The 21st century has been kind to the Boston Red Sox. In 2004, they pulled off one of the greatest comebacks in sports history by rallying back from a 3-0 series deficit to beat the Yankees in 7 games and eventually go on to break "The Curse of the Bambino," which had stood since 1918. It would not take another eight and half decades before they won another World Series, as the Sox would win again in 2007… and then yet again in 2013.
But even the best franchises have their down years. With the exception of mainstays such as Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz, players come and players go all the time, and sometimes the players who come are much worse than those who go.
Here are the 8 best and 7 worst Boston Red Sox players since 2000. Unsurprisingly, many of the “worst” were been pitchers, because pitching at Fenway Park, with the short porch in left field, is no easy task. Likewise, many of the “best” were hitters.
To see how this team stacks up against the Yankees, check out our list of the “8 Best And 7 Worst New York Yankees Players Since 2000.”
15 Best: Mookie Betts
Just two and a half seasons into his big league career and Mookie Betts has already established himself as one of the best Red Sox players of the 21st century. And seeing as though he only appears to be getting better, he might just find himself at the top of one of these lists by the end of his career.
At just 5-feet-9 and 180 pounds, this Tennessee native packs a big punch in a small frame. Last season, he hit 31 home runs (five of which came in a stretch of just seven at-bats against the Orioles) and drove in 113, nearly matching his much larger teammate, Big Papi, step for step all season.
On top of his ability to hit for power, Betts can hit for average (.304 in 355 games) and steal bases (26 last season). If his upward progression continues, he should turn into one of the game's best all-around players for years to come.
14 Worst: Daisuke Matsuzaka
The Red Sox had high hopes for Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka, signing the right-handed pitcher to a deal worth roughly $60 million over six years.
Matsuzaka was heavily sought after by major league teams after he established himself as one of the best arms in the Nippon League, but ultimately it was Boston that won the rights to negotiate with him, which, in hindsight, they probably wish they hadn’t.
Matsuzaka got off to a relatively good start in the majors, going 33-15 with a 3.72 ERA (albeit with some command issues), but things went downhill after that. He won just 17 games (compared to 22 losses) in total over his remaining four injury-limited seasons with the team. Worse yet, his ERA ballooned to 5.52.
13 Best: Jason Varitek
If we were to just go by statistics, Jason Varitek probably wouldn’t be considered one of the best Red Sox of the century, but his value extended far beyond numbers. From 2004 to his retirement in 2011, Tek served as team captain, following in the footsteps of Jimmie Foxx, Carl Yastrzemski, and Jim Rice. Were it not for his play-calling abilities and his clubhouse leadership, the Sox likely wouldn’t have broken “The Curse of the Bambino” in 2004 and followed it up with another World Series title in 2007.
Varitek’s offensive output faltered in the last few years of his career, but he still managed to put up great numbers for his position, including a .341 on-base percentage and 193 home runs.
12 Worst: Julio Lugo
It’s not uncommon for a middle infielder to be a weak hitter, but when you can’t hit or field, well then you’re just taking up space on the diamond. That was largely the case with Julio Lugo during his two and a half-year stint in Boston. In a little over 1,000 plate appearances, he hit .251 with just 10 home runs. But worst of all was his poor defense at shortstop, at one point accounting for close to one-third of his entire team’s errors.
Even more disappointing about Lugo was the fact that he came to Boston after several successful offensive seasons with Tampa, where he’d hit .287 over four years.
11 Best: Kevin Youkilis
Described in Moneyball in 2003 as a “nobody” and a “fat Double-A third baseman who is the Greek god of walks,” Kevin Youkilis was never projected to be a top big league player. But the Red Sox have a way of bringing together the misfits and getting the most out of them.
Youk, with his protruding chin, unathletic build, and unorthodox stance, was an unlikely star of the 2000s. His best year came in 2008, when he was named to his first All-Star team, setting career highs in just about every offensive category, including batting average (.312), home runs (29), and runs batted in (115). He followed it up by hitting .305 and .307 the following seasons, with an on-base percentage of .413 and .411, respectively, proving that he was indeed the "Greek god of walks."
10 Worst: Julian Tavarez
Julian Tavarez could do a bit of everything: He could start, he could chew up innings in relief, and he could close out games. The problem? He wasn’t particularly good at anything.
In 101 games with the Bo Sox (29 as a starter), he went 12-16, which might not seem too bad until you consider that he was playing for a World Series-winning team.
He also racked up a subpar ERA of 4.94 and had a weak strikeout to walk ratio (139 to 104). Tavarez’s role, essentially, was as a workhorse, filling in roster spots whenever someone was injured or underperforming.
The Red Sox designated him for assignment, and later outright released him, in 2008, after he let up nine earned runs in 12.2 innings of work.
9 Best: Dustin Pedroia
At just 5-feet-9 (although it’s probably more like 5-feet-7) and 175 pounds, Dustin Pedroia is not your average athlete. Yet somehow he manages to play like a guy twice his size.
Since his breakout Rookie of the Year season in 2007, he has been one of the most consistent performers in the league, both at the plate and in the field. Last year, at the age of 32, he had arguably his best season since 2008, when he won the AL MVP. On a team stacked with talented players, he finished second only to Mookie Betts in WAR.
Because of his gritty style of play and win-at-all-costs attitude, Pedroia has become one of the most popular players in franchise history.
