Best of the 2010s: Greatest Red Sox transactions of the decade

Best of the 2010s: Greatest Red Sox transactions of the decade

You can't endure the lofty highs and demoralizing lows of the past decade of Red Sox baseball without making some prominent personnel moves. Contenders need to be built. Pretenders need to be torn to the ground. Stars age. Rookies ascend.

The Red Sox, with their tremendous resources, haven't shied from the free agent or trade markets since 2010, with more hits than misses, on total.

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The whiffs have admittedly been brutal — Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Pablo Sandoval spring to mind, along with trading Jon Lester — but we're here to focus on the moves that worked, because you don't win a pair of World Series titles without a bunch of them.

10. Salty trade

Here's a little-noticed gem. At the 2010 trade deadline, GM Theo Epstein made a move with an eye towards the future, acquiring Jarrod Saltalamacchia from the Rangers for minor leaguer Michael Thomas.

All Salty did thereafter was overcome a throwing problem, earn the full-time catching job, and then backstop the 2013 champions practically through the World Series.

His four seasons in Boston included a 25-homer campaign in 2012 and an .804 OPS in 2013.

9. Brock Holt

When the Red Sox acquired closer Joel Hanrahan in 2012 for Mark Melancon and others, they had no way of knowing that the most impactful player in the deal would also be the easiest to overlook.

Utility man Brock Holt had transformed himself from scrawny high school freshman to nondescript big leaguer, but within two years, he'd earn Rookie of the Year votes and then make an All-Star team while adding two World Series rings to his collection. 

8. Rick Porcello trade

Here's a trade that oscillated between visionary and ill-advised, right to the end of Porcello's Red Sox tenure.

Acquired in December of 2014 for slugger Yoenis Cespedes, Porcello almost immediately signed a four-year, $82.5 million extension that was met with a collective, "Huh?!?" across the game. The deal looked like a disaster when he went 9-15 in his Red Sox debut, but a year later he would earn the Cy Young Award after going 22-4 with a 3.15 ERA.

Though he'd never approach those heights again, he did win 17 games in 2018 and another 14 last year as a dependable, every-fifth-day starter.

7. E-Rod trade

When also-rans trade useful veterans to a contender for prospects, this is how they hope things work out.

The 2014 deal that sent left-hander Andrew Miller to Baltimore was a win for the Orioles, because he went 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA and then didn't allow a run in five postseason appearances.

Still, it paid even greater dividends for the Red Sox, who have watched Rodriguez blossom into a 19-win starter with perhaps the best pure stuff in the rotation.

6. Craig Kimbrel

Dave Dombrowski set the tone for how he'd conduct business by shipping four prospects to the Padres for the former Braves All-Star.

And though Kimbrel contributed some high-profile meltdowns — the entire 2018 postseason was basically a tightrope — he still saved 108 games over three seasons, making All-Star teams each time.

His 2017 rivaled Uehara's 2013 for dominance, as he went 5-0 with a 1.43 ERA and a staggering 126 strikeouts in only 69 innings.

5. Koji Uehara signing

Talk about some agate type that barely registered on the transaction wire.

On Dec. 18, 2012, the Red Sox signed Uehara as a free agent. The rest of baseball barely noticed, still buzzing over the trade a day earlier that had sent Cy Young knuckleballer R.A. Dickey from the Mets to Blue Jays.

Uehara earned $4.25 million with the Red Sox, who had no way of knowing when they signed him that a man with only one save a year earlier would end up closing out the World Series following one of the most dominant bullpen seasons ever: a 1.09 ERA and over 100 strikeouts vs. just nine walks.

4. J.D. Martinez signing

Dombrowski didn't just build his roster through trades.

In addition to spending $217 million on David Price — a transaction that doesn't make this list — he also landed the successor to David Ortiz without overpaying him one cent.

Martinez languished all winter in 2018, finally agreeing to join the Red Sox in spring training. He then proceeded to justify his five-year, $110 million deal practically in Year 1 alone, challenging for a Triple Crown and solidifying the heart of the order.

We thought he'd opt out this winter, but he stayed put after another All-Star season.

3. Chris Sale trade

John Henry hired old friend Dombrowski to be a man of action, and the longtime executive lived up to that billing, striking a trade for one of the best pitchers in baseball before the 2017 season.

The cost — top prospects Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech — was steep, and has since kickstarted a rebuild in Chicago, but it also helped produce a title in 2018.

