Featured image courtesy of Zimbio.com (Oct. 17, 2018 – Source: Elsa/Getty Images North America)
The 2018 Boston Red Sox, World Series champions and 108-game winners, are arguably the best team in franchise history. Between a high-powered offense, elite starting pitching, and a bullpen that was arguably the best in the postseason, there was no clear weak link on this roster.
Quite frankly, this was the most complete team in the history of the Boston Red Sox. Building a team this dominant is a task that one person alone simply cannot do. While Dave Dombrowski ultimately earned the World Series ring, the 2018 Red Sox were an unstoppable force built by three men.
The Three Men Who Built The 2018 Boston Red Sox
Even though he hasn’t been in Boston since 2011, Theo Epstein’s fingerprints are still all over this young Red Sox core. Epstein was the man primarily responsible for the Red Sox first two championships of the decade. While the only player left from those teams is second baseman Dustin Pedroia, Epstein stacked the cupboard with the young, talented players who powered the engine that was the 2018 Red Sox.
Theo’s final draft with the Red Sox was one for the ages. The MLB Draft is generally a crapshoot, so finding one or two solid major league starters makes a successful draft. In 2011, Epstein drafted Matt Barnes, Blake Swihart Jackie Bradley, and Mookie Betts, all of whom played major roles on the 2018 squad. Additionally, Epstein is also the reason Xander Bogaerts is on the Red Sox. While he wasn’t a draft pick, the Red Sox signed Bogaerts to a minor league deal all the way back in 2009, when the shortstop was just 16 years old.
As far as skill position players go, one could easily argue that Betts, Bogaerts, and Bradley were three of the five most important position players on the 2018 Red Sox. This team doesn’t win the World Series without these players, and none would be here were it not for Theo Epstein.
Ben Cherington may be the most underappreciated member of the recent Red Sox success. Cherington inherited a certified mess in 2012 and managed to restock the Red Sox with a plethora of cheap, young talent. While Theo’s players primarily comprised the young core of this team, Cherington’s players also played a role. Most notably, Cherington is responsible for adding Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers to the roster.
Those two players were far from his only contribution to this team. Back in 2014, Cherington indirectly traded half a season of Jon Lester for Rick Porcello, half a season of Andrew Miller for Eduardo Rodriguez, and a year of John Lackey for three years of Joe Kelly. While one could question the decision to not re-sign Lester and Miller (it was Larry Lucchino’s fault – he wouldn’t let Cherington pay market value) there’s no denying Cherington turned those aging assets into valuable young talent.
Additionally, Cherington was responsible for turning the Red Sox farm system into one of the best in baseball. Under his reign, Cherington added future superstars like Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, and Manuel Margot, just to name a few. While none of these players ended up being a part of the 2018 Red Sox, each was traded for someone who ended up making a big impact on the roster.
Was life under Cherington perfect? Not necessarily. However, Epstein’s prodigy was a big part in laying the foundation on which the 2018 Red Sox built their success. Had the Red Sox stuck with Cherington as their guy, there’s a very real chance the Red Sox win the World Series in 2021 instead of 2018.
Of course, none of this would be possible if it weren’t for the guy currently captaining the ship. While Cherington seemed comfortable to build towards the somewhat-distant future, Dombrowski decided that he was going all-in with the present. With a plethora of young superstars already ready for the big show, Dombrowksi pushed his chips to the center of the table and took advantage of players like Betts, Bradley, and Bogaerts being on their rookie contracts.
Dombrowski took the Red Sox talented farm system and used it to acquire genuine superstars like Craig Kimbrel and Chris Sale. Sale, of course, is one of the top pitchers in all of baseball and could very well win the 2018 Cy Young award. While Kimbrel had a streaky postseason, he was still one of the best closers in baseball during his three-year stretch in Boston.
Additionally, Dombrowski had one of the best years any front office executive ever had in 2018. He started the calendar year by winning a months-long staredown with Scott Boras for the rights to J.D. Martinez. Boras initially asked for a seven-year, $210 million contract, yet Dombrowski ended up signing Martinez to a five-year, $110 million deal. While this was the highest deal on the market, Dombrowski’s restraint to not outbid himself allowed the Red Sox valuable financial maneuvering throughout the season.
It’s not like Dombrowski made his great moves by outspending competition, either. Dombrowski made several smart, under-the-radar moves throughout the 2018 season which directly led to this World Series championship. He acquired World Series MVP Steve Pearce for basically nothing, playoff hero Nathan Eovaldi for Jalen Beeks, and second baseman Ian Kinsler for Ty Buttrey. While the Kinsler trade wasn’t that great, Pearce and Eovaldi both were two of the most important players in the Red Sox playoff run.
Additionally, Dombrowski was responsible for finding Ryan Brasier all the way over in Japan. This is the definition of a “diamond in the rough” signing. After spending 2017 pitching in Japan, the Red Sox signed Brasier to a minor league contract for 2018. He soon found his way into the majors, posting a 1.60 ERA and a 2.83 FIP in 33.2 innings. Essentially, he served as the crucial third-best bullpen arm and a key member of the bridge to closer Craig Kimbrel. Were it not for Brasier, the Red Sox bullpen may have collapsed the way so many predicted it to.
The 2018 Red Sox were a near-perfect team, and one person would not have been capable of crafting a unit this complete. In many ways, the 2018 Red Sox were a perfect mix of Epstein, Cherington, and Dombrowski. Epstein and Cherington provided the majority of the young core, while Dombrowski masterfully knew which assets to hold and sell.
It’s doesn’t who you give the most credit to, there’s a case to be made for each guy. For now, just appreciate how the Red Sox have had three fantastic general managers, and each one brought something different to the 2018 Red Sox. This was a magical season, and it’s all thanks to these three.