On the heels of what Red Sox chairman Tom Werner described as “a very disappointing season,” he says the team is planning for a return to form in 2021. In an interview on NESN’s "Gameday Live" on Friday (h/t MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo), Werner noted that the Sox were hampered by multiple injuries this season, but “we’re not going to make any excuses. The only thing I’ll say is that there were a number of bright spots this year. We’re already attacking the challenges and we expect to be competitive next year.”
The Red Sox are 19-33, a record that puts them in last place in the AL East and 28th of 30 teams (ahead of only the Pirates and Rangers) in winning percentage. Injuries were indeed a factor as Werner mentioned, most notably Chris Sale being lost to Tommy John surgery and Eduardo Rodriguez missing the entire season after developing myocarditis stemming from a bout of COVID-19. While the pitching staff never recovered from the loss of those key arms, there were also issues on the position-player side, as the likes of J.D. Martinez and Andrew Benintendi underachieved at the plate.
With the postseason out of reach early, the Red Sox did some selling at the deadline, trading such players as Mitch Moreland, Brandon Workman, Heath Hembree, and Kevin Pillar. However, the fact that Boston didn’t move any true long-term assets was the first hint that the club wasn’t planning any sort of big overhaul.
“We don’t want this to be a long rebuilding process….We’ve got a lot of assets and, as everybody knows, we spend and we’re not a small-market team,” Werner said. “We’re going to be back next year.”
After two years of luxury-tax payments, the Red Sox got their payroll under the tax threshold in 2020, thus resetting their penalty limit to zero and allowing the team to surpass the 2021 threshold ($210M) if necessary with only a minimal penalty fee. Of course, last year’s hiring of former Rays executive Chaim Bloom as chief baseball officer indicates that the Sox are likely planning a more efficient approach to spending that would keep them from regularly crossing the tax line, even if Boston will surely still have one of the sport’s higher payrolls.
Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, Alex Verdugo, and promising rookie Bobby Dalbec are bolstering a lineup that is still quite productive, though “there’s no secret to the fact that pitching wins pennants for you….It’s going to start with pitching,” Werner said. Rodriguez and Nathan Eovaldi project as Boston’s top two starters next year, Martin Perez seems like a good candidate to return on a $6.25M club option for 2021, and Sale is on track to return in June or July given the usual Tommy John recovery timeframe. It seems likely that the Red Sox will augment this group with at least one new pitcher, but it is yet to be known if Bloom will aim to make a big splash or if he will score on a lower-cost acquisition.