Red Sox

This is Xander Bogaerts' Red Sox team; here's why that's a great thing

This is Xander Bogaerts' Red Sox team; here's why that's a great thing

Xander Bogaerts arrived in Boston nearly seven years ago with a preternatural maturity that screamed future leader.

Just 20 years old when he debuted in San Francisco in 2013, he wore No. 72, hit in front of current Cubs manager David Ross, and shared a field with former Red Sox second baseman Marco Scutaro, who was playing across the diamond for the Giants.

Bogaerts went 0 for 3, but impressed teammates with his diligence and professionalism. Two months later, he'd find himself starting in the World Series, earning a championship ring practically before his career had even started.

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It felt like Bogaerts would forever be a promising piece of the next generation as he deferred to superstars like David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia and big clubhouse personalities like Rick Porcello and David Price en route to a second championship in 2018, but eventually the future arrives to take charge of the present, and that time is now.

As the Red Sox prepare to enter a transition season without Mookie Betts, Porcello, or Price, it's tempting to say that a leadership void must be filled, and to an extent that's true. But it would also be overlooking one crucial fact: Bogaerts was already well on his way to making this "his" team, and he hasn't gone anywhere.

Some players are born leaders, while others grow into the role naturally. Bogaerts fits the second description to a tee, playing a supporting role as a rookie and gradually assuming more responsibility every year since.

Last season marked the perfect confluence of production and personality, as Bogaerts exploded on the diamond and took charge off of it. He hit .309 while setting career highs in homers (33), RBIs (117), and OPS (.939), finishing fifth in the MVP voting and earning a starting spot at short on the inaugural all-MLB team.

He also stepped forward as a positive, plain-spoken leader for a team coming apart at the seams, consistently facing the cameras during losing steaks and after demoralizing losses, recognizing that he needed to be the face of the franchise after signing a six-year, $120 million extension.

"Obviously we didn't have the season that we wanted to, but I think it was a little bit of a relief just to get it done and go out there," Bogaerts said. "I think every person that signs a contract still wants to go out there and show that they're worth it."

That's a nice sentiment, but history is littered with players who cashed in and then checked out. That Bogaerts didn't allow himself to become one of them speaks to the pride that he takes in his job and the loyalty he feels to the Red Sox, qualities that management would love to bottle and share with the entire roster.

Those who were there at the very beginning aren't surprised.

"He's the real deal," Ortiz said. "The thing is with Bogaerts, he is so serious about his routine, about how good he wants to be. He is in that group with Mookie, with all the guys that came in from the farm that learned how to play for this team. He has the one year that he figured it out. Now he knows how to get it done."

Ortiz still marvels at Bogaerts' ability to play the sponge early in his career.

"We have conversations and he always tells me, 'Hey, listen, I was blessed enough to come in and learn here from the really good guys that were here when I first stepped in,'" Ortiz said. "He's a guy, Bogaerts, he doesn't talk much but I always say that whoever listens learns more than whoever is always talking. Now that he's been in the clubhouse, he knows when he wants to step in on something and when he doesn't want to get caught in a situation.

The good thing about this ballclub is they have a really good group of guys that know how to run this clubhouse. I have been extremely happy with what I've seen the last couple of years in the clubhouse. I don't go in there much, but once I go, I can feel the really good vibe coming from everybody. I hope that never changes. That's really important.

The Red Sox will need all the good vibrations they can get as they try to overcome low expectations.

For the past couple of years, they've followed the lead of Price, a popular teammate who nonetheless brought a negative vibe to the clubhouse. Price believed in closing ranks, which fostered distrust and even disdain for anyone not on the roster, including the manager, front office, media, and fans.

Bogaerts, by comparison, is far more naturally positive. Interim manager Ron Roenicke noted that just seeing his shortstop's smile every morning for the last two years put a hop in his step as bench coach. He stopped short of declaring this, "Bogaerts' team," but added that he has earned in particular the respect of the Latin players, with whom the multi-lingual Bogaerts can bridge divides.

A minor ankle injury has delayed the start of Bogaerts' spring, but once he gets going, he can't wait to see what the Red Sox can do. Even without Betts, they return a formidable lineup. The fate of their season rests on the health of the starting rotation, but Bogaerts likes being in a position where they can prove people wrong.

"If you ask me, I think no one would pretty much bet on us to win it," Bogaerts said. "We have a lot of veterans still on the team. I think that will help us, especially when we go through stretches, guys that have been there before, guys who have been part of good teams, bad teams and been through the ups and downs of the season. I'm definitely anxious for it to start, try to get right first and see what we can do as a team."

Whatever they do, don't be surprised if Bogaerts is leading the way.

Judge tosses suit against MLB for sign-stealing scheme, but rips Red Sox and Astros

Judge tosses suit against MLB for sign-stealing scheme, but rips Red Sox and Astros

The lawsuit against Major League Baseball filed by daily fantasy game players, who claimed to be defrauded by the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, has been dismissed, but not without harsh criticism of the teams by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in his ruling blasted the Red Sox and Astros for "shamelessly" breaking both baseball's rules and "the hearts of all true baseball fans."

