Is Boston becoming an undesirable place for the modern free agent in professional sports?
At one point within the most recent decade, Beantown was the spot for athletes looking to add a ring to their legacies within their respective sports. Darrelle Revis, Thomas Kaberle, Shane Victorino, and Kevin Garnett all come to mind when thinking about this trope. The teams were fun to watch, easy to hate, and carried a charisma that made fans of the team both cocky and obnoxious to a point where as long as the teams won games, life was good.
Welcome to 2020, New England! The attitude towards the region seems to be that it is a cold, critical, and difficult place to play, and free agents don’t seem to flock like they used to. The Patriots saw some of this difficulty this year, and the Kyrie Irving saga with the Celtics certainly didn’t help matters either. The Bruins chose to move on from two fan-favorite defensemen this year, and the Red Sox are in perhaps the strongest position in the entire city.
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No Longer a Free Agent Hot Spot
The Red Sox are the third defending champions within Major League Baseball. In simpler terms, they are the third most recent team to win a championship. While a team like that should still theoretically be in a championship window, they instead seem like an afterthought for any player who is in win-now mode.
This is a reasonable conclusion for a player, as the Red Sox have not made the postseason since they hoisted the World Series Trophy in 2018. They have also been through perhaps the most bizarre managerial situation in sports history, like the guy they hired before 2018 was fired as a result of scandalous behavior and the subsequently rehired following a disastrous pandemic shortened season, was watching reruns of 90’s television shows was sometimes more interesting than watching a big market baseball team play regular-season games.
The Red Sox were a weird team in 2020, and in many ways, described the year in which they participated. The offense showed flashes, the pitching yearned for consistency, but perhaps most apparent was the fact that the team lacked an identity.
The successful teams of this millennium have always thrived on having an identity. In 2004, they were the Idiots, in 2007 they were full of young talent but still had old faces on the squad, in 2013 they were Boston Strong, and in 2018 they were simple The Best. Looking towards 2021, no such identity seems to exist yet, and none certainly developed in 2020.
This is not the worst thing in the world. A team without a clear identity is one that is destined to find one, but this year it appears that the Red Sox are the second tier. The team appeared to target New York Yankees superstar second baseman DJ Lemahieu, and former Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber. Both decided to sign with the Bronx Bombers, bringing feelings of sadness to Boston. Why didn’t these guys sign here? Lemahieu would become a legend in Boston as contact hitting an elite defense are two attributes that seem to bode well in Beantown.
Top-tier free agents don’t look at Boston and think, “Yes, I want to play there.” anymore. Why is that? Well, obviously the media, unfortunately, plays a big factor. Criticizing athletes is a pastime of Boston media members, and frankly, accountability is a good thing. Athletes who play for Boston are special but looked at from a critical sense that is perhaps unmatched by any other. That is a lot of pressure to deal with, and for an athlete who has no attachment to the area, can you blame them for not wanting anything to do with the insane pressure?
I feel like I’ve insulted my kinda bit too much here, so let’s get positive for a bit. I personally am a fan of the Kike Hernandez and Garrett Richards signings. Hernandez is a versatile player who has never been given a chance to be a centerpiece on a team. He is familiar with Red Sox manager Alex Cora, and honestly seems destined for success in Boston.
I have followed Garrett Richards since he was new to the league and he seems like a great fit for a team that needs pitching. Richards will be given a chance in Boston. If he can stay healthy, he could become a stud for a team that is dying for someone to break out.
Chaim Bloom appears to be a smart, reasonable guy, who is trying to turn the Red Sox into a team with a small market mindset despite a big market budget. This eventually worked out for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Andrew Friedman, so why won’t it work here. The Sox have a cool color scheme, a legendary ballpark, and a fan base that is sometimes more loving than they are critical. The fans love their teams and defend them to the death, and the Red Sox are intertwined with everything that makes Boston great.
Effort and pride are appreciated, and if this team can provide this, we will all be happy. Let’s see what happens, and who knows, maybe free agents will take team-friendly deals to come to a market that is loving, consistent, and desperate for star talent.