Boston Red Sox Season Preview: Without Mookie Betts, How Far Will They Fall?

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Editor's note: Welcome to SI's MLB preview. Click here to view every team's outlook in 2020, including predictions, projections and, yes, a preview of the 2030 preview. Click here to read the Red Sox fantasy preview.

If there’s a pattern to the 21st-century Red Sox, it’s that titles follow turmoil. The team was sold in 2002, turned over its front office, then won the World Series in both ’04 and ’07. General manager Theo Epstein left in ’11 (the year of the “chicken and beer” team) and the Sox won the ’13 Series under Ben Cherington. Not two years later, Dave Dombrowski took over, and a fourth championship in 15 seasons followed.

So consider that history when looking at the last six months in Boston, which featured another GM change, to former Rays exec Chaim Bloom; the departure of manager Alex Cora after MLB’s investigation uncovered his role in the Astros’ sign-stealing scheme; and the trade of outfielder Mookie Betts, a fan favorite and the AL MVP in ’18, when the team won 108 games and the Series.

Unable to sign Betts to an extension, Boston sent him to the Dodgers for outfielder Alex Verdugo and two prospects. It’s a good return for one year of even a great player like Betts. By including lefthander David Price in the deal, the Sox also moved a high-risk pitcher owed $96 million through 2022 (of which Boston will eat half). The trade pushes the Sox well below the player-tax threshold, cushioning the blow of contracts for starters Nathan Eovaldi and Chris Sale, which seem far riskier today than they did when they were signed.

Even without Betts, the Red Sox have an outside shot at a wild card, thanks to a lineup anchored by shortstop Xander Bogaerts, third baseman Rafael Devers, outfielder Andrew Benintendi and DH J.D. Martinez. It may take a year or two to acquire enough starting pitching to challenge for the division. That’s when we’ll find out whether the cash Boston saved by dealing Betts went into improving the roster. — Joe Sheehan

Projected Record: 81-81, 3rd in AL East

Losing Mookie Betts (and David Price, which hurt a weak staff) lowered the Sox’ ceiling.  While their nucleus is still strong, they lack the depth to hang with the Yankees or Rays.

Key Question: What Does the Loss of Mookie Mean?

Boston is less than two years removed from a World Series title and its best team in franchise history, yet now the question isn’t whether the Red Sox will be competitive, but how uncompetitive they will be in 2020. That Boston’s greatest competition in the division this season will be still-developing Toronto is all you really need to know about where the organization is going. — Matt Martell

Player Spotlight

Moving Up: Alex Verdugo, OF

He’ll be “The Guy We Got for Mookie” for a while, but the lefty-hitting outfielder, 23, is a plus defender in right who can replace most of Betts’s production.

Moving Down: Chris Sale, SP

Long in question, the spindly Sale’s durability finally failed him: He was shut down last August after going 6–11 with a career-worst 4.40 ERA. Now he's already behind schedule this spring with a flexor strain in his throwing arm.

Watchability Ranking: You Could Do Worse

Is the loss of Mookie Betts responsible for all of Boston’s decline in watchability? Nah. Just… a lot it. And Chris Sale’s questionable timetable for his return from injury doesn’t help. — Emma Baccellieri

Preview of the 2030 Preview

Rafael Devers, 1B: The erstwhile baby-faced assassin has left his own mark on a franchise known for its hitters by way of countless dents in the Green Monster. Devers’s meaty build and sweet lefty swing gave 2020s Sox fans, reeling after Mookie Betts left town, their own version of Big Papi. Now that John Henry has sold the club to an exuberant consortium led by Mark Wahlberg and billionaire podcaster Bill Simmons, the 2030s will belong to Boston again—and Devers will get a ring to pair with the one he won at age 22. — Craig Goldstein