RED SOX INSIDER

Tomase: If you passed on the 2020 Red Sox, here are some positives

RED SOX INSIDER

If you missed the 2020 Red Sox season, congratulations! We all could've used your foresight.

The Sox won just 24 games, finished last for the fourth time in nine years, and will be picking fourth in next year's draft. Despite boasting one of the game's highest payrolls, they were 100 percent a have-not, failing even to finish ahead of the Orioles, who had lost a staggering 219 games the previous two seasons.

There were, however, some developments worth noting. If you opted out of the season, allow us to get you up to speed.

First and foremost, outfielder Alex Verdugo proved himself a worthy centerpiece of the Mookie Betts trade. He may not be Betts, but the swaggering young outfielder suggested he could one day be a poor man's facsimile.

Despite arriving to spring training with a broken back, Verdugo healed in time to hit .308 with an .844 OPS. His 1.9 WAR ranked sixth among American League position players, and it wasn't just about how well he played, but how he played.

Verdugo is a ball of positive energy who should easily become a fan favorite once fans return to the stands. He plays with an enthusiasm that's authentic and infectious, and when the Red Sox inevitably crawl out of the cellar, Verdugo should be one of their stalwarts. Still just 24, he's only going to improve.

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Verdugo wasn't the only player to open eyes. Former first-round pick Tanner Houck arrived for three starts and was electric, winning all of them while posting a 0.53 ERA and striking out 21 in 17 innings. Though the Red Sox finished 14th in the AL in ERA, they can at least enter next season knowing that they have a potential find in the 24-year-old right-hander, a ruggedly lanky 6-foot-5, 230-pounder who pitches like a mirror version of Chris Sale.

 

In the category of players who need no introduction, there's DH J.D. Martinez. The veteran slogged through an awful campaign, hitting just .213 with seven homers and consistently tying himself up on fastballs. That may pay dividends for the Red Sox, since Martinez is now even less likely to opt out of his contract this fall. He's an ideal bounce-back candidate next season, provided he can stop whining about the lack of in-game video. We'll give him a mulligan on a worthless campaign, but he'll need to clean that up by next spring.

He's not the only one who should be back. Sale has already begun throwing as he rehabs from Tommy John surgery and could return early next summer. Meanwhile, former 19-game winner Eduardo Rodriguez has been cleared for light workouts after missing the season with myocarditis, inflammation of the heart caused by his bout with COVID-19. Though neither is a guarantee to contribute next season, the Red Sox are thinking positively.

2020 Hindsight

The Red Sox winning percentage in 2020, the 12th worst in franchise history, and their lowest in 55 years.
40.0%

Among those unlikely to return is center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. Though the Red Sox have some interest in retaining their Gold Glove center fielder, he has reached free agency after a surprisingly solid offensive season. He wrapped a hot start and hotter finish around a mediocre middle, but finished at .283 with seven homers and an .814 OPS, tying Verdugo for sixth in WAR. As he enters his age 31 season, he should have a market beyond Boston, and the Red Sox will soon be ready to turn over center field to prospect Jarren Duran, anyway.

One man we already know won't be back is manager Ron Roenicke. It turns out the skipper was an interim choice after all, and president of baseball operations Chaim Bloom will make replacing him one of his first tasks of the offseason. While former manager Alex Cora looms as a candidate, Bloom seems more inclined to bring in his own man. Expect to hear a lot about Durham, N.H.'s Sam Fuld in the coming weeks.

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And speaking of Bloom, he's settling into his role. He was decisive at the trade deadline, turning Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, Mitch Moreland, Kevin Pillar, and Josh Osich into five prospects and a hard-throwing change-of-scenery candidate in Nick Pivetta.

Expect Bloom to aggressively put his stamp on the organization this winter, when the Red Sox begin the real work of putting 2020 behind them for good.