Last year the Boston Red Sox were poised to be an offensive powerhouse with two key free agent signings but another last place finish is all they could do. Now it’s all shiny and new so let’s see if they are a good bet to cash in our MLB picks this season.
Boston boasts two promising catchers in Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez. The former is one of the brightest catching prospects in baseball who was forced into action with the big club a year earlier than anticipated due to the season ending Tommy John surgery that affected the latter. Speaking of Vazquez, reports are that the defensive ace has recovered fully and will compete for the starting assignment. If the Sox feel Swihart needs reps down in Pawtucket they have veteran Ryan Hannigan signed as the designated backup.
The worst experiment in baseball has come to a merciful close with Hanley Ramirez no longer patrolling left field in front of the Green Monster. The former shortstop has been shifted to first base this season where he will attempt to learn another new position. It can only be better from his woeful performance last season in the field. Ramirez’s .249 average fell spectacularly short of his .296 career average and his 19 dingers along with 53 RBI’s were also disappointing for the Red Sox brass who signed him to mash the Monster. His number should rise as 2015 appeared to be an aberration perhaps due to his repeated defensive failures in the field.
Dustin Pedroia experienced a lackluster campaign in ’15 but his batting average was still better than most, hitting at a .291 clip in a season wrought with injuries. The four-time All-Star and former AL MVP is still young enough at 32 to come back strong this season. As long as Pedey is healthy, second base is in capable hands for the BoSox.
Xavier Bogaerts has limitless potential. In only his second season in the bigs he trailed only Miguel Cabrera for the AL batting title and won a Silver Slugger at shortstop. The sky is the limit for this 23-year-old native of Aruba and the Red Sox only get better as long as he stays healthy.
If Pablo Sandoval spent as much time taking batting practice as he does at the dinner table or buying obscenely priced automobiles he just might live up to all those lofty expectations the Sox had when they signed him during free agency last year. He was lethargic at the hot corner last season and woeful at the plate with only 10 homeruns and a .245 batting average. This could be a $100 million bust for Boston.
The big, toothy grin of David Ortiz will grace the Fenway diamond for one last season as he returns to his DH role in what will be a memorable swan song for those who have witnessed his hitting heroics over the past dozen years. Big Papi continued to defy Father Time with an astonishing 37 dingers and 108 RBI’s last season at the ripe old age of 39. Now at 40 years old anything he does will be gravy but just in case he tumbles into a hitting stupor the Red Sox have signed former Yankee Chris Young to pick up the slack.
Mookie Betts is the best of a young bunch in Fenway's outfield this season. The 23-year-old speed merchant had a promising
sophomore season with a .291 batting average, 18 homers, 77 RBI's and 21 stolen bases. He also performed admirably in the field but the defensive wunderkind of this young triumvirate is most assuredly Jackie Bradley Junior who is ensconced in centerfield as a surefire Gold Glove winner to be and one who can track fly balls with the grace and alacrity of a cheetah. The knock on Bradley has been his inability to hit consistently though he does have stretches where he catches fire and scorches the ball all over the park.
The third member of what could be one of the best outfields in the majors is Cuban born Rusney Castillo whom the Red Sox signed to a seven-year $72.5 million contract. Castillo is still a bit of an enigma as he was one of the finest Cuban prospects but in a midseason call up last year the results were merely asi asi as our Cuban brethren would say. If Castillo's press clippings are true then the 80 games he played last season where he hit .253 with a .288 OBP, .359 slugging and .647 OPS will be usurped by far more impressive numbers.
Super sub Brock Holt is like a Swiss army knife, he can solve a multitude of positional problems and play each with enough aplomb that nobody skips a beat. He and recently signed Chris Young are slated to be backup outfielders but don't be surprised if the Sox bring in another veteran as an emergency switch in the event Bradley or Castillo cannot handle the rigors of the long and winding baseball season.
The bullpen got a big boost in the offseason when the Red Sox brass realized that Koji Uehara will be 41 to begin the season and is no longer the lockdown, stone cold killer of old. He is no doubt more effective as a setup man and thus all the Red Sox did was sign one of the best in the business in Craig Kimbrel. They then dealt starter Wade Miley to Seattle for 26-year-old Carson Smith. Smith has a positively filthy slider and delivers a deceptively funky fastball that tops out at about 94 miles per hour. Those are the bullpen studs and if they perform up to expectations then Boston will be in fine form when their starters wilt in the late innings. Junichi Tazawa, knuckleballer Stephen Wright and Matt Barnes are likely to be the mid to long relievers. The Sox bullpen, once a vulnerability is suddenly one of the best in the business.
Two words, one name - David Price. That's all you need to know about why the Red Sox have been hailed as one of the most improved ball clubs in the American League. It is quite likely Boston will bear witness to another worst to first scenario and that lofty expectation is primarily due to their prized free agent David Price being counted on to deliver 20 or more wins and an AL East title. The Red Sox now have the bona fide ace they lacked last season and that alone makes this edition leaps and bounds beyond where they were last year at this time - or anytime during the 2015 season.
Southpaw Edwin Rodriguez exploded onto the scene last season and the 22-year-old could easily be viewed as the Sox No. 2 man. Clay Buchholz has been lauded as having as much talent as any pitcher in the game but he can be confoundingly erratic. However, when he does not have the burden of being viewed as the top dog his performances improve. There is no doubt about who the ace on this team is and it certainly isn't Buchholz. Pencil Buchholz in as No.3 in Boston's starting rotation.
Rick Porcello was the big money pitcher that Boston bagged last season in free agency but he failed to deliver until a run of quality innings as the season wound down. The former Detroit Tiger could be the best No. 4 man in either league or a Beantown bust. Based on his career stats the former is far more likely than the latter.
Rounding out the rotation is Joe Kelly who went 10-6 with a 4.82 ERA in 25 starts last season. Former top prospect Henry Owens made appearances last season for the big club and should stick from the very beginning this time around. The question is whether he will be asked to start or contribute to the bullpen. Time will tell.
The 2016 Outlook
This club has improved exponentially from their 78 win season in 2015. As we peruse the MLB odds the over/under on Boston's total wins is 85.5 which makes this an automatic play on the over and one I would include in my MLB picks in a heartbeat. This team is poised to make a big run and if one considers that 81 wins makes just an average team then it is logical to conclude that this season's itineration of the Boston Red Sox is far superior to that. In addition the oddsmakers have installed the Sox as the fourth chalkiest team to win the World Series at +1200 at Bovada, trailing only NL powerhouses the Mets, Giants and believe it or not, the Chicago Cubs.
We have seen this movie before when Boston went from a 69 win season in 2012 to a World Championship banner in 2013. There is not the same yawning chasm between last season and this compared to 2012 and 2013. The Sox already had talent on their roster but now they are stacked both offensively and in the pitching realm. Watch Boston run away with the East and vault into an AL Championship before they claim another World Series title.
You heard it here first.