The other thing worth mentioning is the Red Sox pitching, which seemed to get a lot better after the acquisition of left hander Chris Sale from the Chicago White Sox. Adding one of the best pitchers in baseball to a team that already has the reining Cy Young Award winner in Rick Porcello gives the Red Sox a distinct advantage over just about any team in the American League. However, playing devils advocate for a second, what if Sale becomes just a slight upgrade over incumbent left handed ace David Price? Losing Price for a little bit of time (perhaps the first month or so of the season) is one thing, but what happens if Price's 2017 season ends without him on the mound in a major league game that often? Maybe he can use some rest during the season and the Red Sox would be better off with Price at full strength come playoff time, but the Red Sox have to get there first. The Red Sox would be very top heavy without Price, especially with doubts concerning left hander Drew Pomeranz. A Red Sox rotation that consists of Porcello, Sale, Price and Pomeranz makes the fifth spot less important and also allows the possibility that Eduardo Rodriguez or Steven Wright can go under the radar this season. Pomeranz' status is a little more encouraging than that of Price, where the latter is at risk of missing a good chunk of this coming season. Pomeranz could be ready as early as April 9, but he may be out a little longer than that. Price, though he is on a throwing program to build up arm strength, is going to be out at least until the month of May, likely longer.
The Red Sox added first baseman Mitch Moreland as a free agent from the Texas Rangers. Moreland, he of a .233 batting average in 2016, has hit 20 or more home runs in his last three healthy seasons. Boston also made a trade with the Milwaukee Brewers for right handed reliever Tyler Thornburg, who made a huge impact on the Crew last season. Thornburg struck out 90 batters in 67 innings pitched and finished with a 2.13 earned run average and a 0.940 walks and hits per innings pitched.
Thornburg joins a bullpen led by Craig Kimbrel, who despite becoming a little more hit-able over the past two seasons, still misses bats and has one of the best strikeout per nine inning percentages in all of baseball. Right handers Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes are worth watching this season, as the former may have finally found himself as a short reliever and Barnes has strong odds of building on the success of his first full big league season. Carson Smith, the right handed pitcher acquired in the 2015-2016 off season trade from the Seattle Mariners, had Tommy John surgery last year but could return in May or June of this season. If that happens, a combination of Kimbrel, Thornburg, Smith, Kelly, and Barnes could be the best set of five relievers the game has today. Left handed pitcher Robbie Ross serves that role with Robby Scott making the team as a second LOOGY (left handed only one out guy). It looks as if righty Heath Hembree and lefty Fernando Abad have a good shot of making the opening day roster as well.
The Red Sox will add Andrew Benintendi to the growing mix of their solid, young position players. The left fielder qualifies as a rookie this year and is expected to be one of the best young players in baseball. Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr hit 26 home runs, drove in 87 runs and scored 94 more last season. Right fielder Mookie Betts is becoming one of the best players in the entire sport, coming off a season in which he hit .318 with 31 home runs, 118 RBI, 122 runs scored, 214 hits and 42 doubles. Moreland playing first base allows for Hanley Ramirez to be the full time designated hitter. Han-Ram had a solid season as the team's first baseman in 2016, hitting 30 home runs, driving in 111 and scoring another 81. Dustin Pedroia hit a quiet .318 and also managed to score over 100 runs and have over 200 hits. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts had 192 hits, drove in 89 runs last season and also scored another 115.
The Red Sox lineup is as solid as there is in the game, but there is every reason to question what projected starting third baseman Pablo Sandoval has left. One of the better postseason players in recent memory; if he was judged by his performance last season (3 games, 6 at bats, 4 Ks, 0 hits), one would just chalk that up to being out because of an injury. His injury last year, however, was a little bit mysterious. It started when the Red Sox announced that Travis Shaw (since traded to the Milwaukee Brewers as part of the deal that brought in Thornburg) would be the team's starting third baseman. Questions arose over why Pablo was placed on the disabled list until it was announced that he would have exploratory surgery on his shoulder, ending his season. The switch hitter has come into camp this season in very good shape and has performed well this spring. Catcher Sandy Leon kind of came out of nowhere last season to hit .310 and have 26 extra base hits in 78 games. Leon was just a .238 hitter in his career in the minor leagues, including a paltry .244 for the Triple- A Pawtucket Red Sox last season. The team still likes Christian Vazquez, once a top catching prospect, but really lacks depth at the position especially if Leon is not an impact-full offensive player, which he should not be. The Red Sox lineup could look like this: Bogaerts SS, Pedroia 2B, Betts RF, Hamirez DH, Bradley CF, Benintendi LF, Sandoval 3B, Moreland 1B, Leon/ Vazquez C. All Star utility man Brock Holt leads a bench which includes veteran Chris Young and Bryce Brentz. Infielder Josh Rutledge looked like he was going to make the team until he got hurt, so expect to see him in Fenway at some point of the season.
The Red Sox still have a pretty strong farm system, led by Benintendi, who will not be considered a prospect for long. Third baseman Rafael Devers and first baseman Sam Travis should be ready to debut this season and be regulars in 2018. The Red Sox took third baseman Bobby Dalbec in the fourth round of the 2016 draft. Dalbec has power compared to that of Cubs 3B Kris Bryant, but the question is whether he projects as a MLB third baseman. It should also be worth noting that first baseman Josh Ockimey and Nick Longhi could get even better as they continue to develop. This could give the Red Sox a problem that few would be upset about, but one which would force Dave Dombrowski and his staff to make some big decisions in regards to which players to keep and which ones to trade.
I felt ever since the Red Sox acquired Sale, they became the team to beat in the American League. The Price injury could allow, however, for some of the other top American League teams to gain some ground and possibly surpass Boston and their high status. It is hard to define anything this team does not have. They have good, young position players, deep pitching, and a front office not afraid to upgrade its roster come July. Add to it the fact that they still have a ton of depth in the minor leagues to trade from. Vegas puts the Red Sox at 90.5 for its over/ under. Though I will take the over, it is not by as much as could have been thought. I have the Red Sox at 92-70, first place in the American League East division and best record in the American League.