What Red Sox Do at Catcher This Offseason Should Be Fascinating

Using FanGraphs’ WAR metric, the Red Sox had one of the best catching groups in the American League in 2020 (1.7 fWAR), trailing only the White Sox (3.0 fWAR) and Royals (2.7 fWAR) for the league lead in that category.

The two backstops who saw just about all the playing time behind the plate for Boston this past season — Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki — both put together solid campaigns in their own right.

Vazquez, 30, clubbed seven home runs in 47 games in addition to posting a wRC+ of 115 and leading all major-league catchers in FanGraphs’ Defense metric (8.3).

Plawecki, meanwhile, emerged as quite the serviceable backup with his new club as the 29-year-old slashed .341/.393/.463 with one homer and 17 RBI over 24 games and 89 plate appearances.

Excluding Jonathan Lucroy, who was released in September, the only other true catcher to see playing time for the Sox in 2020 was Deivy Grullon.

The 24-year-old out of the Dominican Republic was claimed off waivers by Boston from the Phillies on September 3 and only managed to appear in one game as the Red Sox’ 29th man in a doubleheader against Philadelphia on September 8.

Grullon went 1-for-3 with a walk and run driven in during the nightcap of that twin bill against his former team before he was optioned back down to the alternate training site in Pawtucket. SoxProspects currently lists Grullon as the Red Sox’ 30th-ranked prospect.

All three of Vazquez, Plawecki, and Grullon are already on Boston’s 40-man roster, but another backstop is expected to be added to said roster in the coming weeks. His name? Connor Wong.

One of the three players acquired from the Dodgers in the Mookie Betts/David Price trade from this past February, the 24-year-old Wong is eligible for this winter’s Rule 5 Draft, which means he would have to be added to Boston’s 40-man roster before November 20 in order to be protected from that.

Wong being added to the 40-man seems just about imminent at this point. Not only does the former third-round pick offer some versatility at different infield positions, according to The Athletic’s Peter Gammons, he also is “considered by [Jason] Varitek and their organization as a rising elite pitcher-first catcher.” On top of that, as noted by MassLive.com’s Chris Cotillo, “the Sox didn’t acquire [Wong] just to risk losing him.”

So here we have four appealing catchers, all of whom are already within the organization, which means we have not even touched upon catchers from outside the organization who could join the Red Sox in 2021.

One name in particular that comes to mind here would be none other than J.T. Realmuto, who is set to become a free agent for the first time in his career this winter.

Often regarded as the best catcher in baseball (BCIB), Realmuto would be quite the get for Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom and Co. The 29-year-old is coming off a 2020 campaign with the Phillies in which he posted a .266/.349/.491 slash line to go along with 11 home runs and 32 RBI over 47 games played.

In addition to his superb offensive efforts, Realmuto is quite the defensive backstop as well, especially when it comes to pitch framing and throwing out runners. Just last year, the Oklahoma native threw out 47% of the runners who tried to steal against him, which was the best caught-stealing rate in baseball.

Even if the Phillies prioritize getting Realmuto to sign a new contract to keep him in Philadelphia, there may only be a handful of clubs who would be able to spend big on someone of Realmuto’s caliber coming off this pandemic-induced, 60-game season. The Red Sox would obviously be one of those clubs.

Of course, the Sox adding Realmuto only makes sense if Vazquez is not in Bloom’s future plans. The Puerto Rico native, who is signed through 2021 and has a team option attached for 2022, was linked to the Rays in the days leading up to the 2020 trade deadline back in August, but nothing ever came out of those rumored talks. Still, as again noted by Cotillo, Boston dealing Vazquez this winter “could definitely happen.”

As currently constructed, Vazquez and Plawecki stand as the Red Sox’ top two catchers at the major-league level, while the likes of Grullon and Wong could both begin the 2021 season at Triple-A Worcester.

Realmuto landing with Boston seems more of a long shot than anything right now, but things could obviously change as the offseason progresses.

