Red Sox

J.D. Martinez explains how Mookie Betts' absence will impact Red Sox offense

J.D. Martinez explains how Mookie Betts' absence will impact Red Sox offense

Will the Boston Red Sox score enough runs to be a playoff-caliber team in 2020 after trading superstar outfielder Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers?

The Red Sox offense was not the problem in a disappointing 2019 season. Boston was one of four American League teams to score 900-plus runs, coming in fourth with 901. The Red Sox also led the AL in hits, ranked No. 4 in total bases and No. 2 in on-base percentage. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers both had tremendous seasons, and these young stars are in the early stages of their primes.

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Betts is an MVP-caliber player and won a batting title, three AL Silver Slugger awards and an AL MVP over his career in Boston. Losing him will no doubt make the Red Sox offense less intimidating for opposing pitchers, but as J.D. Martinez told reporters at spring training Monday, Boston's offense still has the potential to be quite potent.

"Mookie's a great player," Martinez said. "He's one of the best players in the game. Obviously, you're going to feel it, in a sense, but I think we have a lot of really, really good players. You look at the guys who had breakout years last year, guys come back. I don't know what our numbers were offensively, but I would say one of the top-three, top-four offensive teams in baseball. Obviously, it's going to take a hit, but I really believe in the guys we have, and if guys continue to get better, I think we'll be really good."

The likeliest issue for the Red Sox in 2020 will be pitching.

No one knows what the Red Sox will get out of Chris Sale. When healthy, Sale has the talent to be one of baseball's best starting pitchers. Staying healthy has been an issue for him throughout his Red Sox tenure, though. Eduardo Rodriguez had a breakout 2019 campaign, and his next challenge is showing he can pitch at a high level consistently.

David Price wasn't always stellar, but he pitched pretty well when healthy. He was thrown into the Betts trade, opening up another hole in Boston's rotation. Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez will likely be the third and fourth starters, respectably. 

Baseball is super tough to predict -- who could have imagined the Washington Nationals winning the World Series last year? The Red Sox could surprise us this season, but for that to happen, the pitching must be much-improved from what it was in 2019.

Tomase: Sale iffy for Opening Day, but he sounds optimistic

Darwinzon Hernandez: 'I’m ready' to be a starter

Darwinzon Hernandez: 'I’m ready' to be a starter

The Boston Red Sox have serious concerns with their pitching staff. With Chris Sale out for the long haul after undergoing Tommy John surgery, the Red Sox are down to just a few known commodities among their starting rotation.

Eduardo Rodriguez will be the team's ace. Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez will follow him in the rotation. But the fourth and fifth spots in the rotation are a bit harder to predict.

Before Sale's surgery and before the MLB shut down operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it seemed like Ryan Weber was the leading candidate to earn a job on the back-end of the rotation. If he's the fourth starter, that will leave the Sox with just one hole to fill in the fifth starter slot.

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And one possibility for that role would be Darwinzon Hernandez. The lefthander pitched in 29 games for the Red Sox last season logging a 4.45 ERA and 57 strikeouts in 30 1/3 innings pitched. Hernandez only made one start for the Sox, but he considers himself to be a starter at the MLB level. 

"Everyone knows I’d love to start. Absolutely," Hernandez said, per Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe. "That is what every pitcher wants and I still feel like I can do it. I enjoyed being a reliever and I’ll do whatever the team asks. The important thing is to be on the team. But, yes, I want to start."

Hernandez was a starter during his time in the minor leagues and has started at least 12 games per season since 2015. The 23-year-old still has a lot of upside and he believes that he's ready to take on a starting job.

"I’m ready. I’ve matured as [a] pitcher,” Hernandez said through a translator. "In the minors, I would just throw but when I got to the majors, they taught me how to pitch and the importance of working hard and locating your pitches, mixing your pitches. I learned how to pitch and not just throw."

Of course, the decision will ultimately come down to Ron Roenicke. And the Sox skipper at least seemed open to Hernandez battling for a starting job before spring training was shut down.

"You have to consider [starting Hernandez]," Roenicke said last month, per Abraham. "He’s still a young pitcher and there’s a lot to work with. I could see us looking at this again and giving him a chance to start."

Hernandez will have some competition for that final spot. The Red Sox did sign Collin McHugh after Sale's setback. The former Houston Astros pitcher could be a starter or bullpen arm, but he'll have to get healthy first. He was battling an elbow injury upon joining the team and it's unclear exactly when he'll return to action.

The team could also choose to use the opener strategy that the Tampa Bay Rays have popularized in recent seasons. Could that involve Hernandez playing that role? Or being the "bulk" guy to take on innings once the opener is done? It's surely possible.

It's tough to know what the Red Sox are going to do with their rotation. They'll likely have to mix and match things if and when the season does begin. But that could be a while away.

For the time being, Roenicke will have more time to think about just how he wants his pitching staff to shake out. And with rosters to be expanded in wake of the pandemic, per Joel Sherman of The New York Post, Roenicke may opt to try a few different solutions before settling on his preferred option.

Judge tosses suit against MLB for sign-stealing scheme, but rips Red Sox and Astros

Judge tosses suit against MLB for sign-stealing scheme, but rips Red Sox and Astros

The lawsuit against Major League Baseball filed by daily fantasy game players, who claimed to be defrauded by the Boston Red Sox and Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal, has been dismissed, but not without harsh criticism of the teams by a federal judge.

U.S. District Judge Jed Rakoff in his ruling blasted the Red Sox and Astros for "shamelessly" breaking both baseball's rules and "the hearts of all true baseball fans."

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In throwing out the suit brought by five daily fantasy players, Rakoff invoked the New England Patriots "Spygate" scandal from 2007, agreeing with MLB lawyers' contention that rulings in similar suits brought by fans against the NFL after the Patriots were caught illegally taping opponents' defensive signals had set a legal precedent for this suit to be dismissed. 

While the suit charged that the Red Sox and Astros had engaged in consumer fraud that created "corrupt" and "dishonest" fantasy contest for companies such as Draft Kings, Rakoff agreed with previous decisions in the NFL cases that ruled fans should know teams will look for any advantage - even "foul deeds" - to try and win.

From Rakoff's ruling: 

[D]id the initial efforts of those teams, and supposedly of Major League Baseball itself, to conceal these foul deeds from the simple sports bettors who wagered on fantasy baseball create a cognizable legal claim? On the allegations here made, the answer is no.

The Astros' sign-stealing scheme led MLB to fine the team $5 million and the one-year suspensions and subsequent firings of manager A.J. Hinch and general manager Jeff Luhnow. The Red Sox then parted ways with manager Alex Cora, who, according to MLB's findings, was the mastermind of the scheme as Houston's bench coach in 2017. 

That team won the World Series, as did the 2018 Red Sox, who are accused of using a similar system to steal signs under Cora.

MLB has yet to release a report on the Red Sox allegations. Commissioner Rob Manfred said it has been delayed by the coronavirus pandemic but will be released before MLB begins its 2020 season. In comments last month in court an MLB lawyer seem to imply the Red Sox are aware of Manfred's findings and that they disagree with them.