This offseason has been, well, mostly negative for the Red Sox, at least in terms of perception from the fans. This is not exactly ideal following a regular season that was basically exclusively negative in terms of perception (and performance). Some are taking the developments of the winter better than others — I will admit I am not one of those— but most people are at the very least upset with the situation if not ouright upset with the organization. And, it probably goes without saying, I think there is very good reason to be upset about or at whatever it is you are upset with or at.
At the same time, I also think the (valid) air of negativity has sort of overshadowed the fact that, well, this is still a pretty solid roster. Obviously we don’t know what the roster is going to look like, but we can make an educated guess. Even after shedding salary they will still be left with talent, albeit not as much as they should have. Most of the talk is about this team heading for a bridge year or a rebuild year or whatever you want to call it. It’s not super hard to envision that being the case and them sort of limping to a 78-win or 83-win season. It’s also certainly not out of the realm of possibility that they are better than that and become legitimate playoff contenders for the entire season. What follows is the optimistic, within reason, view of how this team becomes a playoff team.
I’ll start by saying I truly do not believe Mookie Betts is not going anywhere before the season starts. The longer they go without moving any salary the more nervous I get about that, but for right now I’m still operating under the assumption that Chaim Bloom really doesn’t want his first real move as Red Sox GM (or Chief Baseball Officer or whatever) to be trading the second best player in the sport for budgetary reasons. I just can’t envision that path. If things go poorly by the deadline? Sure, I could see it. But I’m going to live in this blissful world where I pretend I’m not constantly worried about this trade suddenly breaking. So, yeah. The best player on the team and the second best player in baseball is still here. That’s tremendously helpful for a successful team.
Clearly, you need more than one player to win, and the Red Sox have others! Believe it or not! They were one of the best offenses in the game last year (ranking fourth in runs scored and sixth in wRC+) and most of the lineup should be back. Brock Holt probably won’t be at this point and Jackie Bradley Jr. is a decent bet to be traded, but that’s it. They will still have Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers and J.D. Martinez, all of whom should be expected to be studs again. Christian Vázquez probably has at least some regression heading his way, but a step forward from Andrew Benintendi — not at all a guarantee, but also not at all out of the question — could make up for that and then some. Throw in good seasons from the young guys like Michael Chavis, Bobby Dalbec and C.J. Chatham (or even two of the three) and once again you have a really strong offense that can anchor a playoff team.
Of course, the pitching is where the concern is here, and that David Price seems likely to be dealt doesn’t help on that front. Even without Price, you still have Chris Sale and Eduardo Rodriguez at the top. You can do worse than that. Rodriguez appeared to really turn a corner last year and if he stays on that trajectory he found over the final four months of the year that’s a solid number two behind Sale. If he finds another way to take a step forward, even better.
As for Sale, we have no idea what his health is going to be like. But it’s worth considering that as disappointing as his 2019 was he finished the year with an ERA- of 91, a FIP- of 75 and a DRA- of 60. That all indicates a pitcher who still very much has It when he’s healthy. Again, health is not at all a guarantee but this is the optimistic look. If he stays on the mound, there’s plenty of reason to expect he’ll be very, very good.
After them things get dicier. For Nathan Eovaldi, you have to point to his 2018 and hope he can recapture this. I don’t feel nearly as good about that as I do with Sale, but if Eovaldi can even get to 75 percent of 2018 that’s a massive upgrade over last year. Martín Pérez, meanwhile, added that cutter last year. The results were terrible, but he induced a ton of weak contact and the hope is that with a full year under his belt with the new pitch along with better luck he can be a capable back-end starter.
From there you just hope that they hit on whoever they bring in to replace Price then use some creativity to make it work through the inevitable injuries. With their offense they don’t need an elite rotation, but just a good, solid one. This group can be that.
As for the bullpen, I won’t go too deep here on that one because I plan on writing a little more about this group later in the week. I will say, though, that I’m weirdly confident in this group. Brandon Workman, Matt Barnes and Josh Taylor all looked very good last year in ways that could be mostly sustainable. Workman’s batted ball luck was absurd and that won’t repeat itself, but he also should walk fewer batters. Throw in Darwinzon Hernandez potentially hitting his upside, a post-hype breakout from Durbin Feltman and a midseason acquisition, all of a sudden you’re looking at a playoff-caliber group.
Certainly the Red Sox are never going to be favorites in the division. Even in this optimistic, everything-goes-right (within reason) scenario that’s not the case. This is a team that can very easily win the wildcard, though, and then anything can happen from there. Just ask the Nationals. Plus, if the Yankees have a couple of injuries you never know how the division turns out. That is why, as they say, we play the games.
The point here is that with a few of the right breaks this can be a team that wins 90-something games, and that is a real contender. How likely is it that all of this actually happens? Not particularly! But it’s also not at all impossible. But there is still a ton of talent here (which, by the way, is why so many people are mad about the trade rumors), and so long as they don’t do anything overly rash before the season starts they have a chance. In today’s landscape, that puts you in a better position than a whole lot of teams.