Major Changes Coming to the Red Sox and Patriots

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Have you ever heard the expression “If you don’t like the weather in New England, wait a few minutes and it will change”?  Well, you can probably say the same thing about New England sports.

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Last year at this time New England sports fans were basking in the afterglow of the Red Sox fourth World Championship in the century, and the Patriots were on their way to their sixth Super Bowl Trophy.  The Red Sox were coming off a 108 win season, had a bonafide superstar and MVP in Mookie Betts, a rejuvenated David Price holding all the cards, and a hot new rookie manager in Alex Cora.

The Patriots had a seemingly ageless Tom Brady behind center, first ballot Hall of Famer Rob Gronkowski at tight end, and an up-and-coming young coaching staff.

How quickly things can change.

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Today, the Red Sox are in turmoil on the field and in the court of public perception.  The downfall started before Spring Training of 2019 when President Dave Dombrowski chose to return virtually the same team from the 2018 World Series winner, minus the two back end of the bullpen pieces that were not replaced.  In addition, Cora boasted the team would be even better than the year before, and to show he was smarter than everyone else, decided to juggle the top of his batting order for no good reason.  The team got off to a bad start from which it could not recover, finishing the season just barely over .500 and in third place in the American League place and, worst of all, out of the postseason.

The first sign of the Red Sox demise was the late night dismissal of Dombrowski on the night when the Patriots open their regular season and unveiled their sixth championship banner.  Management then compounded the cowardly move by not holding a formal press conference to explain the dismissal, instead inviting a hand-picked collection of reporters to a cameras-barred meet and greet.

After the season ended, management finally stepped in front of the cameras and essentially confirmed what many had been speculating – the Red Sox would be looking to trim payroll to get under the $208 M luxury tax threshold.  Team owner John Henry stopped short of declaring the mandate, stating instead that it was a “goal”.  Chaim Bloom was later imported from the cost conscious Tampa Bay Rays to take over as the newly created and shop the discount rack of major league talent.

Throughout the season the specter of Betts impending free agency hung over the team like a dark cloud. With the quasi-mandate from ownership to pare payroll, Betts and Price are likely candidates to be moved to accomplish ownership’s financial “goal”.  If that were to happen, it is almost assured the players received in return will be low cost marginal major league talent or mid-level prospects.

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And if all that wasn’t bad enough, this week brought the firestorm of the Astros sign stealing punishment and the implication of Cora as the mastermind and enabler of the entire scheme.  After initially vowing support for Cora until Major League Baseball concludes its investigation of the Red Sox alleged cheating scandals of their own, ownership and Cora came to the realization that he could no longer effectively manage the team, and the two parties decided to “part ways”.  The fact that Red Sox Winter Weekend is slated to be held this weekend at the MGM Resort and Casino in Springfield must have factored in the team’s decision to rehabilitate its image.

With less than one month left before pitchers and catchers report to Spring Training, the Red Sox are faced with the continued goal of reducing their payroll by nearly $20 M with the real possibility that the draft picks they are looking to protect by doing so will likely be lost when the MLB hands out the penalties for the Red Sox sign stealing scandal.  And if Bloom weren’t busy enough with that, he also has to now find a new manager willing to step into this mess.

In a strange way all this turmoil helps with the task Bloom was hired to do, because expectations for the Red Sox for the foreseeable future have never been lower.

One of the greatest things about being a Boston Sports fan this century has been that no matter what happened with the Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins, we could always count on the Patriots with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady to contend for a title year after year.  Now even that is in question as we head into the 2020s.

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Since winning Super Bowl LIII last February, Owner Robert Kraft was initially implicated in a sex trafficking scandal, later reduced to only being arrested for paying for sexual favors in a Florida strip mall day spa.  Then de facto Defensive Coordinator Brian Flores left to become the Miami Dolphins’ Head Coach, taking Offensive Coordinator in waiting Chad O’Shea with him.

Coaching defections, which are to be expected when a program is as successful as the Patriots, left the team without viable replacements, exposing them in a position that has always been a team strength.

Gronkowski, after hinting at retirement after the Patriots lost to the Eagles in Super Bowl LII, finally decided he had had enough of life in the NFL, but strung the decision out so long the team was surprisingly caught without a Plan B for replacing both Gronk’s contributions as a receiver in the passing game and a blocker in the running game.  The team never recovered.

The Patriots feasted on inferior competition early in the season and duped us all into believing they would once again be playing in the Super Bowl.  All that came crashing down in the second half of the season when the competition improved and the team’s multiple weaknesses were exposed.  To make matters worse, two former Patriots came into Foxborough and gave the team a dose of what they have been doling out to the league for the past two decades.

Shop for 2018 NFL Jerseys at NFLShop.comFirst Flores and the Dolphins, behind journeyman quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, stunned the Patriots with a late touchdown drive to knock the Patriots out of the number two seed and into the Wild Card playoff round.  In the playoffs, another former Patriot Mike Vrabel bested Belichick, especially late in the fourth quarter when he took advantage of loopholes in the rules to run over a minute of the clock by committing penalties.  It isn’t often any coach gets the better of Belichick in exploiting a rule.

No sooner had the season ended when Patriots Special Teams Coordinator and Wide Receivers Coach Joe Judge was surprisingly named the new Head Coach of the New York Giants.  Judge was a coach on the rise, but if he were to land a head job anywhere it was expected to be in college, not with one of the marquee franchises in the NFL.  Final destination notwithstanding, the Patriots have lost another coordinator for which they have no strong replacement.

The only bright spot in the coaching ranks is that Josh McDaniels has once again been passed over for an NFL top job.  In an unusual development this season, all head coaching vacancies were filled before the Conference Championship Games, and McDaniels was left on the outside looking in.

Of course the biggest question mark hanging over Gillette Stadium is the looming free agency of Tom Brady.  Will Brady decide to take his talents elsewhere in 2020?  Is Belichick ready to move on from the G.O.A.T. and start again with a new quarterback?  Will Kraft allow Brady to leave?  This situation has the potential to turn into a circus when Brady officially becomes a free agent in early March.

And not to be outdone by the Red Sox, the Patriots have their own cheating scandal currently under investigation by the NFL.  On the surface SpyGate III appears to be an overblown case of miscommunication and bad timing, but given their past history of skirting the rules, any cheating allegation against the Patriots will get intense media scrutiny.

The past year has been a wild ride for Boston sports fans, and I didn’t even mention the Bruins failed Stanley Cup run or the Celtics/Kyrie Irving divorce.  As wild as it has been, the next few months are shaping up to be even crazier, and the fallout will steer the direction of both the Red Sox and Patriots franchises for the next decade.

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Boston Sports Syndicate: Major Changes Coming to the Red Sox and Patriots
Major Changes Coming to the Red Sox and Patriots
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