With Struggling Red Sox, Former Dodgers Outfielder Alex Verdugo Is in Uncharted Territory

Alex Verdugo crushed his fourth home run and collected his sixth and seventh RBI of the season on Friday night and extended his hitting streak to five games by doing so. It was a solid effort from the 24-year-old, but it alone was not enough to snap what is now a five-game losing streak for his team.

With the 10-3 loss at the hands of the Yankees on Friday, the Red Sox are now 6-14 and have the worst record in the American League exactly one third of the way through this truncated, 60-game season. Verdugo may be contributing in positive ways despite the Sox’ miserable start, but this much turmoil all at once is something the former Dodgers top prospect is not exactly accustomed to.

In three seasons with Los Angeles prior to getting traded to Boston in February, Verdugo was part of three straight National League West-winning Dodgers teams that averaged just over 100 wins per season from 2017 through 2019. He likely won’t be able to enjoy that same sort of accomplishment in his inaugural season with the Red Sox.

“It’s definitely a new place for me,” Verdugo said when asked about the Sox’ struggles during his postgame media availability on Friday. “I hadn’t really gone through this a lot with the Dodgers. It is what it is — I’m here now.”

As pessimistic as those comments may read, Verdugo is with the Red Sox now, and compared to the start of the season last month, he has carved out more of a role for himself and has seen an uptick in playing time as a result. The former second-round pick attributes this to trying to be as stress-free as possible when on the field.

“You see guys stressing out a little bit. I’m one of them,” he said. “Everybody just needs to take a deep breath, relax, and try to do less. That, at least personally, has helped for me. Every time I go out there, whether it’s offense, defense or running bases, if I feel like I’m trying to force something to happen…a lot of times it doesn’t happen. If I feel like I’m going out there and letting the game transpire, just play, and take what they give you, really, I feel like at that point everything settles in.”

Following Friday’s 1-for-4 showing, Verdugo now owns a .258/.324/.468 slash line through his first 18 games as a member of the Red Sox. And although the Red Sox are likely going to finish in the basement of the American League East seeing how they are currently on pace to end the year with 18 wins and 42 losses, watching Verdugo continue to blossom could make this 2020 season somewhat worth it.

Former Red Sox Star Mookie Betts Goes Deep Three Times for Dodgers, Becomes Third Player in Major-League History With Six Career Three-Homer Games

Hours after the Red Sox suffered their most embarrassing loss of the season to this point, Mookie Betts put together his best offensive outing for the Dodgers out in Los Angeles.

Facing off against the Padres at Chavez Ravine Thursday night, the former Sox star belted three home runs as part of a four-hit, five-RBI performance in an eventual 11-2 win for his side.

In crushing three homers, which came in the second, fourth, and fifth innings, Betts became just the third player in major-league history with SIX career three-home run games under his belt. The other two? Johnny Mize and Sammy Sosa.

He also became the first player to hit three home runs within a game’s first five innings on three separate occasions.

At just 27 years old, Betts has already compiled 17 career multi-homer games in his relatively young career, with Thursday’s showing being his first as a member of the Dodgers.

“It’s obviously a great feeling to know you can go up and just hit and not worry about the rest of it,” Betts said during his postgame media availability. “These times don’t happen very often, so you just enjoy it while it’s here.”

It has been a little more than six months since the Red Sox traded Betts to Los Angeles and a little more than three weeks since the four-time All-Star inked a record-setting 12-year, $365 million extension with his new club to remain in southern California for the foreseeable future.

They say time heals all wounds, but as long as Betts continues to dazzle with the Dodgers, I do not think Red Sox fans are going to have an easy time of things accepting this new reality, especially when their team will likely finish the year with one of the worst records in the American League.

Red Sox’ Alex Verdugo: ‘I’m Not Replacing’ Mookie Betts

Red Sox outfielder Alex Verdugo was the centerpiece for Boston in the trade that sent Mookie Betts to the Dodgers. That much is true.

