Between now and Opening Day, we’ll be previewing each team by eavesdropping on an extended conversation about them. For the full archive of each 2018 team preview, click here.
Boston Red Sox PECOTA Projections:
Runs Scored: 754
Runs Allowed: 679
AVG/OBP/SLG (TAv): .266/.327/.422 (.261)
Total WARP: 34.6 (15.5 pitching, 19.1 non-pitching)
Ben Carsley: You may not hear anyone on Boston talk radio admit this but … did Dave Dombrowski just have a great offseason? He read the market correctly and added a relatively affordable J.D. Martinez to a roster that won 93 games last season. He locked up quality bench/reserve pieces on the cheap. He did not sign Eric Hosmer. He resisted the urge to gut the Red Sox’s core because they were “boring last year” or whatever. Hell, he didn’t even trade Jay Groome or Michael Chavis for a reliever! I guess he could’ve signed Mookie Betts to a 10-year extension but, on the whole, it seems like he kinda crushed it, no?
Brett Cowett: Definitely. It wasn’t flashy, it wasn’t exciting, but he (mostly) did the right things. Five years and $110 million for a guy with offensive numbers comparable to Giancarlo Stanton’s? Sign me up. Even the Eduardo Nunez contract looks like a steal. Apart from the Mitch Moreland signing, which has already been remarked upon in these pages, Dombrowski looked like he had everything on lock. He must’ve realized that he didn’t need to go crazy to upgrade this team, as they won 93 games with a lackluster offense last year. This might’ve been the first offseason since Dombrowski came to Boston that didn’t have you feeling anxious about how much they’d have to lose to get what they needed.
Carsley: You’re not wrong in describing the ‘17 Red Sox offense as “lackluster,” because they were hard to watch at times. But despite finishing 27th in the majors in homers and 26th in overall slugging percentage, they placed 10th in total runs scored. That’s likely to surprise some people, but it illustrates that Dombrowski didn’t need to take a terrible offense and make it average—he just needed to take an average-to-good offense and make it good-to-great. I think he may have done so.
We’re maybe overlooking how deep this team got, too. Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts, Dustin Pedroia, Nunez, Moreland, Hanley Ramirez, and Brock Holt make up a very deep group of infielders. Betts, Jackie Bradley, Andrew Benintendi, and Martinez give them four starting-caliber outfielders. Hell, even Blake Swihart is showing a pulse again. Offensively, this team should be able to survive an injury or two along the way, which is a very good thing when you consider how injury-prone guys like Ramirez, Pedroia, and Nunez are.
Cowett: Their depth is one of the more underrated aspects of the team, yeah. Once Marco Hernandez comes back, they’re going to have a packed bench full of useful guys who can fill in when the injury bug comes visiting, and that’s not even considering the possibility that they could stop being stingy with Rusney Castillo, who crushed it in Triple-A last year. On the position player side of things, the Red Sox are pretty set.
That being said, the pitching is less based on depth than it is quality, which tends to be risky. You’ve obviously got your headliners—Chris Sale, David Price, Craig Kimbrel, etc.—but once you get a little below the surface, it’s a bit concerning. Rick Porcello gave up at least one homer in 24 of his 33 starts last year—11 of those were multi-dinger affairs—and induced a lot fewer grounders than you’re comfortable with. Until Eduardo Rodriguez and/or Steven Wright come back, the candidates for that fifth starter job are a carousel of guys you hope don’t self-destruct by the third inning. And, uh, it probably needs to be mentioned that Robby Scott is the best southpaw they have in the bullpen right now.
Carsley: Yeah, the rotation is definitely what gives me the most cause for concern. Price, Drew Pomeranz, and, in my opinion, Rodriguez, are all capable of excellence, but they’re not exactly known for durability. The only guy I think you can feel really confident about logging 200-plus innings is Porcello, and while it’s strange to say this about someone who won the Cy Young award 18 months ago, he’s got the lowest ceiling of the group.
It’s easy to envision a scenario in which, say, Pomeranz goes down before E-Rod gets back, or Price has to miss six weeks again. At that point you’re giving starts to … Jalen Beeks? It gets ugly fast, and while I suppose the Sox could do something fancy like sign Alex Cobb if injury strikes sooner rather than later, you can’t really bank on that scenario.
I’m less worried about the bullpen. Kimbrel and Carson Smith is a hell of a 1-2 punch, and if Tyler Thornburg comes back healthy (a big if, admittedly), we’re talking about a top-five pen trio. They’ve got approximately 58 right-handed, seventh inning-caliber guys, and at least one guy with Great Stuff™. Another LOOGY or a legitimately good left-handed reliever would be nice, sure, but they’re not usually too expensive to acquire unless you’re shopping in the Andrew Miller aisle. Are there any candidates out there you like?
Cowett: As much as I dislike the lefty situation, there’s not a lot to like. You’d obviously want someone like Brad Hand from the Padres or Felipe Rivero from the Pirates, but both Hand and Rivero signed extensions this winter, so it would take a lot to get either of them moved. The Rangers’ Alex Claudio is a really intriguing southpaw with an incredible split against lefties, so he should get a few looks as well, even if his traditional stats don’t impress you at first glance. Honestly, the safest option here would to go back to the old Fernando Abad well and re-acquire him from Philly.
Carsley: Frankly I think that’s Abad suggestion (I’m contractually obligated to make that joke), but I suppose it’s fair. He was better last year than his name would indicate.
