I presume Rays fans — at least those that willingly visit Tropicana Field, a venue that has only slightly more charm than an abandoned meth lab — found a few new favorites among the likes of Ji-Man Choi, Yandy Diaz, and Travis D’Arnaud.
But I’m a little skeptical about how this is going to work with the Red Sox right now, and whether it’s going to make them less appealing at a time when they really could use some good vibes. I wonder whether the inevitable constant turnover at the edge of the roster is going to further affect the affection fans want to have for their team.
Consider Brock Holt, Milwaukee Brewer. Holt was a tremendously popular player during his six-plus seasons with the Red Sox. He played hard, seemed to maximize his ability, signed every autograph, and was a mensch in the community. At times, he was also a good and very useful player, such as in 2015, when he was the Red Sox’ lone All-Star, or even the past two years, when he was a slightly above-average offensive player per OPS-plus both seasons.
Other times, he was not especially good. In 2017, as he battled lingering concussion symptoms, he batted .200 with a 47 OPS+. In fact, he never delivered an OPS-plus above 98 in his first four full seasons with the Red Sox.
Now, I think it’s nuts that anyone — as some of you have admitted to me in correspondence — will miss Holt more than Mookie Betts this year. But it’s easily understood why fans would be bummed out that he is gone. And it is clear that a player like Holt — versatile, popular and replaceable — will not have much staying power in Bloom’s unsentimental approach to roster building.
If there’s a readily available, cost efficient player on the market whom the Red Sox identify as 3 percent or 5 percent or 9 percent better than what they already have, they’re going to go get that player. And that’s how you end up with Jose Peraza at second base and a good portion of a fan base ready to hold it against him that he’s not Brock Holt.
To me, the most appealing mix the Red Sox ever had on their roster was in 2007. That World Series-winning team featured superstar holdovers from the transcendent ’04 champs (David Ortiz, Manny Ramirez, Curt Schilling), a fresh group of homegrown talent (Jon Lester, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury), and just the right dose of helpful journeymen and unheralded role players (Bobby Kielty, Eric Hinske, Alex Cora). That team was a juggernaut. It used 40 players all season.
Six years later, the 2013 championship team proved we could quickly fall for a team that began the season with so many players who were new to the Red Sox. Koji Uehara, Mike Napoli, and Shane Victorino were just a few that quickly became adored at Fenway. That team used 48 players, and history probably looks at their success as something of an aberration.
Turnover isn’t a bad thing. And I believe Bloom is going to do a fine job of finding overlooked and undervalued players that will help over the course of the season, something Dave Dombrowski neglected. If the Red Sox goal is to build a roster the way the talent-rich Dodgers have, well, it should be noted that Andrew Friedman cycled 55 players through Chavez Ravine in each of his first two seasons in charge (2015 and ’16). Bloom is setting out to find his own versions of Max Muncy, Chris Taylor, and Justin Turner, and that takes time.
Just know that all sentimentality and emotion will be entirely left to the fans, and we’d be wise not to get attached to anyone, even if the player seems like a keeper. Heck, the only players on this current roster that are probably untouchable are Rafael Devers and maybe Xander Bogaerts. The 2018 World Series victory sure feels so long ago now.
There are going to be a lot of different players wearing the Red Sox uniform this season, many of whom are employed in other organizations right now. Here’s hoping Bloom finds a few that are ultimately remembered for more than just a memorable name.