On Thanksgiving 2002, Theo Epstein departed Logan Airport in Boston for Nicaragua. The trip marked one of the fastest growing periods in baseball history.
Epstein, the newly appointed general manager of the Boston Red Sox, traveled there to sign free-agent pitcher Jose Contreras. Under new owner John Henry, Boston wanted to not only sign Contreras, but also announce that they were targeting the New York Yankees. There was no real rivalry at the time. The Yankees dominated the Red Sox.
Epstein reserved all 12 rooms at the remote hotel where Contreras was staying just to defeat the Yankees. Epstein stayed up late with Contreras, smoking Cuban cigars, drinking whiskey, and nearly finishing the contract negotiations. The next day, Epstein saw two men going in and out of Contreras’s room. The Yankees not only found Contreras, they also signed him.
The Red Sox didn’t get Contreras, but they traded baseball. The journey began with a commitment to face the Yankees, spend money, and build teams that could win more than 95 games. A real rivalry was born. It was the engine of the crazy economic growth of the game.
From 2003 to 2013, the Yankees and Red Sox won the most games, nine division titles, five pennants and four World Series titles. They met 217 times in those 11 seasons. The Red Sox won 109 of them. The Yankees won 108. Each of them played like a Shakespearean drama, only longer. During that time, MLB revenue increased 83%, with the largest increase in a year this century, 11%, after Boston’s 2004 World Series championship.
The next great rivalry is here. They are the Padres-Dodgers. San Diego, which has not won a division title in 15 years, sent its intentions to Los Angeles by acquiring Yu Darvish, Blake Snell and Joe Musgrove. The Dodgers responded by hiring a free agent pitcher they didn’t need, Trevor Bauer, at a whopping $ 85 million in two years. (Officially, Bauer has a $ 17 million third year of his choice.) They signed Bauer because the Padres, second only to the Dodgers in run differential last year, had thrown the glove. Game on.
When asked if the team signed Bauer because of the Padres challenge, a club source said: “Yes. You’re probably talking about the two best teams in baseball, and there is still a priority and a reward for finishing first in your division. Give property credit for approving this. “
When President of Baseball Operations Andrew Friedman presented Bauer’s proposal to Guggenheim Partners CEO Mark Walter, Walter gave it the green light.
As in Boston in 2002, when Henry was in his first year as owner of the Red Sox, a change of ownership is raising the stakes of rivalry. In November, the Padres’ general partner, Peter Seidler, bought majority ownership from Ron Fowler. Fowler ran the club from a business point of view. Seidler brings a more emotional perspective to the role.
Given the limitations of their market, the Padres are unlikely to compete with the Dodgers for a decade as the Red Sox did with the Yankees. Boston is the 10th largest media market in the country, as measured by Nielsen. San Diego is ranked 27th. The Padres have nowhere near the Red Sox’s national fans.
The best comparison in terms of staying power might be the Arizona Diamondbacks. They assumed wages and debts in 1999 during their second season. It paid off with three playoff teams in four years, including the franchise’s only World Series title. Two years later, Arizona lost 111 games. The Diamondbacks have made the postseason only three times in the 18 years since those four years.
The Padres have never won a World Series. Like the 2002 Red Sox, they know they are close to a franchise-changing title. The Dodgers were legitimately concerned that San Diego had closed the gap for them. Enter the “need” for Bauer.
Bauer is an elite caster when it comes to durability and maximizing his skill. He manipulates the baseball like any active pitcher, constantly modifying the shapes and sequences of the court. It’s Mike Mussina with more speed.
Here’s an example of Bauer’s weaponry. In the past two seasons, he has thrown 373 curveballs on two-strike counts. He has given up only 11 hits. Two-thirds of those curves are outside the strike zone, but batters are chasing them not just because of the sharp break but also because of the way Bauer prepares for a two-strike.
What Bauer doesn’t have is a long track record of elite performance. His career numbers in his 30s (75-64, 3.90, 195 starts, 3.85 FIP) are nearly identical to James Shields (72-63, 3.96, 184 starts, 3.91 FIP).
Bauer’s Cy Young Award season last year is notable for his extreme spike in spin rates and his dominance of poor teams. Unlike breakthrough casts, four-seam spin speeds are generally stable. They can fall due to injuries and get back up in health. They can go up with a speed gain. They can also be raised with specially designed grip material formulations.
Bauer’s four-seam fastball has stayed pretty consistent in terms of speed. Each year it has averaged between 92.9 and 94.6 mph. The spin on the field, however, took a hellish leap last year. After hovering between 2,225 and 2,412 rpm for five years, it shot up to 2,776.
Until last year, Bauer in his career reached 2,800 rpm on his four-seam fastball 42 times of his 7,254 four-seam fastballs, less than six-tenths of 1%. Last year it did just about every other pitch: 231 out of 505.
Bauer made just three starts last year against winning teams. His career ERA against winning teams is 4.01, ranking 29th among active pitchers with at least 75 such starts, behind pitchers Alex Cobb (3.85), Mike Minor (3.74) and Mike Fiers (3.68). ).
The Dodgers were right to land the best pitcher on the market on a short-term contract. They are paying Bauer, Clayton Kershaw and David Price $ 87 million this season. Walker Buehler is your ace. Julio Urías, Dustin May and Tony Gonsolin are rising stars. Bottom line: The Dodgers are better with Bauer than without him, despite his inappropriate behavior off the field.
The point is also that the Padres are pushing the Dodgers in the same way that Boston did with New York, when the rivalry was the rising tide that washed all boats. Three months after New York signed Contreras, Yankees owner George Steinbrenner posed for the YES cover with Roger Clemens, Andy Pettitte, Jeff Weaver, Mussina and Contreras. David Wells chose to leave the scene. The headline: “You can’t have too many pitches.”
That fall, the Yankees and Red Sox participated in an epic American League Championship Series, one of the best postseason series ever staged. Through nine innings of Game 7 they were the same. A game that started with Clemens and Pedro Martinez ended in extra innings with a home run by Aaron Boone. The Yankees lost to the Marlins in the World Series.
The Dodgers play San Diego 19 times this year, including their last stay at home. You might see them on the NLCS. In their streak of eight straight division titles, the Dodgers are 97-49 (.664) against the Padres, including a three-game sweep in the playoffs last year. It has not been a real rivalry. Up to now.
Darvish, Snell, Bauer, Buehler, Fernando Tatis Jr., Manny Machado, Eric Hosmer, Mookie Betts, Cody Bellinger and Max Muncy are controlled by the Padres or Dodgers for the next three seasons. A window just opened, and even if it’s a fraction of what the Yankees-Red Sox forged, the rivalry will be good for baseball, not just for Southern California.
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