The earthy aroma of fresh mowed Bermuda grass permeating the sticky air at JetBlue Park is fast approaching, in fact, it’s so close that fans of The Boston Red Sox can faintly smell that air. Spring is a time of rebirth when teams are filled with hope, and fans always believe it’s “the year”, the year they’ll see their team win it all come the fall. For the Boston Red Sox, 2020 was not the year. In fact, it was one of the worst on record, not just for the world, but for their own personal history.
So, you ask, how could the fourth-worst team in MLB in 2020 possibly contend in 2021? The same way the seventh-worst team in 2012 went on to become World Champions in 2013. It’s about hitting the right points in free agency, finding the right guys for the clubhouse, and believing in what the team already possesses. So, without further ado, let’s dive into some 2021 Red Sox Predictions.
2021 Red Sox Predictions: How the East Could Be Won
A 2018 World Champion Is Back
No, not Mookie Betts. That ship sailed 3,000 miles away nearly a year ago. The Red Sox did bring back a major piece from the 2018 franchise record-setting, World Champion season in manager Alex Cora. Yes, the whole baseball world is aware of the controversy surrounding Cora for his involvement in the 2017 Astros cheating scandal. Yes, Cora did deserve a second chance to manage The Red Sox after mutually parting ways with the team in January 2020.
A lot has changed since the Red Sox said goodbye to Cora in early 2020 and said hello again this past November. The Sox traded Mookie Betts, a global pandemic that halted the whole world, and the Red Sox had one of the worst seasons in team history. 2020 was a mess, and there is no denying that fact, but the Red Sox should not run and hide. They didn’t in 2013, and nor should they in 2021.
Now here we are, January 2021, a new year full of hope, and Alex Cora is once again the manager of the Boston Red Sox. Truly, what’s not to love about Cora? He’s a proven winner, a three-time World Champion, albeit, with one tainted. He’s a manager for whom players love to lace up their cleats. Eduardo Rodriguez openly tweeted his pleasure about Cora’s return in November. Alex Cora brings the best out of his players, he’s great for morale, and it’s easy to believe the players that backpedaled in 2020 will reemerge under Cora’s tutelage.
Solidify the Rotation
The biggest weakness of the 2020 Red Sox was pitching, without a doubt. The Red Sox ranked 14th in the American League with a 5.58 collective team ERA, as well as finishing dead last in MLB with a .281 opponent batting average and a WHIP of .160.
Red Sox All-Star SS Xander Bogaerts summed up the 2020 Red Sox pitching perfectly. When quoted in July he said, “if you’ve got to score 8, 9 or 10 runs every game, honestly it’s a little tough.”
Four Steps to Correct the Pitching Woes
Step 1: Chris Sale. Sale underwent Ulnar Collateral Ligament reconstruction, more widely known as Tommy John, on March 30th, 2020. Before surgery, Chris Sale was amongst the elite of starting pitchers in baseball. The Red Sox will be welcoming back in July, a pitcher with a career ERA of 3.03 and an ERA+ of 140. Sale is also the all-time career record holder with strikeouts to walks with a 5.37.
Chris Sale is the definition of an ace, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t continue to move forward. The Red Sox need to sign two starters, or a signing and a trade to hold over until Sale is ready to step back into his number-one spot.
Step 2: Sign Jake Odorizzi. Odorizzi, behind Trevor Bauer, is the best FA starting pitcher the current market offers in 2021 and the Red Sox have the money to get this deal done. Truthfully, there isn’t an excuse to not have Jake Odorizzi on the starting staff whenever the season actually opens. Odorizzi, 2020 season aside, is the perfect number 3 to slide in behind Eduardo Rodriguez. Odorizzi’s 2019 All-Star campaign had him achieve a 15-7 record, with a 3.51 ERA in 159 innings. The Red Sox are desperate for solid pitching, and Odorizzi fits that need to a tee.
Step 3: Protect the assets the Red Sox already possess. Eduardo Rodriguez is working his way back from myocarditis, an inflammation of the heart, that he experienced as a side effect from having COVID-19. He’s been cleared to return to normal baseball activities and barring any setback, he’s on track for Opening Day. His 2019 season wasn’t just good, it was exceptionally good. He was 19-6 with a 3.81 ERA in 203.1 innings.
Rodriguez’s main issue has always been walks, as he led the league in 2019 with 75, and there’s no assumption that he won’t face COVID setbacks, but when healthy, Rodriguez is a true number two behind Sale.
Nathan Eovaldi was a bright spot in the 2020 rotation. Eovaldi finished the 2020 season with a 3.72 ERA in 48.1 innings pitched. The only true worry the Sox have with Eovaldi is his trouble staying healthy, as he once again spent time on the IL in 2020. His 2020 IL stint wasn’t elbow-related, which was a great sign, given that elbow issues have plagued Eovaldi throughout his career.
If healthy, Eovaldi should open the 2021 season as the Red Sox number three or four. For the Red Sox that could be a real coup, given when healthy, Eovaldi’s fastball and curve combo can be lethal, and he’s shown flashes of ace-like brilliance over his career.
Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck looked great to nearly excellent at the end of 2020. Houck pitched to a 3-0 record with an 0.53 ERA over 17 innings, and he did it against the Yankees, Braves, and Marlins. That’s impressive, to say the least. The Red Sox, however, shouldn’t be in a rush to promote Houck, as he could use more work on a third pitch to go along with his plus fastball, and a wipeout slider. With added depth, Houck should start the 2021 season in the Worcester Red Sox‘s rotation.
Fun Fact: Houck’s delivery, when flipped for the left side, is nearly identical to Chris Sale’s. Have a gander at it.
