If we’re closing in on the regular season, that must mean it’s time to play some pepper! For the 12th year in a row, I’ve contacted bloggers and writers from around baseball to talk about the team they hold dear. It’s a good way for folks to get the pulse of other teams around MLB and see what other fanbases are talking about. It’s a tradition unlike any other (because who would want to copy it): it’s time for Playing Pepper.
This really hasn’t been the winter you are accustomed to if you are a Red Sox fan. Instead of importing talent for another run, the team shipped out its MVP. One of those World Series titles, which were so hard to come by 15 years ago, got tainted. Alex Cora won a World Series and then roughly a year later was out of a job and, perhaps, out of baseball depending on what that investigation finds. (Things moved so fast that my questions sent in January were pretty much DOA, though our bloggers adjusted to the pitch.) What does all this mean for the fanbase and for 2020? It’s time to find out.
|The Mighty Quinn Media Machine
C70: Looking for a manager just weeks before spring training isn’t optimal. Will the Red Sox be able to find a suitable replacement for Alex Cora? Should he and the club have parted ways? What do you think will come out of MLB’s investigation of the 2018 squad? (Edit: Strike one to my timing.)
John: The Red Sox really had no other choice than to part ways with Alex Cora. He appears to have had a major role in the Astros chanting scandal, and his position as manager of the Red Sox had been terribly affected. As I write this, his suspension hasn’t been handed down yet, but it should be at least one season. He had to be removed as manager. The choice of Ron Roenicke as a successor to Cora was very wise, as he is a well-respected baseball man who knows the players well, and had a solid record in Milwaukee.
The results of the investigation of the 2018 team is not yet known, but the fact that a number of high profile Sox players are on record as saying there was nothing illicit going on is a marked difference from the Houston investigation, as those players were notoriously silent prior to the punishments handed down. We’ll see what happens.
Mike: As you know, the Sox hired former bench coach Ron Roenicke as the “interim” manager, the label used out of respect for MLB’s investigation into the sign-stealing accusations. I like the hire because not only did he have a winning record as a manager with the Milwaukee Brewers but he’s a familiar face in the organization who knows the players. I liked Cora but it was obvious he had to go, especially after the Astros fired manager AJ Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. And Cora was the common denominator between the Astros and Red Sox. I don’t doubt the Red Sox stole signs illegally; I’m just hoping it wasn’t as in-depth as the Astros’ scheme.
Ruben: Having to find a manager at the last minute is never optimal. Even though the Red Sox did interview some outside candidates, I think it was wise that they took an internal option for the sake of continuity. Bringing in a new face is fine if they have the off-season to get up to speed, but not when you’re thrown into it with no time to prepare. I think Ron Roenicke will be fine, although I don’t think he will be around for the long term. As far as the MLB investigation, I really don’t think much will come of it. Cora was implicated from his time in Houston, but I doubt anything nearly as offensive occurred in Boston.
C70: The other big story this offseason focused on the status of Mookie Betts. Do you think the Red Sox trade him before the end of the year and what kind of package would you want to see them get back? (Edit: Striiiiiiikkkkkkeeee two.)
John: The trade happened, and the team had little choice but to move him. Betts made no secret of the fact he would test free agency after 2020, and every time they attempted to sign him to an extension, he rejected it, including the 10-year, $300 million one. So be it. Betts earned the right to go free agent. I really don’t hold anything against management in this scenario. Betts feels he deserves a deal of more than 10 years, such as the ones that Mike Trout and Bryce Harper got. I think signing ANY player to that long a deal is foolish, and will only be regretted in the long run. I like the trade. Alex Verdugo and Jeter Downs can both be players who the Red Sox can build around in this decade, and Connor Wong instantly became their best catching prospect. We’ll see how it works out down the road.
Mike: As you also know, the Red Sox traded Betts to the Dodgers for a solid package of prospects, including Alex Verdugo who is almost as skilled as Betts. He hits for average and power, can field and throw, and run a little. Jeter Downs has the potential to be the second baseman of the future and Connor Wong gives the team depth behind the plate, although he can play other positions.
Ruben: I think it was inevitable that they were going to trade Mookie Betts. And contrary to most of the fanbase, I actually believe that it wasn’t solely driven as a financial decision. It is always better to get something for a player rather than have him leave as a free agent and receive no return. Of course, in this case, Boston did give up a year of Betts for that return. It’s impossible to predict the future, but I wouldn’t be remotely surprised if the cumulative value of the players we received (Verdugo, Jeter Downs, and Connor Wong) during their tenure in Boston is more than what Betts would provide in one season. I do believe throwing in David Price was more of a financial move to get under the cap, and I think losing him will end up hurting more than Betts.
C70: Is there a prospect in the organization that will make a big impact on the major league squad this season?
John: Alex Verdugo will be under a microscope this season because of the trade. But it will be interesting to see how far Michael Chavis progresses after a solid rookie season. Bobby Dalbec is a highly touted infield prospect who maybe ready for the majors at some point this season. And lefty Darwinzon Hernandez, who saw some time out of the Sox pen in 2019, figures to get quality innings in a setup role.
