Today is the day. In just a handful of hours, the Red Sox will be taking the field to face off agains the Orioles in their first meaningful game since back in September of 2019. The way the last few months have gone in the world, that might as well be a decade ago. With this being the aforementioned day, usually I would talk about the Red Sox’s path to the playoffs and all of that, but they don’t seem all that good this year! (After I wrote this MLB decided to change the playoff format, because why not?) They may surprise me and I certainly wouldn’t put their playoff chances at zero, but my expectations are fairly low.
Despite that, there are plenty of things I’m interested in watching besides just baseball in general, though I’m interested in that as well. Here are ten storylines/plots/things/whatever you would like to call them that I am going to be monitoring this year. Why ten? Well, I’m a human and we are predisposed to nice round numbers. Blame our ancestors.
1. There’s a freaking pandemic going on
These are mostly in no particular order, but I have to start here. I am wildly excited to watch baseball this summer, even more than I had expected if we’re being honest. I’ve missed it and I love watching it. I will watch every second I can. But I still feel that same uneasiness I felt a month ago. The testing protocols do seem to be going more smoothly, to the league’s credits, but as teams travel I worry about spreads. I also worry about the morals of using so many tests with shortages for normal people around the country. And even if there aren’t a ton of positive tests, I worry about the long-term effects on players who do have it. We got a reminder on that with Eduardo Rodriguez yesterday. So yes, again, I am excited. But that uneasiness is not going away and it’s going to seep into the coverage this year. I think it has to, and it would be a form of denial if it didn’t. Fair warning.
2. Christian Vázquez’s offense
Okay, the rest of these will be baseball-related. I think. Bryan said Vázquez was the Red Sox’s most important player yesterday. I don’t agree with that, but I think there is a very fair argument he’s the most interesting. I’ve made this argument before so I won’t go too in-depth here, but I’m fascinated to see how much of last year’s offense can really carry over into this season. That, and basically everything in this post, comes with the obvious caveat that all of this is happening in a bizarre 60-game sample.
3. How is the rotation handled?
Obviously the biggest story with this Red Sox team is how bad the rotation is, but I’m less interested in the futility than the strategy that will be employed to try and get around it. Granted, I’m extremely not confident it will work, whatever it is, but I’m fascinated to see whether they go with openers or bullpen games or piggybacking and how active they are on the waiver wire and trade market (more on that in a bit) and whether they give the young guys a shot and how long the leashes are. This is going to be bad. I’m pretty sure of that. But it will still be interesting to see how they get to that poor performance.
4. How does Alex Verdugo react?
I think this storyline would be different if there were fans in the stands to add some pressure, but this is still going to be a tough situation for Alex Verdugo. He was not only brought in as part of the Mookie Betts trade, but he’ll be the first player to step in right field in the post-Mookie era. That’s a lot of pressure, and you never know how players will react to that.
5. How do the late-inning arms perform?
This is basically just a thing I always really like. I love watching Brandon Workman pitch. I may like Matt Barnes the pitcher more than his blood relatives. So I am fascinated to see if they can be the semi-dominant one-two punch I (and maybe only I) beleive they can be. I am also very interested to see if Josh Taylor can repeat his 2019 and if Darwinzon Hernandez can figure out where the ball is going at least 50 percent of the time. Both of them are off the Opening Day roster after reporting late due to a positive COVID test, but the expectation is we’ll see both at some point relatively soon.
6. What does the trade market look like?
This is more of a league-wide storyline than one specifically reserved for the Red Sox, but it does affect Boston in a potentially big way. My assumption is that the trade market is going to be quiet this year, both because it doesn’t seem great to send a player packing to a new home in the midst of a pandemic, but also more cynically because it’ll just be harder. There are no minor-league games for additional scouting, and the roster mechanics of trades is different in ways I don’t want to get into because frankly I am not overly confident in my understanding of the roster rules this year.
All of that being said, I have no idea what the trade market will look like. We can all have our assumptions, but there is no history here. We have no idea what anything will look like this year. If there is a relatively robust trade market and the Red Sox get off to a slow start, get ready for rumors surrounding J.D. Martinez, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Workman, among others.
7. In what direction does Rafael Devers’s defense move?
One of the most important developments of last season was Rafael Devers’s glove, which seems kind of weird because his bat was so damn good. That was also important, but the steps forward he took as the year went on made everyone a whole lot more confident that he’d stick at third base. Devers’s bat will play anywhere, of course, but keeping him at the hot corner was huge. I think it’s weird that we look at defense as a mostly static thing, though, rather than something that can go hot and cold like offense. I’m hoping that what we saw in the field from Devers last year will be him going forward, and I’m reasonably confident in it. But I also want to see it before I totally buy in.
8. Is there a leap for Andrew Benintendi?
It’s fairly well documented that Andrew Benintendi is viewed as a disappointment. There are degrees to disappointment, of course, but I think it’s a fair view as long as you’re not calling him a total bust. He is a solid regular right now, but we obviously were and still are expecting a lot more. This is a big year for him even in a farcical 60-game stretch. The Red Sox need multiple players to step up in Betts’s absence, but Benintendi is the most important piece to that puzzle.
9. Get to your Chavis/Dalbec battle stations
I don’t think we are prepared as we should be for the coming Michael Chavis/Bobby Dalbec wars. Like the Swihart/Vázquez wars before, there will be intense lines drawn in the sand here, and the arguments will start this summer. Obviously it’s possible that Chavis settles in at second base and Dalbec at first. They can coexist. I just don’t expect it. I think both will get a decent number of chances this year, and at some point over the next season or two or three, one will have to go. The battles start now. Pick your side. (Or don’t. Actually, on second thought, don’t.)
10. Is it Jarren Duran SZN?
The Red Sox outfield is full right now, but if there is an injury and someone is underperforming, do we get some Jarren Duran in our lives? If the Red Sox are somehow in contention down the stretch, does Duran come up as an extra inning pinch runner? He’s probably not ready for the majors, but this is a weird season and he has made a great impression both back in March in spring training and this summer at camp. His time is coming at some point relatively soon, and I wouldn’t totally rule out the possibility of it coming in 2020.