Nick Pivetta was traded in August from the Phillies, alongside Connor Seabold to the Sox, for relievers Brandon Workman and Heath Hembree. Pivetta was solid at the end of 2020, pitching to a 1.80 ERA over 10 innings. The Sox will most likely open the season with Pivetta either in Worcester, or the number five pitcher.
If Pivetta is the number five pitcher, the Red Sox can feel good about having had a solid offseason from the starting pitching perspective. If Pivetta slips to fourth, or even third, the Red Sox will find themselves once again in pitching trouble. Pivetta slots in as a perfect fifth option.
Step 4: Build rotation depth. The Red Sox have been reported to have been checking in on former two-time Cy Young Award winner, Corey Kluber, and this is honestly a no-brainer. Kluber will be looking to prove himself, given he threw just a single inning in 2020 after a grade two tear of the teres major muscle in the back of his right shoulder. If the Sox like what they see from his throwing session on January 13th, they should pounce.
Getting Kluber on a one or two-year deal would fit the Red Sox needs, and he’s still just 34 years old. Also, to note, Kluber makes his offseason home in Winchester, Massachusetts. A small town just ten miles north of Fenway Park. This is a perfect low-risk, high reward signing.
Other depth options the Sox could pursue are old friends, Jon Lester, Rich Hill, Rick Porcello, Anibal Sanchez, or newcomers, James Paxton, Jose Quintana, J.A. Happ, Carlos Rodon, Taijuan Walker, or Jake Arrieta. Signing Odorizzi, and one or two of the options above, improves the 2021 rotation exponentially, as it stands right now. With the Yankees potentially losing Masahiro Tanaka, and the Rays having traded ace Blake Snell, and Charlie Morton signing with Atlanta, the AL East is a lot more open for the taking.
There have also been rumors swirling on the Reds listening to offers on ace Luis Castillo. It would take quite a bit for the Red Sox to trade for Castillo, given his elite status and controllability, and the fact that the Red Sox farm system has been depleted over the years via trades and promotions. If the Red Sox were to trade for Castillo, it could take trading Jeter Downs and/or coveted first base prospect, Triston Casas. Given the rebuilding of the farm system by Chaim Bloom, this type of trade may not really be on the table.
A Few Good Men in the Pen
The Red Sox bullpen didn’t exactly make Red Sox fans forget about the dreary state of the starting rotation. A major issue the 2020 Red Sox faced was lacking a true lockdown closer. The Matt Barnes closing experiment should be put to rest, and never unearthed, as there are plenty of closing options on the FA market. Brad Hand, Liam Hendriks, Kirby Yates, and Archie Bradley all have closing experience and should all be on the Red Sox radar.
As of now, the Red Sox have the pen options of Matt Barnes, Phillips Valdez, Darwinzon Hernandez, Matt Andriese, Austin Brice, Josh Taylor, Garrett Whitlock, and Ryan Brasier. Proven major league talent needs to be added to the pen if the Red Sox are to contend. Signing a Hand, Bradley, or a Yates adds solid options to go along with the few options the Red Sox already possess. Building a strong bullpen can and should be a top priority for Chaim Bloom.
Mookie’s Gone, and He’s Never Coming Back
Now, here’s a look into the strongest part of the Boston Red Sox; their offense. Yes, even without Mookie Betts, the Boston Red Sox were an elite offense over the 60 game season of 2020. The Red Sox had a slightly down year from Rafael Devers, a nonexistent Andrew Benintendi, who played in just 14 games and hit only .103, and a JD Martinez that looked more like the 2013 Houston Astros player than the Martinez that won two Silver Sluggers in 2018. Even with that, the Red Sox still led the AL in hits and batting average.
The 2020 Red Sox also led the AL in doubles, and finished top three in OBP, SLG, and OPS, without the presence of Mookie Betts, and down seasons from Devers, Martinez, and Benintendi.
The 2021 Red Sox lineup can improve if Bloom and company address the needs at centerfield and second base. A re-signing of Jackie Bradley Jr. seems unlikely, yet a trade for Bloom’s old Tampa Bay friend, Kevin Kiermaier, would be a cost-efficient stopgap of $25 million over two years until Jarren Duran is ready to most likely take over centerfield after the 2022 season. The same could be said for signing former Cardinals second baseman Kolten Wong until Jeter Downs is ready.
Kiermaier has a higher carer fWAR, BA, and SLG than Bradley Jr., and is a three-time Gold Glove winner. Replacing Kiermaier with Bradley Jr. wouldn’t hurt the Sox either on defense or offense.
Kolten Wong would be an amazing addition to the top of the Sox lineup, as he is a strong defender and gets on base. The one-two punch of Wong and Verdugo getting on in front of Martinez, Devers, and Bogaerts would solidify the top five of the Red Sox lineup.
Now, let’s wrap it all up!
2021 Red Sox Predictions: Opening Day Roster
2021 Red Sox Predictions: The Lineup
- Kolten Wong, 2B
- Alex Verdugo, RF
- JD Martinez, DH
- Xander Bogaerts, SS
- Rafael Devers, 3B
- Bobby Dalbec, 1B
- Christian Vazquez, C
- Andrew Benintendi, LF
- Kevin Kiermaier, CF
2021 Red Sox Predictions: The Starting Rotation
Opening Day 2021 Red Sox projections, with the understanding that Chris Sale will be returning by the end of June, early July.
2021 Red Sox Predictions: The Men in the Pen
2021 Red Sox Predictions: The Bench Players
Crazier things have happened, and the Red Sox are not strangers to the idea of going from worst to first. It’s become a modus operandi of sorts. These Red Sox aren’t as far off from contending as you might believe, and only time will tell just how off, or on these 2021 Red Sox predictions will become.
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