on the bases. Bottom line: Even if the Red Sox were smart to not break the bank for Ellsbury, that doesn’t mean they won’t be adversely affected by his absence. They’ve got some serious work to do. And the fact that his production now sits atop the line-up of their biggest rival only adds insult to injury.
But for all the indecision surrounding what happens next for either side of baseball’s most storied rivalry, here’s the one thing we know for sure: The rivalry is back.
Next October will mark the 10-year anniversary of the Red Sox historic ALCS comeback and their first World Series title in a lifetime, and obviously so much has changed in the time since. Of course it has. Ten years is a long time. But over that span, perhaps nothing has changed quite as much as the rivalry with the Sox/Yankees.
Maybe 2004 was just as good as it could possibly get. Maybe it will never be better than it was back then. How could it be? Maybe the lack of passion between the Yankees and Red Sox is a result of the fact that they haven’t played in the postseason since. That they play so many times against each other in the regular season, and that those 19 games drag on longer than the other 143 combined. I’m sure some of it has to do with the Red Sox success. That they’ve won three titles in nine years. It’s hard to drum up as much hate for anything or anyone on the outside when there’s so much to be happy about on the inside.
Regardless, the rivalry isn’t what it used to be, and that’s never been more evident than in Boston’s reaction to Ellsbury signing with New York. Which is, that there’s barely any reaction at all. In a weird way, it doesn’t feel all that different than it would have been had he signed with the Mariners or the Cubs. It’s as if the Yankees are just another team. At the very least, not the team that they once were.
In recent years, we’ve been waiting for something to come along to re-light the flame that once burned so deeply between these two franchises. A playoff series, a pennant race, anything that resembled how things used to be. Something to break up the monotony of watching season after season of 19 drawn out, less-than-memorable games.
And I think this is it.
The anger might not exist today, four-plus months away from the Yankees first visit to Fenway. But on April 22, when Jacoby Ellsbury steps up to the plate, the lead off hitter and starting centerfielder for the New York Yankees, there will be a buzz surrounding this rivalry that’s been absent for far too long.
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