These are strange times for Mookie Betts, with widely divergent paths becoming visible.
Earlier this month, the firing of president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski underscored to the four-time All-Star the notion that at its heart, the game can be a cold-hearted business where decisions are made with little sentiment. That firing was not a revelation, but instead confirmation of Betts’s long-held belief about the nature of contracts and negotiations — and the inevitability of change inside organizations.
On the other hand, the career-long Red Sox also has seen Fenway Park offering unconditional love for franchise legends David Ortiz and Carl Yastrzemski. Those two players spent 14 and 23 years, respectively, with the team, and will be associated with the franchise forever.
Betts has known nothing but the Red Sox, the organization with whom he signed in 2011 and has now played six big league seasons. Given what he’s accomplished to this point — an MVP (with his 2018 campaign ranking as perhaps the greatest by a Red Sox since Yastrzemski’s epic 1967 season), four All-Star Games, three Gold Gloves, a World Series — it’s not hard to imagine “Mookie” standing alongside “Papi” and “Yaz” in the franchise pantheon.
Yet Betts certainly doesn’t know how to forecast his relationship with the Red Sox next year, let alone in a decade or two. The 26-year-old understands that an organization that already has changed its head of baseball operations is preparing to make changes that will alter the roster. And so, Betts compartmentalizes: He appreciates how Ortiz and Yastrzemski are received, yet does not step back to think of his own place in Boston — or the growing question of whether his future will be in it — while observing the adulation for those legends.
“It’s pretty cool that they have their career in one place, but you can be remembered in that same fashion even if you put on a couple different jerseys,” said Betts. “It definitely doesn’t hurt to only put on one jersey . . . [But the Yastrzemski celebration] doesn’t sway me [about the future] one way or the other.”
It is a business, after all, and there are aspects of it that Betts cannot control. And so for now, even as he recognizes that there are a number of possibilities hovering over the 2020 Red Sox, he remains focused on the remainder of 2019.
The outfielder on Thursday missed his fifth straight game because of left foot inflammation, but Betts ran before the game and hopes to return to the lineup (as the designated hitter — the Sox wouldn’t have him play the outfield on the Tropicana Field turf) during the forthcoming four-game series against the Rays. Yet with the Red Sox on the cusp of elimination from postseason contention, and little for the team to accomplish aside from playing the role of spoiler, it might be natural to consider shutting down Betts for the duration of the year.
But that’s not Betts’s outlook.
“I’m not going to quit. I’m just not going to quit on myself or the team no matter where we are in the standings,” said Betts, who is hitting .293/.391/.527 in 144 games. “If I can get out there and play, whether it’s for something or not, I’m still going to go out and play.”
Betts has 28 homers, putting him in reach of a second straight year of hitting 30 or more. He also has a shot at scoring 140 runs.
“Do I care? Not really. Would it be nice to do? Of course,” said Betts. “Within playing, those things can happen. But it’s not something where, ‘Oh, I’ve got to play to hit two homers.’ I’m going to play because I’m not going to quit.”
For Heath Hembree, the summer was misery. The discomfort in his pitching elbow would not go away, yet the righthander did not want to succumb to it, feeling that he could still help his team.
“It was a grind there in June, July, August right after the break. I couldn’t really get over that hurdle to get it feeling better. I was kind of waking up every day just hoping I could make it through the day,” said Hembree. “That was a bad feeling.”
Finally, in early August, Hembree landed on the injured list with elbow tendinitis and received a plasma-rich platelet (PRP) injection in hopes of healing. He was told that he might not pitch again this year, but he set his sights on getting back into games before the end of the season. Now, he is on the cusp of doing just that.
Hembree is slated to throw a simulated game against teammates prior to Friday’s game against the Rays. If that goes well, he could be activated next week.
“I’m excited about it. I was thinking about it yesterday in the dugout. I’m going to be anxious and nervous just to get out there and face hitters again. It’s been a while,” said Hembree (4.06 ERA with 10.8 strikeouts per nine innings) in 37⅔ innings this year. “It would’ve been real tough going into the offseason and not being able to come back.”
Front office changes
The Red Sox made their first front office changes since firing Dombrowski. The team fired senior vice president of baseball operations Frank Wren and informed special assistant to the general manager Eddie Bane that his contract won’t be renewed.
Wren, who’d been brought to Boston in 2015 as one of the first hires by Dombrowski, was informed that the team is restructuring its scouting operations and looking to give new leadership opportunities to others. Bane joined the Red Sox front office in 2012, when Ben Cherington was GM.
The decisions were made at a time when the baseball operations department is being overseen by assistant GMs Brian O’Halloran, Eddie Romero, and Zack Scott, as well as senior VP of major league and minor league operations Raquel Ferreira.
Special assistant and VP of baseball operations Tony La Russa, hired by Dombrowski after the 2017 season, will remain with the team for at least one additional year.
“They asked me to stay and I want to,” La Russa said. “I have good relationships here.”
Four to 40
Andrew Benintendi’s first-inning double was his 40th of the year. He joins Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Rafael Devers in reaching the plateau, marking the first time the Sox have ever had four players with 40 doubles in the same season and tying a major league record . . . J.D. Martinez (sore groin) is day to day. If he is able to play against the Rays, then like Betts, he would only be a consideration to serve as designated hitter. “So, we’ll have two DHs,” joked manager Alex Cora . . . Michael Chavis had been making progress in his return from an oblique strain early in the week but encountered soreness. The Sox are increasingly likely to shut him down for the season.
Prior to Thursday’s game, the Red Sox honored Bruce Bochy of the Giants in an on-field ceremony for his 2,000th career win as a manager. He was congratulated on the field by Cora, Red Sox special assistant Tony La Russa, bench coach Ron Roenicke, coach Ramon Vazquez (who played for Bochy in San Diego), O’Halloran (an intern in San Diego when Bochy managed there), and VP of amateur scouting Mike Rikard (a Padres scout during Bochy’s tenure).