Now that it appears the Red Sox are done tinkering with their major league rosters, I would expect a few minor league depth signings in the next few months. It is time to take stock in what the Red Sox will have to work with for the 2017 season.
The Coaching Staff
There are a couple new faces being added to the staff for the upcoming season. Gary Disarcina will take over as the Bench Coach, after spending the last three seasons as a base coach for Mike Scioscia's Angels. Now serving as the right hand man to John Farrell, it will be interesting to see if Disarcina can have as large of an influence as Torey Lovullo did. Lovullo, at times, seemed to be the brains behind the daily game plans for the Red Sox and everyone assumed he was the heir to Farrell when management decided it was time for him to go. However, that time never came and Lovullo is now the manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, a move the Red Sox will almost certainly regret. The other new face to the field staff is Brian Bannister. Although he was with the organization last season, this is the first season he is listed as a coach. Many pitchers have credited him for their recent success and much like the Farrell/Lovullo situation, Bannister might be the one pulling the strings on the moves current Pitching Coach, Carl Willis, gets the credit for.
Returning to the field staff this year are Hitting Coach Chili Davis, Assistant Hitting Coach Victor Rodriguez, above mentioned Pitching Coach Carl Willis, First Base Coach Ruben Amaro Jr, Third Base Coach Brian Butterfield, and Bullpen Coach Dana LeVangie. Butterfield is one of the best in the business, not only as a third base coach, but also as an infield instructor. All credit is due for the defensive strives Hanley Ramirez and Xander Bogaerts have made at their defensive positions to Butterfield. Probably the most important coach on the staff is Chili Davis. He will face the blame if the Red Sox offense does not put up similar numbers to last season, and he has a huge hole to fill with David Ortiz missing. Davis has done a great job so far during his Red Sox tenure and hopefully that continues. The other coaches are mostly fodder on a Major League staff, but have some useful behind the scenes input.
The Starting Lineup
The everyday lineup will probably shake out like this:
1. Dustin Pedroia
2. Andrew Benintendi
3. Xander Bogaerts
4. Mookie Betts
5. Hanley Ramirez
6. Pablo Sandoval
7. Jackie Bradley Jr.
8. Mitch Moreland
9. Sandy Leon
If Farrell wants to play the matchup game, I could see Hanley and Pablo being flipped to create a more balanced left-right flow, but these will be the faces that Red Sox Nation will see for the majority of the season. Dustin Pedroia stepped into the leadoff spot last season and never looked back. He was an on base machine, posting a .376 clip and settled in with 15 homers and 74 RBI. Pedroia posted his first 200+ hit season since his MVP season and stayed healthy, which was the biggest factor. If Pedroia can replicate these numbers from the top of the order, it will go a long way to easing the loss of Ortiz.
Andrew Benintendi will find his home in left field for the Red Sox. Benintendi burst onto the scene at the end of last year and showed that he belongs on the Major League roster. In only 105 at bats, he had 31 hits while scoring 16 runs. With the small sample size, it will be a huge lineup upgrade to having him get 600 at bats instead of the Chris Young and Brock Holt and the rest of the island of misfit toys that filled out the left field combination of 2016.
Shortstop Xander Bogaerts looks to be on the cusp of becoming the perennial middle of the infield superstar the Red Sox have been looking for since Nomar was traded. Bogaerts delivered 21 homers, 89 RBI, and 192 hits in his 652 at bats last season, in which he also stole 13 bags. This is the type of production that Bogaerts will have to build on if he wants to remain entrenched in the number three hole of the lineup and the Red Sox want to march towards their long term answer at shortstop.
MVP runner up, Mookie Betts showed the baseball world what he could do last season and the diminutive gold glove right fielder, looks to continue what he started. With ferocious bat speed and the confidence of a ten year veteran, Mookie blasted 31 homers, drove in 113 RBI, stole 26 bases, and collected 214 hits. Mookie was the leadoff hitter for a large portion of the year before he became the solution to protect David Ortiz. With Ortiz now gone, Betts will have to build off his last season and show he was not a one hit wonder.
