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Foresight is 2020

Finding excitement for 2020 and beyond, even if short-term wins may be tough to come by.

MLB: Boston Red Sox-Workouts
Nomar’s better.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

With the season in a shambles already, I’m belatedly coming around on the players in the Mookie Betts trade, if not the trade itself, which basically means I like watching Jeter Downs play and am excited to see Alex Verdugo when he’s ready. Shout out to Connor Wong too. This should illustrate the timeline I’m working on with the Red Sox. I’m all about the future.

My issue — which is “funny” because I wrote this sentence Monday and it’s Wednesday morning and it already looks like I’m right — is that I don’t think Chris Sale is going to last the whole season, or any season hereafter, in a way that allows him to anchor an otherwise light staff. Forgive me if Nathan Eovaldi throwing in the high-90s in February assuages all doubt, especially because he and Eduardo Rodriguez, while very good, have a, let’s say, hard time staying healthy. No doubt Chaim Bloom is pushing a more holistic approach, as we know from the deluge of stories this week about him teaching Ron Roenicke the mechanics of the “opener,” which I imagine will be a boon to the Sox as soon as it’s fully operational.

I’m not sure it’s there yet. Maybe it is and I don’t know, but I think Bloom is working toward it rather than within it and this year will expose the leaky part of the operation, especially because David Price is gone. Speaking of Price, are we gonna continue to hang on his every word? Isn’t the whole point of him being gone the chance *not* to do this? He likes Los Angeles more than Boston, which is true of Bill Simmons, who’s the freaking Boston Sports Guy! L.A. is nicer and more welcoming than Boston, full stop, so if Price is just repeating that he’s basically just reading the weather. Talking about it is equivalent to talking about nothing at all. Don’t waste your breath.

Of course a ton of The Discourse happens when nothing is happening, because The Discourse is just as often a substitute for action as it is a supplement to it. We are so close to having “real” baseball with which to contend that it is driving us mad, because there is a brewing pandemic and a terrible election and all that can save us are sweet, sweet dingers.

On that note, I’d like to say that while I like Downs, and Bobby Dalbec seems like a prodigiously powerful lad at the corner positions, Triston Casas is Boston’s best prospect, and as Bloom remakes the farm system that should continue to be the case. Most national rankings have Downs ranked higher, but for the same reason a guy like Pete Alonso never really ranked too high on prospect lists: If all you do is mash at first base, it’s inherently riskier if you don’t pan out and can’t provide the same defensive value. This is part of Dalbec’s issue but not of Downs’s and, probably, none of Casas’s — compared Dalbec, it seems like he has a better chance to a good enough hitter to be a difference-maker overall.

Further down the list, centerfield prospect Jarren Duran has had a blazing start to camp after lighting up high-A ball last year before landing in AA with a thud. On the one hand, with 70-grade speed like he has, he’s a definite Major Leaguer; on the other, the optimism in some projections seems largely related to the last two weeks. It’s fitting that he’s the heir apparent to Jackie Bradley Jr. because he seems extremely similar in aggregate — he won’t win you a title, but he won’t cost you one either.

The question I have is who are the players who will win the Sox a title? As wonderful as the Rafael Devers-Xander Bogaerts-J.D. Martinez combination is, they’re not enough. I sense the organization has huge hopes for Verdugo, but I’m not sure they expect to cash in on enough value this year to make a title run work. If it makes any difference, their denial that this is a “bridge year” implies they might think so, and it could be so, but the most likely scenario is always that injuries linger and screw you up so I’m going to presume that’s the case.

One thing that I want to make clear is that I am very excited for the season even if I think the Sox won’t win it all. (And after the Sale injury, I believe this.) I have a lot of experience with this, and it’s definitely true the mere fact of being an underdog is a compelling reason to enjoy a team, because every win feels like a revolution. That the Sox have wedged their way into this position with a payroll just under $200 would be a credit to John Henry & Co., like status-neutral impressive, if they hadn’t, you know, embarrassed themselves and the league and capitalism in general in doing so.

The best way to say this is I’m really excited about the 2021 and 2022 Red Sox, even if they face uphill odds in winning at all, as everyone does. I will watch this year eagerly to help identify players from those teams. Hindsight is one thing. 2020 will be quite another.