The Boston Red Sox went into 2020 with a solid core ready to make a postseason run. Then, Mookie Betts and David Price were traded. Chris Sale went down and required Tommy John surgery while Eduardo Rodriguez missed the year with myocarditis. Christian Vazquez, Alex Verdugo, and Jackie Bradley Jr. did have solid years, providing reason to be optimistic in an otherwise gloomy setting.
This past offseason, Boston lost the final two parts of its triple-B outfield that won the World Series. Bradley left to join the Brewers in free agency while Andrew Benintendi was traded to the Kansas City Royals.
However, Boston did bring in reinforcements to shore up the roster. Martin Perez and Garrett Richards inked deals to join the rotation while Hirokazu Sawamura, Adam Ottavino, and Matt Andriese were added as reliable bullpen reinforcements. Marwin Gonzalez, Enrique Hernandez, Hunter Renfroe, and Franchy Cordero also joined the team in an effort to fill a years-long void left by Dustin Pedroia, who finally retired. Former Texas Rangers offensive weapon Danny Santana was added on a minor league deal, too.
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Vazquez has the catching position all to himself, though the team does have depth at the position in Kevin Plawecki. The backstop impressed in 2020 and was a priority re-sign for Boston this past offseason.
In the infield, Dalbec appears to be working towards the starting role at first base. Offensively, he is in a three-way tie for home runs this spring. However, one of the players he is tied with is Michael Chavis, who is also fighting for duties at first base. Dalbec has a slight edge right now, though. Meanwhile, Hernandez is looking like the top option at second base. He has been on a tear this spring and could be a very underrated signing for Boston if the trend continues. Behind him, utilityman Marwin Gonzalez and infielder Christian Arroyo provide solid depth.
Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers are guaranteed jobs at shortstop and third base, respectively. Of course, players like Arroyo, Gonzalez, and Hernandez can patrol shortstop in a pinch while Dalbec is capable of playing third.
LF: Franchy Cordero
CF: Alex Verdugo
RF: Hunter Renfroe
DH: J.D. Martinez
Starting in left field, Cordero was acquired from Kansas City in the Benintendi trade. He has yet to join the team due to COVID-19 obstacles, so if he isn’t ready to go for Opening Day, Gonzalez will take his place. In center, Verdugo is set to take on an everyday role after exceeding expectations in his first year with the club. He likely won’t replace Bradley’s glove in the field, but he, too, is a solid defender with great leadership and a talented bat. Meanwhile, Renfroe has been mediocre this spring but has the experience to break camp as a starter. As always, Alex Cora is more than willing to shift the outfield around. Martinez could see some time in the outfield while Gonzalez’s ability to play most positions makes him a solid depth option, too.
Starting Rotation Projections
Rodriguez is in line to take the bump on Opening Day. His story is truly fascinating as he missed all of 2020 but is ready to return to the mound and fill a major role in the rotation. Behind him, Richards, a newcomer, has improved his technique in just a handful of weeks with the club, showing plenty of improvement and the ability to be a solid No. 2 starter. Behind him, Eovaldi holds risk but also comes with plenty of upside. The 2018 postseason hero has been working on his control this spring, as have Perez and Pivetta. Perez was re-signed after the team originally declined his option. Meanwhile, Pivetta was acquired from Philadelphia last summer and is viewed as a reclamation project that could pay off and provide Boston with rotation depth.
Chris Sale will open the year on the 60-day injured list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery. A mid-July timetable makes sense, but a lot could happen between now and then. Boston certainly doesn’t want to rush its ace. As for depth, pitching prospect Tanner Houck would likely be the next man up in the event the Red Sox are looking for a fifth starter.
The closer job is Barnes’s to lose, and don’t expect him to falter any time soon. While Boston did add Ottavino, who could see some closing opportunities, this move was purely made in an effort to solidify the back-end of the bullpen rather than create a battle for Barnes. Beyond these two, Hernandez is someone who has received plenty of praise from Cora. Behind him are Sawamura and Andriese, who were both signed this offseason to help replenish a Boston bullpen that had been losing depth.
Valdez isn’t a lock to even make the team out of camp, but he should stick around. While it was a limited sample size, he was brilliant last season and provides Boston with an under-the-radar weapon that can limit runs and take pressure off other relievers. Taylor, Whitlock, and Brice are the lower-tier hurlers who should make the Opening Day roster but don’t have as much job security as some of the higher-up relievers.
Players to Watch For
As alluded to above, Dalbec is an absolute slugger. An ability to play first base only helps his case. However, he also strikes out at a frustrating clip. While this can’t be fully avoided, the Red Sox will focus on lowering his strikeout rate without sacrificing power. If they are successful, they could have a Rookie of the Year candidate on their hands.
Hernandez was signed in a high-upside move this winter. While several critics were skeptical of the risky signing and would have preferred a bigger splash, the move has paid off so far. The former Los Angeles Dodger owns a .353 batting average and 1.047 OPS this spring. Ultra-enthusiastic comments should be resereved due to the sample size and level of competition, but there is reason to be optimistic with what Hernandez has displayed through 34 at-bats in camp.
As mentioned, Valdez has a small sample size, but he certainly thrived on the mound in 2020, allowing just 11 earned runs over 30.1 innings. His results this spring, though, have been less than optimal. A traditionally poor spring pitcher, Valdez has surrendered eight earned runs over 6.2 frames. It remains to be seen whether or not he has done enough to secure a roster spot.
The Red Sox should improve on their abysmal 24-36 record from 2020, but it’s hard to see them winning more than 40 percent of their divisional games. The American League East is tricky, and while the Red Sox have the offense to combat strong pitching, they likely don’t have the arms or experience themselves to sneak into the postseason.
Record: 80-82 (fourth place in AL East, miss postseason)
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