Red Sox: Depth will be key to success for the 2021 season

FT. MYERS, FL - MARCH 6: Marwin Gonzalez #12 of the Boston Red Sox throws during the first inning of a Grapefruit League game against the Minnesota Twins on March 6, 2021 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images)
FT. MYERS, FL - MARCH 6: Marwin Gonzalez #12 of the Boston Red Sox throws during the first inning of a Grapefruit League game against the Minnesota Twins on March 6, 2021 at jetBlue Park at Fenway South in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images) /

The Red Sox possess a deeper, more versatile roster than last year

A lot went wrong for the Boston Red Sox in 2020. That is not particularly controversial or debatable.

The year began with the firing (and later suspension) of manager Alex Cora, followed shortly by the seismic trade that sent franchise cornerstone Mookie Betts and 2018 postseason hero David Price to the Los Angeles Dodgers. Spring Training was halted and the season was put on hold due to the coronavirus outbreak, and after much bickering between Major League Baseball and the Players Association, a shortened 60-game season resulted in a 24-36 last-place finish for the Sox.

Aren’t you glad we relived that?

With the 2021 campaign just two weeks away, there is plenty of reason for optimism for Boston. While projections indicate a 80-82-win ceiling for the team, it is not inconceivable that the Red Sox could find themselves in the hunt for a Wild Card spot this summer. There is no question the 2020 squad under-performed, but I do not put a lot of stock in the outcome of a delayed, abbreviated, deeply strange and stressful season.

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So what will it take for the Red Sox to return to contention? The answer is a simple, albeit unglamorous one: depth. The 2020 team’s fatal flaw may well be the 2021 team’s greatest asset.

A quick look at the 2020 team’s statistics is illuminating. Without Chris Sale or Eduardo Rodriguez, interim skipper Ron Roenicke and his staff were left with only two established starters: Nathan Eovaldi and Martin Perez, who combined to start 21 games.

After them, Zack Godley (7) and Chris Mazza (6) made the most starts. Godley, now a free agent, posted an 8.16 ERA in 28.2 innings on his way to an 0-4 record. Mazza was slightly better –– 4.80 ERA in 30 innings –– but is certainly not an ideal big league starter.

Entering 2021, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom has positioned Cora, the new-old manager, with a much better slate of options. In addition to Eovaldi, Perez, and a healthy Rodriguez, Bloom added veterans Garrett Richards and Matt Andriese, both of whom have ample Major League experience as starters and relievers.

While the spin-rate hype may be excessive, Richards is clearly a talented pitcher. Following his latest start –– seven strikeouts and one hit in a four-inning effort –– Cora told The Boston Globe that “This guy, stuff-wise, is one of the best in the league.” If Richards can stay healthy, he profiles as a solid third or fourth starter.

Andriese, who will likely pitch out of the bullpen for the bulk of the season, has 50 career starts, 36 of which came in 2016 and 2017 with the Tampa Bay Rays. In that span, Andriese struck out 185 over 213.2 innings with a 4.42 ERA. Depending on how much the Red Sox employ the opener in 2021, Andriese is a decent fallback option.

Add to the mix promising young pitchers Nick Pivetta and Tanner Houck, Rule-5 Draft pick Garrett Whitlock, plus a mid-season return from Sale, and the Red Sox pitching staff is in significantly better shape than it was a year ago. If (or when) injuries surface, Boston has a deep pool of talented starters at its disposal.

Offensively, the 2020 Red Sox were not nearly as disappointing. The Sox led the American League with a .265 team batting average, and finished with a third-best .776 OPS. They did this largely without Andrew Benintendi and with substantial regression from slugger J.D. Martinez.

With the addition of power-hitting outfielders Hunter Renfroe and (the oft-injured) Franchy Cordero, the Red Sox should remain an elite offense in 2021.

But perhaps most importantly, Bloom inked super utility players Marwin Gonzalez and Kiké Hernández, two World Series champions with close relationships with Cora. And just as Spring Training began, Boston added Danny Santana as well.

This fantasy-lineup approach to the 2021 season will lead to a constantly changing defensive alignment, but it reflects the incredible depth the Sox will possess this season. Not to mention a considerable upgrade at second base.

It remains to be seen who will fill out the remainder of the bench, but Boston also has Michael Chavis, Christian Arroyo, and Jonathan Arauz, all of whom can play multiple infield positions. Rookie Bobby Dalbec will likely make the team, and top prospects Triston Casas and Jarren Duran are close to big-league ready.

Next. Marwin Gonzalez is key for this team as an elite utility player. dark

A lot has to go right for the Red Sox to succeed this season. The American League East is incredibly tough. But Boston is entering 2021 with a much more complete, versatile, and deep roster. As the ebb and flow of a full season inevitably presents injuries and other unforeseen challenges, the Sox are well-positioned to roll with the punches.