Sale went 29-12 with a 2.56 ERA in his first two seasons in Boston, starting two All-Star Games and closing one World Series, before injuries struck last season. But that does little to diminish Sale's impact.

2. The 2013 offseason

Rather than single out one particular transaction, let us take that entire winter as a whole.

Fresh off the Dodgers deal, the Red Sox needed to restock without mortgaging the future. Then-GM Ben Cherington made a series of targeted strikes on the veteran market, adding Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Jonny Gomes, Stephen Drew, David Ross, and Koji Uehara.

All they did was win 96 games and roll to a shocking "Boston Strong" World Series, still one of the most satisfying titles of Boston's post-2000 renaissance.

1. The Dodgers trade

In many ways, the past two Red Sox titles can be traced to the August, 2012 deal that shipped more than a quarter billion dollars of malcontents (plus Nick Punto!) to the West Coast, allowing the Red Sox space to breathe and begin rebuilding around their farm system.

Gonzalez was the centerpiece, but Crawford and Josh Beckett joined him (plus Nick Punto!). Cherington used the savings to build the 2013 champs, which bought him time to develop the next generation of stars, including Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. 

Best of the Decade: Which Celtics rookies had the best seasons?

NBC Sports Boston Illustration

Best of the Decade: Which Celtics rookies had the best seasons?

BOSTON — The success of the Boston Celtics in the past decade by and large has come on the backs of veteran, established players. 

But there have been a few youngsters who were ready for prime-time play sooner rather than later, proving their worth by being solid contributors to the team’s overall success in their first season. 

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Here we take a look at the top six rookies for the Celtics since 2010. 

6. Daniel Theis

How acquired: Free agent signing in 2017

Rookie per-game stats: 5.3 points, 4.3 rebounds in 63 games. 

Only listed at 6-foot-8 but playing center, Theis’ defensive versatility got him on the floor early. However, his rookie season was cut short due to a torn meniscus injury that robbed the Celtics of one of their better interior defenders coming off the bench whose play was seemingly getting better as the season progressed. 

5. Jaylen Brown

How acquired: No. 3 pick (from Brooklyn) in the 2016 NBA Draft

Rookie per-game stats: 6.6 points and 2.8 rebounds in 78 games

Jaylen Brown caught the eye of many when as a rookie he scored 19 points in his first start against the Cleveland Cavaliers, with many of those points coming against LeBron James. Brown’s shooting was better than anticipated in his first year, making 34.1 percent of his 3’s and 45.4 percent of his shots from the field to earn a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie Second Team. 

4. Kelly Olynyk

How acquired: The No. 13 pick (via trade with Dallas) in the 2013 NBA Draft

Rookie per-game stats: 8.7 points and 5.2 rebounds in 70 games

While most remember Olynyk for his Game 7 heroics in the 2017 Conference Semifinals against Washington, the 7-footer had a strong first year for the Celtics. His ability to stretch the floor was important not only for his personal growth, but also Boston’s transition to having more space-creators on the floor with size like Olynyk.

3. Jared Sullinger

How acquired: The 21st pick in the 2012 NBA Draft

Rookie per-game status: 6.0 points and 5.9 rebounds in 45 games

With a nice touch around the basket and the ability to knock down 3’s, Sullinger had all the tools to be a solid NBA player for years to come. While his health was a factor in him no longer being in the NBA, there’s no denying he made quite a splash in his first season with the Celtics. 

2. Marcus Smart

How acquired: Drafted by Boston with the No. 6 pick (from Brooklyn) in the 2014 NBA Draft

Rookie per-game stats: 7.8 points and 3.3 rebounds in 67 games

It didn’t take long for Marcus Smart to establish himself as an above-average defender who brought an elite brand of toughness to the court. His shooting left a lot to be desired, but he excelled in the intangibles needed to win, which earned him a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie Second Team. 

1. Jayson Tatum

How acquired: Drafted by Boston with the No. 3 pick (from Philadelphia) in the 2017 NBA Draft

Rookie per-game stats: 13.9 points and 5.0 rebounds in 80 games

From Day One, the game has looked as though it comes easy to Tatum, whose scoring ranked among the franchise’s all-time leaders among first-year players. Tatum’s play earned him a spot on the NBA’s All-Rookie First Team in addition to a third-place finish in the league’s Rookie of The Year voting. 

