The Boston Red Sox have some of the best young position player talent in the game and just need to upgrade their pitching in order to become truly dominant.
The Boston Red Sox finished at the top of the American League East Division standings in 2016. The club finished four games ahead of both the Toronto Blue Jays and the Baltimore Orioles.
In the postseason, the Red Sox were swept out of the ALDS in three straight games by the Cleveland Indians. Two of the three games were decided by a single run.
The BoSox will be losing their longtime leader, David Ortiz, who rides off into the sunset of retirement. He will take 38 homers, 127 RBI, and a .315/.401/.620 slash line at age 40 with him.
While the loss of Big Papi will be a big one in many ways, the Red Sox have young talent that can make up for that loss. Veterans Hanley Ramirez and Dustin Pedroia will return to man the right side of the infield. They will provide the experience while a group of the most exciting and dynamic youngsters in the game continues to develop.
Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, third baseman Yoan Moncada, center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr., and right fielder Mookie Betts are all among the best in the game at their positions. All are in their low-mid 20s.
THE PROBLEM WITH BOSOX PITCHING
At first blush, Red Sox pitching would not appear to be a major area of concern. Boston finished third in quality starts and batting average against, and fourth in ERA and strikeouts in the American League in 2016.
However, a closer look reveals that there may be things to worry about on the mound at Fenway Park going into the 2017 season.
Big ticket free agent David Price is now 31 years old. He is owed $187 million over the next six seasons. Price can opt out following the 2018 season, but it is hard to see him walking away from $30 million per year as he enters his mid-upper 30s.
This year, Price went up from a 2.45 ERA to a career high 3.99 mark. He led baseball with 230 innings pitched, but also yielded 227 hits. His 8.9 K/9 was his lowest mark since 2013.
Alone these aren’t panic numbers, but if they are precursors to what are often sustained slips by similarly aging pitchers of recent vintage through their low-mid 30s, then the contract could become a big issue.
Rick Porcello turns 29 years old next month and is coming off a Cy Young caliber season. That’s the very good news. Concerning for me is that he has never had a season this good previously. Is it a one-off outlier? Porcello is still owed $63 million over the next three years.
Steven Wright, now 32 years old, came out of nowhere to earn an AL All-Star berth and win 13 games over 24 starts. Would you be willing to count on him doing it again?
Clay Buchholz is also now 32 years old and is a career underachiever. He very suddenly got hot in September and salvaged his season by going 3-0 and pitching very effectively, earning himself a pick up of next year’s option.
Lefty Eduardo Rodriguez was really bad for a large swath of the season from June through August. He fashioned a 5.56 ERA while going 1-6 over 13 starts during that period.
Drew Pomeranz came over in a July trade from the San Diego Padres and went 3-5 with a 4.59 ERA and 1.369 WHIP. He now becomes arbitration eligible.
WHAT DOES BOSTON HAVE FOR 2017?
For me, this pitching rotation should be an area of concern this offseason for the Red Sox. In fact, with the dynamism of their starting lineup, the rotation is keeping them from becoming in the AL what the Chicago Cubs are becoming in the National League.
The bullpen should be at least competitive, even if the unit loses Koji Uehara, Brad Ziegler, and Junichi Tazawa, all free agents.
Craig Kimbrel returns as a dominant closer. Robbie Ross is a strong lefty option. Heath Hembree, Matt Barnes, and Joe Kelly will be back.
An interesting arm will be 24-year-old lefty Henry Owens, seen as a starter. Can he finally seize a regular role in Spring Training?
Boston had a $198 million payroll in the 2016 season. Right now that figure is at $147 million, but the BoSox have 10 players who are arbitration eligible including Bradley and Bogaerts.
There will probably be room to add a free agent arm, if management and ownership are willing to go in that direction.
Boston has at least two really good-looking young prospect arms in their minor league system in left-hander Jason Groome and right-hander Michael Kopech. However, at 18 and 20 years of age respectively, neither will be of help in 2017 and possibly not in 2018 either.
Are the Red Sox willing to count on Price to return to being a dominating ace, Porcello to again be a Cy-level starter, and the rest of their patched together bunch to give them enough effective starts to repeat in the AL East?
Even if they do, how does Boston go from being a division favorite to a pennant favorite? After all, with three World Series crowns over the last 13 years, that is now the goal throughout New England.
WHAT BOSTON NEEDS TO DO
For me, the Red Sox need to improve their starting pitching. The need at least one, and probably two better, more reliable arms to open the 2017 season.
While the free agent market isn’t deep, Boston could find help here in arms such as Jeremy Hellickson, Rich Hill, and Jason Hammel.
Boston also has a strong and deep minor league system. They could use an arm such as Kopech in a deal, or put something else together, and pluck an arm from a rebuilding team.
The Red Sox aren’t going to fade away, even with Ortiz gone. But his loss doesn’t make things any easier. In the end, I believe that replacing his bat won’t prove their most important issue. That comes in shoring up the mound corps.