Cue the script: A Red Sox team coming off an unexpected postseason run. An ace pitcher facing free agency. Top prospects coming up at shortstop and in the outfield. And a Red Sox front office looking to trade off assets, but holding out hope they can compete next season. Sounds like the 2014 Red Sox, right? Sure—but it was written back in 1996, too.
Nowadays, it’s easy to look back on the Darren Bragg-Jamie Moyer trade as one that went poorly for the Red Sox. Moyer went on to pitch 15 more seasons after he was traded to Seattle, finishing with 269 wins and often posting seasons with 200-plus innings and sub-4 ERAs. But in 1996, when the Red Sox offloaded Moyer for Darren Bragg, it was a spark that made the end of the 1996 season far more interesting than it looked in July. Making his debut for Boston on July 31, 1996, Bragg went hitless in his first game, but he reached base in the next 17 games. During those 17 games, the Sox went 12-5, raising their record from 47-58 to 59-63. The team went on to finish 85-77, going 39-19 after the Bragg trade. The 26-year-old Bragg didn’t exactly put up All-Star numbers for the Sox post-trade, finishing the season with a .722 OPS. The contributions of Mo Vaughn, Reggie Jefferson and Roger Clemens were far more valuable, but Bragg provided a spark for an otherwise lifeless crew of Sox players. Could the addition of Christian Vazquez (or, actually, the subtraction of A.J. Pierzynski) provide a similar spark? The team has won 4 of 5 games since Vazquez was called up from Pawtucket.
That 1996 season followed a 1995 edition of the Red Sox that made the playoffs when a bunch of free agent and waiver wire acquisitions put together an out-of-nowhere run. Players such as Troy O’Leary and Tim Wakefield made an impact, while youngsters such as Mo Vaughn, John Valentin and Tim Naehring contributed some valuable offense. In a way, it was a bit like 2013.
The 1996 season concluded with a September burst from Clemens that saw him strikeout 20 batters in a game for the second time in his career, in addition to tying Cy Young as the team’s all-time wins leader. This year’s edition of the Sox includes Jon Lester, putting up one of the best seasons of his career in a contract year.
Making their major-league debuts in 1996 were Trot Nixon (a cameo game for the former first-round pick) and Nomar Garciaparra, who shot through the minor leagues at a Mookie Betts pace. Youth won the day on that 1996 squad, which got its most valuable contributions on the offensive side from the 20-something crew of Vaughn, Valentin, Naehring, O’Leary, Bragg and even Jeff Frye. Garciaparra’s one month of play set him up for his dazzling 1997 rookie year, and the 1998-99 playoff appearances for the Sox.
A repeat of the 1996 season, which included an action packed final two months, a ton of playing time for the young kids, and an exciting charge by the free-agent-to-be ace pitcher is about what Sox fans should be hoping for at this point. Oh, and if the Sox go on a run to win twice as many games as they lose (like they did to end 1996), that would put them at 88 wins. It might be good enough for a division title in this parity-filled year. Maybe something might be a bit different from 1996 after all.