The biggest surprise from Hanley Ramirez last season was that it actually looked like he wanted to be here. After the debacle that unfolded when he was moved to the outfield in 2015, back in the infield, and at first base no less, Hanley was smiling, laughing, and hitting in 2016. He looked like the Hanley of old, who was not trying to hit every pitch as far as he could, but drive balls into the gap and see what happens. Hanley finished with 81 runs, 30 homers, 111 RBI and was a force out of the fifth spot of the lineup. Recreating these numbers will only further allow people to forget how miserable he was in 2015.
Svelte Pablo Sandoval is back in the spotlight. After embarrassing himself and every Red Sox fan in 2015, Pablo has actually appeared to be putting in the work for the 2016 season. He looks to be in better shape and motivated to prove that 2015 was not who he really is. I will believe this when I see it. Having hated the Sandoval signing from the moment it happened, because it was done solely to sell tickets and not to improve the team, Sandoval has a long way to go until he proves he deserves even a fraction of his contract. That being said, Sandoval is the best option the Red Sox have a third base, having traded away Travis Shaw and hopefully realizing that Brock Holt is not an everyday player by now, so it is time to put up or shut up with Sandoval.
JBJ provided what few thought he could at the dish in 2016, and if he could replicate those numbers again, nobody would care how streaky he is. JBJ scored 94 runs with 26 homers, 87 RBI, and a .267 batting average. When you couple that with his gold glove caliber defense, JBJ should be an all-star, however, most of his numbers are put up when he gets insanely hot for a six week stretch and then goes ice cold for the next six weeks. If JBJ can create this production in a more consistent manner, then the Red Sox look to have made the right choice by not giving him up in trade requests a few years ago.
Mitch Moreland is the new face in town and will hopefully provide some power from the left side of the dish. Last season, with Texas, Moreland hit 22 homers and drove in 60 runs, while playing gold glove defense. It will be interesting to see how much time Moreland gets at first base over Hanley Ramirez, but if he could provide 20+ homers during his time in the lineup, the Red Sox will be in a good spot.
Sandy Leon, hopefully, is not long for the everyday catching role. Leon had a decent year last season, 7 homers, 35 RBI, .310 average but showed with steady playing time, his production drops off. Here is where the Red Sox would like to see Vazquez or Swihart produce and take over, but if your lineup's weakest link is the number nine hitter, then that is a good problem to have.
The bench is comprised of players that, if they are playing for any extended period of time, the Red Sox are in trouble. Nobody on the bench is more than a decent platoon option and most of the members of the bench should probably be playing in AAA. Members of the bench will include Christian Vazquez, Marco Hernandez, Deven Marrero, Josh Rutledge, Bryce Bentz, Chris Young, Brock Holt, and Blake Swihart. Swihart, Hernandez, and Marrero all have options remaining, so I would expect them to find themselves in AAA to start the season. Young, Holt, and Vazquez are virtual locks to remain with the big league club so I would expect the final member of the bench to come down to Bentz and Rutledge. Now the Red Sox made a claim during the rule 5 draft for Rutledge so he must remain on the 25 man roster all season or be sent back to Colorado, so I would expect him to have the inside edge. Either way, if any of these players have to be thrust into a starting role, the Red Sox are in trouble.
The Starting Rotation
The Red Sox acquired a true ace this season. When they shipped Yoan Moncada, Michael Kopech, and others to the White Sox for Chris Sale, they acquired a true number one starter who pitches like he has a set of stones. Unlike the $217 million man, David Price, who can not seem to find a spine and pitch with some gusto to save his live. Sale brings his unique delivery to the front of the rotation, as well as, a 17-10 record with a 3.34 ERA and 233 strikeouts in 226.2 innings in 2016. Sale should be a huge boost to the rotation that has now traded off Clay Buchholz and will allow Chris Sale to fill those starts, I'd say that is a wonderful trade off.