Mike: I don’t think so only because their best prospects are either too young or being blocked by better players at the big league level. Downs is 21 and has only 56 plate appearances above A ball and Triston Casas just turned 20 in January. The best chance of someone making an impact is Bobby Dalbec, whose window is closing as a prospect. He’ll be 25 in June and has already played six seasons in the minors, but he’s a third baseman and Rafael Devers has the hot corner locked down for the foreseeable future. Dalbec’s best chance is at first base or DH but the Sox brought back Mitch Moreland on a one-year deal, they have Michael Chavis, and J.D. Martinez chose not to opt out of his contract.
Ruben: The short answer is no. Some of our best prospects are a year or two away. They may get called up for a cup of coffee or as a short term injury replacement, but I don’t think guys like Triston Casas or Downs, will have a big impact this season. There are other guys who may get some playing time and fill in holes, such as Bobby Dalbec or CJ Chatam, but I don’t think any of them will have the impact that Devers, Benintendi, or Chavis had as call ups the last few seasons. The only players I could see that could possibly have a big impact are pitchers. And from that list, maybe Jay Groome can finally put it together, or flame throwing Dalton Furbush (aka Durbin Feltman) could come in as a one inning lights out guy.
C70: What are your expectations for 2020? Where do you think they’ll finish in the division?
John: Chris Sale’s elbow problems, which ruined his 2019 season, have cast a cloud on 2020, and if he can’t be counted on this year, it will almost guarantee the Sox won’t be in the postseason again. I feel the Red Sox have to pitch well to win. The lineup is still solid without Betts, but if the starting pitching falters again, they have no chance for the postseason, and another third place finish looks ominous.
Mike: Last year I went big and predicted at least 100 wins but fell 16 short. This year I’m going with a third-place finish behind the Yankees and Rays with between 85-90 wins. Without Mookie in the lineup and Verdugo suffering back issues that will keep him from starting the season with the team, it’s hard to say how it will all play out. There are a few questions that still need to be answered, too. Is Chavis good enough defensively to hold down second base? Will the Sox have a fifth starter or use an opener? Can Brandon Workman succeed as a full-time closer? Can Andrew Benintendi be the leadoff hitter he has the potential to be?
Ruben: Last year I was said I was bracing for the inevitable disappointment that 2019 would bring. That was mainly due to the unrealistically high expectations. This year I have the exact opposite feeling. It’s a stress free year. Expectations are low, nobody thinks they’ll be a contender, so we can just enjoy the season and if they’re in the race in September, it’s a bonus. Having said that, I do think they’ll be in the running for 2nd place in the division, ending up short at 3rd place with about 89 wins.
C70: What’s the main topic Red Sox fans are discussing that maybe isn’t obvious to other teams?
John: The continuing absence of Dustin Pedroia. I see it on many Facebook pages I am on. Those “experts” on their keyboards seem to think it’s in everyone’s best interest that he retire. Well, he’s been a warrior for over a decade and a huge part of two Sox championships, and it is his call when it’s time for him to finally hang it up. I know it’s killing him not to play because of his bad knee. I feel badly for him and have always respected him greatly.
Mike: Whether or not Tom Brady will stay with the Patriots or sign with a different team. Seriously. Some insist Boston is a hockey town and we do love our Bruins. Others point to the Celtics dynasty, and the Red Sox have 120 years of history and generations of fans passing the torch (my grandfather made a scrapbook of articles about Babe Ruth when he was still with the Red Sox), but Boston has been all about football over the last two decades. Until Brady signs a contract, the Red Sox are an afterthought.
Ruben: We have some good cost-controlled young players that could fetch a huge haul in the trade market. I could see guys like Andrew Benintendi, Michael Chavis, or even Rafael Devers being involved in trade talks. Fans may not initially be happy with it but it’s always better to sell high.
C70: What are you looking forward to most about the coming season?
John: How the team responds to new manager Ron Roenicke. I have to admit it’s been a long time since there’s been so much uncertainty surrounding the Red Sox. They could surprise a lot of people this year by making the playoffs, or they could fall on their faces and finish in fourth. (They won’t finish below the Orioles, will they?)
Mike: Andrew Benintendi’s ascension to superstardom. He’s a five-tool player who hasn’t quite put it all together yet, but there’s no reason he can’t be a batting champ with power, speed, and multiple gold gloves. His swing is reminiscent on Carl Yastrzemski and Fred Lynn, and I’d love to see him finally harness it and take his game to the next level. Besides that, I’m curious to see how pitchers approach Astros hitters and how many of them will be hit by pitches because of the sign stealing.
Ruben: Eduardo Rodriguez quietly was the most valuable Red Sox player not named Mookie last year. It seems like he’s been around forever but he’s still only 26. I’m really looking forward to see how he progresses.