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Andy Kirkaldy: Boston teams approaching crossroads

So, are those Boston sports teams’ glasses half-full, or half-empty?
First, let me say glasses containing 50 percent of their potential volume are always half-empty, and I’m an optimistic person.
Who leaves glasses sitting around just waiting to be filled up? It’s pretty obvious someone has already enjoyed half of the beverage and doesn’t want the rest. Or more probably, like in my household, has just left the drink somewhere and forgotten about it. So when I say the glass is half-empty, unless someone is busy actually pouring more Long Trail IPA into it, that’s not pessimism, it’s logic.
Anyway, the larger point the major sports teams in what has been Titletown, USA, since 2001 — the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics and Bruins have combined for eight titles in those 13 years — all appear to have reached crossroads, or at least potential tipping points.
Sure, the Patriots looked like world-beaters on Sunday night after they moved onto Cincinnati from Kansas City, but the Kansas City game — a listless 41-14 loss in a Monday Night Football contest — can only be described as a debacle.
The Pats will win 10 or 11 games, lose in the first or second round of the playoffs, and continue a slow slide from their 18-1 season. Why? Since 2008, they have drafted just 11 starters, only three of them good enough to appear in a Pro Bowl (Jerod Mayo, Rob Gronkowski and Devin McCourty, who had to move off his original position of cornerback).
Thirteen players the Patriots picked in the draft’s first three rounds since 2008 — many of them after Bill Belichick traded first-round picks away for extra picks in lower rounds — are no longer with the team.
By way of comparison, the San Francisco 49ers, a franchise with a similar run of success in the past few years, has 50 players on their roster drafted since 2008, seven of whom have appeared in the Pro Bowl.
The Pats’ draft record is just not sustainable. The talent base has eroded, and so has Tom Brady’s arm. He’s still great, but not great enough to carry the Pats to a Super Bowl.
The picture for the Sox may be a little brighter, actually, but it depends on how general manager Ben Cherington performs this winter translating the team’s many young prospects into answers for the team’s problems. The Sox need two top-of-the-rotation starting pitchers (just being smart enough to offer Jon Lester a fair deal this past spring would have solved half that problem, but that ship has sailed), a third baseman and maybe a bullpen arm or two.
Let’s say Cherington can figure out the last problem by using younger pitchers who don’t crack the starting rotation or picking up a free agent or two.
The market for starting pitchers will be tough: Lester, Shields and Max Scherzer are the marquee free agents. The Phillies’ Cole Hamels is often mentioned as a trade target, and some suggest the Sox should make the rebuilding White Sox an offer they can’t refuse for ace Chris Sale. (I’d say take a look at Chicago’s Jose Quintana, too: He’ll be 26 next season, has thrown 200 innings in each of the past two years with ERAs of 3.51 and 3.32, and whiffed 342 batters and walked only 108.)
Likewise, third basemen are scarce. Free agent Chase Headley has been up and down in recent years, as has free agent Pablo Sandoval’s weight.
The question for Cherington will be which prospects to trade: Teams will ask for powerful switch-hitting catcher Blake Swihart, versatile on-base machine Mookie Betts, and promising lefty Henry Owens, among many others.
But the right decisions could bring the Sox back in a hurry — the assets are there.
As for the Celtics, GM Danny Ainge faces a tougher task. The Celtics, too, have lots of assets, but none of them are great — a dozen average ballplayers, one very good one in the last year of his contract (Rajon Rondo), and a bushel of draft picks that could be winning lottery tickets or losing scratch tickets.
Ainge has to figure out how to package this batch of dimes and quarters and get a few dollar bills in return, because teams don’t win in the NBA with average players — they get stuck with midrange draft picks that simply give them the ability to bring more average players on board. It will be a challenge for Ainge to break that cycle and make the Celtics rich again.
Finally, there are the Bruins, so hard up against the NHL’s salary cap that GM Peter Chiarelli traded away the team’s No. 4 defenseman, Johnny Boychuk, last week. Boychuk’s loss cannot be taken lightly: He led the Bruins’ defenders in plus/minus last season and was ninth among all NHL defenseman in that category.
UVM’s Kevan Miller stepped in and played well when Dennis Seidenberg went down last winter, an injury that might have cost Boston a shot at the Stanley Cup, and he will need to sustain a high level of play for an entire season.
But if youngsters Dougie Hamilton and Torey Krug continue to improve and Zdeno Chara doesn’t start to show his age, Boston should be OK on the blue line. And Tuukka Rask is back in net. The Bruins really won’t give up a lot of goals.
But will they score? Certainly, the Bs can depend on Patrice Bergeron. But Milan Lucic and Brad Marchand frustrate with inconsistency. Loui Eriksson never really delivered after coming over from Dallas, and Reilly Smith, obtained in the same deal for Tyler Seguin, tailed off badly in the second half. David Krecji vanished in the playoffs. Will Carl Soderberg develop into a reliable scorer?
The Bruins will contend, no doubt. But there might be just too many question marks to predict another Stanley Cup.

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