On Sunday, we learned of a proposal from the league to the players to get the season pushed back by a month. The reasoning for the proposal can be found in the link, as well as the reason it is unlikely to happen, at least in its current form. Nothing is set in stone, though, and it is possible that the union does send a counter offer today or tomorrow and real talks progress that end up with the season being pushed back to May. As I say in the linked post, there is a societal good argument for delaying the season and hoping things are more under control by the time May rolls around and teams start traveling then. That doesn’t mean the players are responsible for bearing all responsibility there and they have to take a bad deal for them, but the door is not completely closed even if I’d still bet against it happening.
The societal good portion of this is the most important aspect of any of this discussion for most of us, as we aren’t members of the union nor do we reap the benefits of extra revenue gained from having more fans in the parks for a greater percentage of the season. We’re not kidding ourselves, though. These are the things that are most important to the parties involved. With that being said, though, there are superficial reasons for us as fans to care about as well, and the season being potentially delayed would have some positive and negative effects for the Red Sox.
We’ll start with the good, which starts first and foremost with Chris Sale. For all of the talk of the Red Sox rotation right now, Sale still looms large in the big picture with his return expected at some point in the summer. He’s already suffered one minor setback, and the team is expected to be cautious, so the exact timeline is not yet certain. In a normal season, a safe bet would be for him to miss at least half the year. For a Red Sox team that needs a whole lot to go right, particularly on the pitching side of things, it is not ideal to play so much of the season without their best pitcher.
A delayed season would obviously mean he misses less time, though. Now, the proposal condenses the schedule a bit so it wouldn’t be a full extra month with Sale as compared to the normal schedule, but it would still be a greater percentage of the season with him theoretically being healthy. Any extra rotation turns with Sale involved is better than the alternative for this team.
This delay would also benefit someone like Eduardo Rodriguez, who is one of the biggest question marks on the team this year. The lefty missed the 2020 season after testing positive for COVID and developing myocarditis as a result of the virus. It was a scary situation, and Rodriguez wasn’t even able to walk on a treadmill until shortly after the season. By all accounts he’s been progressing well this winter and the expectation is that he’ll be ready for the April 1 start date that is expected to happen at this point. That’s great, but the team will also want to take things slow as a heart condition is clearly nothing to play around with. Getting another month for him to ramp up and for the team to have that much more clarity on his conditioning level is better for the team on the field, and more importantly better for his health.
And then there’s the simple fact that more lead time for the season gives Chaim Bloom and company more time to work phones and shape the roster that much more before the season. Maybe that extra months leads someone to giving up more for Andrew Benintendi. Or maybe the possibility of having more fans at Fenway this year would make them more willing to go after someone like Kris Bryant or another player whose salary could currently be seen as prohibitive.
So those would all be positives for the Red Sox, but a potentially delayed season wouldn’t be all roses. And really, the downsides to me come down to the way the schedule would work out. The proposal from the league includes eight fewer games but in roughly three fewer weeks than a normal schedule. In other words, there would be fewer off-days and more doubleheaders. That brings about two issues for Boston. One is injury risk. We’ve talked ad nauseam about the injury risks in Boston’s rotation, most notably with Nathan Eovaldi and Garrett Richards. Giving them fewer chances for a day off in the season seems awfully likely to catch up with them at some point in the summer. Their relative health is a major key to this season, and a condensed schedule would only hurt those chances.
And then there’s just the depth in general. By and large, the rotation depth looks much better than it did last year, and there are legitimate options who are not likely to start the year in the major-league rotation including Tanner Houck, Matt Andriese and Garrett Whitlock, among others. But this comparison to last year is, well, in comparison to last year. That’s not really a high bar, and having to lean more on depth pitching is not a good thing for this team.
The bullpen would be leaned on more as well. I’m a bit higher on this unit than most, I think, but more doubleheaders means everyone’s role is going to be that much more important because more relievers will be needed. I think, for example, Ryan Brasier and Colten Brewer can be fine middle relievers. If the schedule necessitates semi-consistent late-inning appearances from them, the Red Sox are not in a good position.
At the end of the day this is all mostly theoretical as it would appear unlikely any of this is going to come to fruition. The expectation is the players just reject the current offer and go about their business with things starting as scheduled. But nothing is over until its over, and there are probably at least some players who would like to consider a counter offer. A delayed season is on the table at least until it is not, and if it does come to fruition the Red Sox will get some good and some bad out of it. But the way I look at it, the good of having more recovery time and more roster-building time would be a benefit for everyone, and just like last year depth would be king. That is not a great thing for Boston.