Report card time
The day of reckoning is at hand. It is time to assess the accomplishments or lack thereof -- of those in whom we have placed our hopes, dreams, and, perhaps, even fears during the baseball season.
It's Report Card Day.
Let us begin with the B-boys, Betts, Bradley, and Benintendi, who only a few short seasons ago seemed destined to become the Red Sox Outfield for the Ages, but now find themselves scattered to the far flung precincts of Los Angeles, Milwaukee, and Kansas City. Unfortunately for them, none of the B-boys earned anything approaching a grade of "B" on their report cards.
Mookie Betts, who a year ago signed a contract in the neighborhood of $365 million over 13 years (and a darn nice neighborhood it is, too), based on his 2018 report card, which consisted of a batting average of .346, with 32 home runs and 80 runs-batted-in. Mookie posted marks this season of only .264, 23, and 58, respectively, all severe drop-offs from '18. Betts, whose creative daring on the base paths tortured Tampa Bay during last year's World Series, is suffering from a painful bone spur in his right hip that has slowed him down and caused two trips to the injured list since the all-star break and will require surgery in the off-season, is not a threat to repeat his derring-do again this year, or perhaps any year down the road. His final grade for this year, given the size and length of his contract -- "D."
Jackie Bradley, Jr., whose two-year, $24-million deal with the Brewers has another year to run, fell off the edge of the earth this year, batting only .163 (no, that's not a typo) with just six homers and 29 runs-batted-in. He's a genius in the outfield but a black hole in the lineup. Final grade -- "D."
Andrew Benintendi made $6.6 million this year, $2.8 million of which was picked up by the Red Sox. He batted .276 with 17 homers and 73 RBIs., better than his disastrous shortened season of 2020 in which he hit just .103. He has turned out to be a .270-ish hitter with just moderate power, far from the ranks of the superstars, which was predicted for him when he first broke into the big leagues. Does anyone remember the picture-perfect swing he had back then? Nobody talks about that anymore. We all thought that he'd win multiple batting titles. He won't. Final grade -- "C."
When Lefty O'Doul managed the San Francisco Seals in the old Pacific Coast League in the 1930s, he noticed a kid from the San Diego Padres, then in the same league, taking batting practice. When the kid finished hitting, O'Doul crossed the field to talk with him, something that wasn't done in those days. When asked what he'd told him, O'Doul said, "I told him never to let anyone change his swing because it's perfect the way it is." The kid, whose name was Ted Williams, took the advice to heart. It's too bad that O'Doul wasn't still around to give the same advice to Benintendi years later.
What of those who took the place of the "Outfield of the Ages?" How did they do? Hunter Renfroe, who took over for Betts in right field and made only one tenth of his salary, batted .259 with 31 homers and 96 RBIs and also led the major leagues in outfield assists, with 16. He was a revelation. Final grade -- "B+."
Kike Hernandez, who was originally thought of as a second baseman, proved to be an excellent centerfielder and hit .250 with 20 homers and 60 RBI. Final grade -- "B."
Alex Verdugo is a very competent corner outfielder, though less so in center. He hit .289 with 13 home runs and 63 runs batted in. He plays with an infectious enthusiasm and has a knack for coming through in the clutch. Final grade -- "B+."
Added to that threesome is Kyle Schwarber, who the Sox acquired at the trade deadline from the Washington Nationals but did not see playing action until the middle of August because of an injured hamstring. In just 41 games, he batted .291, hit seven home runs, and drove in 18 runs. Final grade -- "B+."
Cumulatively, the three B-boys hit for an average of only .239 this year with a total of 46 home runs and 160 RBI, as opposed to their replacements, who batted .268 with 71 homers and 237 runs batted in. That adds up to no contest. Moreover, the replacements earned cumulative salaries of approximately $35 million less than the B-boys. That turns the no-contest into a technical knockout.
We should not end this treatise without mentioning David Price, he of the $32 million-a-year salary. Once one of the most valued pitchers in all of baseball, he is little more than a spare part for the Dodgers. He was shipped off to Los Angeles as part of the Mookie Betts sell-off, and the Red Sox agreed to pay half of his salary (which is guaranteed through next year) just to rid themselves of the albatross of his contract. He did not even make the Dodgers' starting rotation this year. He worked out of the bullpen and made an occasional spot start, going five and two with an ERA of 4.03. He became such an afterthought that he was not even included on the Dodgers' active roster for the wild card playoff game against St. Louis. Almost no one even noticed. Final grade -- "D-."
In the final analysis, the Red Sox are far better off today with the outfield of Renfroe, Hernandez, and Verdugo than if they still had the trio of Betts, Bradley, Jr., and Benintendi, and they have saved themselves tens of millions of dollars in the process. John Henry and friends should be very pleased with the performance of Chaim Bloom, whose own report card should be filled with straight A's.
- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.