Well, the Patriots season is officially over at a much earlier point than usual. At a time like this people usually like to say “It’s baseball season, now,” showing a blatant disrespect to basketball and hockey that I sort of have to respect. Whatever season you think it is — the snow outside my window indicates to me it is, in fact, not baseball season — we here are looking toward the 2020 Red Sox season. For all of the hand-wringing (mostly from me, I’ll admit) about the trajectory of this offseason, this is still a pretty exciting roster with a lot of really interesting players at a pivot point heading into 2020.
With that in mind, I’m going to run through the players for whom this upcoming season is most important. I think judging importance is a little too vague to just run down an ordinary list, though. Every season is important for every player in one way or another, and there are a ton of different reasons a season can be important. So, instead of just a normal list I’m going to pick a few categories of importance and pick the Red Sox player who best exemplifies said category.
Andrew Benintendi was drafted in 2015 and immediately became one of the best prospects in baseball. I saw three games in his first two weeks as a pro and it was legitimately laughable how much better he was than the rest of the New York Penn League. It was amazing. Since he’s come up to the majors, he’s been....fine, but not great. As a former number one prospect in the game, only being fine is going to get the “bust” label on you whether it’s fair or not. (It’s a little harsh, at the very least.) Benintendi isn’t to that point yet, still entering only his age-25 season and having one year (2018) where he was a borderline All-Star-caliber player. If he has another season in 2020 where he’s only a league-average hitter, however, the conversation will quickly change. That would make three of four full seasons of league-average hitting by either a good defensive left fielder or a bad defensive center fielder, depending on their plan with the outfield. Either way, it’s not what fans are looking for from their former top prospect.
The first storyline of this offseason, and the one that sort of set the team down its current path, was whether or not J.D. Martinez was going to opt out. He, of course, did not, and I’m not sure it was as tough of a decision as many of us (myself included) thought it to be. However, he has another opt out after this season with less money per year owed to him on the other side. If he has another great season at the plate and, perhaps more importantly, shows that his back is fine, there’s a pretty decent chance he hits the open market again next winter for one more big contract.
It’s not really fair, but there are few things that get a fan base to turn on a star more quickly than either not playing or not performing after signing a big contract. Chris Sale signed a big contract before last season then spent most of 2019 either not looking like himself on the mound or just not being on the mound to begin with. I think fans, generally speaking, are still in the Chris Sale corner. If he struggles and/or suffers a major injury in 2020, though, the perception of the Red Sox ace in Boston is not going to be so rosy. I don’t know how much Sale cares about that stuff and I suspect the bigger reason he wants to pitch well is because he’s a competitor. Having people not be super mean to you online and on the radio is a nice secondary benefit too, though.
I almost chose Brandon Workman here, but I decided on Vázquez. We all know the Red Sox catcher had a huge breakout for the Red Sox last year, showing huge power and overall massively improved offense to go with his typical very good defense. It seems like it didn’t get quite the attention I’d have expected nationally, though. There are a few reasons. The Red Sox were mediocre all year, for one thing. More importantly, the ball kind of dominated the headlines and anyone who broke out was kind of thrown together as guys who just benefited from the year they used a golf ball. Vázquez now has to prove it’s not a fluke. Again, I don’t know if he actually cares about this, but I want him to get the national press, dammit.
Everyone’s favorite child on the Red Sox, Devers had a legitimate breakout in 2019 that is expected to be the start of a long, productive career. He’s not quite in the upper echelon of bats in the league, but he’s not super far off. He’s also in his last year before he hits arbitration, meaning this would be a good time for him to show that breakout truly was the start of a special career. If he repeats himself or *gulp* gets better, he’s going to get paid next offseason, either in the form of a big arbitration salary of a nice contract extension.
Locking Down a Role
I think, with everything going to wrong last year, one of the things that has sort of been lost to time is the excitement around Michael Chavis when he first came up. He is obviously not a perfect player and got exposed some after a bit, but good lord when he connects with a baseball he hits it like very few can. Anyway, Chavis is probably going to have a pretty decently-sized role when the season starts, but that’s not going to be guaranteed to him all year. Bobby Dalbec is coming up behind him for first base and C.J. Chatham is waiting for a chance at second. If Chavis doesn’t hit over the first six weeks of the year, his role will be reduced and sometimes it can be tough to ever get back to that starter’s role.
This is the most important category. Whose season is most important for my own personal well-being and brand? Most of you know I’ve hitched my wagon to the Matt Barnes train (can you hitch wagons to trains? Probably not, right?) and never looked back. I still believe in him, but it’s hard to deny the lack of consistency. He has the talent to be a really, really good reliever in this league, but he gets tantalizingly close every year before falling short. One of these years he’s going to do it. Why not this year?