Baseball season is just around the corner, meaning baseball preview content is here.
As it did a year ago, ESPN put together its list of the top 100 players in baseball for the 2020 season, which undoubtedly will generate passionate debate across the baseball world.
Surely, everyone worked hard at compiling the list, but it’s still a fairly arbitrary collection of players. Or, at the very least, the rankings literally are selective, which is to say it’s impossible to really make a call between, say, the fifth-best player and the ninth-best player.
What the list does provide, however, is a snapshot of the talent landscape in baseball and which team has collected the most “good” players.
So, what does the list tell us about the 2020 Boston Red Sox?
Here are the four Red Sox on the list:
43. Chris Sale (Last year: 9)
31. J.D. Martinez (17)
28. Xander Bogaerts (57)
27. Rafael Devers (unranked)
The Red Sox are one of just six teams with at least four players in the top 50. They’re joined by the Washington Nationals, Houston Astros, Cleveland Indians, Atlanta Braves and Los Angeles Dodgers. Here’s the thing, though: Of all those teams, Boston currently has the worst odds to win the 2020 World Series in the neighborhood of 30-to-1.
There are a couple of reasons for that disparity. The most obvious, perhaps, is just the depth of talent. Sure, all four of those players technically fall in the top 50, but those are the only four Red Sox players to make the list. Furthermore, if you were to make a list of, say, the top 200 players, how many more Red Sox would be added to the list? Three? Four?
The point is there’s a fairly significant drop-off between the high-end talent and everything else for the Red Sox, at least as 2020 begins — it’s possible Eduardo Rodriguez takes another jump and works his way into the top 100.
The more important thing? Sale’s health. It’s far from a given Sale throws a single competitive pitch in 2020. It sounds like surgery is very much still on the table as he takes a short break before restarting his throwing program. If the Red Sox — who have unquestionable pitching issues even if Sale was healthy — don’t have Sale this season, it’s going to be a long year.
Oh, also, it’s probably worth noting Sports Illustrated cover boy Mookie Betts, whom the Red Sox traded to the Dodgers this offseason, ranks No. 5 on the list (down from No. 2 in 2019). So, as Boston chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom himself admitted, trading a player like Betts certainly isn’t going to make the Red Sox better in the short term.
Of course, the Red Sox aren’t alone when it comes to question marks. The New York Yankees have seven players on the list, but two of them — Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton — will begin the season on the injured list with legitimate issues that could dog them for a good chunk of the year. Houston landed eight players on the list, but its second-highest ranked player is Justin Verlander, who was just shut down with a lat strain. That might linger, and all that isn’t even considering the Astros’ playing field has been leveled after a cheating scandal marred the entire offseason.
Long story short, if all breaks right for the Red Sox, they have the talent to contend in the American League East, especially considering the Yankees’ aforementioned injury problems. But if the Red Sox’s best players don’t play to their ceilings and/or can’t stay healthy, the lack of secondary talent makes it easy to see how 2020 might be a struggle in Boston.