2019 was a bad year for the Boston Red Sox and it got progressively worse as it went on. A year after storming to a World Series title in one of the greatest seasons in franchise history, they dropped from 108 wins to a mediocre 84 and missed the playoffs altogether.
2020 started off as the previous year ended – badly.
The sign stealing scandal that has engulfed the Houston Astros put paid to the managerial tenure of Alex Cora, who was fired after being identified as one of the leading proponents of the scheme put together in Houston during his time as bench coach there. In addition to this, the Red Sox are – at the time of writing – under investigation themselves for sign stealing indiscretions and face punishments of their own.
Chaim Bloom has replaced Dave Dombrowski as the general manager and has walked into a storm, leaving him to replace Cora with last seasons bench coach Ron Roenicke on an interim basis until Commissioner Rob Manfred and his team conclude their investigation.
Bloom also faced the unenviable question of what to do with Mookie Betts, the superstar right fielder entering the final year of his deal at Fenway Park. Bloom and his superiors ultimately decided to trade the 2018 AL MVP and the hefty contract of left handed pitcher David Price to the Dodgers, landing Alex Verdugo and two prospects in return whilst also having to cough up $48 million towards the remaining $96 million on Price’s deal.
The trade of Betts signalled the end of the “Killer Bees”, the excellent outfield he formed alongside Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr. Verdugo flashed at points of last season, posting a .294 average to go with 12 long balls and 44 RBI before a back injury curtailed his season in August. He is still a doubt to be ready for the start of the season, but Bloom has already brought in more reinforcements in the shape of veteran outfielder Kevin Pillar on a one year $4.25 million deal. Pillar offers depth in the outfield due to his excellent defensive range and flexibility in the lineup being a right handed hitter, whilst Bradley Jr, Benintendi and Verdugo are all left handed.
With Betts gone, there is a gaping hole at the top of the lineup. Andrew Benintendi is expected to move there, but desperately needs to bounce back after a disappointing 2019 in which he posted career lows in batting average (.266), on base percentage (.343) and home runs (13).
Bogaerts likely takes Betts’ place as the face of the franchise and he teams up with third baseman Devers to form arguably the best left side of an infield in baseball. Devers was phenomenal at the plate last year recording a slash line of .311/.365/.555, swatting 32 homers with 115 RBI. Devers improved defensively too, meaning the Red Sox can have legitimate belief in him being their next MVP candidate. Mitch Moreland re-signed on a one year pact and will play a lot at first base, sharing time with Michael Chavis who will also provide versatility at second base too. Doubts continue to grow regarding the career of legendary Sox second baseman Dustin Pedroia as he has suffered yet another setback in his attempt to overcome serious knee problems, making it likely that Jose Peraza starts there.
The Red Sox are unlikely to get too much help from their farm system, which is currently ranked 26th according to Baseball Reference. Power hitting first baseman Tristan Casas is their top ranked prospect but is very young at 19. Number two ranked Bobby Dalbec is more likely to see the majors this year after impressing with his power in the minors last year. He is a third baseman but is able to play first too, meaning his versatility will be welcomed. The reality is though that the Red Sox system that has produced so much young talent over the last twenty years has dried up and is very light on elite level prospects.
The rotation will be spearheaded once again by Chris Sale, along with Eduardo Rodriguez, Nathan Eovaldi, Martin Perez and likely an opener. Questions remain over Sale’s durability as he has broken down late in the last two seasons, including what he himself described as a “disaster” in 2019. The same questions apply to Eovaldi and while Rodriguez was impressive last season, he has to prove he can sustain that success this year. While David Price is past his Cy Young winning best, he will be missed in the back end of the rotation.
The bullpen was better than it was given credit for last season with Matt Barnes, Marcus Walden, Josh Taylor and Heath Hembree all having productive years. Brandon Workman broke out as the closer and was excellent, but he will need to improve on the 16% walk rate he produced last season. If he does that and the rest of the unit can build on last season, the pen could actually be a strength for the Sox.
It is fair to say that the 2020 Red Sox season is teetering on a knife edge. Their lineup, even without Betts, can still be productive and if Sale and Eovaldi can bounce back, they will remain competitive. It is clear though that before the trade of Betts and Price this team was capable of winning the AL East. That is no longer the case. Suggestions that Betts and the Sox were $100 million apart in negotiations will be concerning to fans, as a sceptic would question whether or not the Sox really ever wanted to keep him. As Yahoo Sports’ Hannah Keyser said: “Why even own a baseball team if you’re going to trade Mookie Betts?”
After a tumultuous offseason the Red Sox are hoping for the best, but fearing the worst.