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Best of the Decade: Red Sox All-Interview Team

Best of the Decade: Red Sox All-Interview Team

Since we're Top Ten-ing everything else related to the decade, allow me one small measure of self-indulgence -- my All-Interview Team.

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Not everyone on this list was/is a great quote, per se, but they're guys I liked talking to for various reasons, and who doesn't enjoy the occasional peek behind the curtain? Also, No. 1 on my list is 1,000 percent real, I swear.

1. J.D. Drew

I know what you're thinking, but I'm telling you, no player had a better handle on baseball's relative insignificance. Drew played because it made him rich (he's notoriously cheap) and he was really good at it, but he never wanted it to define him. A folksy conversationalist, he was also sneaky funny, like the time he hopped up the dugout steps to boos during BP in Philly, proclaimed, "This is MY house," and then went 4-for-5 with a three-run homer.

2. David Ortiz

Big Papi will end up topping a lot of best-of lists in the next couple of weeks, and for good reason. But beyond providing countless moments of drama, he was a hell of a colorful interview, speaking unfiltered and from the heart, even when it might've behooved him to go the diplomatic route. He'd get ripped for bitching about his contract or a lost RBI, but what reporter would complain about that? He made great copy, and when he held court, his blue streak would make Lenny Bruce blush.

3. Jonny Gomes

Critics ripped him for being a self-promoter, and while I wouldn't totally absolve him of that charge, his impact on the 2013 clubhouse was real. The most impressive part of talking to Gomes was just how closely he paid attention to the rest of baseball. Some guys can't tell you what's happening outside their clubhouse door, but Gomes knew everything about everyone in the AL and NL, and he'd talk baseball with anybody.

4. Xander Bogaerts

For someone who won his first World Series just a couple of weeks after turning 21 and recently signed a nine-figure contract, Bogaerts has remained remarkably humble and grounded. He spent his early seasons in the background, ceding state-of-the-team responsibilities to veterans Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. But now that he's entering his eighth (!?!) season, he recognizes the need to be a spokesman, especially when things are going poorly, and he's as accountable as they get.

5. Daniel Bard

When Bard's career went south in 2012 following a failed move to the rotation, no one was secretly more disappointed than the beat writers. Bard was always a thoughtful quote, with a keen intelligence befitting his lineage -- his grandfather coached at MIT for years -- and a willingness to offer insight. Some believe that intelligence worked against him, causing him to overanalyze his mental woes, and we'll never know how his career would've turned out if he had remained in the bullpen.

6. Carl Crawford

While there's no question Crawford disappointed on the field, it wasn't for lack of effort, and those of us who were around him every day could see the toll all that failure took on him personally. Extremely popular among teammates -- most of whom he greeted with, "Wassup, big man?" -- Crawford was honest to a fault with the media, even when the questions were relentlessly negative. He may not have been worth $142 million, but he was no villain.

7. Clay Buchholz

A truth about reporters: sometimes we only reluctantly ask the toughest questions, because we know our subjects will get their backs up and then we have to steel for a fight. Then there's Buchholz. You could ask him the most pointed question about why he was terrible and everyone hated him, and he'd answer without rancor because it's just how he's wired. He just shrugged and took nothing personally, which is a gift.

8. Jackie Bradley Jr.

After the birth of his first child, Bradley was leaving Fenway Park when a couple of reporters held the door for him and wished him a Happy Father's Day. Bradley turned around, confirmed they had kids as well, and said, "then Happy Father's Day to you, too." In an industry where narcissism is practically required, Bradley manages to treat people with respect instead of contempt.

9. Burke Badenhop

Here's to the nerds! Badenhop was unapologetically wonky and one of the first players to embrace advanced analytics in pursuit of self-improvement. A business major at Bowling Green, he had landed a coveted job at pharmaceutical giant GlaxoSmithKline in 2005 before baseball came calling. The son of an English professor and contributor to a book on finance for young college grads, he considered writing for "Saturday Night Live" his dream job.

10. Kevin Youkilis

Youkilis could be confrontational. He constantly railed against negativity. He once yelled at me for calling him the Greek God of Walks, because, "you know I hate that name." Despite all that, I enjoyed interacting with him, because deep down, he was still just the kid from Cincinnati rooting on the Bengals from the nosebleeds, and even after he signed a $40 million contract, that everyman regular guy remained a part of him.