Just two years removed from their 2018 World Series championship, the Boston Red Sox will enter the 2020 season without their homegrown MVP Mookie Betts and with the baggage of a sign-stealing scandal. In February, the Red Sox traded Betts along with left-hander David Price to the Dodgers. In return, Boston received outfielder Alex Verdugo, shortstop Jeter Downs, and catcher Connor Wong. The Betts trade (rightfully) upset many Red Sox fans since it was made in the name of saving the club money.
On top of the bad optics from trading away your franchise superstar, the Red Sox also became embroiled in a sign-stealing scandal this offseason. Boston was found to have illegally used its video replay room to steal signs throughout the 2018 championship season. MLB determined that the Red Sox's replay official was primarily to blame for the team's sign-stealing scandal.
Former Red Sox manager Alex Cora also received a ban from MLB until the end of the 2020 postseason for a different sign-stealing scandal. His MLB ban was pursuant to his involvement in the Astros' cheating scandal while he was a bench coach for the club. Cora was identified as a ringleader in the 2017 Astros sign-stealing scandal. Cora's bench coach, Ron Roenicke, was installed as manager after Cora was dismissed.
Given the disappointing 2019 season in which they failed to defend their title and missed the playoffs followed by the club's turbulent 2019-20 offseason, things have been shuffled up in a major way heading into 2020 for the Red Sox.
Will the club return the postseason in the shortened 2020 season? With the Yankees and Rays at the top of their game, it's going to be an uphill climb. Let's take a closer look and preview the 2020 Sox.
Win total projection, odds
2020 Sportsline projection: 32-28
World Series odds (via William Hill Sportsbook): 30/1
2019 record: 84-78 (Missed playoffs)
- LF Andrew Benintendi
- 3B Rafael Devers
- DH J.D. Martinez
- SS Xander Bogaerts
- 1B Mitch Moreland
- RF Alex Verdugo
- 2B Michael Chavis
- C Christian Vasquez
- CF Jackie Bradley Jr.
Despite the loss of Betts, the Red Sox will still be able to put out a pretty powerful lineup in 2020. But, it may not be enough to dethrone the New York Yankees in the American League East. The Sox roster is still mostly a Dave Dombrowski -- the club's former president -- constructed team with a decent core, but the club's new top guy Chaim Bloom did not make any huge offensive additions this offseason. Pillar and Verdugo were both added to the outfield mix and should both see time in right.
Jonathan Lucroy and Kevin Plawecki are expected to battle for the backup catching job behind Christian Vazquez, and Michael Chavis is set to move to second base in 2020.
The big hole in the Red Sox rotation for 2020 is obviously the loss of Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery. Boston's rotation depth was pretty weak before the Sale news, so that loss will be a big blow to the club. To go along with the loss of Sale, the Red Sox also let Rick Porcello depart as a free agent and traded Price as part of the Mookie Betts package this offseason. Boston's shaky rotation will certainly be a point of concern in 2020.
- Closer: RHP Brandon Workman
- Setup: RHP Matt Barnes, LHP Josh Taylor
- Middle: RHP Heath Hembree, LHP Darwinzon Hernandez, RHP Ryan Brasier, RHP Austin Brice, RHP Colten Brewer, LHP Josh Osich
- Long: RHP Collin McHugh, RHP Marcus Walden
The Sox bullpen last season was mostly a mess. Aside from right-hander Brandon Workman, who posted a 1.88 ERA in 71 2/3 innings in 2019, the Red Sox didn't get much reliability from their bullpen. Boston didn't undergo too much of a change to the 'pen this offseason, and instead, the club is hoping for a turnaround from some arms.
Right-hander Collin McHugh is returning from a non-surgical right elbow procedure this offseason, so it's unclear if he'll be healthy enough to start games immediately. He did not start his throwing program until early April. In the case that he's not, McHugh will likely be a nice fit in the Sox bullpen to start the 2020 season.
Starting pitching concerns
Heading into the 2020 season, starting pitching is Boston's biggest weakness. Eduardo Rodriguez is solid as the club's No. 1 starter, but things get shaky in a hurry after him. Nathan Eovaldi was limited to just 67 2/3 innings last season after elbow surgery. Martin Perez finished the 2019 season with a 5.12 ERA. While Ryan Weber, Matt Hall, Brian Johnson make up the back half of the rotation.
There is flexibility with some of Boston's bullpen guys, like Darwinzon Hernandez or Brian Johnson. Both have experience starting and relieving. Collin McHugh is also an option to add depth to the rotation once his availability to start is more certain.
Aftermath of sign-stealing, new manager
MLB first announced its investigation into the Red Sox back in early January, and a conclusion to their investigation did not come to fruition until the end of April. Mind you, MLB was dealing with the effects of the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent shutdown, but the months-long investigation created sign-stealing fatigue and ultimately, the Red Sox discipline got lost in the news cycle to the 2020 NFL Draft.
The sign-stealing scandals in Houston and Boston likely won't dominate the conversation in 2020, but it will still be a part of these clubs' seasons. Although the Red Sox did check with MLB to confirm that he was not found to be involved in any of the cheating that happened during the 2018 campaign, manager Ron Roenicke will surely have to address it at some point this season.
What's most interesting is the fact that Cora could technically return to the Red Sox as manager for the 2021 season. It does not matter if a 2020 season is played or not, Cora will have served his one-year suspension and could return. This would be a tough call for the Red Sox, but it's something of note. Roenicke's contract is also up after the 2020 season.
Who fills Mookie's shoes?
The Red Sox didn't find a replacement to fill the gaping hole that the loss of Mookie Betts has left, but the club did find a player with upside in Alex Verdugo. While Betts hit .295/.391/.524 with 29 homers and 80 RBI in 150 games in 2019, and possesses one of the best arms in the game, Verdugo, 24, hit .294/.342/.475 with 12 home runs, 22 doubles, two triples and 44 RBI in 106 games for the Dodgers in 2019. Honestly, there's just no replacing a player at the talent-level of Betts, but Verdugo should soften the blow.
Unlike Betts, Verdugo's a left-handed hitter, so he joins his left-handed hitting teammates, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi in the outfield. Las season, he hit .327/.358/.485 against left-handed pitchers and .281/.336/.471 against right-handed pitchers.
Verdugo spent this offseason recovering from a stress fracture in his lower back and didn't resume swinging a bat until March.
"This guy, he's probably farther along than all of them," Red Sox manager Ron Roenicke told reporters Monday. "This guy has been doing his rehab assignment and hitting in the cage, on the field probably more than anybody has. So I feel good with where he is. Hopefully there won't be any setbacks with him in these three weeks and he'll be ready to go."
A healthy Verdugo -- especially in a 60-game season -- is going to be pivotal for Boston's 2020 season.