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In throwing out the suit brought by five daily fantasy players, Rakoff invoked the New England Patriots "Spygate" scandal from 2007, agreeing with MLB lawyers' contention that rulings in similar suits brought by fans against the NFL after the Patriots were caught illegally taping opponents' defensive signals had set a legal precedent for this suit to be dismissed. 

While the suit charged that the Red Sox and Astros had engaged in consumer fraud that created "corrupt" and "dishonest" fantasy contest for companies such as Draft Kings, Rakoff agreed with previous decisions in the NFL cases that ruled fans should know teams will look for any advantage - even "foul deeds" - to try and win.

From Rakoff's ruling: 

[D]id the initial efforts of those teams, and supposedly of Major League Baseball itself, to conceal these foul deeds from the simple sports bettors who wagered on fantasy baseball create a cognizable legal claim? On the allegations here made, the answer is no.

The Astros' sign-stealing scheme led MLB to fine the team $5 million and the one-year suspensions and subsequent firings of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. The Red Sox then parted ways with manager Alex Cora, who, according to MLB's findings, was the mastermind of the scheme as Houston's bench coach in 2017. 

That team won the World Series, as did the 2018 Red Sox, who are accused of using a similar system to steal signs under Cora.

MLB has yet to release a report on the Red Sox allegations. Commissioner Rob Manfred said it has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic but will be released before MLB begins its 2020 season. In comments last month in court an MLB lawyer seem to imply the Red Sox are aware of Manfred's findings and that they disagree with them.

 


 

Say hello to Arizona Red Sox? How MLB's Cactus League could save 2020 season

Say hello to Arizona Red Sox? How MLB's Cactus League could save 2020 season

Nothing says Red Sox home game like iguanas, scorpions, and cacti, but these are desperate times.

Barring millions of instant tests or a miracle cure, COVID-19 will just be a fact of our pent-up, penned-in lives for the foreseeable future.

This makes embarking on the baseball season problematic, since one infection would theoretically sideline an entire team for two weeks, and good luck staying virus-free while flying all over the country. Visiting hot spots would not only increase a player's risk of illness, it would also up the odds of one becoming a vector himself, which is bad for the brand, not to mention public health.

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But what if baseball could maintain some control over its players' whereabouts while limiting travel to a fleet of buses? Could a season happen under these tightly managed circumstances? And if so, where?

It may be a long shot, but the more one considers the alternatives, the more it sounds like the best hope we've got is for MLB to hold its entire season in Arizona.

The logistics are nightmarish regardless, but in a situation this unprecedented, the fewer variables the better. And MLB won't find a higher concentration of acceptable facilities than in the 48th state.

The Cactus League features 10 ballparks that host 15 teams in two months of spring training. Unlike the far-flung Grapefruit League, with teams scattered across Florida's east and west coasts, the Arizona sites are compact.

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Parks stretch from Mesa in the southeast to Surprise in the northwest, a drive of only 45 minutes. Everything else lies in between, a constellation of moons tightly orbiting Phoenix.

Decamping to the desert for the duration would eliminate air travel and give the league a chance to closely monitor its players. The challenge is Herculean: hosting roughly 800 players, plus at least that many coaches, staff, families, umpires, and broadcasters without anyone contracting the world's most contagious virus, against which we possess zero natural immunity.

Players would need to be quarantined in league-controlled hotels, tested constantly, and shuttled to and from the park. For such a plan to work, they'd have to sacrifice their most basic freedoms of movement, because a single failed test would grind the season to a halt while at least one team spends two weeks in isolation, potentially triggering a cascade of shutdowns, too (the mere possibility of which prompted the NBA to suspend its season, after all).

Convincing the union to sign off on such draconian restrictions won't be easy, but the alternative may very well be no baseball.

The games would be made-for-TV events without fans. If each ballpark hosted one or two games a day, a regular schedule could be played.

The challenges would be enormous. Do three teams share one clubhouse? Could ballpark and hotel staff be expected to live in isolation as well to avoid infection? How long could players live like prisoners? Will testing capacity ramp up enough to accommodate an entire league? Are the results even reliable? And how would teams keep their facilities germ-free if they're in use all day?

Politics matter, too. Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey only belatedly ordered a stay-at-home order on Monday, and it has drawn criticism from the state's mayors as one of America's weakest, with exceptions for "essential" services like golf courses, nail salons, and hotels. If Arizona experiences an outbreak, then this little thought experiment dies on the vine. The same goes for extending the order past its current April 30 expiration and into the summer.

But we're here to ponder best-case scenarios, not fill your heads with more unrelenting negativity. And though the task would be monumental, if there's to be a baseball season, our best bet might be to play it in the desert.