Red Sox

No one can replace Mookie Betts, but Red Sox need Andrew Benintendi to be next best thing

No one can replace Mookie Betts, but Red Sox need Andrew Benintendi to be next best thing

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- Alex Verdugo may have been traded for Mookie Betts, and he may end up manning right field instead of Mookie Betts, but he's not replacing Mookie Betts.

That job belongs to someone else, because if there's anyone on the roster who needs to pick up the slack for the departed MVP, it's left fielder Andrew Benintendi.

Baseball people like to remind us that player development is not a linear process, and no one embodies this idea more than Benintendi. He arrived to considerable fanfare in 2016, barely a year after being selected seventh overall, and made an immediate impact, posting an .835 OPS and making an out of this world catch in Tampa Bay to preserve a shutout for David Price.

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He finished second in the Rookie of the Year voting a year later and smashed a career-high 20 homers, but posted a middling .776 OPS and battled inconsistency. Then came a borderline All-Star first half in 2018, followed by a mysterious loss of power that dragged straight through 2019, when he lost his ability to command the strike zone.

As 2020 dawns, Benintendi owns a new two-year, $10 million contract, as well as the expectation that, at age 25, he's ready to shoulder more of the load.

"Just being more consistent," he said. "I think after last season, just trying to work on some stuff this offseason with my swing and trying to be more consistent and I think the biggest thing is just staying in the zone, swinging at good pitches."

Benintendi posted career lows in average (.266) and on base percentage (.343) while blowing away his career high in strikeouts with 140. He never looked comfortable at the plate, flinching at pitches down the middle and flailing at ones outside the zone. He hit just .167 on off-speed offerings.

"I just think I went outside the zone way too much," Benintendi said. "I was trying to make something happen and I should have just let the game come to me. Hopefully, I'll learn from it coming into this year."

When Benintendi is right, he has line drive power to all fields and an advanced eye. One of Betts' underrated strengths was his ability to attack pitches in the zone with uncanny consistency, and Benintendi possesses a measure of that, too, though the skill largely abandoned him last year.

He raced to the big leagues on the strength of some lofty projections that saw him as a potential batting champ with 25-homer power. If he makes that leap this season, he won't exactly replace Betts, but he'll mitigate his loss.

That might mean batting leadoff, where Benintendi hit just .256 with 55 strikeouts in 48 games last year. Betts ended up returning to that spot out of necessity when Benintendi failed to hit there, but now that Mookie is gone, manager Ron Roenicke noted that Benintendi will be given a chance to stick atop the order.

"If Benny had been what he was the year before and has a .380 on-base percentage, I think that works out really well to have Mookie second," Roenicke said. "I think Benny learned something last year. I think he's capable of doing whatever we want to do with him. He is an on-base guy and he's also a hitter. He's not up there just swinging at everything. He takes pitches, he goes the other way, he's really just a pure hitter, so I'm fine with him. If he ends up there, I'm fine with him leading off. We'll have those discussions with him later when we start playing games and try to figure out how everybody fits in."

Benintendi is open to the challenge.

"No, it's just like any other spot in the lineup," he said. "You just have to hit first in the first inning. Other than that, it's the same. I don't mind it at all. If I need to do it, I'll do it. I think last year, I was going through a little slump when I was in the leadoff spot, so obviously there's a lot of things being said about me hitting leadoff but, no, wherever I need to be, I'll be."

In a perfect world, the Red Sox need him to be the man who covers the most for the loss of Betts.

Tomase: Is Roenicke just keeping the seat warm for Alex Cora?

MLB's Top 100 players for 2020 season: Numbers 75-51

MLB's Top 100 players for 2020 season: Numbers 75-51

With MLB players and owners struggling to come to terms on a return-to-play strategy for 2020, we're focusing on the actual players who will take the field when games eventually get back underway.

Over the next several weeks, NBC Sports Boston is counting down the Top 100 players for 2020. While our list won't include several aces who will definitely not play this season — Noah Syndergaard of the Mets, Luis Severino of the Yankees, and Chris Sale of the Red Sox — our countdown includes many other All-Stars.

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Red Sox closer Brandon Workman kicked off our list at No. 100, and there's another Boston hurler in the next group of 25 players. 

Left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez finally delivered on his considerable promise in 2019, going 19-6 with a 3.81 ERA and finishing sixth in the AL Cy Young race.

