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A team in transition

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Between free agents and free-agents-to-be, which are added to the normal activity of horse-trading and attrition due to age or lack of performance, the change-over rate is more frenetic than ever.

Dick
Flavin

The Boston Red Sox are a team in transition. They will always be.

"That's the way it is," as Walter Cronkite used to say. In fact, it's the way it has been for a number of years. It has taken a while for the reality of the Age of Free Agency to settle in, but it's here, and there is no denying it. When Travis Shaw was brought back to the team after an absence of about five years, there were only three members of it who were with the Sox when he left: Xander Bogaerts, Matt Barnes, and Christian Vazquez. Everyone else was gone.

How many do you think will still be here five years from now? My guess is, about the same. Between free agents and free-agents-to-be, which are added to the normal activity of horse-trading and attrition due to age or lack of performance, the change-over rate is more frenetic than ever.

Get used to it.

It's the way business is done in baseball these days.

It was only three short years ago that Red Sox fans thought they had an outfield for the next half decade, minimum. Since then, they traded Mookie Betts to the Dodgers because of his looming free agency, let Jackie Bradley, Jr. walk away as a free agent, and gave up on Andrew Benintendi, trading him to Kansas City.

How are those three doing in their new homes compared to their replacements? Benintndi, who missed some time earlier in the year with a fractured rib, is hitting .253 with 11 homers and 39 runs batted in. Alex Verdugo, who plays all three outfield positions very well but has most recently been stationed in left field, has an average of .280 with similar power numbers to Benintendi, 11 home runs and 42 RBIs. The difference is that Benintendi makes $6.6 million, 10 times more than Verdugo's $649,500.

Moreover, Verdugo is under team control until 2025. Bradley, Jr., who signed on with the Milwaukee Brewers for two years at $24 million is enduring his worst offensive year, hitting only .176. His current replacement, Jarren Duran, who had been called up from Worcester several weeks ago, has at times looked overmatched at the plate, striking out 32 times in only 81 at-bats. He is hitting .222 -- not great, but almost 50 points higher than Bradley. Jackie is, of course, an elite defender; the jury is still out on Duran's defense, although he possesses blinding speed.

That brings us to the case of Mookie Betts versus Hunter Renfroe. Mookie is currently batting .277, not near what the Dodgers had imagined when they signed him last winter to a monster deal of $365 million over 12 years. But of even greater concern is a painful bone spur in his hip that has kept him sidelined recently and which might require surgery in the off-season. It could result in the loss of some speed and take away his dynamism on the basepaths. He'd still be a great player but not quite as great. Then again, it could all be much ado about nothing. He could return to action as great as he ever was. It is a fact, though, that he has not hit .300 since his MVP season of 2018, when he logged an average of .346. Meanwhile, his replacement in right field, Hunter Renfroe, has been a revelation. He's a whiz defensively with a cannon for an arm. Although he hasn't hit for a high average, he has real power and is on his way to a season with 25-plus home runs and 90 runs batted in. With an annual salary that is just 10 percent of what Betts gets, the Red Sox must be more than happy with him.

The question is, though, what will the team look like a few years down the road?

Of the three players who have been with them for the past five years, Xander Bogaerts is under contract for four more years. He has become the rock on which the team is built. He is steady and reliable on defense and a vital member of the lineup, a .300 hitter with good power numbers year after year. Christian Vazquez will be eligible for free agency in 2023. His future will depend on what other catching options are available. Matt Barnes was signed to a contract extension that will pay him more than $18 million through 2023. That happened just before he gave up two-game winning home runs in three games. Forgotten is the fact that, in the third game, he came within a whisker of giving up a third to Vladimir Guerrero, Jr. For most of the year, though, he has been very effective, good enough to be chosen for the all-star game. His annual dry spells are reminiscent of the little girl in the nursery rhymes, "When she was good, she was very, very, good; but when she was bad ..." Well, you know the rest.

Rafael Devers becomes a free agent after 2023 and likely will command big money. Will the Sox be willing to meet a $300 million asking price that he might be asking? Who knows? All we know is they weren't willing to pay that to Mookie. Hunter Renfroe also reaches free agency after 2023 and, if he keeps producing the way he has, this season will be very much in demand. Bobby Dalbec is under team control, but will he be a part of their plans? Will Jarren Duran? What will happen with J.D. Martinez? He'll be 35 years old when his contract expires next season. What about the pitching staff? Chris Sale and his huge contract will be around for another three years. Well, Sale might move on, but his contract will still be on the books.

There are many questions to be answered, and there always will be. It's the nature of the baseball business these days. The days of Carl Yastrzemski playing with the same franchise for 23 years are in the rear view mirror and, let's face it, they are not coming back.

- Dick Flavin is a New York Times bestselling author; the Boston Red Sox "Poet Laureate" and The Pilot's recently minted Sports' columnist.



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