In my last article, I ripped Red Sox president Sam Kennedy for pitching the Red Sox $9 student tickets and $99 family packs during the press conference in which Red Sox ownership denied that 2020 is meant to be a bridge year and that they did not trade Mookie Betts to get under the luxury tax. I raised the question, why would go to a game if the best he can try to do is sell me on a team that traded Mookie Betts for “great value”, coming in the form of 2 prospects and noted problem-child Alex Verdugo? Well, luckily for Sam Kennedy, I’ve done some thinking. And here’s the result. In honor of Sam Kennedy’s favorite number, here’s 9 reasons to get excited for the 2020 Boston Red Sox season.
1. More Michael Chavis MOONBOMBS over the Green Monster
During the excruciating disappointment of a season that was 2019, what I’d argue was the most exciting part of the season was “Ice Horse mania”, featuring Red Sox slugger Michael Chavis. All we really knew about Chavis prior to his arrival in Boston last season is that he was a decent prospect who had a breakout season in 2017, hitting 31 home runs between High-A Salem and Double-A Portland, before getting hit with an 80 game suspension at the beginning of the following season for testing positive for performance enhancing drugs. Yet, as soon as Chavis got the call to the big leagues and immediately started mashing home runs onto Lansdowne and beyond, his at-bats became must see. Plus, one of his home runs brought us this beauty of a gif (shoutout Steve Perrault and the Section 10 Podcast).
If Chavis can work on either hitting or laying off the high fastball, he’s going to be a very fun player to keep an eye on this season.
2. Rafael Devers is only getting better
The misery of watching the Red Sox underachieve last year truly distracted the vast majority of fans from realizing that Rafael Devers finished 12th in the American League MVP voting. Devers achieved this feat by the way of posting career-highs in every offensive category imaginable, finishing the year hitting .311 with 32 HR’s, 115 RBI’s, and a .916 OPS. Keep in mind, this came during Devers age 22 season. Now Devers is another year older, another year wiser, and another Spring Training spent taking advice from David Ortiz closer to one day (hopefully) emulating the type of force in the Red Sox lineup that Big Papi used to be. Let’s not forget, during Mookie Betts’ age 22 season, he finished 19th in the American League MVP voting and proceeded to finish 2nd the next season. I’m not saying that we should expect Devers to make that same leap this year, but it’s been done before, so why not turn on the TV and see how it plays out?
3. The Red Sox have a Face-of-The-Franchise player that actually wants to be here
As great as Mookie Betts was, and as badly as we wanted him to be a Red Sox for his entire career, it truly never felt like he loved the city of Boston. I think he liked winning. I think he liked his teammates. But I’ll never be convinced that he felt as though he was playing in the greatest sports city on earth, and if he did, then I’m not convinced that it made a difference to him. But now with Mookie being shipped out to LA, we have Xander Bogaerts: 2-time American League All-Star, 3-time Silver-Slugger Award winner, 2-time World Series Champion, and the new face of the Boston Red Sox. In contrast to Mookie Betts, Bogaerts seems to understand that the grass doesn’t get much greener than it is in Boston (metaphorically speaking, of course). While the media is often overly-negative, and the fans have high expectations year-in and year-out, Xander realized that there’s not a sports-city in America that’s quite like Boston. He’s seen what it’s like to compete and win at the highest level here: to be a part of history. Signing the team-friendly 6-year, $120 million extension that he did, rather than playing out the season to hit free agency, where he would have warranted a contract worth at least double that amount, shows that Bogaerts cares about playing in a city that cares about the team. Sure, Mike Trout can make $430 million playing in Anaheim, but what does that matter if he’s never going to win anything? He may be immortalized as one of the best baseball players to ever live, but what does that matter if nobody cared enough to show up to the park and watch him play? Xander Bogaerts realized this difference, and that’s why he wanted to get that deal done. Now, permitting that his career trajectory continues, his multiple championship rings and All-Star caliber play could allow him to prove himself as one of the all-time greats in the historic franchise that took a chance on him when he was just a teenager in Aruba.
