Now, they are intertwined because of like-minded front offices.
In a recent piece at ESPN The Magazine, Buster Olney highlighted this trend in a piece titled “Theo Epstein strikes again.” Olney noted how both Epstein and Boston counterpart Ben Cherington have hoarded bats in recent years, mimicking how the perennially contending Red Sox of the mid-to-late 2000s were built on Epstein’s watch.
It is no coincidence that both front offices are traveling similar paths, considering the rise of the excellence of pitchers in rotations and in bullpens across baseball.
However, it is interesting to note how differently both teams are going about their business.
STEADY PRODUCTION OF VETERAN BATS
The re-imagining of the Red Sox’s line-up began after the team lost 93 games in 2012 and fired manager Bobby Valentine after just one season. That offseason, Cherrington sought to build around the offense’s core of David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia. He did so by adding Mike Napoli (31), Shane Victorino (32), Johnny Gomes (32) and Stephen Drew (30) via free agency.
By investing in hitters with solid track records at the major league level, the Red Sox jumped from eighth in runs scored to first, plating a MLB-leading 853 runs — 119 more than they scored the previous year. The moves helped result in a division crown, an American League pennant — and ultimately — a World Series championship.
Cherington doubled-down on this philosophy of adding experienced bats to the roster in the years that followed. They haven’t all panned out — because not every front office move does — but they have been more successful than not.
In 2014, A.J. Pierzynski (37) came in free agency, but didn’t make it half a season in Boston. Allen Craig (29) was acquired in a trade with the Red Sox buying low on an All-Star player coming off some injury woes, but is no longer on the major league roster.
One offseason later, they imported Pablo Sandoval (28) and Hanley Ramirez (31), who were among the steadiest bats from the World Series champion Giants and NL West-winning Dodgers, respectively.
Boston also brought in some young bats to supplement the organization by signing Rusney Castillo (27) and Yoan Moncada (19) the last two years. So, by the time their veteran additions are ready to move along, the Red Sox should have some younger pieces ready to contribute.
THE NORTH SIDE YOUTH MOVEMENT
While Boston loaded up on veteran bats, Chicago was buying into a youth movement that wasn’t without a certain amount of risk — but it was clearly a move the organization was willing to make.
In 2012, they traded for Anthony Rizzo (22), signed Jorge Soler (20) and drafted Albert Almora out of high school. A year later, the organization drafted Kris Bryant (21) and spent big in the international free agency market adding 16-year-olds Eloy Jimenez and Gleyber Torres. In 2014 and the Cubs made two more significant additions when they drafted Kyle Schwarber (21) and traded for Addison Russell (20).
Rizzo, now 25, and Bryant, 23, are already being praised as the best hitting duos in baseball. Soler, now 23, has been among the rookie leaders in hits, even after a recent ankle injury. And Russell, one of the majors’ youngest players at age 21, has a 1.2 bWAR that ranks seventh among NL second basemen.
Naturally, each player has or is working through their own respective struggles. Russell’s strikeout rate is at 33.1 percent, Soler’s is at 32.2 percent and Bryant’s isn’t much better at 29.3 percent. Rizzo had his share of obstacles with the Padres (30 percent strikeout rate, .141 average in 49 games with the Padres in 2011; a .742 OPS for the 2013 Cubs).
While the Red Sox added experienced bats to carry the current line-up, while lining up younger bats for the future, the Cubs front office signed veteran bats as complimentary pieces to its young core.
Dexter Fowler (28) and Miguel Montero (31) are the most recent and most significant veteran additions to the Cubs, but are not the first veteran additions since Epstein’s arrival.
The Cubs signed David DeJesus (32) in 2012. Not a splashy signing, but DeJesus was steady at the top of the order in carrying out the organizational philosophy of grinding out at bats that is being shown on a daily basis now. In 2013, Nate Schierholtz (29) and Dioner Navarro (29) came on board and provided veteran stop-gap production at bargain prices.
WHAT ABOUT THE PITCHING?
The Cubs have approximately $40 million tied up in its everyday lineup, with Miguel Montero ($12M) and Dexter Fowler ($9.5M) making the highest salaries among the regulars. The Cubs getting production out of Rizzo ($5.2M) and Soler ($2.7M) — not to mention Bryant and Russell on rookie contracts — has allowed them to spend on pitchers with a track record.
It allowed them to add upward of $30 million worth of pitching with Jon Lester ($20M), Jason Hammel ($9M) and Jason Motte ($4.5M) headlining the brigade.
With Ramirez, Sandoval, Napoli, Ortiz, Pedroia, Victorino and Pedroia collectively making more than $90 million, the Red Sox have spent less on pitching.
They finished runner-up in the Lester sweepstakes and didn’t involve themselves with free agents Max Scherzer or James Shields. Instead, they traded for Rick Porcello ($12.5M) to pair with Clay Buchholz ($12.3M) at the top of the rotation and added Wade Miley ($3.6M) and Joe Kelly ($600,000) on the trade market. Boston also has two top-100 prospects (Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez) on the cusp of making The Show with high upsides at a low cost.
It is apparent that both teams are spending on what they respectively believe is a safer investment. The Red Sox with experienced hitters with good track records. The Cubs with veteran pitchers who have passed the age of injury apex.
WILL HISTORY REPEAT ITSELF?
Only by playing the games between the chalk lines will we know if each team’s respective plans — both strikingly similar and starkly different at the same time — will bring desired results. But with the amount of improved pitching across the board, both organizations are showing a unique route in an attempt to circumvent the latest baseball trend.
Both front offices have exploited market inefficiencies in the past to build winners, resulting in other teams attempting to keep up or catch up with the times. Only time will tell if history will repeat itself.