He was the rock of a rotation missing Nathan Eovaldi for most of the season, David Price for large chunks, and Chris Sale for what amounted to the final two months. Just 27 years old, E-Rod remains firmly in his prime, and with another strong season should climb even higher next year.

Click here for Part 2 of our Top 100, featuring players 75-51.

 

In battle of MLB owners vs. players, best choice feels like 'none of the above'

In battle of MLB owners vs. players, best choice feels like 'none of the above'

I hate them all.

MLB's owners, with their bad-faith labor proposals designed to make the players look greedy so they'll have someone to blame if the season can't be salvaged. The players, who are too stupid and undisciplined to decline the bait.

The billionaire owners, for crying poor and refusing to pay their minor leaguers. The millionaire players, for treating every offer like an insult to be doused in urine.

The owners, for using a pandemic to ram through a series of long-sought changes to the draft, the minor leagues, and maybe even a salary cap. The players, for failing to recognize the need to stop swinging the gold-plated Boras Corp. hammer of public messaging they typically wield like Thor.

I hate it, hate it, hate it. All of it.

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As we seek a return to normalcy, at least there's baseball to ground us in all of its infinite stupidity. While the NBA quietly negotiates a 16-team tournament with surprisingly little rancor, and the NHL announces that it will conduct a 24-team playoffs as soon as it is safe to do so, baseball and its players take turns poleaxing the sport in the face.

The owners started with a 50-50 revenue sharing model they were so certain was a nonstarter, they never even officially offered it to the players. They did leak it far and wide, however, which led to inevitable pushback from union boss Tony Clark, who sniffed that it was a blatant attempt to install a salary cap, which the players will never accept, certainly not with CBA negotiations looming next year.

Cue the predictable bemoaning of baseball's out-of-touch millionaire class, which is exactly what the owners wanted. They're skillfully waging asymmetrical warfare, since they need to shut only 30 mouths to close ranks. There are 900 players, though, and it only takes one of them swallowing his leg above the knee to sway public opinion.

Enter Rays lefty Blake Snell, a Twitch streamer depressingly short on brain matter who announced to his followers that, "I gotta get my money," in a tone-deaf rant last week that immediately overshadowed more nuanced discussions of health and safety from the likes of Andrew Miller, Chris Iannetta, and even Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo. Snell apologized, but damage done.

It should come as little surprise that he then fired his agent and hired Boras.

Ahhh, Boras. In normal times, he's unfairly maligned for securing monster deals. No one forced the Padres to fork over $300 million to Manny Machado, for instance. Boras is the best in the business and someone we'd all want on our side in a negotiation.

In normal times, anyway. But now?

If there's anyone who needs to stand down in the midst of a messaging battle, it's the man many fans consider the sport's avatar of avarice. "You don't privatize the gains and socialize the losses," might be an accurate appraisal of MLB's initial proposal, but it's not a sentiment anyone wants to hear from the man who just negotiated over $1 billion worth of contracts this winter.

Spending all this time focusing on Boras and the MLBPA, however, plays right into the hands of the owners. Their latest proposal, which calls for a sliding scale of pay cuts that would leave the lowest earners making most of their prorated salaries and the highest earners staring at cuts of $30 million (sorry, Mike Trout), feels designed to provoke another round of public whining.

That means they're still more concerned with PR than actually saving their game, and once you view their actions solely through the lens of assigning blame, it becomes clear how cynical their attempts at resuming play really are. It wouldn't surprise me if there's a faction willing to blow up the season to gain massive leverage when the CBA expires in 2021. These guys didn't become billionaires by playing nice.

We're already hearing about furloughs and pay cuts in the front offices of even storied franchises like the Cubs, and the A's just eliminated a $400/month stipend to their minor leaguers that ESPN's Jeff Passan estimated would've cost them only $1 million to maintain through August. The move feels as distasteful as whatever bubbles up through the drains in the Coliseum.

Meanwhile, the clock continues to tick. If the sides really want baseball to return by July 4, they'll need to reach an agreement sometime in the next 10 days in order to leave time to conduct a three-week spring training.

It's entirely possible the two sides are withholding their best offers until the 11th hour, and all of this posturing is just so much saber rattling before everyone finally acts in the game's best interests.

If that's the case, may I politely suggest they all go to hell? We've got our own problems at the moment, and picking a side in this loser battle ain't one of them.