Mookie Betts and the Red Sox added their own big-time slugger as they look to defend their division crown
The biggest deal of the most recent hot stove season in MLB was executed by that team in the Bronx. After falling one game short of reaching the World Series, the New York Yankees added another slugger by acquiring Giancarlo Stanton and his 59 home runs from the Miami Marlins. As a result, the Bombers are the team that everyone expects to challenge the defending champion Houston Astros in 2018.
But over the 162-game regular season, it was the Boston Red Sox that emerged as American League East champions in 2017. By acquiring a key bat of their own, the inhabitants of Yawkey Way (or Jersey Street or whatever name they decide on) will enter this season expecting to challenge their hated rivals.
Here are five reasons why the Red Sox will beat out the Yankees, win the AL East, and establish themselves as the division’s true championship threat.
1. Starting pitching
Somehow the Red Sox won 93 games with Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz and very little else. It may be unrealistic to expect another 17-win campaign out of Pomeranz, but Rick Porcello should be much better this time around and the Sox have a seemingly healthy and definitely motivated David Price ready to start the season. Meanwhile, after Luis Severino, the Yankees have rotation questions, the biggest being whether C.C. Sabathia continue to be effective at age 37.
2. Young players taking a step forward
It also was remarkable that Boston was able to win the division with many of its emerging stars not performing up to their expectations. Outfielder Andrew Benintendi had a nice rookie season with a .271/.352/.424 slash line, but his ceiling is so much higher. Xander Bogaerts also is capable of more than his .273, 10-home run season of 2017. And as good as Mookie Betts is, last year had to be considered a bit of a disappointment. If those three have seasons commensurate with their potential, Boston will field one of the best teams in baseball.
3. The addition of J.D. Martinez
One of the central talking points during spring training has been that the acquisition of Martinez lengthens the lineup. That is true as putting Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley down at six or seven in the order (and perhaps a notch lower when Dustin Pedroia returns from his injury) makes Boston more dangerous in each at bat. However, the fact the Martinez can hit one out on any pitch he sees is what really makes the Sox offense more dangerous. Stanton may have been the most publicized addition of the offseason, but Martinez can put up huge numbers and is a perfect fit for the Red Sox' lineup.
4. A motivated Hanley Ramirez
If Ramirez (above, right) goes to the plate 497 times this season, a $22 million option will kick in for 2019. Looking at what took place in the free agent market during this latest offseason, Ramirez knows that it he is unlikely to get that on the open market coming off a year at age 34 where he did not reach the required at-bats because he was either unproductive or injured. It could be why he is now open to the idea of returning to first base; he needs to be on the field with Martinez entrenched as the DH. Mitch Moreland is a capable first base option, so Ramirez knows he has to hit to stay in the lineup. And as we have seen in Boston and at other stops, when Ramirez is locked in, he can be a fearsome hitter.
5. The manager
It’s true, we really know nothing about Alex Cora as a manager since it is a job that he has never held. But at least he has worked at the major league level in a role other than as a player, serving as bench coach for Astros manager A.J. Hinch. New Yankees manager Aaron Boone has never been in the dugout during a game since his playing days concluded in 2009. Perhaps Boone has what it takes to be a top-flight skipper in the biggest media market in the world. But working beside Dan Shulman and Jessica Mendoza on ESPN is not the same as being on the staff of a World Series champion.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.