July Update: As you might expect, even in July the Red Sox organization is still feeling the ripple effects of the Mookie Betts trade and Chris Sale’s Tommy John surgery. On one end of the spectrum, we have some positive news. Alex Verdugo, the main piece Boston got back from Los Angeles, appears like he’ll be ready to go when the Red Sox’s truncated season begins on July 24. The 24-year-old suffered a stress fracture in his back in August 2019 and he had been initially slated to begin this campaign on the IL. Verdugo only has 488 career plate appearances to his name, but his high-contact rate and burgeoning power will at least provide Boston a nice platoon bat with some upside. As for the negative, Eduardo Rodriguez, Sale’s projected replacement in the Opening Day starter’s slot, tested positive for COVID-19 in early July and he’ll likely miss at least one trip through the rotation.
For a team less than two years removed from winning a World Series, the general aura currently surrounding the 2020 Red Sox seems incredibly dire. Still, it would be an outright lie to suggest that the reasoning for this feeling isn’t obvious. Boston has endured a lot so far this offseason. They’ve seen the departure of manager Alex Cora, there’s the ongoing arm concerns of staff ace Chris Sale, and, of course, there’s the much-maligned trade of former MVP Mookie Betts.
However, this isn’t a roster that’s completely barren of talent. The Red Sox have held on to a few big names and should remain an above-average offensive team in the coming months. Where does that leave prospective fantasy owners? Let’s break it all down.
— Division Winner: +800
— League Winner: +1100
— World Series: +2500
Mookie Betts, OF; David Price, SP; Rick Porcello, SP
Martin Perez, SP; Alex Verdugo, OF; Kevin Pillar, OF
2020 Fantasy MVP
J.D. Martinez, OF
In fantasy baseball, we’re always looking for archetypes. The goal is to classify players within certain molds as to find productivity comparisons and better assess a particular asset’s value moving forward. For me, Martinez heads a class of player that has gone under-appreciated for some time now — the aging slugger. You know who keeps bringing back healthy value at their ADP time and time again? Nelson Cruz and Edwin Encarnacion. Now, imagine there was a slightly younger version of that batted ball profile and, just for kicks, one that could additionally supply you with an eye-popping batting average. Well, that dream scenario is Martinez. Going back to the beginning of 2017, Martinez has collected more home runs than any other player in MLB (124), while he’s also managed to drive in the second-most runs (339) and hit for the second-highest average among those qualified (.313). I doubt this three-year trend is about to end anytime soon, either. Though Martinez did experience a slight dip in wRC+ and exit velocity in 2019, he remained elite in expected batting average (.309), expected slugging percentage (.579) and expected wOBA (.400). He tops off as a four-category contributor, yet few players come with a floor as elevated as Martinez.
2020 Fantasy LVP
Christian Vazquez, C
The fact that Vazquez is currently being drafted as a Top 10 catcher in NFBC formats might say more about the always bleak nature of the position more than a public adoration of the backstop himself. Yet, at the same time, it’s a trend that I have a hard time condoning. Yes, the 29-year-old is on the heels of a breakout campaign that saw him clobber 23 home runs in just 521 plate appearances, but nothing about Vazquez’s prior season-long performances indicates that this power surge is to be believed. In fact, among the 357 players with at least 750 PAs to their name from 2015 to 2018, Vazquez ranked with the sixth-lowest wRC+ (66) and the 16th-lowest ISO (.094). Now, it would certainly be ignorant to simply chalk up Vazquez’s career-defining 2020 campaign to a mysterious new baseball. However, his case isn’t helped by the knowledge that the RHB exceeded his expected statistics across the board. The projection systems have Vazquez pegged as roughly a .260 hitter with little to marginal home run pop. If that comes to fruition, you’d be better served waiting on the likes of Carson Kelly or Sean Murphy.
2020 Breakout Player
Brandon Workman, RP
It’s not the easiest task in the world to find a “breakout” player on a roster that features so much veteran talent, yet Workman fits the role in the sense that he’s not quite a household name. Still, if he pitches this season anything like he did in 2019, that won’t be a problem much longer. It’s not just that Workman led the league in several different statistics last year, it’s the margin at which he did it. Of the 279 pitchers who faced at least 250 batters, Boston’s closer induced MLB’s lowest opponent batting average (.123), lowest opponent wOBA (.208), and lowest opponent slugging percentage (.166). Also, for that last category, it should be noted that Workman possessed a massive .086 differential between he and second-placed Aaron Bummer. So, while it’s unrealistic to believe that Workman will be able to maintain an insane .209 BABIP or 2.6% HR/FB ratio, it’s crucial to understand that his expected numbers from the past season remain elite. On top of that, limiting overall contact is another way to skirt normalization, and Workman’s impressive 36.4% strikeout rate should come into play in that regard.
If there’s a glaring weakness on this 26-man roster, it’s the lack of starting pitching. With no one really able to give a timeline on the return of Sale, the Red Sox rotation is underwhelming to say the least, with even top-option Eduardo Rodriguez far from a picture of consistency. No, if Boston is to contend in the AL East in 2020, it will almost certainly be on the strength of its bats. Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and the aforementioned Martinez give the Red Sox an exciting trio of sluggers in the middle of the order and now might not be a horrible time to buy into a bounce-back campaign for Andrew Benintendi, especially now that it seems he’s the main candidate to hit leadoff. Also, make sure to keep an eye on former prospect Jose Peraza, who could be a cheap resource for steals if injury or early production open up some playing time. He’s still only 25 years old and a change of scenery could be just what the doctor ordered.
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