The Boston Red Sox won just 71 games last season, just the second time they won fewer than 86 since 2001 but both times have come in the last three years.
With that in mind, the Sox completely overhauled the roster, bringing in huge stars to improve their 18th ranked offense. Their lineup should be infinitely better this season between their new additions and up-and-coming young stars but it’s their 23rd ranked pitching staff that remains a massive question mark.
The Sox were aggressive in adding veteran starters to the rotation but every single on comes with questions and doubts. Can Boston compete with the likes of the Orioles and Yankees in 2015 or will this be another injury-riddled disappointing year?
Batting Average: 22nd
Napoli failed to reach 120 games played for the third time in four years last year and saw his numbers slip across the board. After batting .259 with a .842 OPS, 23 HR, 92 RBI, 79 R, and 38 2B in 139 games in his first season with the Sox, Napoli batted .248 with a .789 OPS, 17 HR, 55 RBI, 49 R, and 20 2B in 119 games last season.
A healthy Napoli is one of the best on-base guys in the league with 20+ HR power but, at 33, his age is starting to show.
It’s unclear what role Craig will have on the Sox, if any, since he has been the subject of trade rumors all off-season. Of course, after his Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde 2013 and 2014 seasons, teams are plenty wary of the former Cardinal.
After he batted .315 with an .830 OPS, 13 HR, 97 RBI, 71 R, and 29 2B in 134 games in 2013, his numbers plummeted to a .215 BA, .594 OPS, 8 HR, 46 RBI, 41 R, and 20 2B in 126 games between the Cards and Sox.
Craig had put up back-to-back 90+ RBI seasons and posted impressive batting averages in his first 2.5 seasons in the league so he could very well get back to his previous form. Of course, to do that, he’ll need at-bats, which the Red Sox wouldn’t possibly be able to give him enough of.
A rare bright spot for Boston last season, Big Papi is back to DH and anchor the middle of the lineup. Though his batting average fell from the .300s between 2011 and 2013 to .263 last season, he put up 35 home runs and 104 RBI, both his highest totals since 2007. His strikeout-walk numbers are as good as anyone in the league and his bat remains among the most powerful. He’s clearly heading toward decline but the 39-year-old can still bang with the best of them.
Pedroia is coming off his worst full season in the league after putting up career-lows in batting average (.278), HR (7), 2B (33), and R (72). The power and speed he flashed earlier in his career appear zapped after an injury-riddled season but Pedroia isn’t likely done just yet. From 2007 to 2013, the Laser Show was arguably the best second baseman in the league and one off year does not a decline make.
A healthy Pedroia should see his BA return to the .290-.300 range and his doubles, runs, home runs, and RBI should all see a significant improvement. We’ll have to wait and see if his speed will return, however, after he stole a career-low six bases last season.
Holt is expected to play all around the infield after a solid season as Boston’s utility man. In his first full year in the league, Holt batted .281 with a .711 OPS, 4 HR, 29 RBI, 68 R, 23 2B, and 12 SB. That’s similar to the numbers he posted in the minors where he proved a good doubles hitter with a high average, solid speed, and a great eye at the plate.
3B: Pablo Sandoval, Garin Cecchini
Sandoval played a career-high 157 games for the Giants last season and posted solid numbers as he put up a .279 BA, .739 OPS, 16 HR, 73 RBI, 68 R, and 26 2B. That’s right on par with what he put up over the last few seasons in San Francisco and there’s no reason a healthy Panda can’t repeat in the AL.
Cecchini is trying to make the roster this spring after posting very impressive numbers in the minors. A top-60 prospect entering last season, Cecchini has a .298 BA in 393 minor league games, have a great eye at the plate (he walked 94 times to 86 strikeouts in 2013!), has hit as many as 38 doubles and stolen as many as 51 bases in a single season, and is improving on the defensive side. Cecchini may be Major League-ready but it’ll be hard to crack a roster this deep right off the bat.
SS: Xander Bogaerts
Bogaerts didn’t live up to his No. 2 prospect potential in his rookie year but, at just 22, there’s plenty of time for him to develop. Bogaerts batted just .240 while posting a .660 OPS with 12 home runs, 46 RBI, 60 R, and 28 2B. Not bad at all for a middle infielder but certainly not the .300+ BA, 20 HR, and 40 2B potential he showed in the minors. Still, a bit of improvement at the plate and on the field and the young stud should quickly develop into one of the better shortstops in the league.
C: Christian Vazquez, Ryan Hanigan
The Sox are hoping Vazquez is the future at catcher after a promising but inconsistent run in the minors. Vazquez put up just a .265 BA in 500 minor league games but hit as many as 18 home runs and 27 doubles while walking a lot and striking out little. He’s got a good approach at the plate despite the average and has a stellar glove behind the plate.
Hanigan is your typical struggling-to-stay-above-the-Mendoza-line catcher with a serviceable glove.
Hanley Ramirez played short and third with the Dodgers but will now move to left field with Bogaerts and Sandoval manning those positions. Hanley is as good a player as they come but can’t help but struggle with injury and inconsistency. He looked monstrous as he batted .345 with 20 HR, 57 RBI, 25 2B, and 62 R in just 86 games in 2013 before coming back down to earth with a .283 BA, 13 HR, 71 RBI, 64 R, 35 2B, and 14 SB. That’s not bad but it’s certainly not the 30+ HR, 90+ RBI, 50+ SB guy we saw early in his career with Florida. A healthy-ish Hanley should produce close to 20 home runs, 30 doubles, and double-digit steals. We’ll see how his stellar glove translates from the infield to the outfield.
