We have, as you read this here on Thursday, just two more days left in 2021, which much like 2020 was not a year many of us will look back upon fondly. That said, there were good things for some of us personally, and as Boston Red Sox fans there was a lot to celebrate from this past season. With the new year right around the corner, it is customary to take stock at what happened this past year, and we want to do just that with the 2021 Red Sox. In order to do that in a way that is at least a little fresh, we’ll try a new tact. Below is the top story from us (in terms of page views) from each month of 2021, and I’ll do my best to explain why that story does (or in some cases does not) hold up in the story of what was a surprising and improbably season.
It’s tough to get more of an on-the-nose start to the year than this, but it ended up being quite prescient. This one was written by Bryan Joiner, but I know I was feeling similarly to him about the 2021 team heading into last new year, and many others were down on the roster as well. And one of the things I remember really standing out to me was how much more optimistic the projections were than I was. Stubbornly, I didn’t listen, but clearly I should have. Granted, I don’t think any projection system could have reasonably anticipated the relative health of the Red Sox rotation, and I still believe that was an underrated part of the club’s success. All that said, many of us, myself included, should have listened to the projections. Yes, the Red Sox indeed were good.
This one didn’t actually end up being as important as it seemed at the time, but the Benintendi trade really did shake up Red Sox fans, especially as the deal came virtually out of nowhere. The tone of that piece was one of mild disappointment, not about the idea of trading Benintendi but just regarding the return. A little less than a year removed, Chaim Bloom has certainly earned more benefit of the doubt, and Josh Winckowski does appear to be an interesting arm close to the majors. Still, this deal as a whole on all sides seems kind of “meh.” In terms of a tie-in to the season, though, this trade felt like a message that the organization was moving into a new era and away from the Killer Bs era, and we saw over the course of 2021 that it’s not the end of the world.
We love a spring training game recap, don’t we folks? I was actually expecting this to be a prospect voting post (and the Blaze Jordan post was number two), but this one does play into a couple of themes we saw in the year. One is that Houck did the thing, and while we didn’t see a ton of that in the first half due to injury, we all know he’d come back in the second half and play a huge role down the stretch and into the postseason. This post also mentions COVID concerns, which obviously became a huge theme for the Red Sox in 2021, and a homer streak from Enrique Hernández.
It takes more than a month of strong performance to start buying into a team on whom you’d already placed relatively low expectations, but games like this one against the New York Mets really exemplify what the Red Sox did in 2021, and especially over the first half. It wasn’t just that they were winning games, but they were doing so with shockingly good pitching. Take this game for example. Jacob deGrom is the best pitcher on planet Earth, and he was outdueled by Nick Pivetta. It should have been clear right then and there that this team was not what we were expecting.
This is probably the hardest one I have to make an overarching point about, mostly because it’s still an issue! The post in question is largely about taking Austin Brice off the roster, which they did shortly thereafter, but they still kind of patched together their bullpen all season. It’s also important to note that, at this point, how much to really buy into Garrett Whitlock’s performance was an open question. But generally, the takeaway is two-fold. One, it is much harder to build a bullpen than it seems. Two, fans (again, myself included) are never satisfied with where a team’s bullpen stands.
This one brings us to a point in time that feels like ages ago but was only a few months. For the first half of the 2021 calendar year, it was all Jarren Duran all the time, and I bought in. Regular readers will of course know I was (and probably still am) among the high guys on Duran for the last couple of years. At this point in the season, the Red Sox were hitting their first real snag of the season and they needed a spark. As it turns out, Duran didn’t come up, and when he did a couple months later it did not go well. I still refuse to take a full L on this one because there’s an argument to be made that if he had been called up earlier Duran could have made a proper adjustment and helped this team down the stretch. But that’s clearly speculation, and I have to at least take most of an L here.
It was a toss-up as to whether or not this would be something draft related or something to do with the trade deadline, and it ended up being the former. That’s good for the purposes of this post, because while the fact that the Red Sox made a deep playoff run is the memory that will stick with us for years to come, the continued development of the farm system is just as important long-term. The Red Sox had a really exciting draft, and that’s even with the knowledge we have now that they would not sign Jud Fabian. Marcelo Mayer gives them a new top-end prospect to add to the fold, and there are plenty of exciting later round names to keep an eye on as well.
Ah, yes, the low point in the season where the sky was falling and I absolutely hit the panic button. To be fair to myself, the run in the postseason did kind of hide the fact that the Red Sox came extremely close to blowing their playoff spot altogether. That said, clearly things weren’t quite as bad as they seemed at that time. The lesson here is that the dog days come for everyone, and avoiding overreaction at that time of year is always prudent. Whether or not I remember that late next summer is an open question, but I’ll do my best.
It’s good that we get a whole post dedicated to Whitlock, because he was a huge part of the season and a huge part of the future both long- and short-term. To get to the post in question first, the Red Sox did remain aggressive with Whitlock, who made it more and more clear that he was far and away their best relief option. And in tying it into the whole season, 2021 was a year about overachieving players and exceeding expectations. Who could possibly represent that better from a Red Sox perspective than Whitlock?
It was totally shocking to me that this wasn’t one of the postseason game recaps, but it is another chance to illustrate how real the threat of Boston missing the postseason entirely actually was. That is not a tension I care to relive, but it was there each and every day for a solid two weeks with feelings akin to watching a car crash in slow motion. It ended up being the first scenario, for those who forgot.
This is sort of retreading the prospect territory we talked about above, but it’s clear that the farm system is in a much better spot. The top 10 isn’t just deeper than it was even a year ago and certainly two years ago, but the top tier of the system is in much better shape than it’s been in years. In Triston Casas, Marcelo Mayer, Nick Yorke, and Jarren Duran, the Red Sox have four top-end prospects in the system, with good depth behind it. What this post also signifies is that they are no longer in a position where they can focus on only acquiring prospect depth. That’s a quest that never really ends, but after the season that they just had, along with how well they’ve done at restocking the system, Boston can now look at trading out of this depth to improve the big-league roster. That’s not something I really expected a year ago.
This is an extremely fitting way to end things here, with the ultimate cliff-hanger to the offseason. Coming in just under the wire before the lockout got started, this trade not only brought back a fan favorite but opened up a variety of avenues the team can take in building out its lineup for 2022 and beyond. We still have no idea what will come next, but this trade certainly set things up for excitement right off the bat whenever baseball gets rolling again in 2022.