Ben Cherington is out, Dave Dombrowski is in. It’s hard to say Cherington did a poor job, even if he made a few costly mistakes. Either way, the Red Sox that Dombrowski is inheriting have a decent major league roster, a good farm system, and some financial flexibility. They’re also not losing many free agents. The Red Sox are still in a good place to contend, if not next year, in the near future.
The Red Sox have a number of viable starting pitchers, but they’re mostly mid-rotation arms. Eduardo Rodriguez is the closest thing they have to a potential ace, and his debut season was good but not great. He should still have a spot in the Red Sox rotation next season unless they trade him for an established pitcher. Clay Buchholz is usually hurt and enigmatic, but it still seems likely that the Red Sox will pick up his $13 million option for 2016, as long as the medical reports indicate he’ll be ready to pitch at some point soon. Wade Miley was a good back of the rotation starter last year, and he’ll continue to eat innings at an around league average run prevention rate. The Rick Porcello deal is bad, but it’ll keep him in the rotation for another few years unless Dombrowski gets creative and finds a way to offload that contract. In his seven year Major League career, Porcello has two seasons with an ERA- below 100. Joe Kelly had a disappointing season, but unless the Sox add another pitcher to the rotation (which is probable) Kelly will likely find himself in the last spot. He’s certain to be tendered a contract this offseason. That makes the Red Sox rotation, before any additions or subtractions, look like this:
- Eduardo Rodriguez
- Clay Buchholz
- Rick Porcello
- Wade Miley
- Joe Kelly
The Red Sox Bullpen is not a strength. Koji Uehara was effective again, but he’ll be 41 next year. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where he suffers from injury or underperformance. Junichi Tazawa is also a good reliever. That’s about it. They’ll need to get more good relievers. Or get bad relievers and have them perform well enough that they look like good relievers. That’s an alternate plan that sometimes works.
There are bright spots on the Red Sox. This isn’t a team that’s devoid of young talent that needs to completely rebuild. Most of the pieces of the next good Red Sox team are already in place. They have a lot of exciting players to watch, and not a lot of holes.
It’s pretty clear that this is going to be Blake Swihart. He’s going to be 24 by the end of next year, and his first full season in the majors is a good chance to demonstrate why he’s so well liked by prospect evaluators. He’s been impressive in his limited time in the majors so far. He’ll be backed up by Ryan Hanigan, who’s fine.
The infield is a little less secure. Obviously Dustin Pedroia will be at second base for as long as he can stay healthy. He’s still above average at the position. Xander Bogaerts is a very good young shortstop and any organization would want him. First base is less secure. Travis Shaw played well enough that it would seem like he had earned a full season at the position, but with the Hanley Ramirez to left experiment officially being declared a failure, he’s been taking grounders at first. That could leave Shaw as an interesting trade chip this offseason. Further complicating matters is Pablo Sandoval at third base. If last season was bad for Ramirez, it was an unmitigated disaster for Sandoval. A 75 wRC+ won’t get the job done, but when it’s paired with the defense that Sandoval provided, you get a player who put up -2 WAR last season. Still, I’d guess Sandoval ends up playing third again next year, if only because it’s hard to imagine how he could be worse. David Ortiz will have his option picked up as he continues to do his best to hit enough to be a no glove/no run DH. After early season struggles that had some worried he was done, he got back on track and as long he holds off the aging that is slowly grinding us all towards our eventual dooms.
Mookie Betts headlines the outfield again next year, and he’s young and terrific and everything you could ask for in a baseball player. Jackie Bradley in right field is an interesting player to watch next year. After a few years of bouncing between AAA and the majors, he broke out in 2015 and looks to carry that over into 2016. Even if the bat moves backwards his defense should still be top notch. Left field is a bit more open. I’m going to guess that the Red Sox want to keep Brock Holt in a super-utility role, which opens up left field to a number of options. The favorite probably has to be Rusney Castillo, who did a pretty poor job offensively in 289 PA (72 wRC+). In truth, this seems like the second likeliest spot for the Red Sox to make an upgrade (after the rotation). The free agent market has a number of interesting corner outfielders available (Heyward, Upton, Cespedes, etc.) and even if some of those players are going to be more expensive than the Red Sox are willing to pay (although who knows how much money they’ll have available. It seems possible Dombrowski will attempt to move some of the dead money on the roster), they’re still players to keep an eye on this offseason.
The Red Sox aren’t a bad team. They underperformed until it was impossible for them to make the playoffs and then they performed alright. They have a few areas to upgrade, but it doesn’t seem out of the realm of possibility that they could find themselves contending in no time at all. Like a few teams, they’re a good starting pitcher away from having a pretty good chance at the playoffs.