There’s no way to sugarcoat it: The team the Red Sox fielded in 2020 wasn’t good enough. Whether the roster was flawed from the outset or simply underperformed, the results didn’t meet expectations.
Consequently, it’s a safe bet Boston will look far different next Opening Day, assuming there is one.
But just how different? Will the Red Sox undergo a major roster overhaul this winter, or will Chaim Bloom and Co., confident in the team’s talented core, make subtle-but-needed tweaks and look to compete in 2021?
We believe the reality will lie somewhere in the middle. And although the 2020 Major League Baseball season still is in progress, we thought we’d go ahead and throw together a way-way-too-early 2021 Red Sox roster projection.
Here’s our 26-man Opening Day roster for the 2021 Boston Red Sox:
Pitchers (14): Nathan Eovaldi, Eduardo Rodriguez, Martin Perez, Tanner Houck, Drew Smyly, Nick Pivetta, Darwinzon Hernandez, Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Josh Taylor, Phillips Valdez, Austin Brice, Liam Hendriks, Jake McGee
The inclusion of pitchers already on the roster obviously means we don’t expect any of them to be traded during the offseason. Sure, the possibility remains the Red Sox find a way to move Eovaldi’s contract, but we also think there’s something to be said for retaining perhaps the most talented member of the starting rotation. Also, we think Martin Perez did enough this season to warrant the Red Sox taking a hard look at re-signing him. The same can be said for rookie Tanner Houck, whose dominance at the end of the campaign likely earned him a spot in the Opening Day rotation, barring a disappointing spring training.
As for Drew Smyly, Liam Hendriks and Jake McGee, we believe all three would be worthy free agent signings. Smyly, who loves his curveball, looked great this season in the San Francisco Giants rotation, while McGee was an effective, veteran left-hander out of the Colorado Rockies bullpen. Hendricks, perhaps the top free agent reliever on the market, would be a significant signing as well as someone who could become the full-time closer.
Catchers (2): J.T. Realmuto, Kevin Plawecki
There was enough speculation prior to the trade deadline to make us believe the Red Sox might be interested in making a change at catcher. And, boy, would J.T. Realmuto be a big change.
Considered the top overall free agent on the market, Realmuto might be the best catcher in the game, at least offensively. The 29-year-old hit .273 with 36 homers over the last two seasons for the Philadelphia Phillies, who likely don’t want him going anywhere. However, the Red Sox are well-overdue for a splash free agent signing, and Realmuto certainly would qualify.
Plawecki, meanwhile, looked like a more than capable backup this season.
Infielders (6): Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Christian Arroyo, Bobby Dalbec, Jonathan Arauz, Michael Chavis
There shouldn’t be many surprises here, provided you’re aware of how high the Red Sox are on Christian Arroyo, who impressed in limited time down the stretch of the 2020 campaign. If he has a strong spring, he could be the Opening Day second baseman.
Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts are obvious starters on the left side of the infield. No need to go in depth there.
Rookie Bobby Dalbec looked like a legitimate major league slugger this season, and should have the inside track at being the Opening Day first baseman. He needs to cut down on the strikeouts, but the power is real and the Red Sox likely want to give him an extended look at the position.
Jonathan Arauz is an intriguing option as a utilityman. He had his moments this season, and is worth a longer look. That said, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Red Sox went in a totally different direction.
Michael Chavis is the wild card. He currently looks like a man without a role on the Red Sox, but it’s hard to envision the organization totally giving up on him. Barring a fair-value trade, we think Chavis gets another shot to prove himself.
Outfielders (4): Andrew Benintendi, Jarren Duran, J.D. Martinez, Alex Verdugo
Trade speculation surrounding Andrew Benintendi has ramped up over the last year, but his terrible season likely diminished much of his value. He still has too much upside for the Red Sox to trade him for little more than a high-upside reliever, or something. At this point, he probably is the Opening Day left fielder.
Alex Verdugo, who was awesome in 2020, is a lock to start in right field. J.D. Martinez, more of a designated hitter than an outfielder, can opt out this winter but likely won’t following a brutal season.
That brings us to Jarren Duran and the obvious omission of Jackie Bradley Jr. It’s possible the Red Sox bring Bradley, a free agent, back, but it’s easier to see Scott Boras finding a team willing to pay him more than the Red Sox want to. It feels like both parties have reached that time.
So, Duran, a prospect who just keeps getting better and apparently has made major strides at the plate, could be in line to take over center field. He needs more work on defense, and it’s fair to wonder whether the offense he showed this summer at the alternate training site was an aberration. Plus, there’s the matter of service time and whether Boston will delay his promotion until early next summer.
However, if Duran performs in spring as well as — or better than — he did during the summer, then he likely will leave the Red Sox with no choice. He might be the leadoff hitter and center fielder of the future.