The Boston Red Sox are in an interesting spot for an interesting season.
Whereas the Red Sox entered 2019 among Major League Baseball’s championship favorites after a 2018 campaign in which they won 108 regular-season games en route to a World Series title, they’ll enter 2020 as underdogs, a product of both their most recent on-field performance and their roster turnover.
Boston finished in third place in the American League East last season with an 84-78 record, only to lose Mookie Betts, David Price, Rick Porcello and Alex Cora, among others, in Chaim Bloom’s first offseason as the organization’s chief baseball officer.
It’s hard to pin expectations on any team this season given the unprecedented 60-game sprint that awaits thanks to the coronavirus pandemic. But it’s especially difficult to project the Red Sox’s potential, for they still boast enough talent to make noise in spite of their key departures and apparent flaws. How much noise? We’ll see.
We already shared 20 random MLB thoughts on the 2020 season. Now, let’s sort through 20 random Red Sox thoughts with Opening Day looming later this week.
1. Chris Sale picked the perfect time for Tommy John surgery.
Could the Red Sox use Sale right now? Absolutely. His presence would completely change the look and feel of Boston’s rotation, which is full of question marks and ultimately might prevent the Red Sox from making a playoff push in 2020. But opting to go under the knife in March, with uncertainty hanging over the upcoming MLB season, should ensure Sale is back in 2021, when the league hopefully will revert to a full 162-game slate and the need for a reliable starter of his caliber will be even greater.
2. Will this season factor into Dustin Pedroia’s decision-making?
Pedroia has played in only nine games since the beginning of 2018. There’s a chance he’ll eventually announce his retirement without ever playing again, especially after suffering a “significant setback” this offseason in his rehab from a knee injury. But one can’t help but wonder whether the oddity of 2020 — and him presumably missing a weird 60-game season rather than the bulk of another 162-game season — might persuade him to keep pushing in the hopes of someday returning. Pedroia turns 37 next month.
3. Jose Peraza is an underrated pickup.
He’s young, versatile, has speed and was acquired on a team-friendly contract. The signing didn’t generate much buzz back in March, but it could wind up looking like a steal before long given his upside and ability to fill a number of roles.
4. Alex Verdugo’s defensive versatility provides options.
Most of Verdugo’s playing time this season likely will come in right field, the position vacated by Betts. He played all three outfield spots with the Los Angeles Dodgers, though, which could become an asset in the event of injuries, illnesses and/or underperformance. It’s also something to consider beyond this season with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Kevin Pillar destined for free agency.
5. Andrew Benintendi is on the clock.
Benintendi regressed rather significantly in 2019, posting just a 1.8 WAR, according to Baseball Reference, after a 4.5 WAR in 2018. The 2017 American League Rookie of the Year runner-up once seemed to be on the fast track to stardom. Now, there are questions about his ceiling, and it’s up to him to answer them this season.
6. Jackie Bradley Jr. could hit .700 — or .100.
Obviously, we’re being hyperbolic. But Bradley is known for going on both hot and cold streaks, so it’ll be fun to see which version of JBJ shows up for this mad dash to the finish line. A good season from Bradley would really lengthen Boston’s already potent lineup, and his production, or lack thereof, could go a long way toward setting his free agency market.
7. Catching depth suddenly looks like a strength.
The Red Sox signed both Kevin Plawecki and Jonathan Lucroy to battle for the backup role behind Christian Vazquez, who’s coming off a very good 2019. Now, it appears they’ll both stick around in some capacity, as each team is required to have a three-man taxi squad for every road trip, with one of the players being a catcher.
It’s worth noting, too, that Connor Wong — one of the pieces acquired from Los Angeles in the Betts trade — is on the cusp of reaching the majors and could factor into Boston’s catching plans, if necessary.
8. Mitch Moreland vs. Mike Napoli: Who ya got?
Just throwing this out there because it was the subject of a recent Zoom debate involving several members of our Digital team. It started while evaluating Moreland’s underrated impact over the course of three seasons with Boston.
Here’s how they stack up…
Moreland (2017-present): 364 games (1,370 plate appearances), 56 home runs, 205 RBIs, .247/.326/.455, 4.1 WAR.
Napoli (2013-15): 356 games (1,456 plate appearances), 53 home runs, 187 RBIs, .242/.350/.436, 6.9 WAR.