The number two on the Red Sox staff will be the reigning Cy Young award winner, Rick Porcello. Porcello shut down all doubters after his 2015 season, with a 22-4 record with a 3.15 ERA and 189 strikeouts in 223 innings. Porcello served as the stopper for the Red Sox in 2016 and utilized a strong defensive infield to produce his best big league season so far.
The number three pitcher for the Red Sox will be David Price. Once a feared ace in baseball, Price is now someone who can not be relied upon to win a big game. His postseason record is awful and every time the Red Sox needed a big win in 2016 he fell flat. It seemed that he could never be the pitcher to win the 1-0, 2-1, 3-2 games and that ended up costing the Red Sox down the line. Whether or not he will get better in 2016 will be all about if he can lay off the social media and stop acting like a baby when people say bad things to him. Price finished 2016 with a 17-9 record with a 3.99 ERA and 228 strikeouts in 230 innings. While complaining about those numbers might be silly, when you are paid $31 million and need the last start of the season to get your ERA under 4, then you have drastically underperformed.
The four and five spots in the rotation is where the waters get murky. As currently constituted, the Red Sox have Steven Wright, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Drew Pomeranz set to battle it out. All come with their drawbacks. Wright had a stellar year in 2016 until nincompoop manager John Farrell had him pinch run and he hurt his shoulder diving back to a base. Finishing with a 13-6 record with a 3.33 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 156.2 innings, the knuckleballer may have the inside track to a rotation spot simply because he throws with his right hand. However, being a knuckleballer is his caveat, having lived through the Tim Wakefield era, it should be well known by now that this pitch can go bad in an instant and throwing it with consistency can be tricky. That leaves the fifth spot in the rotation to Eduardo Rodriguez and Drew Pomeranz. Pomeranz came over in the worst trade I have ever seen, when Dombrowski gave up top flight pitching prospect Anderson Espinoza. My main hangup with this trade was that Pomeranz was, is, and will continue to be an awful pitcher who has no upside other than coming out of the bullpen to get out a lefty. I would much rather the rotation spot go to Eduardo Rodriguez, who can not seem to stay healthy but offers upside that is much greater than Pomeranz. Spring training will sort out the back end of the rotation, but not having to watch Clay Buchholz all season makes us all winners.
Joining the loser of the rotation battle in the bullpen will be closer Craig Kimbrel, newly acquired set up man Tyler Thornburg, trusted lefty Robbie Ross Jr., and some combination of three of Fernando Abad, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, and Joe Kelly. The bullpen might be the most interesting battle of the spring because it will feature guys with loads of potential, Barnes and Kelly, against an established arm, Abad, and a guy who got the Sox out of some tough spots last season, Hembree. I would not be surprised if the last three spots go to Hembree, Barnes, and Kelly while the Sox try to cut bait with Abad, who never really was used correctly (thanks again John) and will not be useful as the third lefty coming out of the bullpen. Another addition by subtraction is that departure of Junichi Tazawa, not that he was a bad pitcher by any means, he was actually very good for the Sox, but we no longer have to watch his performance suffer as Farrell runs him out there way too often without using the other members of the bullpen. The current plan for the Red Sox bullpen looks to be that they will rely heavily on the back end, while hoping the starters go deep enough to enable them to utilize the final spots sparingly throughout the season.
The Boston Red Sox look poised to claim the AL East title again. The rest of the division has appeared to take a step back while the Sox have made the only real splash. The Yankees can sign all the lights out closers they would like to, because their rotation is garbage. The Orioles relied on mediocre pitching and power to keep them afloat and have allowed Mark Trumbo and his 47 homers to remain on the open market. The Blue Jays had the best pitching rotation statistically, but have lost Edwin Encarnacion and maybe Jose Bautista from their lineup. And the Rays are still a ways away from competing again and will probably enter a complete rebuild soon. Look for the Red Sox to win the East again and hopefully make a deep playoff run.
By Dan Cantone