The landscape of Boston sports looks much different than it did a year ago. Five All-Star level players have left town since last March and it’s time to reevaluate the hierarchy among players in New England. Considering all the great talent that has left, it’s remarkable how many great players remain in Boston. The number of difficult decisions and tough cuts that were present in putting this list together should give everyone hope for the future of Boston sports. Here are the 10 best current athletes in the region:
18. Chris Sale
17. Devin McCourty
16. Dont’a Hightower
15. Gordon Hayward
14. Charlie McAvoy
13. Joe Thuney
12. Julian Edelman
11. Jaylen Brown
10. Rafael Devers
Devers didn’t make the All-Star team in 2019, but he should’ve. At 22 years old, in just his 2nd full season as a big leaguer, Devers hit 32 home runs and finished with a .311 batting average (t-10th in the MLB). Devers doesn’t offer the Red Sox much in the field, but his bat is truly special. The young star is off to a great start and should be a staple in the Red Sox lineup for years to come.
Some were disappointed to see J.D. Martinez opt into his contract last offseason, and any neutral observer would be right to question why. Martinez is one of the best designated hitters in baseball and is on a pretty team friendly deal when comparing his production at the plate to other players around the league. Martinez may not play in the field, but that shouldn’t take away from the impact he has at the plate. Martinez led the team in slugging percentage and home runs in 2019 while also having .304 batting average. A slugger who can also hit for average is rare in the MLB. J.D. Martinez is among the best all-around hitters the game has to offer. It doesn’t hurt that he’s a genuine and friendly guy to go along with being tremendously talented. Anyone who doesn’t want J.D. Martinez on their team is a fool.
Marchand was well on his way to his 5th straight 30-goal season before the NHL decided to suspend its season. He’s been a staple on the wing for the last decade with consistent production every season. Marchand isn’t the Bruins best goal scorer anymore, but he’s still one of the best in the league.
7. Kemba Walker
Walker’s new to Boston, but he’s already making a big impact. He was named an All-Star this season and has embraced a role as an emotional leader with the Celtics. Walker has been content taking a back seat at times and letting Boston’s young stars shine, but he’s still putting up great numbers. Walker is averaging 21.2 points per game and having the most efficient season of his career. It is clear that he loves finally playing for a winning organization and is happy to be playing with such talented teammates.
6. Tuukka Rask
Rask is one of the most controversial figures in Boston sports. Although his numbers are stellar, fans have been critical of Rask for failing to show up in big moments. Nevertheless, he’s currently the favorite to win the Vezina this season at +175 and is having his best year since he last won the Vezina in 2014. Rask currently ranks 2nd in the NHL in save percentage and 1st in average goals against while goaltending for the best team in hockey. Still, his doubters will always have their argument until he wins a cup.
At 34, Patrice Bergeron looks as spectacular as ever. Bergeron continues to lead one of the best lines in hockey as one of the best centers in hockey and doesn’t show any signs of slowing down. He currently sits just one goal shy of tying his career-high in goals for the 2nd straight season. If the NHL regular season were to resume, he’d almost assuredly set a new personal best in that category. Bergeron is aging like a fine wine and if this were a list of Boston’s most underappreciated athletes, he’d have a pretty solid shot at #1.
Xander Bogaerts being the best player on the Red Sox is a thought that may have perplexed many about a year and a half ago, but he’s certainly earned that title. Bogaerts took home an All-Star appearance and a Silver Slugger award last season while leading the Red Sox in RBI’s and tying for the lead in OPS with J.D. Martinez. He’s no slouch defensively either. Bogaerts struggled with consistency issues in the early part of his career, but those appear to be behind him. It will take something resembling a repeat performance of his 2019 season if the Red Sox want to sniff the postseason in 2020.
Pastrnak is having a Hart candidate season and one of the best goal scoring seasons in Bruins history. Only five Bruins have scored more goals in a single season than Pastrnak has this season: Phil Esposito, Cam Neely, John Bucyk, Rick Middleton and Ken Hodge. Pastrnak had a real opportunity to pass three of those players if the season was still going on. Pastrnak has cemented himself as the future face of the Bruins and someone the team can hope to build around for the next 10 years.
2. Jayson Tatum
Jayson Tatum has turned heads around the NBA this season and has been a popular choice among fans as the new king in Boston. Tatum’s certainly shown he’s capable of being a superstar in the NBA and has arguably already emerged as one at just 22. If Tatum can continue his run into the playoffs and lead the Celtics to a championship, he’ll have earned the top spot. For now, he hasn’t done enough to surpass the Patriots’ new best player.
Gilmore isn’t a sexy pick for the next face of Boston sports, but he’s done the most to earn the top spot. Gilmore just won Defensive Player of the Year. It’s hard to not put the best defensive player in football at the top of the list. Gilmore’s reign at the top may not be for long if Tatum and Pastrnak continue on their current tracks, but for now, the best player in Boston sports is still a Patriot. He was a huge reason New England’s defense was as dominant as they were in the first half of the 2019 season and will be looked to as a symbol of hope as the Patriots transition to not only a new quarterback, but a new defensive unit. Four of New England’s top eleven players in defensive snap count have departed this offseason. If the Patriots are going to win at a high level in 2020, it will be on their defense to carry them and Gilmore to lead that unit.
Photo: (Timothy T. Ludwig – USA Today Sports / Michael Dwyer – AP Photo)