After a long and cold winter, baseball season is back. The Red Sox made big changes in the offseason with an eye on returning to playoff contention. With Opening Day just around the corner, let’s take a look at the current state of the Red Sox.
The Starting Rotation
Since the Red Sox traded Jon Lester at the July 31 trade deadline in 2014, they had been searching high and low for an ace to head the pitching staff. This search came to an end this winter when the Red Sox agreed to terms with David Price on a seven-year deal worth $217 million. Price has been one of the best pitchers in the MLB since entering the league in 2008, making the All-Star team five times and winning the AL Cy Young award in 2012.
The Red Sox finally have stability at the front to the rotation, but there are questions in spots 2-5. Clay Buchholz has been an enigma his entire career. It seems every year it is the same story with him: great for one month, bad for two months, and out for three months. Expect the same from him in the 2016 season.
Joe Kelly has shown that he has the stuff to be an effective pitcher, but he has lacked poise and control. This season could go either way for Kelly. He could step up as an important piece to the rotation, or he could struggle mightily, resulting in a demotion to the bullpen or Triple-A.
Rick Porcello had the worst season of his career in his first with the Red Sox. It does not seem that he will develop into a frontline starter the Red Sox thought he would when they gave him a four-year extension worth $80 million. He showed signs of encouragement at the end of the 2015 season, giving Red Sox fans hope that he can return to the middle of the rotation pitcher he was in Detroit.
Eduardo Rodriguez has been successful at every level ever since he arrived here at the 2014 trade deadline. Rodriguez was the best starter on the Red Sox last season after he was called up in May. He has the potential to be a top of the rotation starter, and reaching that potential could be what pushes the Red Sox into the elite class of the MLB. However, after dislocating his knee in late February, Rodriguez will begin the season on the disabled list, and is expected to be out until May. For the time being, knuckleballer Stephen Wright will be the team’s fifth starter in place of the injured Rodriguez.
The Red Sox have some rotation depth, with young lefties Henry Owens and Brian Johnson most likely beginning the season in Pawtucket. Also, the Red Sox will have Wright and Roenis Elias who could be used in spot starts or as bullpen depth this season.
The Red Sox had one of the worst bullpens in the 2015 season. However, an offseason overhaul by Dave Dombrowski could bring significantly different results. The Red Sox acquired Craig Kimbrel this winter for four prospects, most notably outfielder Manuel Margot and shortstop Javier Guerra. Kimbrel has been one of the best closers in baseball over the last five years and should provide the Red Sox bullpen with the stability it lacked at the end of the game last season.
Koji Uehara will return to the Red Sox next season as the setup man, stepping back from his closer role in favor of Kimbrel. The combo of Uehara and Kimbrel at the end of games has the potential to be one of the best 8th-9th inning combos in baseball.
Another acquisition this offseason was reliever Carson Smith. He was acquired along with Roenis Elias from the Seattle Mariners for pitchers Wade Miley and Jonathan Aro. Smith had a breakout season last year serving as the closer for the Mariners, and looks to carry over his success to 2016 with the Red Sox. Smith will start the season on the disabled list after hurting his forearm in Spring Training. As of right now, we have no timetable for his return, but is he expected to pitch at some point this season.
Junichi Tazawa, Tommy Layne, Matt Barnes, and Robbie Ross Jr. are expected to fill out the next four spots of the bullpen next year, with Elias, Wright, Brandon Workman, Pat Light, and Noe Rodriguez battling to fill Carson Smith’s void.
The Position Players
The Red Sox lineup did not live up to the lofty expectations last year, but showed promise toward the end of the season, ranking as one of the best offenses in baseball over the last two months. However, there is always room for improvement.
Blake Swihart projects to be the starting catcher for the Red Sox. He was called up early last season after injuries to Ryan Hanigan and Sandy Leon, although it was widely believed that he wouldn’t be ready for a call up until September. He struggled early in his 2015, but began to come into his own in August and September. He is a former top ten prospect in baseball, and he looks to tap into his potential in 2016.
Ryan Hanigan will return as the backup catcher for the Red Sox, where he served well last year. Hanigan is known as one of the best game-calling catchers in the league, and could prove to be a key in stabilizing the back end of the rotation.
Christian Vazquez continues to rehab from Tommy John surgery, and will begin the season in Triple-A. With the presence of Swihart and Hanigan, there will be no rush on Vazquez’ rehab assignment. However, it will be interesting to see how the Red Sox will handle their catching situation. The team is not likely to hold three catchers on its 25-man roster, so something has to give.
Perhaps the biggest question in the minds of Red Sox fans; “What are we going to get out of Hanley Ramirez?” Ramirez had a disastrous first season with the Red Sox in both his offense and his defense. Hanley started out the season with a scolding hot April, but after a shoulder injury from crashing into the Green Monster in attempt to make a catch, it seemed he had disappeared from the lineup. His first season in left field will also be his last, after being rated the worst defensive outfielder in baseball by almost every metric. The outfield experiment is over, but a new experiment begins. Hanley will play first base for the first time in his career, hoping that a return to the infield will be more comfortable for him. If he should fail to adjust, the Red Sox will have Travis Shaw ready to take Hanley’s spot in the lineup.
