March 18, 2021

2021 Athlon Annual: Red Sox Predicted To Finish Fourth In AL East

American League East

Blue Jays
Red Sox

AL Central: White Sox, Twins, Cleveland, Royals, Tigers
AL West: Astros, Athletics, Angels, Mariners, Texas
NL East: Atlanta, Mets, Nationals, Phillies, Marlins
NL Central: Cardinals, Cubs, Reds, Brewers, Pirates
NL West: Dodgers, Padres, Diamondbacks, Giants, Rockies

Wild Cards: Rays, Twins, Mets, Padres
ALCS: Yankees over White Sox
NLCS: Dodgers over Padres
World Series: Dodgers over Yankees

Red Sox

Here's all you need to know about the 2020 Red Sox — it didn't take world events to make their year miserable. From trading MVP Mookie Betts to (temporarily) parting ways with scandal plagued manager Alex Cora to losing ace Chris Sale to Tommy John surgery to finishing with the fourth-worst record in baseball, the Red Sox gave their fans no shortage of reasons to change the channel. Now begins the process of winning them back. It won't happen immediately because outside of some nice offensive weapons, the overall talent base just isn't there. . . . The good news is that chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has already started remaking the farm system with a series of shrewd deals. The bad news is that they're early in a process that can't be rushed.  . . . 

Rotation: Including openers, the Red Sox started 16 different pitchers during the 60-game season, and most of them will not be remembered fondly, or at all. . . .  Sale is expected back sometime in June or July; Rodriguez resumed physical activities shortly after the season; and righthander Nathan Eovaldi is coming off his best campaign, such as it was. Righthander Tanner Houck shocked everyone by going 3-0 with a 0.53 ERA, and the Red Sox have high hopes for hard-throwing righthander Nick Pivetta . . . They'll be sure to acquire someone else, but until they know exactly what they have in Sale and Rodriguez, this will be a group in flux.

Bullpen: The Red Sox should benefit from the return of lefthanders Darwinzon Hernandez and Josh Taylor, setup men who were revelations in 2019 and then largely sidelined by COVID in 2020. . . . The closer should be veteran Matt Barnes, a hard thrower who . . . is entering his final season before free agency. . . . The rest of the bullpen needs some work, though righthander Ryan Brasier rediscovering his 95 mph mojo is a welcome development.

Middle Infield: Xander Bogaerts [is] everything the team could ask for in a star — talented, homegrown, accountable and entering his prime. . .  . [H]is defensive range is a concern. Second base will likely be manned by Christian Arroyo . . . Another option is slugging Michael Chavis, who's also in the first base mix but is dangerously strikeout-prone.

Corners: When it comes to raw power, no two players in the organization possess more of it than third baseman Rafael Devers and first baseman Bobby Dalbec. . . . Like Chavis, Dalbec strikes out at an alarming rate, but unlike Chavis, he also draws walks. One area to watch is defense. Dalbec graded as an above-average defender at third base throughout the minors, while Devers leads all big leaguers in errors there over the last three years. If Devers continues to struggle with the glove, a swap of positions can't be ruled out.

Outfield: Right fielder Alex Verdugo could shift to center . .  . The Red Sox also added free agent outfielder Hunter Renfroe, whose monster right-handed power seems tailor-made for Fenway Park and whose underrated defense should play in either corner. . . .

Catching: The Red Sox are in good hands with starter Christian Vazquez, a defensive whiz who has added legitimate pop at the plate. . .  . With an affordable team option for 2022, Vazquez could be trade bait if the Red Sox fall from contention.

DH/Bench: [J.D. Martinez is] coming off a surprisingly horrible 2020 that saw his mechanics betray him and inside fastballs handcuff him. Martinez ended up hitting only .213 with a .680 OPS, numbers he hadn't approached since his dismal final season in Houston in 2013. . .  .

Management: Cora's a gifted communicator who oozes confidence, but he wasn't always Bloom's first choice, so theirs will be a relationship to watch. As for Bloom, he remains in his honeymoon phase, but he has already demonstrated a willingness to act aggressively. It's safe to say he plans on turning over the bulk of the roster, sooner rather than later.

Final Analysis: [The Red Sox] alienated a number of fans by trading Betts and then really lost them with a last-place finish. While there's something to be said for teams that exceed expectations, we should recognize this team for what it is — not good enough, at least not yet.

Opposing Scouts: "I know they had injuries last year, but it looked like they weren't even interested in competing. Just a lifeless team killing time for 60 games. Now that Alex Cora is back, he'll light a fire under them. . . . J.D. Martinez looked disinterested last year; his bat speed was down, and he wasn't making the in-game adjustments like he used to. . . . My only worry with Devers is his weight; he's young now, but he's got to get in better shape to have the long, productive career he's capable of."