However, the 24-year-old wants everyone to know he is not here to replace the four-time All-Star in right field. He said as much following a two-homer, home run-robbing performance as part of a 5-3 win over the Blue Jays on Friday night.

“I’m not replacing him,” Verdugo said of Betts during his postgame media availability. “Yeah, he played here, but this is a game. This is a business. He decided to go elsewhere. I’m not replacing him. That’s what you guys say. That’s what everybody else says. I’m going out there and playing right field, playing my game.”

Verdugo was acquired by the Sox from the Dodgers as part of a blockbuster five-player trade that included Betts back on February 10. The two are both capable of playing all three outfield positions, so the comparisons between them have essentially been nonstop since then. Still, the exuberant outfielder is not a huge fan of that.

“I don’t think about Mookie,” Verdugo added. “I think he’s a great player, he did a lot for Boston, and he’s going to do a lot for the Dodgers. I think about me being here and what I’m going to do and bring to the team. It’s not a comparable thing. I don’t like comparing it. I don’t like when people bring it up. Obviously, the nature of the trade, it’s going to happen. People are going to say it. I’m going to go out there. I’m gonna play my game and bring the energy that I bring. That’s how I always have been. I don’t care about shoes to fill or anything like that. I’m playing my game.”

Adding on to that, Verdugo does not feel any added pressure playing in the same outfield Betts had patrolled since 2014. Again, he’s here to play his game and that’s what he’s going to do.

“Like I said, (the media) sees me going into right field replacing Mookie,” he continued. “I don’t see it like that. I see that I’m playing right field for Boston. That’s it. It’s just another team, another organization. Got to go out there and compete, and do what you do. The same way he’s doing it over there, we’ve got to do it over here.”

Through 11 games with his new club, Verdugo is slashing .294/.368/.559 with three homers and four RBI. He may not be Mookie Betts, but he is making a solid first impression in Boston and is looking forward to the challenges that await.

The pressure the former second-round pick feels has more to do with performing on the field to the best of his abilities, not replacing a former MVP in right field.

“To go out there and feel some type of pressure or feel some type of way about myself like I need to show something, to hit homers or rob homers all the time to fill this void that Mookie left, no. I don’t have that,” Verdugo said. My job is to get on base, to try to make this game a little bit easier for the guys coming up behind me and in front of me.”

On Saturday, we could see Verdugo bat out of the leadoff spot for the first time as a member of the Red Sox, so that’s something to look forward to.

Red Sox Chief Baseball Officer Chaim Bloom Says Club’s Long-Term Goals Outweigh ‘Any One Player, Any One Decision’

It has been nearly two weeks since Mookie Betts signed a 12-year, $365 million contract extension with Dodgers, and for Red Sox fans, it hurts knowing the 27-year-old will likely finish his Hall of Fame career in Los Angeles.

Even after getting dealt to the Dodgers along with David Price back in February, some still held out hope that Betts would re-sign with Boston this winter seeing how locked in he appeared to be on becoming a free agent while still with the Red Sox.

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, though, Betts’ outlook likely changed when considering the possibility that clubs could be strapped for cash or unwilling to spend on big-money free agents this offseason, so he took the best deal that was in front of him. That being a record-setting $365 million deal that included a $65 million signing bonus up front.

The man who traded Betts, Red Sox chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom, had been on the job for less than four months when the blockbuster five-player swap with Los Angeles was at last finalized on February 10.

As you may recall, the Sox got back outfielder Alex Verdugo as well as infield prospect Jeter Downs and catching prospect Connor Wong in exchange for Betts and Price. That may be a nice enough return, but losing a player of Betts’ caliber still hurts, even for someone like Bloom who did not even know him that well.

When speaking with ESPN’s Joon Lee recently, Bloom said as much, stating that, “I didn’t get to know him obviously that well in my time in the organization, but certainly know how great a player he is. And even in just the short time I got to know him, I got to see why everybody thinks so highly of him.”

