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It’s December 2003, and the Red Sox have just completed a deal for Rangers superstar shortstop and reigning AL MVP, Alex Rodriguez. It looked like the Player’s Union would scrap the deal because Rodriguez had to alter his contract to come to Boston, but ultimately the deal was approved. In exchange for Rodriguez, the Red Sox sent the talented but enigmatic slugger Manny Ramirez to the Rangers, as well as, little known Single A pitcher Jon Lester. To replace Ramirez, the Red Sox ship now displaced shortstop Nomar Garciaparra to the White Sox for Magglio Ordonez and pitcher Brandon McCarthy.
It’s amazing how so often the best deals are the ones that do not happen. The previous scenario obviously did not pan out, but it very nearly did. Where would the Red Sox be standing now in this alternate history? They would be short three championships to start. Let’s take a look into this A-Rod to Red Sox alternate universe.
The Red Sox open the season with enormous expectations. Having made Game 7 of the ALCS last year, they added Curt Schilling, Keith Foulke, and the pièce de résistance Alex Rodriguez. Rodriguez and the Red Sox have a monster season and win 101 games in the tough AL East despite barely any production from the inured Magglio Orodnez. Meanwhile, rival Yankees finish closely with 98 to grab the Wild Card.
In an inevitable rematch the Red Sox and Yankees meet again in the ALCS. Boston takes a commanding 3-0 series lead and its looks like 2003 is in the rearview mirror, but then things take a turn for the worse. A-Rod who had been solid all postseason, goes ice cold. The Yankees make a miraculous comeback and win the next four games. This is a new kind of heartbreak for Red Sox fans who become the first team to ever lose a series after being up three games to none.
The Yankees and Cardinals meet in the World Series and St. Louis wins it in six games, giving Boston fans a little solace. Time to go back to the drawing board. Magglio Ordonez who was extremely ineffective is let go without an arbitration offer, so no draft pick is tied to him. In an effort to fill a hole in left field, the Red Sox trade for aging slugger Sammy Sosa.
The Red Sox are an offensive force to deal with. The combination of Rodriguez and Ortiz is something to behold, but Sammy Sosa is a shadow of his former self during his Red Sox career and is a bust. During the 2005 draft, the Washington Nationals draft speedster Jacoby Ellsbury out of Oregon State University as compensation for the Angels signing Orlando Cabrera. The Red Sox make the playoffs in 2005 mostly off the power of their bats, but fall short again. Seeing that Rodriguez is losing a step at shortstop, the Red Sox hold back from dealing Hanley Ramirez for pitching help.
Strapped by budget constraints, the Red Sox make minimal changes going into the 2006 with a largely similar roster. An injury to Jason Varitek weighs heavily on the team as it exacerbates the problems on the pitching staff. The Red Sox miss the playoffs despite having the best offense in the game. Meanwhile in Texas, highly touted prospect Jon Lester gets his first cup of coffee in the big leagues. While not dominant, he shows potential with a 7-2 record, 4.76 ERA and 6.6 K/9.
Showing diminished range at shortstop, the Red Sox decide to move A-Rod to third base and bring up top prospect Hanley Ramirez. The Red Sox ride their bats to another AL East Championship. The story is the same in the playoffs. Curt Schilling is a shadow of himself and Japanese sensation Daisuke Matsuzaka fails to live up to expectations. Without a definite ace, the Red Sox fail to come back from a 3-1 deficit in the ALCS against the Indians. Rodriguez was not much help either. Given opportunity after opportunity to drive men in he kept on coming up short and hits a paltry .200 for the series.
In the middle of the Indians-Rockies World Series (which the Indians win), A-Rod announces that he is opting out of his contract with the Red Sox and will be a free agent. The Red Sox finally realize that the A-Rod experiment was successful during the regular season, but ultimately failed. He then goes to sign a record 10-year, $275 million dollar contract with the Yankees.
A-Rod’s contract is an unmitigated disaster for the Yankees with allegation of PEDs popping up left and right. The Red Sox are happy to be out from under A-Rod’s shadow, but they are still in baseball purgatory.
They are extremely lucky to have Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia up the middle of the diamond, and David Ortiz can still be relied upon for some pop in his bat. As it was in the seasons before, the Red Sox lack strength in their starting rotation. Josh Beckett, who had been on Boston’s radar has very solid seasons from 2008-11 and Jon Lester will forever be “the one who got away” as he demonstrates he is one of the better LHPs in the league.
Now obviously this is all speculation, and I (and all Red Sox fans) have a bias to how these past 10 years turned out. In December 2003, who wasn’t heartbroken when A-Rod got away and went to the Yankees? To say so would be a bold faced lie. No one could have predicted all that has happened, but that is the magic of baseball. Looking back and seeing what could have been makes it even more magical. Now the Red Sox enter the 2014 season defending their third title since 2004. Who would have thought that 10 years ago?