After winning at least 100 games in consecutive seasons, the Yankees sputtered last year, going 21-21 to start the abbreviated season . . . They need much more consistent starting pitching and better health from their injury-prone lineup . . .

The Yankees' rotation let them down last year, with the standout exception of Gerrit Cole . . . Behind Cole, though, the Yankees' rotation outlook is murky as they wait for Luis Severino to return from Tommy John surgery. Lefty Jordan Montgomery . . . threw harder than ever and fanned 47 in 44 innings, but his ERA was 5.11. . . . Aroldis Chapman has . . . allowed crushing homers in elimination losses in each of the last two seasons. . . .

Gleyber Torres mostly had a year to forget, with subpar defense and a sharp drop in power . . . The Yankees need a full season from right fielder Aaron Judge, which they haven't had since 2017 . . . Judge will be 29 in April . . . The Yankees soured on Gary Sanchez late last season, which happens when your two-time All-Star catcher hits .147. Sanchez's framing of borderline pitches continued to lag, too — he ranked 54th in strike rate in 2019 and 38th last season . . . Yet for all that, the Yankees still tendered Sanchez a contract for 2021 . . . 

[W]hile manager Aaron Boone is great at communicating with the players and the front office, he can seem overly bound by data-driven decisions. . . . The Yankees . . . may be too shaky in the rotation, too right-handed in the lineup and too vulnerable to injuries . . . they have to deal with the defending AL champion Rays and the fast-rising Blue Jays . . .

Opposing Scouts: "I don't care how good their lineup looks, the Rays' pitchers can neutralize it. Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton simply can't hold up all season. . . . I don't know why they held on to Gary Sanchez. I'm not sure I've seen anybody look that bad if it's not on purpose. His offense was just putrid, and Kyle Higashioka is so much better behind the plate. . . ."


Since losing to the Dodgers in the World Series, the Rays have parted ways with two of their top three starting pitchers, Blake Snell and Charlie Morton, along with a few other players, while making only moderate additions. . . . The roster-churning and rebuilding on the run are nothing new to the Rays. But this offseason felt different. . . .

The key will be how the Rays configure their starting/bulk inning pitchers beyond returnees Tyler Glasnow and Ryan Yarbrough and free agent addition Michael Wacha. . . . [T]hey figure to be without Yonny Chirinos and Jalen Beeks for all of 2021 due to Tommy John surgery and Brendan McKay for at least a few months as he recovers from shoulder surgery after having missed all of 2020. . . .

Cash was heavily criticized for pulling Snell early in World Series Game 6, but similar moves worked repeatedly during the season, and he won AL Manager of the Year honors. His ability to get players to buy in to the team-first approach and matchup-based moves is a true key to their success . . .

The Rays overcame a lot, especially a string of pitcher injuries, to battle through the abbreviated 2020 season . . . Losing two of their top starters, especially for a team built on pitching and defense, will make it much tougher to repeat, especially over a longer season. . . . A return to the playoffs may be possible, but another deep run seems unlikely.

Blue Jays

[T]hey enter the new season as a team to watch in the American League. . . . Bo Bichette, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Cavan Biggio and Lourdes Gurriel Jr. remain the guts of the club . . . Teoscar Hernandez's emergence as an MVP-caliber force will be closely watched for regression.  . . . [T]he club's depth of arms [was] leveraged creatively over the shortened season but now [face] the burden of a full haul. . .  .

Hyun Jin Ryu performed like an ace and finished third in voting for the AL Cy Young Award . . . There isn't much certainty behind the veteran lefty in the rotation . . . Guerrero [was moved] across the diamond to first when he reported for summer camp at 282 pounds. The young slugger apologized to his teammates for not keeping in better shape during the lockdown and then worked relentlessly to get into better shape throughout the season and over the winter. . . . 

The Blue Jays were a fun group in 2020, leaping over obstacles like a hurdler on a path to the finish line. . . . The big leap forward was always projected for 2021, and now the expectations will be even higher, depending largely on their ability to augment the roster as well as their internal growth and development.


1. Mike Trout, Angels
2. Alex Bregman, Astros
3. Aaron Judge, Yankees
4. Jose Ramirez, Cleveland 
5. Gerrit Cole, Yankees . . .
9. Rafael Devers, Red Sox

AL Cy Young

1. Gerrit Cole, Yankees
2. Shane Bieber, Cleveland 
3. Lucas Giolito, White Sox
4. Tyler Glasnow, Rays
5. Hyun Jin Ryu, Blue Jays


1. Fernando Tatis Jr., Padres
2. Mookie Betts, Dodgers
3. Juan Soto, Nationals
4. Francisco Lindor, Mets
5. Ronald Acuria Jr., Atlanta 

NL Cy Young

1. Jacob deGrom, Mets
2. Max Scherzer, Nationals
3. Walker Buehler, Dodgers
4. Yu Darvish, Padres
5. Aaron Nola, Phillies

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