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Alex Cora and the Red Sox have an inferiority complex, and that’s just fine

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The Red Sox won the World Series with the highest payroll in the league and they’re handling it with unparalleled pettiness. None of that should change Cashman’s winter plans.

Boston Red Sox Victory Parade Photo by Omar Rawlings/Getty Images

Growing up and competing with an older brother can be tough. As the younger brother, you know that in most cases, you’re going to lose. When you play one-on-one in the driveway, he’s going to grab every rebound and run up the score. When you play a video game, his more developed hand-eye coordination is going to best yours every time. And when you finally get sick of it and stand up for yourself, he’s just going to pin you to the ground until you tap out.

Those tides can turn in an instant. One day, when the winds of change are on your side, you can finally beat him in something and then spend the rest of your life bringing it up. It might be petty, and you might still lose 99 out of 100 times, but you can always hold that one win over his head. There’s nothing he can do about it.

That’s how Boston has acted since beating the Yankees in the playoffs.

Aaron Judge trolled the Red Sox by playing Frank Sinatra’s “New York, New York” as he passed their clubhouse in Fenway after the Yankees’ ALDS game two win. The Red Sox clearly didn’t forget that. When they took the series in four games, they clapped back, playing the same Sinatra song as they popped champagne in the visitor’s clubhouse of Yankee Stadium. It was hard to watch, but you couldn’t hate it. The Yankees spoke first and the Red Sox got the last laugh. That’s life.

It could have ended there, but Boston and their fans decided to play the little brother card. Into the ALCS and World Series, the Red Sox continued to play Sinatra after their wins. Their fans chanted “YAN-KEES SUCK” in Boston, Houston, and Los Angeles. Then today, at their championship parade, Red Sox manager and king of pettiness, Alex Cora, still couldn’t stop trying to take shots at the Yankees.

The Red Sox were a little brother to the Yankees for the better part of a century as they had to watch for 86 winless years as the Yankees stockpiled 26 titles. In 2004, the Red Sox won their first World Series since 1918. Since then, the Yankees have won once and Boston has taken another three. The argument for their incessant trolling after so many years of baseball oppression can be made, but their little brother card should have expired in 2005.

The funny thing is that by trying to stick it to the Yankees and their fans, the nonstop chatter from the Red Sox is actually making the postseason loss sting a little less. With so much recent success, and now boasting the highest payroll in Major League Baseball, the inferiority complex feels unwarranted and frankly, a little sad.

Entering the 2018 season, I wrote about the renewed rivalry: two powerhouse teams with splashy offseason acquisitions, some playful albeit vitriol-filled commentary, and a new Yankee manager who sits at the heart of a long and storied history. The piece ended with a hope for the first postseason meeting between the two in 14 years and a return to the old, hateful days of the rivalry. That request was mostly met.

While fans are gobbling up the New York-Boston drama, and the Red Sox seem to be thinking about their rivals even when they’re not playing them, the Yankees don’t seem to be as concerned. Before the ALDS, when the media asked Boone and the players about their thoughts leading into the series, they spoke about being excited to compete against the best team in baseball. Reporters poked and prodded to get some juice about the rivalry, but it wasn’t there. After the ALDS loss, things haven’t changed.

On the season recap episode of Ryan Ruocco and CC Sabathia’s podcast, R2C2, they discussed losing to the Red Sox:

Ruocco: Did it hurt more or any differently that it was the Red Sox who beat you guys?

Sabathia: No, it could’ve been whoever. I mean yeah, you’re pissed off. You just lost. It is the Red Sox, so it’s got a little more for the fans I guess but for me, I don’t give a [expletive] who it is, we lost. Like, I don’t care. It don’t matter to me. We should still be playing.

[...]

Ruocco: Last thing on that front, them playing “New York, New York.” Did that bother you—when the Red Sox started playing it in their celebration?

Sabathia: No, of course not. They won.

[...]

Ruocco: Selfishly, I thought [the Frank Sinatra back-and-forth] is great for the rivalry.

Sabathia: It is! But this wasn’t even for the rivalry. It’s just the way we were feeling.

Clearly, Sabathia isn’t bothered by who they lost to or the trash talk that came from it, he’s just disappointed they lost. It makes sense. Besides the early season dust-up between Tyler Austin and Joe Kelly, the attempted mic-drop post game interview about Luis Severino from Alex Cora, and the Frank Sinatra postseason duel, there hasn’t been much drama. It’s just two good teams in the same division going at it. Although Sabathia doesn’t speak for everyone on the team, as a team leader, he does set the tone.

The comfort to take from all of this is that the Yankees’ winter strategy shouldn’t be affected by a desire to outspend or one-up a rival. Boston proved they were the team to beat, and Brian Cashman’s goal is to do so. He shouldn’t, however, treat this offseason any differently. Cashman is known for his methodical approach, so you wouldn’t expect him to just make big moves for the sake of it.

The Red Sox won 108 games in the regular season and went 11-3 in the postseason against a gauntlet of 100-win teams and the back-to-back NL champion Dodgers. They were a hyper-talented team who seemed to have everything go right for them all season. That’s turned them into the Golden State Warriors of baseball. Everyone seems to think that you need to go all out in the offseason to put together a Frankenstein-esque super team to compete.

The Yankees were a 100-win team who were a couple of pitching moves and clutch hits away from toppling Boston. They have gaps to fill in the rotation, of course. They also need a contingency plan for the left side of the infield with Didi Gregorius set to miss a large chunk of the 2019 season. They don’t, however, need to reinvent the wheel.

Even if the Yankees didn’t plug up the holes, they could still be a top contender again next season. As long as Cashman and the Steinbrenners can keep their heads above the “one-up the Red Sox” media frenzy, they can put together a championship team without any real blockbuster acquisitions. Contrary to the popular sentiment, the Yankees can succeed by spending where necessary, but taking an overall conservative approach.

As for Boston, they can live out their petty, little brother fantasies. In the long run, the big brother always wins.