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?

Yankees GM Brian Cashman holds high opinion of Red Sox executive Chaim Bloom

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File Photo

Yankees GM Brian Cashman holds high opinion of Red Sox executive Chaim Bloom

If you're an MLB general manager looking for an endorsement, there are few that you'd rather get it from than long-time New York Yankees GM Brian Cashman.

Cashman, who has been the Yankees' GM since 1998, is one of the longest-tenured GM's in baseball. Only Oakland Athletics Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Billy Beane, hired in 1997, has been around longer than him. And during Cashman's tenure, the Yankees have won four World Series titles and have made the playoffs 18 times.

Meanwhile, the Red Sox have won also four World Series titles during that span, but they've gone through six different GMs/heads of baseball operations. Their latest hire was made this offseason when they lured Chaim Bloom away from the Tampa Bay Rays. And the man running the Yankees is a fan of Bloom's and thinks that he will run the Red Sox well.

"I think Chaim Bloom is going to be a fantastic general manager," Cashman said, per Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe. "From my interactions with him, he’s got intellect. He’s got personality. He’s got empathy. I just feel like all of those attributes are going to serve him extremely well as he navigates running a big-market operation, one of the best franchises in the industry."

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That's some seriously high praise considering how well Cashman has guided the Yankees over the course of the past 22 years. Perhaps Bloom, 37, will have a chance to turn into a long-term staple of the Red Sox front office if he can live up to that potential.

So far, Bloom's tenure in Boston has been a rocky one. He had to deal with the fallout from Alex Cora's involvement in the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal and also made the decision to trade Mookie Betts and David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers on Feb. 10.

The latter move may ultimately work out, especially considering that the team may not have been able to deal Betts amid the coronavirus pandemic with all MLB actions now frozen. But it was still a tough pill for some Sox fans to swallow considering Betts' talent compared to the lack of talent the team brought in during free agency.

At the end of the day though, it's still far too early to judge Bloom's moves. And he did get a solid haul in the revised edition of the Betts deal. If Cashman has confidence in him, that should be a good sign for the Red Sox and perhaps Bloom will bring stability to the team's front office for the first time in quite a while.

Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers admits he still experiences anxiety before games

Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers admits he still experiences anxiety before games

Boston Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers doesn't always have the easiest time preparing for games. 

After a breakout season in 2019 (.311, 32 homers, 115 RBI, .916 OPS), the 23-year-old has turned into one of Boston's best at the plate, but that doesn't mean he doesn't experience anxiety. 

The Boston Herald's Jason Mastrodonato sat down with Devers for an interview before the MLB postponed its season due to the coronavirus, and Devers indicated that he still feels a rush before games begin.

“The hardest thing I still go through is every game I still get this anxiousness of the game starting," Devers said, according to Mastrodonato. "It’s this happiness of being out there and being on the field and playing and getting over that anxiety. I’m just over-emotional about the opportunity and being out there playing.

“Because it’s not like a nervous thing, it’s more of an excited thing. That first inning is a big rush. But after that first inning settles, I get an at-bat and it’s like, alright, the game kind of settles. It’s just me being overly emotional about how happy I am.”

“It’s something I’ve been working on since I’ve been here. I’ve been working with previous people in the organization that led me to some of my breathing techniques that I do now. But it’s all about controlling myself. I know it. It’s still there and I’m still working on it. But I have gotten much better at it.”

Of course, you can tell that Devers can't wait to take the field -- he lights up like a kid on Christmas -- but you'd never know truly how emotional he gets. 

In three seasons with the Red Sox, Devers has hit .282 with 211 RBI, 63 home runs and a 5.8 WAR. Based on his 2019 stats, those pregame jitters must've been a little easier to deal with last season. 

Whatever's in store for the Red Sox in 2020, and whenever the baseball season begins, we should expect some big things from Devers in his fourth season.