Let’s imagine for a moment a scenario in which a bunch of glorious happenings arise from an ocean of question marks for the 2024 Red Sox. In this world, all three of their highly touted prospects put up monster summers. Marcelo Mayer mashes from the middle infield, Kyle Teel takes command and rakes from behind the plate, and Roman Anthony locks down centerfield to knock on Fenway’s door, ultimately making his debut as one of the youngest Red Sox ever by September. Three pups with sky high ceilings all about to take control of the middle of the diamond for the next iteration of Red Sox greatness. It sounds wonderful!
Oh, and it doesn’t stop there! Triston Casas has a true breakout season at the major league level, establishing himself as one of the top first baseman in the game. Rafael Devers has his best season yet, cutting down the errors at third base while capturing MVP votes for his contributions at the plate. In the outfield, Jaren Duran builds off his success in 2023 and becomes a permanent lightning rod at the top of the Sox lineup, Wilyer Abreu proves the 85 plate appearances he got in Boston at the end of 2023 weren’t a fluke and morphs into another reliable bat, and Masataka Yoshida finds his footing in his second year in a Red Sox uniform. Heck, even Emmanuel Valdez turns into a spark plug utility player, and helps cover the lineup wherever a hole emerges.
So far, I’ve listed nine players, and they’re not totally random. They’re the top three prospects in the organization, and the six guys currently on the 40-man roster with the highest OPS+ from last year (Abreu 132, Casas 129, Devers 126, Duran 121, Yoshida 109, and Valdez 103). You could theoretically field a lineup with those nine guys as soon as September of 2024 in a flood of best case scenarios for all of them. Even the positions would work.
So let’s play this out. It’s Game 1 of the postseason (of course the Sox made it with everything going this well), it’s a gorgeous fall evening at Fenway Park, and this is your lineup:
- Jaren Duran (CF)
- Triston Casas (1B)
- Masataka Yoshida (DH)
- Rafael Devers (3B)
- Marcelo Mayer (SS)
- Roman Anthony (RF)
- Wilyer Abreu (LF)
- Kyle Teel (C)
- Emmanuel Valdez (2B)
(Trevor Story is probably injured in this scenario, otherwise he’d obviously be in there. But in a moment, it will become obvious [if it hasn’t already] why he’s omitted from this discussion.)
Everything else (besides missing Story) seems perfect, but then suddenly, the magical season derails! After Duran smacks a double to begin the game, the opponent pulls their right-handed starter, calls on nothing but lefties for the rest of the way, and the Sox get shut out.
Wait? ... What?
Uh, yeah, we need to discuss this further. As you may have already noticed, those nine guys all have two very important things in common:
1) All nine of them are under Red Sox control for at least the next five seasons; meaning not a single one of them can enter free agency until the winter before the 2029 season. They are legitimate building blocks, and many (I stress many, not all), should be part of the next Red Sox run at contention.
2) But the second thing they all have in common poses a precise problem that’s going to prevent them from pursuing a pennant together. They all bat left-handed. Every, single one of them! There’s not even a switch hitter in there.
So in a scenario where the Red Sox are trying to grow from within and let their own players with team control develop, they’re building on a foundation that’s already angled to one side. Even if it all goes right, this lineup is projected to lean so far to the left it’s probably got a Feel The Bern_ sticker on its laptop.
Somewhere between now and the next great Red Sox team, some of these parts need to be swapped out. This can be accomplished in numerous different ways, but almost all of them will require moving at least one piece that’s really going to hurt. It’s just a matter of how much.
Fortunately, work on this tumultuous and tedious task has already started around the edges. The new front office made a handful of mid-tier moves in December designed to smooth things out, and the roster today is, almost unbelievably, more balanced than it was six weeks ago. First, they acquired right-handed hitting Tyler O’Neill to presumably platoon with Jaren Duran for at least part of the time; then they shipped left-handed hitting Alex Verdugo out of town to the soulless, corporate, mausoleum 200 miles to the southwest, and most recently, they brought in the versatile Vaughn Grissom (who not coincidentally bats right-handed) in the Chris Sale trade. However, the biggest, most impactful, and potentially most painful shakeup is almost certainly yet to come.
Knowing this, and the recent repulsive comments on spending spewed from winter weekend, it’s even possible the real plan here is just to sit back and wait a season until the front office knows which holes have to be filled. They’re very aware that not all of these guys with long-term control are going to take the next step, but they don’t know which ones will, and are therefore are waiting until the location of a badly needed right handed supplement bat becomes obvious. Get that wrong ahead of time though, and then you’ve got an even bigger mess. It’s a sticky web that may require some real creativity to escape.
On one level, the Sox are tantalizingly close to something exciting here. Outside of winning a championship, there’s probably nothing better in sports better than when your team has a wave of young stars all arrive in close proximity to each other. The good news is Boston isn’t all that far away from this happening. But the bad news is that the stars in this particular sky almost certainly won’t belong to the same constellation, and worse yet, if they don’t shine at all, there will be nothing left but a cold, dark abyss.
Time for Breslow to earn his keep!