Despite a downward turn in 2019, the Red Sox would be foolish to punt on the upcoming season.
Josh Smith left a fastball over the middle and Nate Lowe did not miss it. Gorkys Hernandez chased the ball all the way to the 315 sign in the left field corner of Tropicana Field until he ran out of room, and could do nothing but watch as the ball sailed over the wall and ended the game. That’s what the rest of the Red Sox players would be doing that afternoon as well–watching helplessly–as Cleveland beat the Phillies 5-2 and eliminated the Red Sox from playoff contention.
After an 84-78 season, a scandal which left the Red Sox without a manager, and a mandate from the owners to keep the salary cap under $208 million, selling seems to be an appealing option. Trade rumors have surrounded former MVP Mookie Betts; however, the Red Sox should not be trying to sell just yet.
It is true that the Red Sox need to clear cap space, and trading away a player with a large contract may be necessary. Keep in mind though, the 2020 Red Sox roster does not look very different from that of the World Series champion 2018 team. As former President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski stated many times throughout last season, “We feel confident in the group we have”.
The confidence of the organization in this Red Sox team was not misplaced. The 2019 Red Sox scored the 4th most runs of any offense with 901, which was more than they had the year before. The main problem rested with the starting rotation, which was 20th in the MLB. It is quite reasonable for fans to expect a bounceback year from the pitchers in 2020 though, starting with the ace.
Chris Sale posted a career high 4.40 ERA before going on the IL in August, but a 3.37 FIP and a 13.3 K/9 indicate that perhaps he fell victim to bad luck. Having had seven straight seasons with a top 6 Cy Young finish prior to last year and still being in his prime, one can expect Chris Sale to reclaim his role at the top of the Red Sox rotation.
Don’t put too much weight into the 4.28 ERA from last year. He had a 3.16 ERA through July 14th, which quickly inflated over his next five starts when he tried to play through an injury. Price has found his comfort in Boston and should be a strong contributor in 2020.
It doesn’t get much worse than the 5.52 ERA Rick Porcello put up in 2019. Martin Perez, a low-cost #5 starter, is projected by Steamer to put up a 4.58 ERA, leaving the Red Sox with a solid option at the back end of their rotation.
The only uglier sight than Porcello’s 5.52 ERA is Eovaldi’s 5.99. Also plagued with injuries throughout last year, he was unable to get into a rhythm. Fortunately, there is nowhere to go but up in 2020. Eovaldi has bounced back from injuries before and is capable of performing at a solid level this season. Steamer agrees, projecting him to have a 4.24 ERA.
Steady Eddie was the only positive aspect about the Red Sox rotation last year. He finished 6th in Cy Young voting and reached 200 innings and 200 strikeouts for the first time in his career. With an FIP under 4 in each of his last few seasons and beginning to enter his prime years at age 27, look for Rodriguez to continue setting career highs.
Even so, it is uncertain whether the Red Sox can make a deep playoff run, with powerhouse teams such as the Yankees and Twins standing in the way of a trip to the World Series and their high payroll limiting the trade deadline acquisitions they can make. But with major contributors like Mookie Betts and J.D. Martinez(opt-out) ready to hit free agency next year and others nearing the back end of their career, the Red Sox’s window for contention is closing. The five starters the Red Sox started 2019 with only made 125 starts last year. With a strong lineup and a rotation that is primed to bounce back, the Red Sox would be making a terrible mistake by ripping this team apart.