Let’s face it: 2020 hasn’t been a good year.
Between the COVID-19 pandemic and the world’s overall divisiveness, the calendar can’t change soon enough. And even then, there’s no guarantee 2021 will be any better.
Still, it is possible to notice certain things for which we all should be thankful. You just need to squint hard enough.
The Red Sox, who struggled throughout this past season, can be examined through that same optimistic lens.
Boston finished in last place in the American League East during Major League Baseball’s condensed 2020 campaign, a regression from the club’s mediocre 2019 and a stark contrast from its World Series victory in 2018. But the future looks brighter, believe it or not, and thus it’s worth focusing on several reasons why that’s the case.
So, as you dive into turkey and football this Thanksgiving, let’s take a minute to point out what Red Sox fans should be thankful for, even if the organization’s recent on-field results have you down in the dumps.
Chaim Bloom’s vision
Look, the Mookie Betts trade was a tough pill to swallow. There’s no doubt about that. But Bloom really had no choice once it became apparent Betts wasn’t going to sign a long-term contract extension with the Red Sox. And to his credit, Bloom maximized Boston’s return, landing three intriguing pieces in Alex Verdugo, Jeter Downs and Connor Wong.
It’s the chief baseball officer’s work since that February blockbuster that should have Red Sox fans excited, though, as Bloom already has made strides toward replenishing Boston’s farm system.
Flipping Mitch Moreland, who since has become a free agent after just 20 games with the San Diego Padres, for two minor leaguers now among the organization’s top 20 prospects (Jeisson Rosario and Hudson Potts) looks even savvier in hindsight.
As does trading Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree, both of whom struggled down the stretch with the Philadelphia Phillies, for reclamation starter Nick Pivetta and high-upside pitching prospect Connor Seabold.
It’s clear Bloom has a long-term vision — building a sustainable contender — and it’ll be fascinating to see what steps he takes toward accomplishing that goal, especially now that Boston has extra financial flexibility in wake of resetting the luxury tax in 2020.
Alex Cora’s return
Not everyone agrees with the Red Sox’s decision to rehire Alex Cora as their manager following his season-long suspension. But the move seemingly has drawn rave reviews inside Boston’s clubhouse, which speaks to Cora’s ability to connect with players.
Now, does this mean the Red Sox are destined to return to the Fall Classic in 2021? Not necessarily. Just don’t undersell the added stability of Cora occupying the manager’s seat moving forward.
Alex Verdugo’s energy
It’s not easy replacing a beloved franchise cornerstone like Betts. And if you ask Verdugo, he’ll explain he’s not trying to “replace” the former Red Sox superstar. He’s just being himself.
So far, so good.
Verdugo was excellent in his first season with Boston, making an impact both offensively and defensively, and looks like a very important piece of the Red Sox’s future. The 24-year-old’s passion, enthusiasm and hard-nosed style of play are infectious, to say the least.
The Red Sox’s struggles opened the door for two notable prospects to debut with Boston in 2020: first baseman Bobby Dalbec and pitcher Tanner Houck.
Dalbec, perhaps the frontrunner to be Boston’s primary first baseman in 2021, flashed his prodigious power by launching eight home runs and posting a .959 OPS in 92 plate appearances across 23 games. He just might be a middle-of-the-order bopper at the major league league if he cuts down on the strikeouts.
Houck, meanwhile, was lights out in three big league starts down the stretch, going 3-0 with a 0.53 ERA and 21 strikeouts in 17 innings. While he ultimately might wind up in the bullpen, the right-hander certainly earned an opportunity to compete for a rotation spot in 2021.
Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers both performed well in 2020, all things considered. It’s a luxury to have two really good, All-Star-caliber building blocks while trying to retool.
The Red Sox’s rotation was a mess in 2020, thanks in large to the absences of Chris Sale (Tommy John surgery) and Eduardo Rodriguez (myocarditis). Fortunately, both pitchers appear to be trending in the right direction, with Sale expected back at some point next summer and Rodriguez recently offering an encouraging update on his status.
If the Red Sox get those guys back and can further supplement their rotation in the coming months, perhaps taking advantage of a buyer’s market in free agency, then they’ll suddenly be in decent shape.
Jackie Bradley Jr.’s tenure
Bradley’s eight-year run in Boston featured highs and lows. It was both electrifying (his defensive gems) and maddening (his offensive streakiness).
But the totality of Bradley’s time with the franchise definitely is worth appreciating. He was a key cog in the Red Sox’s outfield, produced several clutch moments in 2018 and, above all, conducted himself with admirable professionalism.
If Bradley doesn’t re-sign with the Red Sox in free agency, then everyone should tip their caps as he departs. It was a fun ride.