Publish date:

Boston Red Sox 2016 Preview and Prediction

Mookie Betts

Mookie Betts

As pitchers and catchers report this week in Florida and Arizona, Athlon Sports will preview every team in Major League Baseball. Outlooks for every team and so much more information, including rosters, advanced stats and anonymous scouting reports, are featured in the Athlon Sports 2016 MLB Preview, available on newsstands everywhere and in our online store.

John Henry had seen enough. After three last-place finishes in four years, the Red Sox principal owner examined every level of the organization, every assumption he believed true, and challenged them. Out went analytics-minded general manager Ben Cherington, and in came the old-school Dave Dombrowski, Henry’s first GM with the Marlins back in 1999. He traded legit prospects for a closer, generally considered a no-no in the sabermetric community, landing four-time All-Star Craig Kimbrel. Once outspokenly averse to signing pitchers in their 30s to big contracts, Henry made lefty David Price the highest-paid starter in history when he signed him to a $217 million deal. The Red Sox look very different, even as the goal remains exactly the same: win a World Series.

Rotation

A year after attempting to win without an ace, the Red Sox were humbled by the complete and total failure of their plan. When Rick Porcello crumbled, Clay Buchholz got hurt, and Wade Miley struggled to be anything beyond average, the Red Sox found themselves plummeting to the basement. Now there’s no question who rules the roost. Price is widely considered one of the best teammates in the game, and the former Cy Young winner knows how to lead. That should help Porcello, in particular, find his place in the middle of the rotation, rather than feeling the need to front it. Behind Price, though, many questions remain. Will Buchholz stay healthy? Will lefty Eduardo Rodriguez build upon an encouraging debut at age 22? Can Porcello bounce back? Is Joe Kelly a starter or reliever? The Red Sox may need to address the rotation with an in-season trade, but they’re at least positioned to do so.

Bullpen

As bad as the rotation looked in 2015, the bullpen limped right alongside it. Dombrowski made it a priority to upgrade the arms manager John Farrell can turn to at the end of games, and he delivered. First with Kimbrel, one of the greatest strikeout pitchers in history; and then with Mariners righty Carson Smith, a hard thrower who strikes out more than 11 batters per nine innings. That allows Koji Uehara to slide into the eighth inning as a potentially dominant setup man, with Junichi Tazawa and Smith sharing the seventh. Add lefties Robbie Ross and Tommy Layne (the latter limited lefties to a .148 average last year), and Farrell suddenly has options. Knuckleballer Steven Wright provides a swingman/long man.

Middle Infield

Nothing strengthens a double-play partnership like familiarity, which is why shortstop Xander Bogaerts and second baseman Dustin Pedroia built on the chemistry they developed during the season by working out together over the winter at EXOS in Arizona. The two may be entering different stages of their careers — Bogaerts hasn’t even started his prime yet, while Pedroia is exiting his — but 2016 has the potential to hit the sweet spot where both perform like All-Stars. Pedroia spent the winter improving his first-step quickness, which is the best way to stave off the ravages of time. Bogaerts, meanwhile, was a Gold Glove finalist and is improving in every facet of his game. If Pedroia hits like he did last year before a freak hamstring injury sidelined him (.306-9-33-.819 through June 24), and Bogaerts adds power to his near batting title of a year ago, the Red Sox could boast the best double-play duo in the game.

Corners

Here’s where things get dicey. In first baseman Hanley Ramirez and third baseman Pablo Sandoval, the Red Sox field their two biggest X-factors. Signed for more than $180 million prior to last season, they disappointed in virtually every way imaginable. Ramirez bulked up beyond recognition, played a disastrous left field, and posted the second-lowest OPS (.717) of his career. He also showed little interest in improving his defense, which caused friction on the coaching staff. Sandoval, meanwhile, lost a step in the field, posted the lowest OPS (.658) of his career and faced questions over his ballooning weight. He also Instagrammed during a game to earn a benching. The Red Sox are stuck with them, though. If one or both plays to a level approaching their pedigrees, the Red Sox could be in business. Otherwise ... look out below.

