This type of excitement could have described the 2015 Boston Red Sox. Of course, many teams have done similar reloading. The 2009 New York Yankees welcomed pitchers CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett and first baseman Mark Teixeira to the team before winning the World Series. The 1992 New York Mets brought in outfielder Bobby Bonilla, first baseman Eddie Murray and pitcher Bret Saberhagen before struggling to a point where they were called, "the worst team money can buy." The Red Sox, coming off a disappointing last place finish in the American League East division just one year after winning the 2013 World Series, invested in free agency to sign third baseman Pablo Sandoval and infielder/ turned outfielder Hanley Ramirez to extremely lucrative contacts. The trade of outfielder Yoenis Cespedes netted them Tigers pitcher Rick Porcello, then made a trade with the Arizona Diamondbacks for left handed starter Wade Miley. The season seemed to go in the way of a disappointment, with the Red Sox finishing 2015 with a 78-84 record. However, the team did hit a stride during the months of August and September, where they finished with a record of 32-22 over those two months.
Before the season was completed, it was announced that the Red Sox had brought in longtime Tigers executive Dave Dombrowski to be the new President of Baseball Operations. Dombrowski promoted Red Sox executive Mike Hazen to Senior Vice President and General Manager. Similar to last off season, Boston was very busy. The Sox signed free agent ace David Price (18 wins, 5 losses, 2.45 earned run average, 225 strikeouts, just over 220 innings pitched) to a record 7 year, $217 million contract. The Red Sox then traded with the San Diego Padres to obtain top closer Craig Kimbrel (4-2, 2.58, 39 saves, 87 strikeouts, just over 59 IP). When they traded Miley to the Seattle Mariners, I loved the fact that they were able to add right hander Carson Smith (2-5, 2.31, 92 Ks, 70 IP) in addition to left handed starter Roenis Elias (5-8, 97 Ks, just over 115 IP). However, Smith will miss the start of the season due to a strained flexor muscle, putting a little damper on what seemed like an absolute steal for the Red Sox.
Though the team went outside the organization to bolster their pitching staff, the Red Sox improved offense clearly came from within. Outfielder Mookie Betts (.291 batting average, 18 home runs, 77 runs batted in, .820 on base plus slugging, 92 runs scored, 174 hits, 42 doubles, 8 triples, 21 stolen bases) became a star last season and the Red Sox also enjoyed an excellent campaign from shortstop Xander Bogaerts (.320, 7, 81, .776, 84 runs, 196 hits). Of course, the performances of Sandoval (.245, 10, 47, 658) and Ramirez (.249, 19, 53, .717) were not what the organization expected when they committed a total of $183 million in contract dollars. Designated hitter David Ortiz (.273, 37, 108, .913) decided that he is calling his quits after the 2016 season, ending what has been a historic baseball career. The soon to be Red Sox legend is hitting .284 for his career coming into this season with a .925 on base plus slugging, already has over 500 career home runs and is just 16 doubles away from 600 for his career. Ortiz has been one of the best postseason players the game has ever seen and has clearly had a Hall of Fame career.
Betts will be joined in the outfield by Cuban left fielder Rusney Castillo (.253, 5, 29, .647) and center fielder Jackie Bradley, Jr (.249, 10, 53, .832). The Red Sox brought in veteran Chris Young (.252, 14, 42, .773), whom they got to see 19 times last season playing for the Yankees, to provide a little bit of depth for the young outfielders ranging between 23 and 28 years old. Ramirez makes the transition from a shortstop to an outfielder to a first baseman in 2016. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia (.291, 12, 42, .797) played in just 93 games last season and catcher Blake Swihart (.274, 5, 31, .712) is entering his first full big league season.
The Red Sox lineup I would start the season with is Bradley CF, Bogaerts SS, Betts RF, Ortiz DH, Ramirez 1B, Pedroia 2B, Sandoval 3B, Swihart C, Castillo LF. The Red Sox have a very deep bench, led by infielder Travis Shaw (.270, 13, 36, .813 in 65 games) and super utility player Brock Holt (.280, 2, 45, .727). Ryan Hanigan (.247, 2, 16, .664) serves as the backup catcher with the Red Sox possessing the ability to be fine with a four man bench. Perhaps the Red Sox can find a place for Allen Craig, who has become a complete and utter disaster since he was acquired in a trade from the St. Louis Cardinals. He has had a good spring and can play a number of different positions so he does have some value, if not for the Red Sox, but another major league baseball team.
The Red Sox starting pitching obviously gets better with the addition of Price. However, its high potential took a hit with the injury to left handed starter Eduardo Rodriguez (10-6, 3.85, 98, less than 122). It is a knee injury and though a concern, should not ruin his season. Nonetheless, the Red Sox are hoping to get a huge contribution from the to be 23 year old. Right handers Porcello (9-15, 4.92, 149, 172) and Clay Bucholz (7-7, 3.26, 107, just over 113) are perfect as three and four starters, but are not aces. Joe Kelly (10-6, 4.82, 110, just over 134) will serve as the number five starter with Elias, Steven Wright and Henry Owens lurching as potential replacements due to injury. Of course, one of the three is likely to open the season in the Red Sox rotation with Rodriguez being out.
The Red Sox sured up their bullpen by adding Kimbrel and Smith. Similar to the starters, Boston is going to have to start the season without a big piece, with Smith starting the season on the disabled list. The best closer in baseball in the 2013 season Koji Uehara (2-4, 2.23, 25 saves, 47 Ks, just over 40 IP) will serve in more of a tertiary role with veteran Junichi Tazawa (2-7, 4.14, 56, just under 59) becoming more of a sixth to seventh inning reliever. Left handers Robbie Ross (0-2, 3.86, 53, just under 61) and Tommy Layne (2-1, 3.97, 64 games) will provide situational relief. Look at Boston to use right hander Matt Barnes a little bit more with Smith out of action.
Cuban infielder Yoan Moncada is probably ready for the big leagues right now. However, it is unlikely the Red Sox will use him with their current infield alignment with Sandoval and Pedroia. Perhaps, the Red Sox consider a trade involving Sandoval (it may be far fetched because of what he is owed over the next four seasons) and can use Moncada at third base. Speaking of third base, left hand hitting Rafael Devers looks like he will be manning the position for years to come. Just 19 years old, Devers has a sweet swing and looks to be gaining some power. 2015 first round draft pick Andrew Benintendi looks to be a star outfielder in the making, with the Arizona Razorbacks product on a fast track through the minor league system. Look at pitchers Owens and Brian Johnson to get a chance to stick in the Boston rotation at some point in the season.
I was high on the Red Sox last season and was wrong for about four months. In August and September, it became evident that this team was ready to be taken seriously. The development of Betts and Bogaerts will be compounded by the growth of Rodriguez, Smith, Swihart and others. Price gives the team a no doubt ace and Kimbrel is still one of the best in shutting a game down. Las Vegas has the Red Sox over/ under at 85.5 and I have the Red Sox taking the over, finishing the season at 88-74, first place in the American League Central.