The Boston Red Sox and their fans have had a pretty rough go of it lately.
Not only did the squad fail to qualify for the postseason in 2010, but the franchise also lost Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez over the winter.
Beantown's had to watch a different team hoist the World Series trophy for three consecutive years, a run that includes a crown for their revolting rivals to the south, the New York Yankees.
Now it's down two key contributors from an underachieving '10 roster.
Of course, you could point to the bigger picture.
You know, the one that includes the monumental World Series win in 2004, another in 2007 via sweep and the club's status as a perennial contender. Actually, "contender" is putting it too mildly; the squad is an annual juggernaut and on the short list of favorites to win the Fall Classic every April.
The Sawks have gone to the postseason six times in the last eight years and haven't finished lower than third in the rugged American League East since 1997 (almost a decade and a half).
So there's that.
There is also the little matter of the 2010-11 offseason that saw the BoSox grab two of the premier players in Major League Baseball.
Adrian Gonzalez most certainly wears that title with distinction, and I'd also put Carl Crawford in there without much debate. The guy swipes an average of 54 bases while putting up a respectable slash line and just won a Gold Glove playing left field; say what you want about the merits of that award (and they are shaky), but he can clearly flash some leather.
Nevertheless, there's something to be said for continuity in all sports, especially in baseball. So the losses of Beltre and V-Mart will be felt—the question is how much?
Furthermore, whose absence will be harder to absorb?
2010 Stats: 154 G, 641 PA, 84 R, 49 2B, 2 3B, 28 HR, 102 RBI and a .321/.365/.553 slash line
That's a monster year, no two ways about it.
Beltre finished ninth in AL Most Valuable Player voting, and for good reason—that kind of production is not easily acquired or replaced.
Looking beneath the surface only tells a stronger story for Adrian. Check out his clutch statistics and you'll see he was a force to reckon with when there were two outs and runners in scoring position (RISP). Additionally, all but 13 of his ribbies came when the Red Sox were within four runs of their opponents, i.e. when the game was still in doubt.
Finally, he raked a .921 OPS when the contest was late and close.
One strike against the third baseman is the unseemly fact that he took the bulk of his at-bats from the fifth, sixth and seventh holes in the batting order. As you can see in the link, he performed substantially better when buried deeper down the lineup.
But both realities are more than offset by the slugger's performance when the chips were down (or close).
2010 Stats: 127 G, 538 PA, 64 R, 32 2B, 1 3B, 20 HR, 79 RBI and a .302/.351/.493 slash line
There are definitely two ways you can go here—either those are great numbers when you factor in the injury that cost Martinez some time, or you can point to V-Mart's recent history of fragility and attach a less flattering adjective.
The more intimate numbers are decidedly less ambiguous.
Like Beltre before him, Victor's finer details do not come without their warts—he was a .234 hitter with two down and ducks on the pond. The bottom line, however, is that the catcher/first baseman was at his best when the stakes were high.
He did the bulk of production when the outcome was still at issue, and he turned into a monster when Boston was trailing or the ball game was close in its final innings.
Unlike Beltre, Martinez took the vast majority of his cuts in the heart of the order (third, fourth or fifth).
This one's pretty simple—Beltre's numbers were significantly better than Martinez'.
Both were good and excellent in the clutch, but Beltre was just a bit better in terms of overall production and ratios. If it were an isolated case, then perhaps you could dismiss the injury bug and normalize accordingly.
But Adrian's failed to reach 600 plate appearances only once in the last nine years, while Victor's routinely missed the mark.
In other words, durability's part of the equation, and it favors Beltre like the rest.
A rumor of one has it that Beltre's defense wasn't all it's cracked up to be in Boston.
I didn't watch enough of the Sox' games to really say one way or the other, but I didn't see anything egregiously bad during the many ESPN and other national appearances.
Though his statistics show a slight decline from his Gold Glove years, you could argue the spike in innings at the hot corner more than compensates for the incremental numerical drop.
In any event, Adrian remains one of baseball's best glovemen at a difficult position and a valuable commodity on defense.
