Tomase: The 10 biggest questions in Boston sports entering 2022 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The past year answered a lot of questions in Boston sports. The Red Sox are, in fact, headed in the right direction under Chaim Bloom. The Patriots appear reborn with Mac Jones. The Bruins have fallen to the middle of the pack after one too many years of riding their 2010 core. And the Celtics? Oof.
A new year means a whole new list of questions, and we're here to pose 10 of them. Only the passage of time will provide answers.
1. Can Mac Jones take the next step?
There's no bigger question in Boston sports, and while 2022 is unlikely to provide a definitive answer, it should at least point us in the right direction. The rookie quarterback has been largely nails this season while leading the Pats to the brink of their 19th double-digit win total of the Bill Belichick era.
But there's so much we still don't know. Will he gain the arm strength to make some of the bigger, tighter throws that currently aren't part of his precision repertoire? When will the Patriots be able to rely on him to win games as opposed to managing them? Will he embrace the elements? This will all be part of the fun of watching him grow.
2. Will the Red Sox ever spend again?
It might not matter, because Bloom appears to be a master bargain hunter. But long-term, there's a ceiling on what the Kiké Hernández's and Nick Pivettas of the world can accomplish.
No one wants to see a return to the days of selling out for Carl Crawford or John Lackey or David Price just because they're there, but there are players worth $30 million annually, and the Red Sox will be doing themselves and their fans a disservice if they avoid them. Big market dollars represent a significant advantage, but only if you spend them.
3. Do the Celtics tank or try?
The concept of tanking -- intentionally losing to obtain a top draft pick -- is repugnant. And it's a credit to what Danny Ainge and Brad Stevens built that the Celtics never had to do it while assembling the club that emerged as a legit contender between 2016 and 2020.
But times have changed and with no clear path to improvement in the short term, it's fair to ask if the C's should prioritize acquiring draft picks in advance of the Feb. 10 trade deadline and then let the rest of the season play out with a clearly flawed roster.
As we sit now, the C's are only three games out of the No. 5 spot in the lottery. Just keep doing what they're doing, and they may get there without trying.
4. Do the Bruins have one final run?
It's astounding to think that the best players on the Bruins in 2011 -- Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand -- remain the best players on the B's today. Soon they may welcome back Tuukka Rask, who recorded his first save in 2007 and allowed his first goal to Mats Sundin, who has been in the Hall of Fame for nearly 10 years now.
The Bruins currently sit outside the playoffs, but with more games in hand than anyone, there's enough time to rejoin that race. With Zdeno Chara gone, David Krejci home in the Czech Republic, and Rask attempting to return from hip surgery, the prior generation is finally saying its farewells. We'll see if there's any magic left.
5. Speaking of generations...
Who will take the leadership baton on the Patriots? If the first title window was defined by Ty Law, Rodney Harrison, Tedy Bruschi, Ted Johnson, Willie McGinest, and Richard Seymour, and the next group spearheaded by Julian Edelman, Devin McCourty, Dont'a Hightower, Rob Gronkowski, and Matthew Slater -- with a fella by the name of Brady of course tying it all together -- where will they turn for the next run at glory?
Tom Brady took reams of institutional memory with him to Tampa Bay, and while Bill Belichick isn't going anywhere, the number of regulars with Super Bowl experience is already dwindling. A new generation must step forward to maintain continuity with a brilliant past.
6. Is Brad Stevens the right long-term decision-maker?
It's OK to admit the thought crossed your mind when Ainge left and Stevens ascended -- Brad will be coaching somewhere again in a year, right? Stevens expressed his commitment to running a team and he's done nothing to dissuade us that that remains the case.
And yet ... with the Celtics embarking on what could be a decade-defining stretch of decision-making, they need to be absolutely sure they've got the right person calling the shots.
Just as we evaluate players on a yearly basis, the front office shouldn't avoid the microscope, either. With the C's below .500 and the roster devoid of shooting, an overhaul is in the works, and that should mean examining every level of the organization from coach to roster to front office.
7. What is Chris Sale?
The Red Sox received an instant boost when Sale made his long-awaited return from Tommy John in August. They won seven of his nine starts, and even without his vintage 96 mph fastball and boomerang slider, he still posted a 3.16 ERA. Then came the playoffs.
After spitting the bit in the must-win regular-season finale which the Red Sox rallied to take anyway, Sale was lit up in Game 2 of the Division Series vs. the Rays. He followed by failing to complete the third inning in Game 1 vs. the Astros before delivering 5.1 so-so innings in a Game 5 loss.
The Red Sox are counting on Sale to contend for a Cy Young Award again, and there's a history of pitchers excelling in Year 2 after Tommy John. There's every incentive for Sale to do so, since he can opt out in the fall. If he pitches well enough to make his departure an option, the Red Sox will take it.
8. Does anyone want Josh McDaniels?
For the architect of one of the league's most unique and consistent offenses, McDaniels doesn't get very much love. The initial list of candidates for Jacksonville's opening, for instance, included a dozen names, including an assistant that McDaniels hired in Indianapolis (Matt Eberflus) before leaving the Colts at the altar.
Clubs are clearly holding that runaway bride moment against him, and every offseason that passes without McDaniels even receiving an interview increases the likelihood that his best chance of assuming a head job will be waiting to replace Belichick, which isn't necessarily a plum assignment.
You'd think his success with a rookie QB this season would make him a hot commodity, but so far, crickets.
9. Is it time to split up the Jays?
The Celtics surrounded Jaylen Brown and Jayson Tatum with proven veterans and then watched them all race out the door, from Al Horford to Kyrie Irving to Gordon Hayward. This is their team now, and it's not going well, with the C's approaching two years of mediocrity since their conference finals run in the bubble.
It's hard to see how trading either one makes the club better in the short- or long-term, but Stevens possesses few options. The best hope is adding a third star this summer, but the C's can't open max cap space without trading Marcus Smart, among others. Needless to say, this is a conversation no one wanted to be having.
10. Is this it for Xander Bogaerts?
We started this discussion with the loss of institutional memory in Foxboro, and no one represents that better in Fenway Park than Bogaerts. With Dustin Pedroia retired, the Silver Slugging shortstop represents the last continuous link to the 2013 championship.
He has delivered and then some on his six-year, $120 million extension, but he can opt out next fall and would be crazy not to. He need only look at the seven years and $175 million the Rangers just bestowed upon 31-year-old second baseman Marcus Semien to recognize that there's a monster payday in his future even if he moves off shortstop.
Bogaerts is everything the Red Sox could ask for in the face of a franchise -- homegrown, talented, committed, dignified. But if they want him to stay, they're going to have to dust off their checkbook.