What a 60-game season might mean to Red Sox free agents

Rob Bradford
June 23, 2020 - 10:08 am
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There are still so many unknowns. We have to start there.

Even the certainty of Major League Baseball actually playing 60 regular-season games isn't set in stone, nevermind the uneasiness that will come with coronavirus-induced roadblocks. And thinking about what the financial future of baseball players might look like when this sprint is done, you can forget about figuring that out.

But this dynamic will lead to some interesting end-games when it comes to how players are positioned heading into that aforementioned uncertain offseason.

From the Red Sox' perspective, they will have money to spend with the luxury tax resetting for John Henry and Co. (Whether or not the team views it economically feasible to open up the checkbook is another thing.)

The players? All they can do is play their best for two months and see what happens from there. Here is a quick look at the kind of landscape for those Red Sox who are approaching the end of their current contracts:

JACKIE BRADLEY JR.

Much has been made about how Bradley Jr. represents the dramatic peaks and valleys this short season might represent. The outfielder is a notoriously streaky hitter, with 2019 serving as the latest example. Through his first 60 games last year he was hitting just .199 with a .633 OPS. From that point on (June 13), however, Bradley Jr. finished hitting .242 with an impressive .808 OPS. The shortened spring training might play to his advantage, with the lefty hitter usually hitting the ground running more than most during the exhibition season, as was evident in Feb. and March when he was hitting .414 with a 1.141 OPS before play was halted.

KEVIN PILLAR

Pillar had also impressed throughout Grapefruit League play and was making the Red Sox feel comfortable about their right-field situation even without the ability of Alex Verdugo. This was going to be the 31-year-old's job through the first month of the season. But now Verdugo is going to be ready for action and the Red Sox will be rolling with four outfielders for three spots. It will be difficult for Pillar -- who has basically identical splits in the first and second halves for his career -- to get the at-bats he was once assured of. In a nutshell, Pillar's best route to boosting his value beyond what it was heading into this season is to find the hot hand and wrestle playing time away from those who were perceived as starters in the Sox' outfield.

BRANDON WORKMAN

This one isn't complicated: Just keep doing what you're doing and you will end up as a legitimate closer in the upcoming free-agent market. He was one of the best relievers in baseball in 2019 and looked the part during his brief Grapefruit League season (3 appearances). Middle relievers and set-up men might be impacted by the desperation that comes with this sort of season, but a closer will still be a closer.

MITCH MORELAND

Moreland was always a logical fit, and with the opportunity to not worry about the wear and tear of a long season it seems a plus for all parties involved. Remember, in the first two months of last season this was a hitter who had 13 home runs in just 46 games. The likelihood is that the Red Sox view the first baseman the same in November as they do right now, picking up his $3 million option for 2021.

MARTIN PEREZ

Starting pitchers like Perez might have the most gain or lose in this scenario. If you get a guy on a two-month hot streak it might change the entire perspective of his viability in the middle of a rotation. But if he falls apart or can't find any sort of groove? Well, that will likely make the Red Sox shy away from Perez's $6.25 million option for 2021. Nathan Eovaldi made a lot of money off of a good run for a month in 2018. The same can be said for this year's stable potential free-agent starters.

COLLIN MCHUGH

For a pitcher like McHugh -- who is easing his way back from injury -- this isn't the best scenario. Sure, you can make some money with a good late-season run. But it's a lot of pressure to be putting on a pitcher who under normal circumstances would be easing back via minor-league rehab assignments and such. In this unpredictable season, a pitcher like McHugh elicits the most unanswered questions of anyone.

J.D. MARTINEZ

This is less about the player than it is the rule of baseball. There seems little doubt that Martinez will put up numbers. What we do have to wait for is any ruling regarding the universal designated hitter, which would obviously open up his market to National League teams in 2021. And if there is the DH in the NL will clubs be willing to allocate more than the two years, $38.7 million he would be getting by opting-in with the Red Sox for 2021 and '22.