On top of that, Bloom also congratulated Betts on his extension with the Dodgers.

“He is a wonderful person, great teammate, great player and I’m very, very happy for him,” he added.

As happy as Bloom may be for Betts, the former Rays executive had an interesting response when asked by Lee if he is ‘philosophically opposed to mega-contracts like those given to Betts.’

“I do think this is a tough question to answer in the abstract,” he said. “Every move you consider you need to consider the merits of that particular move and you need to make sure you have a good process for looking at that and assessing how it fits into where you are as an organization and your larger goals. I think it’s a difficult thing to talk about in the abstract because of that.”

By trading Betts, it seems the Red Sox are trying to kick-start a new kind of rebuild where they can remain consistently competitive over a long period of time. In order to accomplish this, Bloom says, it’s important to not get too emotionally attached to any one player or decision, such was the case with trading Betts.

“It’s very painful when you’re attached to a player, especially a great player, to see him in another uniform,” said the Sox’ CBO in regards to trading away Betts. “I know that’s not something that really my words or anybody’s words are going to make less painful. As I said, I think our job as a front office is to set ourselves up to win as much as we can over the long haul and 2020. That’s a picture that’s much bigger than any one player, any one decision.”

 

Watching Mookie Betts Do Mookie Betts Things Is Not as Enjoyable as It Once Was

In case you missed it, former Red Sox star Mookie Betts had a vintage Mookie Betts game for the Dodgers on Friday night.

Playing in his second game at Chase Field in Dodger blue, the 27-year-old outfielder went 3-for-5 at the plate with a double, a home run, and two runs driven in out of the two-hole.

That homer, which came off Diamondbacks right-hander Zac Gallen to lead off the fourth inning, was Betts’ first as a member of the Dodgers. According to Statcast, the ball traveled 375 feet and had an exit velocity of 96.2 mph off his axe-handle bat.

“I was just swinging to stay in the at-bat,” Betts said later on. “I don’t know how that stayed fair.”

Not only did Betts impress offensively, but he also dazzled in right field as well, something Red Sox fans had grown accustomed to in the four-time All-Star’s time in Boston.

The latest instance of Betts’ superb defensive prowess emerged right away in the bottom of the first on Friday, when DBacks star Ketel Marte tried to turn a leadoff double off Dodgers starter Tony Gonsolin into a leadoff triple, but ultimately paid the price in the end. That being the case because, upon fielding Marte’s grounder in the right field corner, the four-time Gold Glover unleashed a 305-foot missile of an outfield assist to Corey Seager to nab the Arizona infielder at third.

Betts’ throw got to Seager in a matter of seconds, all without taking a single bounce to get to the Dodgers shortstop covering the bag. He did something very similar against the Rays at Tropicana Field last September.

“That’s over 300 feet in the air on a dime,” Los Angeles manager Dave Roberts said postgame, in awe. “Whether it’s the glove, the bat — he had a good offensive night — or the arm. Guess that’s why he’s wearing gold out there.”

The Dodgers ultimately fell to the Diamondbacks, 5-3, after squandering a late 3-1 lead, but still, the night Betts put together after a rather slow start to the 2020 campaign is probably a decent compromise.

After getting dealt from the Red Sox to the Dodgers as part of a five-player trade in February, Betts inked a record-setting 12-year, $365 million extension with Los Angeles late last month to remain in southern California for the foreseeable future.

“I know the Dodgers are gonna be good for a long time,” he said at his July 22 press conference announcing the extension. “I love being here. I love everything about here.”

For the Red Sox, Betts was just about everything you would want in a major-league player. Homegrown, five-tool caliber, perennial All-Star and MVP candidate, a great smile, and a great figure in the community. All that being said, Sox brass convinced themselves that the 2018 AL MVP needed to be traded or else they would lose him for nothing in free agency this winter.