4. A potential bounce back from Andrew Benintendi
While Benintendi undoubtedly regressed in 2019, there are far too many Red Sox fans that seem to believe that version of Andrew Benintendi is the final product that we should judge. It’s important to remember that, in 2017, Benintendi hit 20 home runs in his first full season in the big leagues. He then followed this up by batting .290 and posting a .830 OPS in 2018. These numbers certainly don’t excuse what was ultimately a disappointing 2019 campaign for Benintendi, but it’d be terribly irresponsible to give up on a 25 year-old who has yet to even enter the prime years of his career, especially given the production that he’s shown that he can provide.
5. The first full season of Darwinzon Hernandez
In a bullpen full of putrid disappointments last season, the emergence of Darwinzon Hernandez was one of the few bright spots. Although he certainly has to work on his control if he wants to be a reliable late-inning arm, the stuff is there. His fastball is electric and explodes out of his hand. In 30.1 innings in 2019, Hernandez finished with 16.9 K/9, which would have been the highest mark in the majors if he had done that over the course of a full season. While sustaining that success over a full season is unrealistic, this just gives us a glimpse of the type of impact that Hernandez can have as a full-time member of the Sox bullpen.
6. Eduardo Rodriguez will be on a mission to prove that last year wasn’t a fluke
After somewhat of a breakout year in 2019, Eduardo Rodriguez is going to be on a mission to prove that he can be equally as reliable. Rodriguez reached the 200 innings-pitched plateau in 2019, eclipsing his previous career-high of 137.1 IP, and this was honestly the most encouraging thing that Red Sox fans could have seen out of E-Rod. We’ve always known how talented he was, but the issue has always been durability. It was almost impossible to imagine E-Rod going a full season without getting injured, yet he made a career-high 34 starts in 2019. 2020 wasn’t exactly off to the best start after E-Rod fell and hurt his knee in while throwing live-BP in Fort Myers, but it seems as though the Red Sox have dodged a bullet following a strong Spring Training debut for the lefty. Hopefully this doesn’t flare up again later on, but all we can do is wait and see.
7. We’re going to get a resolution on the Chris Sale front
There’s two schools of thought surrounding Chris Sale right now. One in which people believe that he is permanently damaged and that he will never return to his All-Star form, leaving the Red Sox shelling out $30 million per season to someone who’s not an ace, and another in which people believe that Sale’s struggles last season were due to a lingering injury from 2018 and now he will improve after being given a proper recovery time. I personally have no clue who’s right, or who I believe, but we’re finally going to get an answer. Albeit this answer won’t come until late April or May as Sale recovers from a battle with pneumonia, we’re going to see what Sale looks like now that the team has confirmed that there is nothing structurally wrong with his arm. Will we get an ace, or will we get a dud?
8. No more David Price drama
Not to compare David Price to Kyrie Irving, but a lot of fans consider Price’s exit from Boston to be an addition by subtraction. While this may not be true from a talent standpoint, anyone who listens to as much sports talk radio as I do can tell you that nobody wants to listen to 6-10 hours per day of people like Felger & Mazz ripping David Price for his tentative attitude on the mound, his beef with Dennis Eckersley, or his overall disdain for the city of Boston. It truly hurts that a man that Boston was so excited to embrace was clearly not equipped to handle the highs and lows that come with playing in an intense, accountability-demanding market like Boston. Have fun playing on the west coast, David. Tell Mike Trout we say hi.
9. C’mon, it’s Red Sox Baseball at Fenway Park.
This off-season sucked. We lost our best player in Mookie Betts. We lost a fan favorite in Brock Holt. We were openly lied to by ownership again and again. But at the end of the day, we’ve been through worse. Despite having the self-awareness of the kid from Big Mouth who can’t read social cues (if you know, you know), Red Sox ownership always figures it out in the end and consistently spends enough money to put a competitive team on the field. No, this may not be a championship winning season, but there’s simply no better way to spend a summer night than to grab a friend or family member, put down your phone for a few hours, and enjoy a game in one the league’s greatest and most historic stadiums: the way that baseball was intended to be watched. We can talk about how the game is dying all we want, but there’s something about watching a game in Fenway Park that will always be special. I don’t care if the MLB goes under in 2050, or 2030, or next year. You should enjoy every last pitch.
Photo: (Julio Cortez – AP Photo)