Happy New Year to all baseball fans. Fifty-four days from today, the Red Sox open their Spring Training schedule with a split squad doubleheader against Northeastern and Boston College and, the next day, play the Minnesota Twins in the first real Spring Training Game. Ninety-two days from today, they open the regular season at Fenway against the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Red Sox fans have reason to be optimistic at this time. Dave Dombrowski and his staff have put together a team that could be as good as almost any in baseball. At this point, my advice to Dombrowski, if he’s interested, is; Don’t do anything else. You don’t need any more pitching, either starting or relief. Your position players are among the best in baseball at almost every position. You have a strong and versatile bench to fill holes as they occur.
How many teams in baseball will be starting the season with two starting pitchers, Price and Porcello, who recently won Cy Young Awards, another starter, Sale, who has finished in the top five in the Cy Young voting every year for the last five years; have three pitchers, Sale, Kimbrel and Wright, who were on last year’s American League All Star team and also have three position players, Bogaerts, Betts and Bradley, who made the starting lineup in last year’s American League All Star team?
This on a team that led the league in almost every offensive category last year and won the toughest division in baseball before a three game meltdown in the first round of the playoffs ended their shot at their fourth World Series win in the first 16 years of this century.
They led all of baseball in most offensive categories. Their .282 team batting average, .348 on base percentage, .461 slugging percentage, 878 runs scored and 1,598 hits were all the best overall. They have two players coming back, Pedroia and Betts, who finished in the top ten in all of baseball for batting average at .318 and .319 respectively. Betts was runner up in the Most Valuable Player voting.
Of course, they lost David Ortiz, arguably the best Designated Hitter in the history of the game who retired as advertised and went out with possibly the biggest bang in baseball history. They also lost Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara to Free Agency. The loss of those two workhorse pitchers would have been devastating ordinarily but, with Carson Smith returning from surgery and the addition of right handed reliever Tyler Thornburg from Milwaukee, along with the return of Brandon Workman from surgery, the loss should not be significant.
The addition of Sale, who won 74 and lost 50, with a 3.00 ERA, in five full years with a weak Chicago White Sox team, to go with Porcello and Price, gives the Sox one of the most potent tops of the rotation in baseball. You have to assume that Steven Wright, if he is healthy, will be the fourth starter and the fifth and sixth spots have plenty of competition with Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz, Henry Owens, Brian Johnson and even Joe Kelly fighting for inclusion in spring training. (Rodriguez tweaked his knee in Winter Ball this past week, but it doesn’t seem serious.)
The biggest addition, outside of Sale, or maybe more importantly than Sale in the overall scheme, is Mitch Moreland, the Free Agent first baseman. Moreland, a Gold Glove winner last year at Texas, is only a .254 career hitter, but had 22 homers last year. He opens up the door to use Hanley Ramirez as a replacement for Ortiz at DH, ( where he won’t have to bend over except to pick up the batting donut in the on deck circle ). Ramirez made a remarkably good adjustment to first base last year but may be even more valuable as a DH.
The big IF in the lineup is Pablo Sandoval. He has lost, if you believe the reports, 30 pounds, and can keep it off. He looks great in pictures compared to what he looked like at Jet Blue last spring. If he can keep the weight off and returns to the form that gave him a .294 regular season batting average and a .344 average in post season games, in seven years at San Francisco, with Moreland at first and Bogaerts and Pedroia up the middle, this could be one of the best infields in the game.
Defensively, they have two reigning Gold Glove winners in Moreland and Betts. As a team, they had the third best fielding percentage in the American League and the fourth best team ERA in the League.
There is plenty of talent in the bullpen and Closer Craig Kimbrel, who did not pitch as well as his 31 saves in 33 attempts record looked, a year older and with that dreaded first year in Boston behind him, should be better. There is plenty of short and middle relief available in the rest of the bull pen.
To say that this is a well balanced team is to state the obvious. There is plenty of talent there and there is also plenty of depth both on the roster and, despite the talent traded away, plenty of replacements in the system. The best thing is that the nucleus of this team is locked into the Red Sox, contract wise, for the next few years.
On paper, this is as good a team as the Red Sox have fielded in a long time. There is no reason to tweak it any further at this point particularly if it would cost trading off any of the young nucleus. No one can predict the future and injuries or other factors can change the team’s prospects quickly. But, unless and until that happens, you have done a great job so far Mr. Dombrowski.
You’ve given Red Sox fans a thoroughbred, sit back and let John Farrell ride it.