Financials aside, which really shouldn’t be a problem for a big-market club like the Red Sox anyway, Betts now looks like the modern-day superstar who got away from Boston as he is already establishing himself once again in Los Angeles.

Former Red Sox Star Mookie Betts Officially Signs 12-Year, $365 Million Extension With Dodgers

Former Red Sox star Mookie Betts and the Los Angeles Dodgers are in agreement on a 12-year, $365 million contract extension, according to ESPN’s Jeff Passan.

Per Passan, because Betts is under contract for $27 million ($10 million in prorated salary) this season, the total value of his extension with Los Angeles is $392 million over the next 13 years. Also from Passan:

And from the Dodgers, it’s now official:

Prior to being dealt to Los Angeles in February, Betts and the Red Sox were reportedly $120 million apart in extension talks, as Boston had offered the 27-year-old $300 million over 10 years and Betts countered with $420 million over 12 years, according to WEEI’s Lou Merloni.

The two sides obviously could not reach a compromise though, as the 2018 American League MVP was eventually traded to the Dodgers with left-hander David Price in exchange for outfielder Alex Verdugo and prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong.

As his tenure with the Red Sox was winding down, it appeared as though Betts was set on becoming a free agent this winter. But, due to the financial insecurities across baseball that have stemmed as a result of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, perhaps the Tennessee native had a change in heart and decided to take the money when he could.

With this record-setting extension, Betts will be under contract through the end of the 2032 season. By then, the former fifth-round pick will be 39 years old.

This news also marks the end of any speculation that Betts could re-sign with the Red Sox as a free agent this winter, as had been the hope among fans when the four-time All-Star was traded away.

If Betts continues to be as productive as he has since making his first Opening Day roster in 2015, he’ll likely be on a Hall of Fame trajectory. In other words, he’ll eventually be donning a Dodgers cap on his plaque in Cooperstown.

Even after five months, it’s still somewhat mind-boggling that the Red Sox would trade a player of Betts’ caliber. Without taking the financial aspects into consideration, which are important, Betts is just about everything you would want in a professional baseball player. From being a once-undervalued homegrown talent to an MVP and perennial All-Star. he was the perfect face of the franchise for Boston. It’s just too bad John Henry and Co. didn’t value that as much as the Dodgers clearly do.

Former Red Sox Star Mookie Betts on Verge of Signing Massive Contract Extension With Dodgers, per Report

Any hopes of the Red Sox reuniting with Mookie Betts this winter appear to be dead, as the Los Angeles Dodgers are reportedly closing in on a massive contract extension with the 27-year-old outfielder, according to WEEI’s Lou Merloni.

Per Merloni, the extension the Dodgers and Betts are on the verge of agreeing to is worth anywhere between $350 to $400 million for 10-plus seasons.

Based off this follow-up from ESPN’s Jeff Passan, it would appear that these rumors are in fact legitimate and Betts will indeed ink a long-term extension with the Dodgers relatively soon.

After both sides were reportedly off by $120 million in extension talks over the winter, the Sox, with chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom at the helm, dealt Betts and left-hander David Price to Los Angeles in February in exchange for outfielder Alex Verdugo and prospects Jeter Downs and Connor Wong.

At the time, that transaction got Boston under the vaunted $208 million luxury tax threshold, but as it turns out, the 2020 Major League Baseball season will have to played until at least the start of September for that to carry out into this offseason. In other words, if the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic halts the season at any point prior to the August 31st trading deadline, the Sox’ luxury tax penalties will not reset and they will essentially be in the same position they were prior to dealing Betts and Price.

At least on the surface, one of the motivating factors in the Red Sox trading away Betts was the notion that the four-time All-Star was locked in on becoming a free agent for the very first time in his career this winter. It might not be a great look in the eyes of Red Sox fans if he goes back on that now, but, given the uncertainties surrounding how much teams will be willing to spend in free agency because of the pandemic, it’s certainly understandable why Betts may be more open to forgoing free agency when taking financial security into account in the midst of a nationwide pandemic.