Outfield

The Red Sox will entrust two-thirds of their outfield to unknowns, and the rest to a potential superstar. First, the good. Right fielder Mookie Betts just got better and better last year, overcoming some serious bad luck in the first half to finish at .291 with 18 homers and earning a couple of MVP votes in the process. Betts has all the tools to be a franchise cornerstone. Less certainty surrounds his coworkers, however. Jackie Bradley Jr. might already be the game’s best defensive outfielder, particularly when he makes throws that have been clocked at over 100 mph. However, outside of one month (last August), his bat remains a mystery. Speaking of which, no one knows what to expect out of Rusney Castillo, the Cuban free agent whose tenure with the team has mainly been defined by injuries.

Catching

Originally slated to spend most or all of the season at Triple-A, Blake Swihart was forced to the majors in May when injuries sidelined starter Christian Vazquez and backup Ryan Hanigan. Initially overmatched, he eventually found his stride, hitting .303 after July 20, the day he returned from a foot sprain. The switch-hitting Swihart has gap-to-gap power and impressive athleticism for a catcher, though Farrell would like to see him improve behind the plate, particularly on balls in the dirt. Hanigan will almost certainly open the season as his backup, because the rifle-armed Vazquez is attempting a comeback from Tommy John surgery, and the Red Sox won’t rush him.

DH/Bench

The bench appears set. Hanigan should back up Swihart while Vazquez gets back up to speed in the minors. Outfielder Chris Young is on board not only to mash lefties, but also as insurance in case Bradley or Castillo struggles. That leaves super-utilityman Brock Holt, who has played every position in his career except pitcher and catcher, and first baseman Travis Shaw, who holds some value as a defensive replacement/depth if the Hanley experiment at first base fails. DH David Ortiz is going out on his own terms, which is the only way he’d have it. Fresh off another 30-100 season, this one at age 39, Ortiz announced on his 40th birthday in November that he planned to retire after the season.

Management

Talk about a sea change. The widely respected Dombrowski represents the polar opposite of the Theo Epstein/Cherington tree that built a powerhouse organization. However, there’s no questioning Dombrowski’s ability to field consistent winners. He’ll just do it differently in Boston, where he inherited one of the biggest analytics departments in the game after employing one of the smallest in Detroit. On shakier footing is Farrell, who saw the team excel in his absence after he began cancer treatments last year. The team’s young players responded to interim manager Torey Lovullo, who received a two-year extension that makes him one of the highest-paid bench coaches in the game. If the club falters or Farrell is perceived not to be hitting the right buttons, Lovullo could earn a promotion.

Final Analysis

The Red Sox have finished last in three of the last four seasons, so naturally Las Vegas gives them the third-highest odds to win the World Series in 2016. That sounds optimistic, given a careful examination of the roster, but stranger things have happened. If Bogaerts and Betts develop into All-Stars and Ortiz digs deep to deliver one final monster season before walking into the sunset, the Red Sox could be ready to roll on offense. Starting pitching remains a concern, but count on this much — they’ll finish closer to first than last.

Prediction: 2nd AL East (Wild Card)

Lineup

RF Mookie Betts (R)

2B Dustin Pedroia (R)

SS Xander Bogaerts (R)

DH David Ortiz (L)

1B Hanley Ramirez (R)

3B Pablo Sandoval (S)

Recommended Articles

LF Rusney Castillo (R)

C Blake Swihart (S)

CF Jackie Bradley Jr. (L)

Bench

OF Chris Young (R)

1B Travis Shaw (L)

UTL Brock Holt (L)

C Ryan Hanigan (R)

Rotation

LHP David Price

RHP Clay Buchholz

RHP Rick Porcello

LHP Eduardo Rodriguez

RHP Joe Kelly

Bullpen

RHP Craig Kimbrel (Closer)

RHP Koji Uehara

RHP Junichi Tazawa

RHP Carson Smith

LHP Robbie Ross

LHP Tommy Layne

RHP Steven Wright