The Red Sox have just 15 games left on the schedule, which is, all at once, wild, sad and fantastic. Wild because the season just started, sad because it’s always sad when a season ends, and fantastic because this team stinks on ice and is rarely fun to watch. But, there is still work to do this year even if the playoffs are not going to happen. Specifically, they need to figure out who is worth keeping for 2021 and who is not. That is the crux of our staff roundtable this week, in which I asked: Over the final few weeks of the season, which player will most positively impact their standing on the roster for 2021? Note that I asked this question before Bobby Dalbec went cuckoo bananas with the homers, so don’t blame me if it seems like there’s an obvious answer!
As currently constructed, several players have their position and role already set into stone for 2021. Alex Verdugo will be in right field and play a big role in the lineup. Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts (probably) aren’t going anywhere. To me, the question asks which players on the bubble are most likely to impact their future with the club in a positive and meaningful way for 2021.
For me, this player is Bobby Dalbec. I didn’t want to pick any of the relievers or starters, because good luck finding a diamond in the rough here. I imagine nearly all of them are coin flips at this point in time, and I am not a betting man. I trust Chaim Bloom will pick the right guys for the job, but I don’t trust myself to know which of them is most likely to turn it on the rest of the way. Dalbec to me stands as the player with the most to gain and lose, alongside Michael Chavis. Dalbec in a lot of ways, is just an extreme version of Chavis. Swing and miss guy with a lot more power. Chavis has the advantage of somewhat being able to play second base, this is true, but Dalbec feels like the better overall hitter long-term. I feel like the strikeout rates will dip enough to where playing Dalbec everyday is a no brainer, and it becomes clear he needs to be on our 2021 Opening Day roster, manning one of the corners.
For me, it has to be Bobby Dalbec. While his strikeouts and swings-and-misses are an early red flag, he’s been absolutely crushing the ball. Of his first eight hits, six have been long balls. I think he’ll continue to mash until pitchers figure him out. Dalbec’s start has reminded me a lot of Michael Chavis’ start last season, when Chavis provided the Sox with a much-needed spark. Despite Chavis’s extreme struggles these past few months, his first few months of huge production earned him the playing time to stay in the bigs. I think we may see a similar trend here with Bobby Dalbec.
Barring a major slump and a concerning disappearance of underlying skill, Bobby Dalbec has already won himself a roster spot in 2021. The struggling Michael Chavis, however, will do the most to shore up his position in 2021 down the stretch. Finally released into the outfield, Chavis will have the opportunity to showcase additional versatility. Left field, first base, second base...that’s at the very least a utility player. While he’s not a backup for Xander Bogaerts at shortstop, Chavis can claim a Super Sub role in 2021 with a good finish to 2020. We know the power is there. We know that 2020 is a very odd and small sample size. We know that seven of his eighteen home runs in 2019 came in May, but also that eight of his ten doubles came in June and July.
Maybe he’s not the .800 OPS player we saw with lots of slugging who can hold down first base or be an offense-first second baseman. But he can earn a depth spot towards the back of the roster, either with the Sox or as a candidate for a small-stakes trade. As all available roster spots continue to move towards bullpen help, credibly showing infield and outfield defense with some pop could fill a hole for a team somewhere.
This one is pretty easy for me and it is Bobby Dalbec. I loved that the Red Sox called him up after trading Mitch Moreland. We needed to see how his bat would play against major-league pitching. While it hasn’t been sugar plums and lollipops, he has smacked five balls out of the park. Strikeouts are still an issue, I think the time with the team during September will show that Dalbec is the starting 1B for 2021 and beyond...well...until Triston Casas.
I think it’s Jackie Bradley Jr. He’s currently on one of his patented heaters which, if it continues over the last three weeks, means he’ll probably play himself into a long-term/medium-term contract. Whether or not the Red Sox want to pay it is another question as they do have Jaren Durran on the cusp. At the end of last week, Chaim Bloom stated he wanted Bradley here in Boston long term and if he finishes this season on a high note it will really test if Bloom was serious or not. As it stands today he’s only .004 points away from his career-best batting average, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility for Bradley to finish this year with a career-best slash line at the plate and coupled with his elite defense, someone is going to pay the man to start whether it’s the Red Sox or not.
As badly as I want to say Michael Chavis the answer here is Yairo Muñoz. Muñoz is auditioning for the role of super utility player for the 2021 Red Sox and if he can stay healthy I think he’s a lock. As we’ve seen already he can hit, as we’ve seen in the past with the Cardinals he can run, and he can play just about every position on the diamond. There are rarely more than a few roster locks on a team challenging for the worst record in baseball, but Muñoz has a chance to play himself an important role on the 2021 club.
I think the player making his mark on 2021 is Michael Chavis, and I don’t think he’s doing it in a good way. Matt stole my thunder earlier this week, but with Bobby Dalbec up and Triston Casas on the horizon, the slots for righty power bats are starting to be filled by righty bats with actual power. Maybe if Chavis was a natural second baseman he’d be in a better position, but he is... not. He needs to improve, quickly, in a hurry, to stick around in any sort of real role. It seems likely.
I initially thought this was one of the more difficult questions we’ve had in a roundtable, but then realized I was overthinking it. The clear and obvious answer is Bobby Dalbec. Regardless of how sustainable his power surge has been since being called up, the 25-year-old first baseman was always going to be a part of the Red Sox’s future. He’s the number four prospect in the organization, according to FanGraphs, and now that he has smashed six home runs in his first 39 plate appearances, it is tough to imagine him not playing himself into a significant role for next year, especially with Mitch Moreland now gone and Michael Chavis continuing to struggle.
Outside of the obvious, I also think Jackie Bradley Jr. will continue to make a strong late season push and that there’s a chance, albeit a very small one, that it will lead the Red Sox to more aggressively pursue him this offseason. Now, the logical part of my brain says no matter what Bradley Jr. does, the Red Sox are going to let him walk in free agency. However, as he’s picked up the pace at the plate this month (.289/.390/.571, 151 wRC+ in September), it has gotten me thinking. Long-term deals shouldn’t be made because of a hot streak, but unless the Red Sox plan on breaking the bank for someone like Marcell Ozuna or George Springer this offseason, maybe it would make sense to bring Bradley Jr. back given there is no clear answer in center should he walk away. If Bradley Jr.’s hot streak continues, that reasoning looks a bit stronger. Now, whether or not Bradley Jr. wants to come back is an entirely different conversation, but if he plays out the remainder of 2020 well, there might be more of a chance that the Red Sox make a push, especially since they aren’t likely to easily find a defensive outfielder like him.
I’m going to zig while everyone else is zagging. The rest of the staff was focusing on the position player side of things, but the pitching auditions seem much more prevalent on this roster. And I think Ryan Brasier has been improving his stock and will continue to do so. After a rough 2019 and a bad start this year, it looked like Brasier’s time here was getting close to done. However, he’s turned it around in a big way, especially going back to mid-August. Over his last 12 2⁄3 innings he’s allowed just one run with 16 strikeouts and seven walks. There are going to be a lot of bullpen spots up for grabs this winter, and I think Brasier is somewhat quietly putting himself in position to be the top incumbent in the 2021 unit aside from Matt Barnes.