Of course, one of the hopes in the Sox trading Betts to get under the luxury tax was the idea that the club was going to lure the 2018 American League MVP back in free agency with a lucrative contract this winter. That now appears unlikely to happen barring any significant changes on Betts’ or the Dodgers’ front.

Red Sox Manager Ron Roenicke Excited to See What Alex Verdugo Can Bring to Table in Right Field

Based off the positions they primarily play, Alex Verdugo will be tasked with replacing Mookie Betts in right field for the Red Sox this season. Seeing how Betts has won four straight Gold Glove Awards for his defensive work at the position, that will surely be no simple task for the former Dodgers top prospect.

Still, even with those lofty expectations placed upon him as the centerpiece for Boston in the trade that sent Betts and David Price to Los Angeles, Verdugo has done well thus far playing one of the toughest right fields in baseball at Fenway Park during the intrasquad games the Red Sox have held since Summer Camp began. His manager, Ron Roenicke, said as much when speaking to reporters via Zoom on Friday.

“He’s replacing a very tough guy in right field and that’s not fair to put on him to carry that kind of load,” Roenicke said of Verdugo. “But I think when this guy gets comfortable and he gets his timing right, I think we’re going to have a really exciting player. I think he’s going to be really good offensively. He runs well. He’ll steal some bases and he’s going to play a very good right field.”

While the expectation is that Verdugo will see the majority of his playing time come at right field with his new team, the 24-year-old has experience playing the other two outfield positions as well. Since making his major-league debut with the Dodgers in September 2017, Verdugo has played 31 games in left, 69 games in center, and 35 games in right.

“I think he’ll do a really good job no matter where we put him,” added Roenicke. “It looks like more right field at this time, but things change.”

Wherever he may play this year, the former second-round draft pick just wants to play everyday.

“For me, I’m an everyday player,” Verdugo said earlier this month. “That’s just that. It’s that simple. There’s no ifs, ands or buts about it. I want to be out there every single day competing.”

Dodgers’ Mookie Betts Says He Has No Regrets About Turning Down $300 Million Contract Extension From Red Sox

Former Red Sox star and current Dodgers outfielder Mookie Betts says he has no regrets about turning down a 10-year, $300 million contract extension from Boston during the 2019 offseason.

According to WEEI’s Lou Merloni, the Sox had made that offer to Betts in their third attempt to keep the 2018 American League MVP in Boston long-term.

Betts countered that offer with $420 million over 12 years, and things only fell apart from there as the four-time All-Star was dealt to Los Angeles in February.

At the time he was traded, Betts was gearing up to become one of this winter’s most coveted free agents and seemed locked in on signing a record-setting deal with whichever team would be willing to pay up.

Flash forward a little less than five months later, and the 27-year-old may have to settle for less of a payday than he was originally expecting due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic that has placed financial constraints on a many major-league ballclub.

Despite facing that potentially harsh reality, Betts still has no remorse about turning down that aforementioned extension from the Red Sox. He said as much at press conference at Dodger Stadium earlier Monday.

“I don’t regret turning down that [offer],” the Tennessee native told reporters. “Once I make a decision, I make a decision. I’m not going back and questioning myself. I don’t worry about that. The market will be what it is. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there.”

Added Betts: “Free agency is really on the back-burner. That’ll come. That’s nothing that I’m really thinking about right now. Right now, the main concern is (health and safety). There’s a lot going on, we haven’t gotten tests back and we don’t know who’s sick and not sick. There’s just a lot going on that needs to be addressed and free agency is not one of those things right now. That will come when it comes.”

It’s also worth mentioning that Betts is one of a number of players who don’t seem entirely confident that this truncated 2020 season will reach its conclusion even though Opening Day is less than three weeks away. He even said that he still has doubts about playing for the Dodgers in a real game.

How things continue in terms of adequate COVID-19 testing and protocols for teams will certainly be something to monitor moving forward.