The Boston Red Sox have finished in last place three of the last four years. As frustration in Beantown nears a boiling point, the disappointing outcome of the Yoshinobu Yamamoto sweepstakes could be the final straw for fans.
Yoshinobu Yamamoto was the ideal free agent. At just 25 years old and with three Sawamura Awards (the NPB equivalent of the Cy Young Award) under his belt, he brought a combination of youth and accomplishment rarely seen on the open market, making him the target of seemingly every big market team this offseason.
For precisely those reasons, Yamamoto looked like the perfect target for a Red Sox organization that finally appears to be coming out on the other side of a long rebuild. Young stars like Triston Casas and Brayan Bello burst onto the scene last season, and the farm system is laden with position player talent in the upper minors.
Significantly, though, there is next to no pitching talent in the pipeline, and many fans pictured Yamamoto stepping in to complete the core that has been slowly coming together for years.
While that core has been building, the Red Sox have preached patience. The fans endured putrid performances in three of the last four years, watching a last-place team in five seasons over the past decade. However, the promise of a rising farm system and yet another change at the top of the baseball operations department (the team’s eighth since the turn of the century) provide at least some reason for optimism.
For over a year, Red Sox fans eyed Yamamoto with anxious anticipation, with the hope that the team would finally go all in on a free agent – and what better free agent to open the checkbook for than one that has years of experience playing professionally yet is only 25 years old?
With the promise that the team would be going “full-throttle” this winter, Red Sox Nation envisioned an offseason with Yamamoto and another starter and a right-handed bat added to the roster to ready the team for the emergence of their young stars-in-waiting.
However, as the offseason has progressed, the Red Sox have faded into the background, and late on Thursday night, Yamamoto signed a 12-year, $325 million contract with the Dodgers.
For a fanbase that has patiently bided its time, the team’s lack of aggression is pushing things to a breaking point. When it is purely money at stake, there is no reason the Red Sox should not be considered a frontrunner, and yet a team with a much higher payroll outbid Boston to land the young star.
This raises a question that has been circulating through Red Sox Nation for years, one of the worst questions that can enter a fanbase’s collective psyche: “Does ownership still care about winning?”
When that question was posed at last year’s Winter Weekend, owner John Henry simply looked at his watch. To renew the fear, while Mets owner Steve Cohen was visiting Yamamoto in Japan, Red Sox ownership was enjoying Miami nightlife according to Instagram posts.
What makes matters worse is that the Yankees, after merely one disappointing season, immediately sought to improve their roster, trading for Juan Soto in a package that the Red Sox could have easily matched, as the Red Sox have a plethora of pitchers that profile similarly to Michael King, a 28-year-old swingman with nine career starts.
The dichotomy could not be more apparent: one team pushing all in while the other continues to sit in passivity. If Yamamoto had landed with the Yankees, it truly would have been an offseason nightmare for Boston.
To make matters worse, Red Sox fans are worried that the team will now pivot and spend an enormous amount of money on another free agent starter to save face, but the remaining market is littered with red flags. Blake Snell lacks durability, having never thrown more than 151 innings in a season, and the Red Sox need a cog at the top of their rotation. Jordan Montgomery, while he is an innings eater, is simply not a number one or two starter, but rather a solid mid-rotation arm that simply caught fire at the right time in the playoffs last season and raised his profile; he is due for a regression to the mean.
This is not to suggest that Snell and Monty are bad pitchers, but more a reflection of the frustration in Boston. The team has been bad for years, and by letting free agents like Kyle Schwarber, J.D. Martinez, Nathan Eovaldi and Xander Bogearts walk, in combination with inactivity on the trade market and an inability to bring in other big free agents, the Red Sox have led many fans to reach their breaking point, while others have already faded into apathy.
When a team with Boston’s pedigree and bankroll claims to be “full-throttle,” the expectation is that they will land the guy, not just a guy, and there was a time when this was the case. However, as seasons (and offseasons) full of disappointment continue to compound, the fan base has reached a tipping point.
The front office was sent a gift in Yoshinobu Yamamoto, a free agent that matched this team’s needs and their window to compete. Signing him could have largely erased the ill will towards the organization that has built up over the years, and yet they once again passed on a golden opportunity.