The Yankees’ front office received a lot of heat for its refusal to go after big-name players last winter. With the exception of whiffing on Patrick Corbin, their strategy of prioritizing depth has worked out in their favor. The same, however, cannot be said for two of their expected AL rivals: the Boston Red Sox and Cleveland Indians.
Fresh off a World Series victory and with a bloated payroll, Boston largely did not engage with the free agent market, allowing Craig Kimbrel, Joe Kelly, Drew Pomeranz, and Ian Kinsler to walk. In terms of acquisitions, they did not actually make any, instead re-signing Steve Pearce and Nathan Eovaldi and extending Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts.
Despite a gaping hole in the bullpen and a number of players possibly hitting free agency following the 2019 and 2020 seasons, the Red Sox refused to go all in. They instead looked to focus on limiting their spending at the expense of keeping their window open as long as possible.
Following two consecutive seasons in which they won their division by 17 and 13 games, respectively, the Cleveland Indians’ front office appeared to believe that they would coast to a fourth straight divisional title. With that in mind, rather than building on a strong core that contained Francisco Lindor, Jose Ramirez, Corey Kluber, Trevor Bauer, and Carlos Carrasco, ownership forced the general manager to cut payroll.
Michael Brantley, Josh Donaldson, Andrew Miller, Cody Allen, and Melky Cabrera were allowed to leave in free agency, while catcher Yan Gomes, designated hitter Edwin Encarnacion, and infielder Yandy Diaz were traded away. With holes at second base, all three outfield positions, and the bullpen, the Indians looked like a team that expected to make the playoffs, but one who wanted to rely on the crapshoot to do any more.
In a vacuum, both the Red Sox and Indians’ seasons would not look overly terrible. Cleveland will end the season with at least 93 wins, while Boston’s 83-78 record going into action on Sunday screams of being a league average team in a division with two powerhouses.
Both teams, however, saw sizable regression from their Pythagorean Record, a better estimate of “true” talent than overall record. The Indians dropped five from an expected 98-64 record to 93-67, and the Red Sox from 103-59 to 87-73. More importantly, both teams’ biggest competitors, the Yankees and the Twins, did in fact make serious investments in the offseason. While their talent level dropped, their opponents continue to arm themselves, causing their normal regression to appear to fall even further.
As the regular season concludes today, two of the predicted “super-teams” in the American League prepare not to battle it out in the month of October, but to do some soul-searching and wonder where it all went horribly wrong. This coming winter will tell us if they realize that it lies in their inactive complacency last December.