It’s official, MLB baseball in 2020 is finally going to be a reality. In the past days, a season plan has begun to take shape. With a plan now in place, players are looking to report to Training Camp on July 1st. The development of this season is the best possible outcome for the Boston Red Sox for a couple of reasons.
A Chance for Newly-Signed Players
Over the offseason, the Red Sox had to look for cheap replacements for new starting staff members, outfielders, and catchers. For all of these signed players, their deals consisted of only one year in Boston. Luckily, Sox fans have a chance to see these new acquisitions since a season will be played. This also will allow these new Boston players an opportunity to possibly become long-term figures at Fenway. These cheap signings were very well thought out by Bloom, and it’s a good thing we will be able to see their value on the diamond this year. This is a perfect opportunity for some signees who are looking to improve their statistics this year and find long-term homes next offseason.
Newest outfield addition Kevin Pillar has said in previous years that he loves to hit at Fenway, and his stat line speaks to that; a .307/.339/.380 slash line and 96 wRC+ in 46 games in Boston is higher than his career averages. Former Astros arm Collin McHugh is looking to rebound from injury and potentially become a fixture in the Sox starting rotation or bullpen, as is former Minnesota Twins pitcher Martín Pérez. Along with these bigger names, other lesser-known Sox additions have a chance to prove themselves and find a home in Boston, including younger players looking to jumpstart their careers, like Alex Verdugo and minor leaguer Jeter Downs.
Young Players Can Continue to Develop
After breakout seasons from players like Rafael Devers and Eduardo Rodriguez, a chance to continue their upward momentum in 2020 could be vital for them. Although the cancellation of the 2020 season wouldn’t necessarily be a prime year lost for them, it could possibly stunt their growing success. With Sale out for the year and Price and Porcello gone, this season is ERod’s chance to be the number-one starter in a seriously-depleted Sox rotation. The lefty, who upped the usage of his lethal changeup, will have a chance to prove his future value. He will be able to show if he can sustain his increased groundball rate and changeup deployment %. These two things are key features, and may directly coordinate with his future success in the majors. This year will be crucial for him and his continued development.
For Devers and other young players like Andrew Benintendi, this season gives them the same opportunity. Devers had a breakout year in 2019, Benintendi struggled. But with this shortened season, both Devers and Benintendi will have chances to continue their development against division opponents, with little actual pressure to win or even reach the postseason. Devers can continue to refine himself both at third base and at the plate; his errors decreased significantly as the 2019 season went on, but there is still a lot of room for improvement. Benintendi is likely to be back in the leadoff spot now that Mookie Betts is gone, and hopefully, he’ll be able to improve from his dismal performance in the top spot last season. And it’s not just an opportunity for the young Sox, but for their future teammates as well.
Minor League Player Advantages
With expanded rosters come expanded opportunities for up-and-coming minor leaguers. This is especially true for the Sox, who have a chance to showcase higher-level prospects, like Bobby Dalbec. With a barebones starting rotation, Dustin Pedroia still out of the game, Brock Holt on the Brewers, and Mitch Moreland closer to 40 than 30, it was a foregone conclusion long before the pandemic that the Sox were going to spend time this year testing out long-term replacements from their farm system for multiple positions. Dalbec, who already had an estimated time of arrival of mid-2020, may be Major League-ready, at least by 2020 standards, and this could be his first step in becoming a permanent fixture.
Along with these expanded rosters comes opportunities for young pitchers, as the Sox need to fill in some bullpen gaps. Minor leaguers such as Bryan Mata may get this chance in 2020. Mata, a projected back-end starter or future bullpen piece, could further develop his pitches and gain experience from being on a major league roster. The Sox could give him the opportunity to be a set-up man or middle-innings reliever. This opportunity would be special, and possibly frequently offered, to minor leaguers. Considering there will not be a MiLB season in 2020, which means they cannot continue their on-the-field development, and the Red Sox’ dire need to for pitching, working with the minor leaguers is their best bet now and for their future success.
The Ghosts of Luxury Tax Past
With new front office staff hires this offseason, Boston made it clear that there were new priorities at Fenway. One of these objectives is finally getting the team under the competitive balance tax (CBT). This is a feat the Sox have failed to achieve in past years, but thanks to the newly-hired Chaim Bloom, they got well under the threshold before the 2020 season even began, by trading David Price and Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers in February. But this trade may have been for naught if the 2020 season isn’t played. With a serious spike in COVID-19 cases around the country, it’s still possible that the season ends up canceled, and if so, the CBT will not reset. If this comes to be, the Red Sox will be a Third-Time CBT Payor in 2021, having exceeded the threshold in both 2018 and 2019.
Hopefully, the Red Sox won’t have to face this reality and be superfluously penalized next season. For this reason alone, playing ball in 2020 would set Boston up for a potentially epic offseason that could be filled with big signings from new Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom. A homecoming for Mookie, perhaps?
In the end, the Sox, and the rest of the league, are lucky that constant disagreement between the MLBPA and the owners didn’t block an MLB season from being conceived. But for Boston, the reset for their luxury tax payments is a crucial development that will be a significant determining factor in the club’s near and distant future. With a new front office culture and the ability to use this truncated 2020 season as a time for development, the Sox’ future could be better than ever, and it may just lead to them being contenders sooner than expected.
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