Mazz: State of pitching - and not the departure of Betts - will decide fate of 2020 Red Sox

By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub

If and when the 2020 Red Sox finally get past all this – and, admittedly, that is a big if – let’s all remember something: trading away Mookie Betts should not be the move that derails them, at least in the short term. This year, with or without Betts, the Red Sox were only going to go as far as their pitching.

Betts was here in 2019, after all, and the Red Sox scored 901 runs, fourth-best in baseball. They still won just 84 games because their pitching went poof, the residue still sprayed about the mound at Fenway Park.

In fact, the Red Sox lineup should still be quite good in 2020, which is hardly to say that the team is championship-caliber. They probably aren’t. But there is a lot to be determined between now and Halloween, and if the 2019 season taught us at all, it taught that there is no such thing as a sure bet.

At the moment, here’s a rough outline of what the Red Sox lineup could like:

Andrew Benintendi, LF
Rafael Devers, 3B
Xander Bogaerts, SS
JD Martinez, DH
Mitch Moreland, 1B
Alex Verdugo, RF
Michael Chavis, 2B
Jackie Bradley, CF
Christian Vazquez, C

Now really, is that so bad? With Kevin Pillar seemingly in the fold, the Sox should have a functional bench. Second base remains a concern, so keep an eye on that. Moreland’s durability has been an ongoing issue, so maybe the Sox could try Martinez at first during spring training. Maybe Bobby Dalbec will emerge. Or Jose Peraza. Or Tzu-Wei Lin. Or C.J. Chatham.

Whatever, you get the idea. The lineup isn’t perfect. But it’s good.

But the pitching? Nothing has really changed there, save for the departure of David Price. Chris Sale and Nathan Eovaldi are still major question marks, in that order. The Sox still don’t have a closer. The biggest failing of the Betts deal is that the Sox got no pitching in the final, modified version, which will look especially bad if Brusdar Graterol turns into something special, be it in the rotation or the bullpen.

If Sale returns to form, they’ll be in the playoffs. But the scary truth is that he hasn’t been healthy for two years now – which makes it even more mystifying that the Red Sox gave him a five-year, $145-million contract that begins this season.

In the end, call this year whatever you want – a bridge year, a transition year, an election year. The semantics really don’t matter. But it’s not a complete throwaway – at least not yet – even as the Red Sox sort through the muck of a managerial firing, a cheating scandal and a failed relationship with their best all-around player.

Of course, ask me again on June 1 and I might have a different answer.

You can hear Tony Massarotti weekdays from 2-6 p.m. EST on the Felger & Massarotti program. Follow him on Twitter @TonyMassarotti.