9. All eyes are on Eduardo Rodriguez.
Rodriguez’s career with the Red Sox has featured some good, some bad and some ugly. But everything clicked in 2019, when he stayed healthy and consistent, posting a 19-6 record with a 3.81 ERA in 34 starts spanning 203 1/3 innings. He absolutely needs to be a stabilizing force in 2020 given the state of Boston’s rotation.
10. Even the supposed certainties come with uncertainty.
Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez have been the two constants in the Red Sox’s rotation discussion, which has included the likes of Ryan Weber, Brian Johnson and Matt Hall, among others. But even Eovaldi and Perez come with questions, as the former has dealt with elbow issues throughout his career while the latter has battled inconsistency. They’re not exactly sure things, either.
11. The Zack Godley signing was a no-brainer.
The Red Sox desperately needed to add starting pitching depth, and Godley, 30, has had enough success in the past to warrant taking a flier. It basically was a low-risk, high-reward move given the minimal cost of acquisition.
12. Brandon Workman has had a sneaky weird Red Sox career.
Workman was a prominent piece of Boston’s bullpen in 2013 and awful as a starter in 2014 before undergoing Tommy John surgery in June 2015. He returned to the majors in 2017 — pretty much out of the blue, — to again serve as a viable relief option and took another step forward as the Red Sox’s closer in 2019. Was last year’s lights-out production an aberration? Maybe. But Workman, who turns 32 next month, is a strange case ahead of free agency this offseason.
13. Darwinzon Hernandez might be a game-changer.
Hernandez is unlike anyone else in Boston’s bullpen. He pops. His stuff is electric. And his background as a starter will allow him to go multiple innings when necessary. The hard-throwing left-hander’s huge strikeout potential (16.9 K/9 in 30 1/3 major league innings) is accompanied by control problems (7.7 BB/9), though, and he already was dealt a blow when he tested positive for COVID-19.
14. Don’t bank on the Red Sox — or any team, for that matter — making a significant move at the trade deadline.
Not only is there just over a month between Opening Day and the Aug. 31 trade deadline, making it difficult to separate the contenders from the pretenders. There’s also still a ton of uncertainty — financial and otherwise — hanging over the league amid the pandemic, and teams will have a limited number of assets with which to wheel and deal by virtue of MLB’s rules for this season.
15. Who is the Red Sox’s most exciting prospect?
Boston’s farm system is trending in the right direction, with several players who could make an impact within the next few years. But in terms of hype factor, it’s probably a toss-up between Triston Casas, an absolute monster with prodigious power potential, or Gilberto Jimenez, a fast-rising prospect with electric speed.
16. Jay Groome could change the narrative surrounding the Red Sox’s farm system.
The biggest knock on Boston’s pipeline is its lack of legitimate pitching prospects. Groome, the 12th overall pick in 2016, can flip the script by flashing his potential this season. After all, he turns just 22 next month and has yet to have an uninterrupted year of development since joining the organization. The Red Sox need to decide this winter whether to add Groome to their 40-man roster, thus protecting him from the Rule 5 draft.
17. Get ready for the Mookie Betts return rumors.
They’re inevitable, right? Even if there’s not much to them, a trip to the open market undoubtedly will raise questions about whether the Red Sox should try to bring back their former superstar right fielder.
18. J.D. Martinez has a tough decision to make.
Martinez’s contract includes opt-outs after the 2020 and 2021 seasons. He’s set to earn $19.35 million in 2021 and 2022 as part of his current deal. The safe play would be for him to stay in Boston, as the financial ramifications of a shortened 2020 season could lessen the amount of money tossed around in free agency this winter. But his market inherently will expand if the National League adopts the designated hitter on a permanent basis beyond 2020. So, there’s definitely still something for him to consider while trying to maximize his career earnings.
19. The Red Sox’s schedule is somewhat daunting.
The Red Sox will face only teams in the AL East and NL East as part of the 60-game format. That makes for a relatively tough slate. The New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Rays are legit, and the upstart Toronto Blue Jays could pose problems. Then, on the NL side, facing the Washington Nationals, Atlanta Braves, Philadelphia Phillies and New York Mets is no walk in the park. The Baltimore Orioles and Miami Marlins are whatever at least.
20. Good luck, Ron Roenicke.
This isn’t meant to be flippant. The Red Sox might turn heads with Roenicke pulling the strings after replacing Cora. But he’s been thrown into the fire, all things considered, since becoming Boston’s manager. The 2020 season will be challenging for every team, and the Red Sox are no exception.