The Red Sox are playing for 2021, which is a thing I’ve typed almost every day in the month of September. I think it would autocomplete if that was a function available on my extremely old laptop. But, it’s true, because 2020 has been a lost season since about the third week of this 60-game campaign. And as we inch closer to the coming offseason, it’s becoming clear there are going to be a lot of interesting questions to answer on this roster. And looking specifically on the position player side of things — we all know the pitching is a mess — there’s really only three clearly locked up spots on the roster at third, short and in right. That’s not to say they are making changes everywhere else, because they won’t, but considerations will be made. But, alas, we have a whole, long winter to talk about all that.
For now, I want to focus on the bench, where one would think there could be a lot of questions. That would make sense for a team that is so bad, but this is actually the portion of the roster where it seems there’s been the most clarity over the last few weeks after the trade deadline. Specifically, there have been three players who have made a loud case to be penciled in for a bench spot in 2021. That’s right, folks. It’s a list.
The trade deadline marked the point at which 2021 became the clear focal point for this team. It was fairly clear before, but the team began acknowledging as much when they traded Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree. Yairo Muñoz, meanwhile, got his first chance on the roster on September 1, right after the deadline. He got a bunch of chances after that, too, and made the most of them. Over 45 plate appearances, the utility man alternated between the two corner outfield spots and hit .333/.333/.511 for a 123 wRC+.
Now, that final number looks like someone who should be a starter, but clearly the sample size is not large enough to make any sort of large conclusions. You may also notice that his batting average and OBP are what we in the biz call “equal,” which is another way of saying he has not drawn a walk. Patience is never going to be a big part of his game, but putting up these kinds of numbers with literally no walks is not sustainable.
On the other hand, he’s been a solid major-league hitter before. In 329 plate appearances with the Cardinals back in 2018, Muñoz finished with a solid 107 wRC+, and over his entire career he is right around league-average with a mark of 97. His lack of patience and average-at-best power hinders the upside at the plate, but he can play all over the place — while he’s only played outfield for the Red Sox this year, he’s naturally a second baseman — and we saw with Brock Holt that this profile can work even with slightly below-average offense. Muñoz also provides some energy off the bench, which obviously isn’t quantifiable but has seemed to make a difference every time he’s been on the field this year. He is likely out for the year due to back spasms that popped up late last week, but I doubt we’ve seen the last of him in a Red Sox uniform.
There’s been a lot of talk with all of the fringy players plucked off waivers about them potentially being “Chaim Bloom guys,” which I always thought was giving Bloom too much credit. Really, he was just getting guys who were available because the roster stunk and they needed bodies. The one player who I think did qualify as a Bloom guy (insofar as that is a thing that exists) is Arroyo. A former first round pick by the Giants, the infielder was one of the centerpieces in the trade that sent Evan Longoria to San Francisco, arguably the biggest trade in Rays history given Longoria’s importance to that franchise. I bring that up because they had to really like the players they got back in that trade to make it justifiable. Arroyo had some injuries and struggled to find consistency with the Rays so things never worked out, but the Rays front office (which Bloom didn’t run, but was a big part of) clearly liked something at the time. Bloom likely still saw at least some of it when he claimed the former top prospect off waivers earlier this summer.
And, while the sample is similarly small to that of Muñoz above, the early returns suggest he may have been right about whatever he was seeing from Arroyo. The infielder, who has been getting starts almost every day at second base, is hitting .286/.324/.571 for a 134 wRC+. Again, the sample is almost to the point of being meaningless — he’s had 37 plate appearances — but just the quality of contact has been consistently impressive. Jerry Remy has mentioned on the broadcast a few times that he thinks Arroyo will be the starting second baseman next season, but that seems a bit aggressive to me. That said, he’s earned a chance to at least fight for an Opening Day spot even in the small sample, and if he keeps hitting a starting job will come eventually.
Unlike the other two players on this list, Plawecki has been on the active roster all year. He spent both camps fighting for the backup job with Jonathan Lucroy, which always seemed like a silly battle to me. Plawecki, unsurprisingly, won that fight, and he’s justified that decision in the chances he’s received. The veteran backstop has a 94 wRC+ and has hit well enough to recently earn at bats as a designated hitter, though the lack of other options on the roster clearly play into that as well. Still, he’s putting everything in play and it’s working out to above-average production for his position. In fact, this is now three out of the last four years in which he’s posted a wRC+ above 90, which for a catcher is outstanding. For a backup catcher, it’s almost unheard of. On top of that, according to Baseball Prospectus’s catching metrics he’s been among the better framers in baseball and overall has been one of the better defensive catchers in the game. He seems like a sure bet to be back as the backup in 2021.
There’s an obvious sample size issue with everyone discussed above. Sample size is an issue for every player in 2020 given the length of the season, but it’s even more of one for players like these who have not played every day all summer. That said, teams still need to make decisions based in part on what they’ve seen this season, and Muñoz, Arroyo and Plawecki have all made the most of their chances. They’re all also under control for next season — Muñoz and Arroyo are pre-arb while Plawecki is in his last year of arbitration — meaning the Red Sox can focus their attention on bigger problem areas. It’s been hard to find positives in this season, but these three guys have at least made filling out the 2021 bench a little bit easier.