CLEVELAND — It was only last year that the Red Sox seemingly had opened a huge gap on the Yankees in terms of young talent, which gave GM Brian Cashman all the more reason to opt for a rebuild as it appeared the Sox were going to own the AL East for the foreseeable future.
And they did win the division these last two seasons.
Yet on Thursday they fired manager John Farrell after a second straight first-round flameout in the playoffs, and already there is talk in Boston of needing to go get a power-hitter like J.D. Martinez in free agency to beef up an offense that ranked last in the American League in home runs.
Suddenly, then, then you can make the case the Yankees have made up all of that ground on the Red Sox when it come to young, impact players, and actually seem to have a brighter future than their arch-rivals.
Who would have thought?
“It’s hard to win without power, and the Yankees have it while the Red Sox are a little short,” was the way a major-league scout put it on Wednesday. “Boston has some good pieces but they do need a thumper to replace (David) Ortiz.
“I’d rather have the Yankees’ kids They’re going to put up some big home-run numbers in the coming years. And they have better young pitching.”
Even so, the Red Sox did win more games this season, 93 to the Yankees’ 91, and there’s no reason to think they won’t be just as good for at least the next few years.
His poor playoff start notwithstanding, Chris Sale proved he could thrive as an ace in Boston, and because of injury the Sox got little out of David Price in 2017, at least until he pitched well out of the bullpen late in the season and in the ALDS loss to the Astros.
Meanwhile, Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Xavier Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. are all still on the rise as the young nucleus for the Sox, and Rafael Devers looks like the real thing as well.
But the Sox are short on pitching depth, which is how Doug Fister somehow wound up being regarded as their third-best starter come playoff time. Rick Porcello went from Cy Young winner to a major disappointment, Eduardo Rodriguez wasn’t deemed good enough to get a start in the ALDS, and the Sox don’t have any phenoms immediately on the horizon.
Remember, they traded two blue-chip prospects, infielder Yoan Moncada and pitcher Michael Kopech, in the deal with the White Sox last winter, and while Sale certainly lived up to expectations, it was a win-now trade that didn’t produce a championship, while significantly weakening the Red Sox farm system.
All of which begs the question: are the Yankees ready to take the upper hand in The Rivalry, and thus the AL East next season and beyond?
As the scout said, young power-hitting is the area where the Yankees are separating themselves. Aaron Judge, Gary Sanchez, and Greg Bird combined for 94 home runs this season, and together they form the most formidable age 25-or-younger offensive trio in baseball.
In addition, that home-run number should only rise with good health, as Bird hit nine this season while playing in only 48 games due to that foot injury that finally required surgery.
Bird is making believers fast again with his home runs in recent weeks, particularly his upper-deck bomb off Andrew Miller that was the only run for either side in Game 3.
Even Tribe manager Terry Francona couldn’t help but comment on Bird when asked Wednesday about Miller potentially facing him again.
“I hope Andrew doesn’t throw that same pitch,” he said with a chuckle. “Or if he does, I hope Bird doesn’t hit it. That was a gorgeous swing. I mean, I had a great view.”
Sanchez too missed a month due to that biceps injury he suffered in an early-season swing. And while 52 home runs obviously represented a spectacular feat for Judge, even he may have been hampered by a shoulder injury when he went cold for six weeks in July and August.
The Yankees have more power coming as well, in Clint Frazier, and, to an extent, Gleyber Torres, their uber-prospect who might have contributed this season as well if he hadn’t torn his elbow ligament on a slide at home in July.
Meanwhile, if Chance Adams, Justus Sheffield, and Domingo Acevedo make good on the promise they’re showing in the minors, the Yankees could have plenty more young pitching to go with Luis Severino, Jordan Montgomery, and Chad Green.
All of which is a way of saying that, on the matter of young stars, things have changed more quickly between the Yankees and Red Sox than anyone would have anticipated.
A new manager in Boston isn’t going to change the fact that it feels like the Sox, though two games better this season, are already trailing the Yankees going into 2018.