2019 Red Sox report card: Defending champs simply didn't measure up
If it weren't for Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts, we might have already forgotten the 2019 Red Sox. It's hard to remember a club that engaged its fans less emotionally. The defending World Series champs fell on their faces out of the gate during a 3-9 start and never really made a dent in the playoff race thereafter. They were middle of the pack from start to finish, and now face all kinds of uncertainty entering their most consequential offseason in years.
The end of the season means it's time for a final report card, and the grades are about what you'd expect. While 84 wins might be considered a decent season for many franchises, it's a borderline disastrous finish in Boston, and that will be reflected in the grades, especially on the pitching and management side.
Christian Vazquez — B
Mitch Moreland — C
Brock Holt — C
Holt's charitable endeavors endeared him to New England, and the video of him handing out bats to fans after the finale showed what a genuinely decent guy he is. But the Red Sox could've used more than 87 games out of him, and seeing that he turns 32 next season, they can probably replace him with a more affordable and reliable utility option. That said, Holt provided roughly average production and fell one hit shy of .300.
Xander Bogaerts — A
Finally, some good news! Bogaerts was a force from start to finish, and he did it the right way. A leader from the moment he signed his $120 million extension, he busted his butt through 155 games while delivering the offensive breakout we all expected when he started in the 2013 World Series at age 20. He hit .309 with 52 doubles, 33 homers, and a team-high 117 RBIs. He will earn MVP votes and he deserves them.
Rafael Devers — A
You want a breakout season, not even Bogaerts can hold a candle to Devers. The 22-year-old with the baby face swings a very grown-up bat. After a homerless April, he was a monster from May through August. Even after fading in September, he still hit .311 with 32 homers, 115 RBIs, and 54 doubles. His emergence should help ease the sting if defending MVP Mookie Betts is traded. All we know is we can't wait for the encore.
Andrew Benintendi — D
Blecch. Benintendi remains an All-Star and batting champ in waiting, but there's no question he took a massive step back. His struggles actually trace to the second half of 2018, when his power short-circuited. For the Red Sox to have any chance of contending in 2020, they'll need a lot more from Benintendi, who flipped to the leadoff spot and then flopped. His .266-13-68 numbers in an era when everyone hits 30 homers aren't remotely good enough.
Jackie Bradley Jr. — D
At this point, there's no longer any question about what Bradley is. He's a Gold Glove center fielder who is a complete offensive liability for months at a time. The hot streaks no longer justify the faith in him figuring it out, and he's a prime candidate to be traded this winter rather than earn more than $10 million in arbitration. He'll be 30 next season and he could be appealing to a team that values defense. It was a nice run in Boston.
Mookie Betts — B-plus
Betts posted borderline A numbers when all was said and done, but too much of his production came in garbage time after the Red Sox were eliminated. He followed up last year's MVP with an excellent .295-29-80-.915 season, but if you watched him all year, you know better. Betts was invisible for too long when the Red Sox needed him to be a catalyst, and now there's a very real possibility he'll be traded despite being a five-tool superstar.
J.D. Martinez — A-minus
Talk about getting your money's worth. Martinez languished on the free agent market all winter in 2018 before accepting the $105 million deal the Red Sox had offered him months earlier. All he did thereafter was contend for a Triple Crown and establish himself as a legitimate big-market run producer. He's likely to opt out of his contract after hitting .304 with a team-leading 36 homers and .939 OPS. And here's a prediction: the Red Sox offense will miss him even more than Betts.
Michael Chavis — C-plus
Give Chavis credit. He arrived as little more than roster filler and forced his way not only onto the roster, but into the starting lineup. He played the role of Babe Ruth for his first month, blasting 10 homers, but once pitchers found the hole in his swing above his belt with fastballs, he struggled. That said, he only just turned 24 and he's a hard worker, so there's no reason he can't address that deficiency and perhaps contribute in 2020.
Sandy Leon — D
Eduardo Nuñez — F
Nuñez played hurt, which isn't always a virtue. His numbers were almost exactly as bad as Leon's — they both compiled OPS's of .548 — and the Red Sox belatedly cut the cord with him in mid-July. It should come as no surprise that he went unclaimed thereafter, making his two-year, $9 million deal one of the worst use of resources in Dave Dombrowski's tenure.
