In a season in which a lot of things went wrong, the Red Sox were able to rely on a stout offense once again in 2019. When the dust settled on the final out of the regular season this past weekend, the Sox ranked sixth in baseball in wRC+ while being one of only four teams to score 900 or more runs. The key to their offensive success was a lineup that was packed to the rafters with All-Star caliber batters.
Although logic would dictate that the Red Sox should do all they can to maintain this part of the roster, that isn’t necessarily what ownership is prioritizing. It’s a disheartening development to be sure. There is a real possibility that Mookie Betts will be traded just a year removed from winning the American League MVP award and then there’s the looming threat that J.D. Martinez will opt out of his contract and the Sox will just let him walk away. It seems unlikely that both of these things would come to pass, but the rhetoric we’ve heard from the people at the top of the organization has muted such confidence.
If the Red Sox were to make the ludicrous decision to part ways with two MVP-caliber players, they would be gutting a large portion of their offense. Martinez and Betts accounted for 233 runs, 145 extra-base hits and 351 total hits combined this past season. They also held down prominent posts in the lineup, with all but one of Betts’ 706 plate appearances coming in the first or second spot in the lineup while Martinez batted third or fourth in 654 of his 657 plate appearances.
Those aren’t bats you can just let go flippantly. Their departure would create a great deal of pressure for the players left on the roster. That pressure would not be distributed evenly across the lineup, however. In a hypothetical post-Betts and Martinez world, the bulk of the leftover offensive responsibility would presumably fall to Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and Michael Chavis.
Both Devers and Bogaerts proved that they can be middle of the order hitters this season and exceptional ones at that. In his age-22 season, Devers accumulated 201 hits and slashed .311/.361/.555 with a wRC+ of 133. He also smashed 32 home runs and 54 doubles while driving in 115 runs. Since he’s so young, the hope is that Devers will only get better but after he struggled a bit in 2018, we’ll need a bit more proof that this breakout is sustainable. That might be more difficult to accomplish if teams don’t have to worry about Martinez and Betts in the lineup and can put more focus on Devers.
Bogaerts finished the season as the most valuable position player on the roster based on FanGraphs WAR as he produced the best offensive season of his career. He set personal-bests with 33 home runs and 117 RBI to go with a wRC+ of 141 and an OPS+ of 140, which were also the highest marks he has even produced. While Devers’ breakout season still requires a bit of proof in terms of sustainability, Bogaerts has now produced back-to-back seasons with a wRC+ and OPS+ of at least 130. After turning 27 on Tuesday, he is squarely in his prime and would be the centerpiece of most lineups. Without Betts and Martinez, he would have to be.
While Devers and Bogaerts were crushing baseballs all season, Benintendi and Chavis both have a bit more work to do. There weaknesses could be hidden a bit since they weren’t asked to beef up the middle of the order, but in a world where Martinez and Betts step away, they would need to make good on their immense potential to help bridge the gap.
Benintendi was an exactly league average batter this season based on OPS+ as his strikeout rate rose to 22.8 percent. However, at 25 years old, he’s still got plenty of time to get better and build on the 2018 season when he slashed .290/.366/.465, especially since he set a personal best in hard hit rate this past season.
As for Chavis, he exploded onto the scene this year and was absolutely launching baseballs early on. He hit nine home runs and had a 152 wRC+ in the month following his debut on April 20. He slowed from there, ultimately finishing with 18 home runs and a 96 wRC+ although he didn’t play at the MLB level after mid-August while dealing with injuries. Chavis’ recovery is of utmost importance right now but once he’s back to full health, his ability to be a more consistent power hitter will be the priority.
With the playoffs kicking into gear this week, we’ve still got a ways to go before the offseason begins in earnest. There will undoubtedly be more discussion and rumors about the direction the Red Sox will take into 2020 and what that means for the future of everyone on the roster, particularly Betts and Martinez. If things sour and both players aren’t back in Boston next year or for the long term, then it will be up to everyone else to try to make up the difference, as impossible a task as that would be. Although all of that responsibility can’t be shoveled on Devers, Bogaerts, Benintendi and Chavis, it seems likely that a large portion of it will be.