It is time for a Red Sox reality check. They were never, ever meant to contend in 2020.
This 60-game sprint will probably keep them from plummeting completely out of the playoff race, but let's not kid ourselves. They'll be in the wild card hunt in much the same way a 6-8 NFL squad technically maintains postseason aspirations come late December - by relying on mathematical gymnastics rooted more in hope ("If the Bengals and Bills play to a scoreless tie …") than substance.
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They're worse than they were last year, and they weren't very good last year. With Spring Training 2.0 set to open on Friday, let us recount how much has changed since 2019 ended with a disappointing 84 wins and the Sox 12 games out of the playoff race.
Before the season even concluded, the Red Sox fired Dave Dombrowski, architect of 2018's World Series juggernaut, whom they had hired in 2015 to put them over the top. They didn't view him as a builder, however, tabbing Chaim Bloom from the Rays to oversee what could be a lengthy rebuild.
Needless to say, a team that wants to win now does not fire Dombrowski and replace him with Bloom. That only happens when prioritizing the long view.
Bloom's first order of business, even if it took the entire winter to accomplish, was trading MVP Mookie Betts and former Cy Young Award winner David Price to the Dodgers. This provided much-needed salary relief. It did not make the Red Sox better, a fact Bloom acknowledged the night he announced the deal.
"I certainly think it's reasonable to expect that we're going to be worse without them," he said, "but we have real good talent coming back."
Right fielder Alex Verdugo, the centerpiece of the trade, may not be Betts, but he's a lot better than people think. He's also coming off a cracked bone in his back that sidelined him for the last two months of 2019 and would've delayed the start to this season if COVID-19 hadn't shut it down first. The Red Sox need him to be a star, and that's asking a lot.
Offense is supposed to be a strength, but it could be a problem.
In Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, and J.D. Martinez, the Red Sox possess an impressive heart of the order. Perhaps Verdugo and the perpetually underachieving Andrew Benintendi can expand the attack. If they can't, the Red Sox could end up being no better than average offensively at catcher (Christian Vazquez), first base (Mitch Moreland), second base (Jose Peraza), and the entire outfield (Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr., Verdugo).
In an age when even teams like the Twins can suddenly mash 300 home runs, that doesn't sound like nearly enough offense to compensate for a pitching staff that has been absolutely decimated.
It's worth repeating exactly what the Red Sox lost this winter. In dealing Price, dismissing Rick Porcello, and disabling Chris Sale, they watched over 400 innings vanish. Because John Henry locked his checkbook below deck on the Iroquois, they replaced that trio with Martin Perez and, if he's healthy, Collin McHugh.
They're banking on left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez to repeat his breakout 19-win campaign, even though inconsistency has been a hallmark of his career, and they need forever-injured right-hander Nathan Eovaldi to give them a lot more than the 5.99 ERA he provided in just 67.2 innings last year.
After that? Hold your nose.
Perez posted an ERA over 5.00 and soft-tossing Ryan Weber, a favorite of manager Ron Roenicke, is expected to claim the fourth spot despite barely cracking 89 mph. The Red Sox hope McHugh recovers from a non-surgical offseason procedure on his elbow, but he's still ramping back up as he throws off a mound, and his spot in the rotation is more likely to be manned, at least initially, by an opener.
Overseeing all of this considerable change is Roenicke, who emerged from Alex Cora's scandal-fueled departure to oversee what amounts to an interim two-month season. Cora's leadership was indispensable to the 2018 title run, and there's no guarantee the 63-year-old Roenicke will be able to push the right buttons in a truncated campaign. Though the Red Sox have technically struck the interim from his title, it wouldn't shock anyone if they're in the market for a longer-term solution come fall.
So to recap: the new baseball chief is here to rebuild but can't spend any money, the offense looks top-heavy, the starting rotation is made of paper clips and gum, and the new manager might only be on the job for nine weeks.
Does that sound like a contender to you? Me, neither.
As MLB teams report,let's count the ways the Red Sox will be worse in 2020 originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston