Why Red Sox are Boston's best hope for a title, with lessons for the other teams

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Tomase: Why Red Sox are Boston's best hope for a championship originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

They're forever the punching bags of Boston sports, mocked because their owner is kind of weird, their baseball operations department won't spend, and their players can occasionally be whiny and entitled.

They are the Red Sox, and dismiss them at your own peril, because they're Boston's best hope for a championship.

With the Patriots exposed as pretenders by a playoff beatdown in Buffalo, the Celtics spinning their tires, and the Bruins fielding an alumni team, the Red Sox are best positioned to end our region's long, nightmarish title drought, which currently dates all the way back to 2018.

It doesn't always feel that way, because we love to criticize their every move, but an objective examination reveals an organization that's ascending in ways that should be the envy of every other team in town. They're younger than the Patriots, boast more proven leadership than the Celtics, and can draft and develop a hell of a lot better than the Bruins.

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Let's take them one at a time.

After spending like the Jets last winter to the tune of a record $163 million in free agency, the Patriots are pretty tapped out financially. As our guy Phil Perry notes, with players like J.C. Jackson, Jakobi Meyers, and Devin McCourty entering various forms of free agency, they could easily use up their available cap space simply retaining this year's core, which just proved it isn't good enough. They need to provide Mac Jones with game-breaking weapons, and if they can't find them in the draft, then they probably won't find them at all.

Now consider the Red Sox. Like the Pats, they attempted to compete with veteran free agents last year, but unlike their neighbors in Foxboro, it didn't come at the expense of the future -- or much expense at all. They eBayed their way to 92 wins and the American League Championship Series, largely protecting one of the best farm systems in baseball.

They also retained the financial flexibility to spend when baseball's offseason resumes, hopefully next month, but more realistically by March. In short order, Chaim Bloom has maneuvered the Red Sox to be players for everyone from Carlos Correa to Freddie Freeman. There's not a single Jonnu Smith clogging the roster with an immovable contract and negligible production, unless you count Chris Sale, and he's as likely to contend for another Cy Young Award as he is to flame out.

The Celtics face the opposite problem as the aging Patriots. Their two best players are young All-Stars Jayson Tatum and Jaylen Brown, but they're still trying to figure out how their games complement each other, and the supporting cast is flawed.

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Outside of Rafael Devers, who was born the exact same day in 1996 as Brown, the Red Sox don't start any players who would be considered among the best youngsters in the game. But their roster fits together far more cohesively, which owes in part to the experience of manager Alex Cora.

Whereas Celtics rookie head coach Ime Udoka has struggled to find the right mix on the hardwood, Cora is widely respected for his ability to juggle and motivate a roster. Cora used his 2021 WAR leader, Kiké Hernández, all over the diamond. He integrated Kyle Schwarber into the lineup despite the slugger lacking a position. He managed rookie Garrett Whitlock through not only his debut season, but his return from Tommy John surgery, avoiding the injured list until late September.

The Bloom-Cora partnership puts the Red Sox in good hands. We can't say the same of the Celtics, not with Brad Stevens in his first year running the basketball operations and Udoka finding his way on the bench. The Celtics may get there, but leadership remains an unknown.

As for the Bruins, they're on a certified roll, with eight wins in their last nine games to vault into fourth in the Atlantic Division. They just welcomed back goalie Tuukka Rask, and that's part of the problem. Their most important players today were their most important players a decade ago in Rask, Patrice Bergeron, and Brad Marchand. They've drafted so horribly, there's little young talent to build around beyond right wing David Pastrnak and defenseman Charlie McAvoy.

Add it all together -- their payroll, planning, leadership, roster construction, and farm system -- and the Red Sox aren't just our best hope for a title anytime soon, they might be our only hope.

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Accepting that it's too early to definitively evaluate either Bloom's drafts or his player development program, it's worth noting that his first pick, 2020 high school infielder Nick Yorke, was ridiculed as a terrible selection who then went out and batted .325 as a teenager, emerging as one of the best pure hitting prospects in the minors.

The Red Sox seem also to have hit on slugging first baseman Blaze Jordan, a home run derby hero who is already proving that his power plays in games. They landed Marcelo Mayer No. 4 in last year's draft with the hope that he can one day be a franchise shortstop. And we haven't even mentioned Whitlock, an absolute steal from the Yankees in the Rule 5 draft who could end up in the rotation or at closer in 2022. All speak to Bloom's ability to evaluate young talent, which stands in marked contrast to Bruins counterpart Don Sweeney.

Add it all together -- their payroll, planning, leadership, roster construction, and farm system -- and the Red Sox aren't just our best hope for a title anytime soon, they might be our only hope. As a Hall of Fame broadcaster used to say, how 'bout that?

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