There's a reason for this: Quite simply, I miss last year's team.
When the Celtics won their last title in 1986, that same group battled a staggering number of injuries the following season and somehow came within two games of repeating. To this day, they remain my favorite Boston team. When the Patriots won in 2002, they fought to a deceiving 9-7 record the following season -- in a weird way, they overachieved because all seven losses were legitimate, and they could have blown another four or five -- eventually leading to a 34-4 stretch and two more titles. In each case, the team preserved its core (Bird, McHale, Parish, DJ and Ainge for the Celtics, Brady, Brown, Seymour, Vinatieri, Bruschi, Law and McGinest for the Patriots) while defending its title. And that's why I felt attached to both of those teams, incredibly so. Each team would have done anything to protect its territory and we knew it. That's the difference between a good champion and a great one.
The Red Sox went a different route. Honestly, I would have been fine with bringing back last year's nucleus, even if that meant four more years of the Derek Lowe Face and "Who's Your Daddy?" chants. I also would have been fine with moving forward, as long as last winter's moves made sense. For instance, we gave up a Human Standing Ovation (Roberts, who wanted to play every day -- like they couldn't have found him 350-400 ABs?) for three stiffs (including a career head case who admittedly staged a dugout argument to get traded two weeks ago). We also paid $40 million for a "29-year-old" All-Star shortstop who appears to be between 34 and 37 years old (no lie). Two other free agent targets (Pavano and Beltre) turned out to be Grade-A busts on other teams, continuing the bizarre ritual of GM Theo Epstein's getting bailed out of dubious offseason moves (Contreras, Vazquez and the A-Rod/Manny/Nomar/Ordonez quagmire) because other teams squashed his plans.
Here's the point: The Red Sox tried to have it both ways. And you can't create a "Let's not dwell on past achievements, we need to build the best team possible and keep moving forward" mind-set, then give ninth, tenth, fifteenth and twentieth chances to Bellhorn, Foulke, Embree and third base coach Dale Sveum (who would have spawned a potential riot at Kenmore Square in any other season). Were we moving on from last year or clinging to last year? If we're clinging to last year, why not keep Cabrera and Roberts (two of the most beloved players from that team), and why wait until the last second to sign Pedro (only the most significant pitcher in the history of the franchise)? And if we're moving forward, how could Embree keep getting chances in close games, how could a clearly-injured Foulke keep getting thrown out to the wolves, how could Sveum keep his job when he's clearly incompetent, and how could somebody slumping as painfully as Bellhorn possibly keep playing every day?
(An actual e-mail from Vermont reader Devin Q. two weeks ago: "What about a reality-TV show titled 'I struck out Mark Bellhorn'? You gather random, unsuspecting people from the street to see if they can strike out Bellhorn from a major league mound. As a bonus, anyone who strikes him out gets $10,000 and can then attempt to better him in the field as well for added humiliation. The pilot episode would feature a 90-year-old grandmother with two artificial hips whiffing Bellhorn with 40 mph heaters, followed by Jerry Remy showing up Bellhorn in the field.")