8 Worst: Jake Peavy
The Red Sox have had bad luck with former Cy Young winners in the 21st century. First there was John Smoltz, and then there was Jake Peavy.
Peavy won the NL Cy Young with the Padres in 2007 after winning 19 games with a 2.54 ERA, 240 strikeouts, and a 1.061 WHIP, all league bests. Needless to say, there was no discussion of a second Cy Young during his two half-seasons (second half of 2013 and first half of 2014) with Boston. His second year with the team was particularly bad, going 1-9 with a 4.72 ERA.
On July 26, the Sox traded him to San Francisco, where he would go on to see drastic improvements to his numbers (lowering his ERA by more than half) and pick up his second consecutive World Series championship.
7 Best: Nomar Garciaparra
Nomar Garciaparra’s stint with the Red Sox could not have ended at a worse time. Traded to the Cubs midway through the 2004 season, he just missed out on being part of the curse-breaking World Series team.
His .323 batting average over nine seasons is fourth all time in franchise history behind Hall of Famers Ted Williams, Wade Boggs, and Tris Speaker. His best season came back in 2000, when he led the league with a ridiculous .372 average.
After leaving Boston, Garciappara’s career would be largely hampered by injury, but he still managed to be a consistent hitter whenever he was healthy. Had he been able to stay off the disabled list, he likely would have been a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame.
6 Worst: Aaron Cook
To be fair, Aaron Cook pitched most of his 2012 season in Boston with injured knees and a sore shoulder, but even a broken arm wouldn’t have excused his terrible stats, which included a 4-11 record and a 5.65 ERA. But perhaps worst of all was his strikeout to walk ratio. In 94 innings of work, he fanned just 20 batters while letting up 21 walks. Cook had never been a strikeout pitcher, but 1.9 Ks per 9 innings was well below even his career average.
Believe it or not, his 2012 numbers marked a slight improvement from the season prior, when he’d gone 3-10 with a 6.03 ERA in Colorado.
5 Best: Manny Ramirez
Manny Ramirez joined the Sox in 2001 after eight successful seasons in Cleveland. His stint in Boston started off strong, hitting .306/.405/.609 with 41 home runs and 125 runs batted his first season with team, and only got better from then on.
In seven and a half seasons with the club, Ramirez never hit lower than .292 and drove in at least 100 runs each year. His offense was so good that it more than made up for his terrible and often bizarre play in the outfield.
At 44 years of age, Manny recently announced that he was making a comeback in baseball by signing with the Kochi Fighting Dogs of the independent Shikoku Island League in Japan. He last played in 2014 for the Cubs' AAA affiliate, hitting .222 in 24 games.
4 Worst: John Smoltz
John Smoltz will go down in history as one of the best players in Atlanta Braves history, but he certainly won’t go down as one of the best in Red Sox history.
Most Boston fans (and Smoltz himself) would like to forget about the Hall of Famer’s brief yet disastrous stint with the team. In just eight starts, he went 2-5 with a sky-high 8.33 ERA, not exactly Cooperstown numbers. He was eventually designated for assignment and then released outright midway through the season, at which point he was picked up by St. Louis, where he would make seven starts and pitch in one last postseason before retiring.
Smoltz’s poor outings with the Red Sox did little to tarnish his legacy, however. In 21 seasons in the big leagues, the Michigan native won more than 200 games and saved more than 150, making him the only pitcher ever to do so.
3 Best: Pedro Martinez
Much of Pedro Martinez’s success came in the ‘90s (four All-Star appearances and two Cy Young Awards), but the 21st century was just as kind to him.
Martinez won his third and final Cy Young Award in 2000, going 18-6 with 284 strikeouts and a career-best 1.74 ERA, the lowest ERA in the AL in over two decades. In seven seasons with the team, he won 117 games compared to just 37 losses while averaging close to 11 Ks per nine innings.
Sporting News named him the third best pitcher in franchise history. Considering the two pitchers ahead of him (Roger Clemens and Cy Young) didn’t pitch for Boston, Martinez should easily be considered the best pitcher the team has seen in the 21st century.
2 Worst: Pablo Sandoval
In his first full season with the team, Pablo Sandoval hit just .245 with a sub-.300 OBP and 10 home runs, not quite what the Red Sox front office had in mind when they shelled out $90 million for the former Giant.
Sandoval hit .294 and won three World Series in San Francisco, but his success did not follow him to the east coast. His time in Boston has been marked by embarrassment more than anything. Two particularly embarrassing incidents stick out: In June of 2015 the team suspended him after it was discovered that he had been liking pictures of women on Instagram during a game, and at the start of the 2016 season, his belly had grown so much that he broke his belt during an at-bat.
1 Best: David Ortiz
David Ortiz topping this list should come as no surprise, especially not after the final season he had. Failing feet and all, at the age of 40, Big Papi put up some of the best numbers of his career, hitting .315/.401/.620 with 38 home runs and a league-best 48 doubles and 127 RBI. What a way to cap off a multi-decade career that included 14 successful seasons in Beantown.
He finished fifth for most games played in franchise history, sixth in hits, third in doubles, and second in home runs, joining the likes of Hall of Famers Ted Williams and Carl Yastrzemski. And it’s only a matter of time before he joins them somewhere else: Cooperstown.