Dustin Pedroia will start his ninth season as the second baseman of the Boston Red Sox. He is not the MVP he was in 2008, but he had a pretty good season last year and I would expect that production to carry over into 2016.
Xander Bogaerts had his break out season in 2015, winning the Silver Slugger award for shortstops in his second full season in the MLB. He was arguably the best player on the Red Sox, and it looks like he could even get better. Bogaerts was second in batting average in the American League with a .320 average, trailing only Detroit’s Miguel Cabrera. If he is able to tap into his power potential in 2016, he may emerge as one of the league’s greatest players.
It was announced this past week that Travis Shaw has won the starting job at third base over Pablo Sandoval. Many believed that Sandoval’s job would be a given because of the $95 million contract he signed last winter, but it seems that the presence of Dave Dombrowski has emphasized the idea that no player’s job is safe. Shaw had a great second half in 2015, and has had a hot spring this year. Sandoval will get some time, probably starting at third when Shaw starts at first to give Hanley a breather. However, Sandoval doesn’t seem happy with the decision, so it will be interesting to see how this situation develops.
Young superstar Mookie Betts will play right field. He broke out in 2015, and many baseball reporters believe he could be an MVP candidate this season. Building off his developments from last season will be a key to the Red Sox success.
Jackie Bradley Jr. will man center field this year. Bradley had a hot month of August last year, but besides that, he has not been able to prove he can be a consistent hitter. However, his true value comes from his exceptional defense in center field. Even though Bradley may be a below average hitter, his defensive prowess will guarantee him a spot in the lineup.
To start the season, many believed that Rusney Castillo would be the everyday left fielder. However, Castillo has yet to show that he can succeed at the major league level since being signed out of Cuba in 2014. Because of his failures, left field will be platooned between utility man Brock Holt and newly signed Chris Young. Young can mash left handed pitching, but struggles during right-handers. Holt will be the starter against righties, and Young will start against lefties.
Not much of a question here. David Ortiz will begin the last season of his career in the MLB, Ortiz has been known to get off to slow starts, but his production will pick up later in the season. There is always the possibility his production falls off for good, but I expect a good year out of Big Papi.
After two last place finishes, John Farrell is firmly on the hot seat. Add that to the controversy involving his relationship with former CSNNE reporter Jessica Moran, he can’t afford a slow start to the season. The Red Sox retained bench coach Torey Luvello, making him one of the highest paid bench coaches in baseball. With Farrell’s replacement waiting on the bench next to him, it seems the Red Sox make the change quickly if the team doesn’t reach exceptions.
High End Prospects
Though they may not make the team this season, another storyline to follow will be the development of the Red Sox top prospects. According to Baseball America, the Red Sox have four prospects among the top twenty in all of baseball. These prospects are second basemen Yoan Moncada (3), outfielder Andrew Benintendi (15), third baseman Rafael Devers (18), and right-handed pitcher Anderson Espinoza (19). All four of these players have superstar potential, and their development will be key to the future of the Red Sox. Another prospect to watch is first baseman Sam Travis, who has opened eyes during Spring Training. One scout has been noted to comparing Travis to Arizona Diamondbacks first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. While those are lofty expectations, his development will be an interesting story this season, as he could potentially join the Major League club this season.
The Red Sox are known throughout the league for their abundance of albatross contracts. Among these are Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval, Rick Porcello, and Rusney Castillo. Given the opportunity, new President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski would trade these players in a heartbeat. However, the Red Sox will most likely have to take on a bad contract to move one. Dombrowksi has a history of this during his time in Detroit. He was able to trade first baseman Prince Fielder two years into a nine year, 214 million dollar deal to the Texas Rangers for second baseman Ian Kinsler, so there is precedent for a deal to be made. The San Diego Padres have had internal conversations about acquiring Sandoval, so it remains to be seen if anything comes from that report.
The Red Sox biggest hole is a number two starting pitcher, and if one does not emerge on the current staff, the Red Sox could be forced to make a move. Possible options for the Red Sox are Padres starters Tyson Ross, Andrew Cashner, and James Shields, as well as Cleveland Indians starters Carlos Carrasco, Danny Salazar, and Trevor Bauer. The Red Sox have the prospects to make a deal; it’s just a matter if they are willing to give them up. Aces like Oakland Athletics’ Sonny Gray, Chicago White Sox’ Chris Sale, and Miami Marlins’ Jose Fernandez are not available at the time, and if they were, it would cost a fortune in terms of blue chip prospects. However, if these players do become available, expect the Red Sox to be involved in the negotiations.
The Red Sox will come slow out of the gate because of a shaky rotation, showing a resemblance to the last two seasons. This will result in manager John Farrell being replaced by Torey Lovello in mid to late April. The Red Sox will play better under Lovello, but will hit their stride once Eduardo Rodriguez makes his comeback. Rodriguez will become the front of the rotation starter the Red Sox thought he could be, filling the club’s biggest need. The offense will be led by Bogaerts, Betts, Ortiz, and breakout catcher Blake Swihart, and will be finishing as one of the best in the American League. The Red Sox will finish the season 88-74, enough to clinch a berth in the Wild Card Game.