Sam Travis — D
Remember those couple of weeks when Travis seemed to double every at-bat? It didn't add up to great numbers. He hit .215 with a .656 OPS in sporadic playing time. Travis is the type of player Red Sox fans might be seeing more of if ownership's threats to slash payroll come to fruition. Travis is an anti-launch angle throwback who may never hit for much power, but could conceivably post an average on par with his lifetime .285 in the minors.
Marco Hernandez — D
Give Hernandez credit for perseverance after double shoulder surgery robbed him of basically two years. While he possesses some unique skills — few players get out of the box more quickly — he didn't show a lot as a potential utility man, especially defensively at second base. Hernandez is a free swinger (42 strikeouts, 3 walks) and was a favorite of former boss Dave Dombrowski. It'll be interesting to see if the next GM shares his enthusiasm.
Steve Pearce — F
From World Series MVP to useless to borderline retired, per the Boston Globe, Pearce has experienced a whirlwind 11 months. He showed up in less than tip-top shape and then played like it, batting just .180 with a home run. His season highlight was probably being called out by President Trump at the White House. At least he'll always have those five games in October of 2018.
Eduardo Rodriguez — A
Dombrowski deserves kudos for refusing to part with the high-upside lefty over the last three years. Acquired from the Orioles in 2014 for Andrew Miller, E-Rod finally put it together during a 19-win season that was one Matt Barnes blown save away in the season finale from being 20. He finally matched his stuff with results, turning potential into production. Still only 26 — he's younger than Josh Taylor! — Rodriguez looks like a future linchpin.
Chris Sale — D
An argument can be made that no one player contributed more to the downfall of the defending champs than Sale. Signed to a $145 million extension that pays him like an ace, Sale instead muddled through a strangely ineffective and injury-plagued campaign. While he had high points like striking out 17 Rockies, he also watched the Red Sox go just 10-15 in his 25 starts while posting a career-worst 4.40 ERA. And we still don't know if he needs surgery.
David Price — D-plus
Let the record show that after pointlessly ripping Dennis Eckersley again in July over an innocuous quote in a feature story, Price did not win another game. He instead broke down, eventually requiring surgery to remove a cyst from his wrist. He only threw 107.1 innings with a 4.28 ERA, which simply isn't good enough to justify $30 million annually. He looks like an albatross moving forward, too, owed $96 million over the next three years.
Rick Porcello — D
Of the 75 pitchers to throw at least 150 innings, Porcello ranked dead last in ERA (5.52), and that was no mirage or case of bad luck. He allowed 79 extra base hits, a figure topped only by four pitchers, and roughly equivalent to what MVP candidate Alex Bregman produced offensively with the Astros. His grade would be lower, but Porcello took the ball every five days — which is more than Price and Sale can say — and he did gut out 14 wins. Who knows? Maybe he'll be back.
Nathan Eovaldi — F
Here's what $68 million bought the Red Sox: four legitimate starts, one arm surgery, and three months on the shelf. Eovaldi returned as a reliever in August and basically served as an opener down the stretch, and — Oh my God, the Red Sox owe him for three more years. It'd be nice to say that 2020 projects as a bounce-back season, but such optimism is rooted more in hope than fact. After posting a 5.99 ERA, Eovaldi will have as much to prove as anyone next year.
Brandon Workman — A
More like Workhorse. One season after being left off the World Series roster, Workman was one of the few members of the pitching staff to overachieve. Five years after going 1-10 as a starter and getting Tommy John surgery, Workman went 10-1 with a 1.88 ERA in relief. He was the toughest pitcher in baseball to hit, holding opponents to a league-leading .123 average, which is just comical. His combination of 95-mph fastball and hammer curve was devastating.
Matt Barnes — B
It's easy to forget that Barnes spent about six weeks as baseball's best reliever before overuse and repeated exposure to high-stress innings finally took their toll. After management made the dubious decision to open the season without a closer, Barnes found himself facing the heart of opposing lineups with the game on the line virtually every night. He thrived until June, when 15 appearances in 30 days wiped him out. He still finished with over 15 strikeouts per nine.
Marcus Walden — B
Ryan Brasier 2.0 emerged at age 30 as a real find, going 9-2 with a 3.81 ERA and leading the staff in relief innings at 78. Blessed with a wipeout slider and 95-mph fastball, Walden also showed some mental toughness, bouncing back from a June swoon to post a 1.23 ERA from mid-July to early September. The variance of relief performance makes predicting how he'll perform in 2020 an exercise in dart throwing (see Brasier), but he's a potential low-cost contributor, at least.