Suffice it to say that Victor Martinez has used his bat to bank almost $23 million over his nine-year career.
If he got paid for his leather, he'd probably be making the major-league minimum.
Let's face it—Victor is a lot closer to being a disaster behind the dish than he is to being one of the elite. Note that Jason Kendall was the lone backstop who opposing baserunners attempted more thefts against, and he caught 100 more innings than the former Red Sock.
At first base, the story is a little bit better, but Martinez' true value lies in bringing an inordinate amount of thump from the catcher's position.
In and of itself, that adds considerable value to a squad.
It just doesn't come on the defensive side of the equation.
An even easier call.
I've already spent too many words comparing the two.
Here's where it gets interesting.
First off, Adrian Beltre is a Scott Boras client (major points lost) and a notorious contract-year performer. The last time he had a year as productive as 2010 was 2004, his final year with the Los Angeles Dodgers. What followed were five meager campaigns with the Seattle Mariners.
Some of that can be blamed on the cavernous Safeco Field; some of it must be blamed on Beltre. Translation: There's enough of a sampling to at least question whether Boston would've gotten comparable carnage had they inked him to a long-term deal.
Further mitigating the loss of the 32-year-old is one Kevin Youkilis.
Though Youk is better at first base than the hot corner, he's still an attractive option at third. With the acquisition of Gonzalez from San Diego, that's where Kevin will be parked in 2011. Given the Greek God of Walks, his popularity amongst the locals and his prominence in the clubhouse, the writing was on the wall.
Adrian was redundant, expendable and consequently gone.
It's tough to underestimate the advantage a club has when it gets top-tier offensive production from its catcher.
Look around the league and you'll see the Minnesota Twins thriving with Joe Mauer doing a lot of the heavy lifting. The San Francisco Giants just won a World Series thanks in large part to their wunderkind backstop, Buster Posey. The Atlanta Braves and Philadelphia Phillies enjoyed boosts from Brian McCann and Carlos Ruiz, respectively.
It's obviously not a requisite for success, but it sure helps.
Instead of Martinez—who is about as consistent a hitter as there is—the Red Sox are slated to turn to either Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Jason Varitek or an undetermined third option. That's a whole lotta uncertainty and/or empty at-bats rather than rally-sustaining swings.
There's also the matter of comfort with the pitching staff—though Varitek has it in spades, Salty will be starting from scratch, and this is a guy with a well-documented struggle with the yips looming in his rearview mirror.
If I'm a Sox fan, I'm hoping that third option emerges toot sweet.
Beltre comes with Boras attached like some irritating parasite, maybe a tapeworm (which makes the Texas Rangers' decision to swallow him so willingly all the more curious).
That alone is enough to cost him this category, but there are actual baseball reasons Martinez gets the edge here.
As stated, the Red Sox already had an All-Star replacement for Adrian in place while he was taking cuts in Boston. Meanwhile, Victor leaves behind a rather sizable vacancy behind the plate. You could even argue the Beantown powers-that-be let the former third baseman walk because he was no longer needed, while the 32-year-old V-Mart was more a salary casualty than anything else.
Whatever the case may be, the loss of Martinez to the Detroit Tigers will be the tougher one to stomach from this perspective.
Only because I'm gonna cheat.
The true answer is that neither loss will be severe enough to be characterized as "big" or "bigger."
Sure, there will be times when Sox fans will curse whatever weak link gets inserted behind the plate. Just as there will be times Youk boots a ball or whiffs with the tying run at second and some of the faithful will momentarily rue the departure of Beltre.
Let's recap the critical information—the Boston Red Sox missed the playoffs last season.
For the Other Evil Empire, that's a catastrophic failure. It's no surprise, then, that the best free agent and best trade bait both ended up in what might as well be pinstripes. The panic flag went up and was immediately answered by Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez (not to mention Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler in the bullpen).
Adrian Beltre and Victor Martinez are excellent ballplayers, and the Boston Red Sox didn't find perfect alternatives to fill their spikes, so their absences will be felt.
But what they did find were ways to improve the overall strength of the club.
And that means nothing from 2010 will be missed.