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Envisioning the next competitive Red Sox team: The Lineup

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The Red Sox will be good again, even if it doesn’t feel like it right now. Here’s how the next great lineup could look.

Boston Red Sox v Philadelphia Phillies Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images

The Boston Red Sox are not a good baseball team right now. They haven’t been all season, and as much as it would be nice to blame it on the shortened nature of the campaign, the fact that they rank near the bottom of the league in most pitching categories and are drastically under .500 shows that it’s more than just bad luck during a smaller sample of games.

With how poorly this season has gone, it’s tough to see the other side of what is clearly a rebuilding phase for the organization. Chaim Bloom already got that started with his work before the trade deadline, and the assumption is that he will be active during the offseason to continue kick-starting the rebuild. But when will that rebuild begin to bear fruit? Logically speaking, based on the struggles of this year and how the roster is constructed currently, my guess would be 2022 or 2023. I’m going to lean toward the latter for when the team will be really good again and attempt to project what the starting nine and pitching staff might look like in separate posts over the next two weeks. Today, we’ll be looking at the position players.

We’ll start with the infield. Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts should still very much be holding it down. Devers has been scalding the ball recently, extinguishing any doubts that he won’t be a long-term answer in the lineup. Meanwhile, Bogaerts is still probably the best overall position player on the roster and he just started a six-year deal in 2020, so he’ll most certainly be on the next good Red Sox team.

Now let’s fill out the rest of the infield, which has a bit less certainty but still a lot of potential. At first base, Bobby Dalbec could very well be the answer. There’s no way he’ll keep hitting home runs at the pace he’s been on this past week, but he’s a legitimate power threat and between now and 2023, he should get plenty of chances to improve and develop into an everyday regular at the very least. If Dalbec isn’t the answer, then highly-regarded prospect Triston Casas could fill the role by 2023. My guess is one of them (or maybe even Michael Chavis) is your opening day starter at first base in 2023.

At second base, the Red Sox have been searching for the successor to Dustin Pedroia, who is an unrestricted free agent after 2021, for some time, and the answer will be Jeter Downs in this hypothetical situation. The number one prospect in the organization and the number 42 prospect overall, according to FanGraphs, Downs was brought in as part of the Mookie Betts trade and although that trade will never really look good, if Downs can turn into a key part of the lineup for the next playoff-bound Red Sox team, it will ease the pain. Downs has a prodigious combination of power and speed, and could be an effective leadoff hitter in the modern MLB as well as the next star for the Red Sox. FanGraphs projects him to reach the MLB level in 2022 and he should be able to establish himself by 2023.

At catcher, the Red Sox will have Christian Vázquez through the 2022 season. Vázquez could very well be brought back after that, as he’ll only be 32 and although he is far from an All Star, he’s a solid everyday catcher with pop. For this 2023 team we’re building, I’d expect Vázquez to be brought back as a veteran presence to help rising prospect Connor Wong learn the ropes and eventually take over the starting role.

Chicago Cubs v Cleveland Indians Photo by Ron Schwane/Getty Images

Of course, the entire roster won’t be made up of homegrown players. The Red Sox will be a team with money to spend over the next few seasons, especially as some larger contracts come off the books. I don’t think the struggles of J.D. Martinez are predictive of the rest of his time with the Red Sox, but with opt-outs in his deal after this year and the next and with his deal expiring after the 2022 season, my guess is that Martinez will not be on the roster by opening day of 2023 and maybe not even 2022. But with the success they saw in signing Martinez for his age-30 season, the Red Sox could make a major splash in free agency entering 2022 by signing Kris Bryant. The current Cubs third baseman will be an unrestricted free agent after the 2021 season and he could certainly bring some power to Fenway Park by sharing time at third base and at DH, even if his 2020 production has been poor.

Now, maybe Bryant won’t actually make sense at that point or maybe he’ll sign long-term with the Cubs or something, but what I’m really trying to get across here is that I’d expect the Red Sox to sign at least one high impact bat before their next playoff run.

Figuring out the outfield in 2023 is a bit more difficult. Alex Verdugo appears to have the right field post locked in, but question marks are all over the place from there. Andrew Benintendi is only 26-years-old and has been a solid if unspectacular outfielder, accumulating at least two fWAR in 2017, 2018 and 2019. However, for a player that was thought to be a future star, he has underwhelmed and his struggles this season prior to his injury don’t instill hope. My guess is that Benintendi will be gone by 2023 and Jackie Bradley Jr., the current starting center fielder, will probably be gone long before then.

So what does that mean for the 2023 roster? In my mind, this would seem like the right time to give Jarren Duran a shot. The outfielder is a top 10 prospect in the organization, according to Sox Prospects, and could take over in center field. In addition, Jeisson Rosario or Gilberto Jimenez could potentially be the third starting outfielder, although it seems far too optimistic to think the Red Sox will build almost the entire roster with homegrown players. Let’s say Duran makes it and the Red Sox fill out the outfield with a smaller but potentially strong free agent signing for 2023 with someone like Brandon Nimmo.

Now, there’s a lot that will happen between now and 2023, but this at least paints a picture of what a potentially positive future for the Red Sox could look like. Tune in next week when I’ll take a crack at predicting where the pitching staff lands by then.