My next question is maybe a little difficult to answer, but let’s give it a shot. How different do you think the Sox will look under Alex Cora than they did under John Farrell? It’s basically the same roster, JDM aside. Farrell was bashed a lot for his bullpen and lineup decisions, and I’m in agreement that Boston’s bad baserunning last year was partially his fault. But what do you think Cora does differently? I’m excited by the possibilities.
Cowett: Cora seems a lot more open to shaking it up and trying new things than Farrell was. While Farrell would die on the batting-Pedroia-second hill, Cora’s already said he plans on giving Betts and Benintendi a lot of time as the 1-2 punch atop the lineup. Maybe he won’t tap Holt as the one guy who has to fill in for everyone. Honeymoon period aside, Cora looks and acts like a guy who isn’t afraid to try new things. Imagine if Swihart hits again and can play something other than catcher competently? I’d love to see what Cora would do there.
It also helps that he was on the reigning World Series champions and know what smart, aggressive baserunning is like. I feel like that’s important, and I say that after watching roughly five million outs made at the plate.
Carsley: I think it will also be interesting to see if Cora is less of a slave to the left-right-left type of alternation that Farrell (and Terry Francona before him) craved in his lineups. If everything goes according to plan, by midseason we could end up looking at something like Betts, Benintendi, Bogaerts, Martinez, Devers, Ramirez/Moreland, Pedroia/Nunez, Bradley, Vazquez/Swihart as a lineup. That’s pretty damn exciting.
I also want to see how Cora manages some of the Sox’s less durable arms. He’s already brought along the starters slowly in spring training. Will he pull Sale earlier in starts in the first half of the year? Will he go out of his way not to use Kimbrel for four-plus-out saves? Will he “piggyback” starts as guys like E-Rod, Wright, and Price build up strength? Farrell didn’t do everything poorly, mind you, but there’s certainly room for improvement when it comes to pitching management.
Cowett: The potential injury management is something I’m really interested in, since the Red Sox have a not-so-stellar record when it comes to managing any sort of clearly debilitating injury. Just ask Bogaerts, Pedroia, or Ramirez. Shave off a few innings here and there, let some of the fifth starter carousel take on some extra starts, and save bullets for the stretch run. You get into the playoffs with Sale/Price/Pomeranz and you’ll have at least a fighting chance against anyone else there.
We’ll probably see the same thing with Pedroia and Nunez, since they’re both coming off knee injuries, and second base is going to take some managing (heh) early on. Pedroia would hate taking a few breaks after he comes back, but the man is 34 years old—the oldest guy on the team!—and still throws himself all over the infield. Take a breather, Pedey. You’ve earned it.
Carsley: My last question should be fun. Give me one bat and one arm you think will make or break the season for the Sox. We both agree they’ll be in playoff contention, but who are the two guys you think will determine whether they edge out the Yankees in the AL East?
Cowett: The more I think about a guy being a crucial bat to the Red Sox, the more I think about how much deadlier the lineup gets with Betts doing it all again. Last year was strange—he pulled the ball a lot more, he started putting it in the air more often, and his traditional stats suffered while the peripherals said he was okay. He still saw a 20-point drop in his True Average overall. I don’t think he’s going to hit .264 again, nor do I think a .276 TAv is his norm. Mookie’s better than that, and I think we’ll see it. More Salt Bae, please.
I might be on the same wavelength with you for the pitcher, as Price is far and away the most important one in the bunch. Given a full 200 innings of Price last year, the Red Sox would’ve won more than 93 games. I don’t like throwing the word “ace” around because I feel like it’s over- and misused, but a good Price gives them a second ace in that rotation.
Carsley: Yeah, I like those picks. For me, it’s Bogaerts (shocker) and Price, but since you talked about Price I’ll bring up E-Rod.
Starting with Bogaerts, it’s worth separating the reasons he was frustrating in 2017 from the reasons he’s been frustrating in the past. Unlike the second half of 2016, when his swoon seemed almost random, it’s pretty clear that Bogaerts’ second-half troubles in 2017 were tied to injury. Bogaerts was hitting .308/.363/.455 from the beginning of the season through July 6, when Jacob Faria hit him in the wrist with a fastball. From that point on, Bogaerts hit .232/.321/.340. He’s to be commended for playing through the injury, but it clearly would’ve been for the best had he sat out for a bit and healed.
It’s also worth mentioning that Bogaerts is only now entering his age-25 season, and he’s still overflowing with obvious talent. There’s been much ado about his new, upright stance, and Cora has spoken at length about encouraging Bogaerts to get more aggressive. It’s not crazy to think a new approach lets Bogey tap into his 25-homer natural power, and if he can do so, the Sox’s lineup goes from good to downright scary.
As for Rodriguez, he’s shown in two extended stints that he can be a well above-average starter when healthy. If his offseason knee surgery means his leg woes are permanently behind him, he gives the Sox one of the better rotations in the game. Imagine being a left-handed hitter and needing to face Sale, Price, Pomeranz, and Rodriguez in a playoff series? That’s just unfair.
But, like we mentioned above, with Pomeranz and Price on the roster, Boston’s rotation is pretty high risk, too. Having more confidence in Rodriguez’s ability to toe the rubber every five days come May or June would be huge. So huge, in fact, that it just might let the Red Sox edge out the Yankees, who seem to be the sexier (but clearly the less morally upstanding) pick for AL East supremacy.
Either way, at least the Rays will stink.