Shane Victorino was brought down by injuries last season, playing just 30 games before having to undergo back surgery. At 34, it’s hard to expect the Flyin’ Hawaiian to stay healthy but it was just a season ago that he batted .294 with 15 HR, 61 RBI, 82 R, and 21 SB in his first season with the Sox. Luckily, Boston has plenty of depth should he inevitably go down.
Mookie Betts is fighting for the starting centerfield job this spring after a solid 52 games with the Sox last season. In his first taste of the Bigs, he batted .291 with a .812 OPS, 5 HR, 18 RBI, 34 R, 7 SB, and 12 2B. He also struck out just 31 times while walking 21 times, a promising number. The former top-70 prospect batted .315 in 298 minor league games and stole as many as 38 bases while hitting as many as 36 doubles. He’s a very good hitter with a terrific approach at the plate (he walked 174 times to 137 strikeouts in the minors) and even if he doesn’t win the job he should get plenty of at-bats.
Rusney Castillo was expected to win the starting centerfield job, largely because of his $72 million contract, but an oblique injury has put Betts into the spotlight while Castillo may not even be healthy by the time the season starts.
In Cuba, Castillo consistently posted averages above .300 while hitting as many as 18 home runs (in 88 games) and stealing as many as 29 bases. He’s also a good doubles hitter who seldom strikes out but we’ll have to wait and see how that translates to the Majors.
Jackie Bradley, a former top-30 prospect himself, has not translated to the Majors. In 164 games over the last two seasons, Bradley has posted a woeful .196 BA and .548 OPS. He clearly needs more seasoning and would be best suited in the minors where he can play every day.
Daniel Nava is a solid fourth outfielder with a good approach at the plate who walks plenty and can hit for extra bases.
Clay Buchholz was as bad in 2014 as he was great in 2013. Though he managed just 16 starts in 2013 before getting hurt, he was unbelievable as he went 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 96 K to 36 BB. Last season was brutal, as he went 8-11 with a 5.34 ERA and 1.39 WHIP. This has basically been the story of his career. Great pitcher who can never stay consistent or healthy. If history has shown us anything it’s that Clay should be great in 2015 and horrific in 2016.
Rick Porcello posted ERAs in the 4.00’s for four straight seasons but looked considerably better in 2014 as he went 15-13 with a 3.43 ERA, 1.23 WHIP, and 129 K to 41 BB. Porcello has developed into a very solid pitcher but hardly a top-of-the-rotation kind of arm.
Joe Kelly looked amazing in 2013 before regressing considerably in 2014 between the Cards and Sox. In 17 starts, he went 6-4 with a 4.20 ERA and 1.35 WHIP. He does a good job of keeping the ball in the park but he’ll need to keep his walks down and stay healthy if he’s going to be a contributor.
Wade Miley looked like one of the best young arms in 2012 and 2013 before going 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA and 1.40 WHIP. Like Kelly, he needs to get his control in order but moving away from a lousy D’Backs team could certainly help him turn things around.
Justin Masterson is another reclamation project as he made his first All-Star game in 2013 before putting up a 5.88 ERA and 1.64 WHIP last season. Masterson has never been consistent and while he does have potential to be a low-to-mid 3.00’s ERA pitcher, he’s really a 4.50 ERA pitcher who perennially gives scouts false hope.
Henry Owens is the 19th top prospect in the country according to MLB.com and appears to be ready to make an impact should anyone in the rotation struggle or get hurt (pretty much inevitable all five of them will). In 2013, Owens went 11-6 with a 2.67 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 169 K to 68 BB between High-A and Double-A. Last season, Owens went 17-5 with a 2.94 ERA, 1.13 WHIP, and 170 K to 59 BB in Triple-A. He’s continued to improve his walk numbers and has a good strikeout arm and isn’t very susceptible to the longball. The Sox would be best suited with this 6-foot-6 phenom in the rotation.
Koji Uehara was great in his first stint as Boston’s closer in 2013, saving 21 of 24 games and posting a 1.09 ERA. Last season was pretty good, but not great, as he saved 26 of a possible 31 games while posting a 2.52 ERA. He’s still a great reliever but it’s hard to expect a 39-year-old to be an elite closer for a prolonged period of time.
Junichi Tazawa has been a very reliable reliever for Boston the last three seasons, posting a 2.62 ERA and 1.135 WHIP over that stretch while striking out 9.3 batters per nine innings and walking just 1.7.
Edward Mujica posted ERAs between 2.96 and 3.03 the last three seasons with Miami and St. Louis but regressed in his first year with the Sox, posting a 3.90 ERA and 1.38 WHIP. He gives up way too many hits and, really, may not be suited to pitch in the AL.
Anthony Varvaro will find out if he’s suited for the AL as he moves to Boston after two stellar years in Atlanta. Over those two seasons, he put up a 2.74 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, and allowed just eight home runs in 128 innings.
Craig Breslow posted a 1.81 ERA and 1.12 WHIP in 2013 before putting up a 5.96 ERA and 1.86 WHIP last season. Still, the guy had rock solid consistency, posting a 2.82 ERA between 2005 and 2013, and should be able to bounce back this season.
Alexi Ogando was brutal after moving to the pen full-time for Texas, posting a 6.84 ERA and 1.92 WHIP in 25 innings last year. Coming into 2014, though, he owned a 3.12 ERA in 156 career games (including 48 starts), so, like Breslow and most of the rotation, Ogando is another reclamation project that could go either way.
Robbie Ross is in the same boat as Ogando. He looked great his first two seasons in the league, posting a 2.62 ERA in 123 appearances. It all came undone as he split time between the rotation and bullpen last season, putting up a 6.20 ERA and 1.70 WHIP. At just 26, though, you’d like to think a full season in the pen should see Ross get back to form.
Offense: B+ to A
Starting Pitching: C to B
Bullpen: C+ to B
Overall: B- to B