Ryan Brasier — D
The Red Sox opened the season without a closer because they thought Brasier would be up to the task, such as it was. They were wrong. He was completely exposed against left-handed hitting, his low point a game-losing grand slam to Yankees outfielder Brett Gardner in April. One year after telling Yankees catcher Gary Sanchez to get the bleep in the box, Brasier lost his way. He posted a 4.85 ERA and contributed to too many bullpen meltdowns.
Hector Velazquez — F
The top of the rotation is primarily to blame for murdering the bullpen in April and May, but the back of the rotation didn't help either, and that fell largely on Velazquez. We detailed the travails of the fifth starter spot all season, and Velazquez got that ball rolling by delivering a series of three-inning starts. His 5.43 ERA and negative WAR tell a story of ineffectiveness before back issues shut him down for most of July and August.
Colten Brewer — C
Has there ever been a more nondescript Red Sox player? I'm not even sure what to say. He somehow made 58 appearances and threw 54.2 innings, even though I don't really remember any of them. He walked too many guys (5.6/9), didn't strike anyone out by today's standards (8.6), and wasn't the weapon many observers expected when reporters were racing to label him the team's secret weapon in spring training. He is replaceable.
Andrew Cashner — F
Dave Dombrowski was allowed to make one trade deadline move and it fizzled like a limp balloon. He acquired Cashner, in the midst of an impressive season with the woeful Orioles, and the right-hander delivered six comically bad starts (8.01 ERA, 5 losses) before being punted to the bullpen, where he was OK, but too little, too late. With starters falling all around him, it was an indictment of Cashner that the Red Sox made him a reliever. He was a less effective Erik Bedard.
Josh Taylor — A-minus
Dombrowski didn't make too many moves for prospects, but sending middling shortstop Deven Marrero to the Diamondbacks for Taylor ended up being a home run. The burly lefty attacked hitters all season and never really got exposed. He posted a 3.04 ERA in 52 appearances and earned Alex Cora's trust, eventually becoming a late-inning arm. He throws strikes and he limits his walks. He possesses an intriguing future.
Brian Johnson — F
See Velazquez. With the Red Sox desperate for starting depth, Johnson didn't provide it. He went 1-3 with a 6.03 ERA while throwing only 40 innings. Manager Alex Cora liked to speak of the value that Johnson and Velazquez delivered in 2018, but in 2019 they were both liabilities. Johnson turns 29 in December and it's fair to wonder exactly how much value he provides moving forward.
Heath Hembree — B-minus
After a brutal April that saw him giving up too much damage on his slider, Hembree followed the advice of pitching coach Dana LeVangie and shelved it largely in favor of his 95-mph fastball, which plays in the strike zone, especially against right-handed hitters. The result was a stretch of six weeks that saw him post a 0.60 ERA before feeling a twinge in his elbow that limited his effectiveness, when he did pitch, for the rest of the season.
Darwinzon Hernandez — B-minus
Now here's something the Red Sox can potentially work with. In terms of pure stuff, Hernandez ranks alongside anyone in the organization. He doesn't always know exactly where it's going, but his upper-90s fastball proved overwhelming, as his 16.9 strikeouts per nine illustrated. He also walked nearly eight batters per nine, and that's obviously not going to work over the long haul, but at only 22 years old, he has future closer written all over him.
Alex Cora — C-minus
Cora's cockiness can be one of his best qualities, but in 2019 it helped create a lack of urgency, especially in April. He arrived at spring training declaring no need to turn the page, and then spent two months assuring us everything would be fine. In a season that left the organization humbled, it's not exactly clear that Cora learned humility. He doesn't regret babying the starters in spring training, going without a closer, or batting Andrew Benintendi leadoff. We'll see what lessons he carries into 2020.
Dave Dombrowski — D
Dombrowski took three big swings last offseason and only connected on one of them. He committed over $200 million to Sale and Eovaldi and the organization could end up paying the price for at least three years. He similarly felt no need to replace closer Craig Kimbrel or setup man Joe Kelly, and that killed them during a brutal start in April. He did hit on Xander Bogaerts, though, and he did deliver on his promise to build a World Series winner. Still, his decisions in 2019 justified his ouster.