By Mark Paulette
Few players come to Boston and succeed in their inaugural season with the Red Sox. Even fewer can succeed in the face of extreme expectations and pressures, which come with the territory. And then there is the .001 percent that not only succeed, but blow past the lofty expectations bestowed upon them. That is where Chris Sale resides.
After Dave Dombrowski dealt Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech for Sale last December, the lanky lefty moved to Boston carrying the burden of not only the teams immediate, but also future successes on his slender frame. He’s responded by winning 13 games, being named as the American League starting pitcher in the All-Star Game, maintaining a pace to eclipse 300 strikeouts (a feat done just once in the last 15 seasons), and as of last week, was so far ahead of the pack in the Cy Young race that he was literally the only name left on the boards in Vegas.
So, with Sale firmly dominating the present, let’s see where he ranks against the past among the all-time Red Sox most valuable off-season additions in their first season in Boston.
#7 David Ortiz – Despite hitting 20 home runs with the Twins in 2002, Ortiz came to the Sox as a fairly low-profile signing in 2003 and didn’t help his cause by hitting .212/1/6 in April. By July 1, Ortiz had managed just four homers and was splitting time at the DH spot with Jeremy Giambi. It was a rising average that forced Ortiz’s name into the lineup on a nightly basis. Once in there, he inexplicably and instantaneously became one of the most feared power hitters of his generation. Ortiz mashed 27 home runs over the last three months of ’03 to finish the year with a .288 average, 31 home runs and 101 runs batted in and finished fifth in the MVP race, all in less than 450 plate appearances.
#6 Manny Ramirez – On December 12, 2000, Manny agreed to, at the time, a gargantuan 8-year/$160-million contract with the Red Sox. He calmly backed it up by slashing .306/41/125 with a .609 slugging percentage and an OPS north of 1000. To put in perspective how ridiculously ‘roided the league, and probably Manny, was at the time, those numbers were good for just ninth in the MVP voting. But he did nab an All-Star nod, a Silver Slugger, and led the league with 25 intentional walks.
#5 Pedro Martinez – Pedro joined the Sox in a November 1997 deal which sent Carl Pavano and Tony Armas Jr. to the Montreal Expos. Sox GM, Dan Duquette, awarded the reigning ’97 NL Cy Young recipient with the heftiest contract ever given to a pitcher (6 yr/$75mil) and the rest, as they say, is history. Pedro won 19 games in ’98 to begin one of the most dominating stretches by a pitcher the game has ever seen. Oh, and by the way, it was in the heart of the steroid era. Martinez struck out 251 batters in 233.2 innings pitched in his first season in Boston, posted a 2.89 ERA, was named an All Star, and finished second in the Cy Young voting, behind Roger Clemens.
#4 Curt Schilling – Might as well continue the early 2000’s trend while we’re at it. Schill’s 2004 Red Sox debut campaign was remarkably overshadowed by his postseason heroics. His 21 wins and .778 winning percentage led the American League, while he fanned 203 batters in 226.2 innings to finish 2nd in the Cy Young voting behind Johan Santana. Schilling’s November 2003 signing was a signal that the Sox were going for it in 2004 and ‘Big Schill’ lived up to the billing. And if you need more, let me just remind you of two simple words. Bloody sock.
#3 Chris Sale – Tough company for certain, but Sale takes the number three spot on the list (as of now). If you think this is a product of recency bias, it’s quite the opposite, as the effort Sale is putting forth in 2017 is of historic proportions. Sale isn’t just on pace for more than 300 strikeouts, he’s on pace to blow past the plateau and vault into one of the top-10 single season strikeout totals of all-time. Then while using the familiarity of his accomplishments as a bench mark, think of where this Red Sox team would be without the season their ace is having. We’d all be a touch crankier if not for Chris Sale.
#2 Jimmie Foxx – Double-x came over from the Philadelphia Athletics in 1936 only to have a season so good, it defied the laws of nature. Foxx led the American League in games played with 155…at a time when the schedule was 154 games long. Figure that one out. He also hit .338, slugged 41 homers, drove in 143, collected 198 hits, scored 130 runs and walked 105 times. I know you’re not reading this aloud, but even I was gasping for breath after writing that sentence.
#1 Cy Young – With 241 wins under his belt, 34-year-old Denton True “Cy” Young came to the newly-minted Boston American League Baseball Company in 1901 and did Denton True “Cy” Young things, going 33-10 with a 1.62 ERA and 158 strikeouts. Young won the pitching Triple Crown that year, leading the Junior Circuit in wins, ERA and strikeouts. Young also had 38 complete games, five shut outs (another league-best) and logged 371.1 innings. I know it’s all relative to the time, but even so, Young was a God amongst men. There’s a reason the highest form of recognition a pitcher can receive is named after him.
So, there you have it, the seven best off-season additions in Red Sox history. Shout out to Dennis Eckersley, who won 20 games in 1978, but no one wants to talk about 1978.
Mark Paulette is the Senior Producer of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.