For three years, Dave Dombrowski added payroll and shed prospects with reckless abandon. The result was a monster of a World Series champion, and possibly the best Red Sox team in history. Alas, though that 2018 squad scaled the mountain, it was not built to last, and now comes what could be a difficult descent. There’s a new leader — chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, who replaced Dombrowski barely a year after the championship. Bloom's mandate falls somewhere between dizzying and nauseating, with ownership calling on him to slash roughly $40 million of payroll in order to reset the franchise’s $208 million luxury tax clock.
And just a few days before pitchers and catchers were set to report to spring training in Florida, Bloom made it clear that a new era in Boston is about to dawn by trading 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts and 2012 AL Cy Young Award winner David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers for outfielder Alex Verdugo and a pair of minor league prospects — shortstop Jeter Downs and catcher Connor Wong. Originally proposed as a three-team deal that also included Minnesota, the parameters had to be reworked after the medical records of one of the players (Twins pitching prospect Brusdar Graterol) involved caused the Red Sox to have second thoughts. In the end, Boston and Los Angeles agreed to a revised deal and the Dodgers and Twins made a separate trade.
There also will be a new leader for Boston in the dugout, as the team and manager Alex Cora mutually parted ways in mid-January after he was linked to a pair of sign-stealing scandals. Cora has already been named as a key participant in the Astros' scheme when he was the bench coach during their 2017 World Series run. And he remains under investigation for a scheme the Red Sox allegedly perpetrated in 2018 when they won the World Series. At the start of spring training, Boston announced that former bench coach Ron Roenicke had been promoted to interim manager.
Even with the roster and management shakeup combined with the new payroll constraints, there remains hope. The left side of the infield might be the best in baseball between shortstop Xander Bogaerts and third baseman Rafael Devers. J.D. Martinez opted in. Chris Sale expects to bounce back from a sore elbow. Eduardo Rodriguez very quietly won a career-high 19 games. The Red Sox must find a way to keep a rickety starting staff healthy, and they'll need to hit on under-the-radar signings, but the talent is still in place to make a run at the Yankees.
Opposing Scouts Size Up the Red Sox
“They’re in an interesting position — a very good team, but without the win-at-all-costs mentality they’ve had in the past. They’re going to have to get really lucky to have a chance to catch the Yankees, but hiring GM Chaim Bloom from the Rays was a masterstroke; they’ll be run in the best possible manner. Chris Sale is still one of the five best starters in baseball — his velocity has been down before, and he’s come back, and he’ll always have that deception because there’s no other pitcher who throws like he does. Eduardo Rodriguez threw more changeups than ever last season and had his best year; he’s a better version of the veteran they just signed, Martin Perez. Brandon Workman got more and more confident with his curveball as the year went on, and he’s now a top-end closer for me. They will score a ton of runs again; there’s no better run producer than J.D. Martinez and no better left side of the infield, offensively, than Rafael Devers and Xander Bogaerts. I also expect a bounce-back season from Andrew Benintendi.”
Beyond the Box Score
Yo Adrian After booting a grounder on May 2 that contributed to a walk-off loss in Chicago, a despondent Rafael Devers sat glumly at his locker, angry at himself for committing nine errors in 31 games. Veteran Mitch Moreland reached out to former Rangers teammate Adrian Beltre, a future Hall of Famer, who ended up speaking to Devers a couple of times a month for the rest of the season. Devers made just 13 errors thereafter and now considers the five-time Gold Glover a mentor.
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Second baseman Dustin Pedroia isn’t technically retired, but knee problems mean his career is effectively over. He looks like another victim of the Jim Rice Effect. The Hall of Famer was a .300 hitter until the final month of his career. Pedroia, meanwhile, still owned a lifetime .300 average until grounding out in his penultimate game. If this is it, he’ll finish at .299 — two hits shy of .300.
High Heat Michael Chavis arrived with a bang, smacking 10 homers in his first month. Then Gerrit Cole and the Astros found the hole in his swing with fastballs above the belt, and Chavis never caught up. He hit just .242 in his final 66 games with 93 strikeouts, vowing to spend the offseason addressing this flaw. “I know I can hit a high fastball,” he says. “Now I have to prove it.”
Clear Sale-ing When the Red Sox shut down Chris Sale in August with a sore elbow, they said he’d receive a follow-up visit from Dr. James Andrews six weeks later. When that timetable came and went, fans got nervous, but GM Brian O’Halloran explained the team chose it in the hopes of using Sale in the playoffs. Once they fell out of contention, he pushed his visit back to late November, when Sale was given a clean bill of health.
Big Market New chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom spent his first 15 years in the big leagues trying to make ends meet with the budget-conscious Rays, and he admits that working with Boston’s resources could take a little getting used to. “People joke with me, ‘Did you know that numbers go to nine digits?’” Bloom said before adding that yes, he can count that high.
New Leader Who answers questions in a losing clubhouse or amidst controversy might not sound like an important job, but it can create tension if no one steps up. That player used to be David Ortiz, but he retired in 2016. Into the breach stepped Xander Bogaerts, who has emerged as a team spokesman and leader. “The Red Sox made a commitment to me,” he said after signing a six-year, $120 million contract. “I’m not a young player anymore. I’m a veteran.”
LF Andrew Benintendi (L)
SS Xander Bogaerts (R)
3B Rafael Devers (L)
DH J.D. Martinez (R)
RF Alex Verdugo* (L)
C Christian Vazquez (R)
1B Mitch Moreland (L)
CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (L)
2B Jose Peraza (R)
INF Jonathan Arauz (S)
C Kevin Plawecki (R)
1B Bobby Dalbec (R)
INF Michael Chavis (R)
LHP Chris Sale
LHP Eduardo Rodriguez
RHP Nathan Eovaldi
LHP Martin Perez
RHP Hector Velazquez
RHP Brandon Workman (C)
RHP Matt Barnes
LHP Darwinzon Hernandez
RHP Heath Hembree
LHP Josh Taylor
RHP Marcus Walden
RHP Ryan Brasier
LHP Josh Osich
*Note: Alex Verdugo could miss the start of the season due to a back injury that cut short his 2019 campaign.