The Red Sox won consecutive American League East titles in 2016 and 2017, but they were eliminated in the first round both seasons. Despite having won 93 games on the back of a young and talented lineup, highlighted by the Cy Young-caliber year Chris Sale had, and a strong rookie campaign by Andrew Benintendi, the Red Sox sought a makeover with the firing of John Farrell and introducing managing neophyte Alex Cora as the captain at the helm.
But there is a lot to be excited about in Boston. Rafael Devers will experience his first full season in the majors and after his little showcase in 2017, fans have to be salivating to see what he can do with 500 at-bats. Chris Sale will be Chris Sale, undoubtedly, and newcomer JD Martinez will bring his 45 home runs from 2017 and stand as the biggest threat in what’s turning out to be a deep and talented lineup.
Now, with the 2018 season on the horizon, let’s look at the components of this same-look, different-feel Boston team as they seek to make a far deeper run into the 2018 postseason.
1 Greatest Addition: JD Martinez
Come on, was there really any other option? Martinez, who set the desert on fire in Arizona with a torrid pace that saw him finish the year with 45 home runs, has brought his talents to the hitter-friendly Fenway Park. His presence in the lineup provides the Red Sox a power punch they’ve been lacking since the retirement of team legend David Ortiz. 2017 saw Boston finish 28th out of 30 teams in home run totals; and with the Yankees’ beefing up their own lineup with the acquisition of Giancarlo Stanton, the Red Sox needed to respond big time.
The move was necessary, and it was critical of Dave Dombrowski to ink Martinez to a team-friendly contract. The five year, $110m contract is a great deal less than what Martinez had demanded initially (somewhere in the seven-year, $200m range). With the contract front-loaded for the first two years, with a player option available before the third year, the Red Sox are ensured to keep Martinez for his most productive years after his age-30 season.
Besides, there hasn't been light-tower power from the right side since the days of Manny Ramirez.
2 Greatest Loss: John Farrell
This was more difficult to determine. The Red Sox did a great job keeping most their 2017 roster for the 2018 season, but the biggest change came in the managerial seat. Farrell’s time as the Red Sox skipper was highlighted by the World Series championship 2013. However, the next four years saw his team under-performing and often caught in clubhouse drama that seemed more fitting of a college or high school clubhouse. After the 2017 season, it was clear Farrell had lost control of his players, and also that of his higher-ups.
Now it is up to new manager Alex Cora to right the ship. His personality and astute knowledge and dedication won him over with Dave Dombrowski, and it will be interesting to see him take charge of a team that is expecting far more than just another division title.
3 Greatest Asset: The Lineup
The Red Sox lineup was good even without a major power bat. Headlined by the names of Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, and now rising slugger Rafael Devers, it was expected the Red Sox would score their fair share of runs. Even if their home run total was low enough to have them ranked 27th out of 30 teams, they still finished in the top-10 in runs scored with 785.
But games are often won by the home run and with the addition of Martinez, the Red Sox lineup is all the scarier. As FanGraphs put it, the Red Sox are projected to score the third most runs in baseball at 5.21 per game., trailing their rivals, the Yankees (5.22), by a marginal difference. But now the Red Sox are expected to score more runs, and with Martinez’s presence in the heart of it all, this Red Sox lineup warrants cautious navigating game in and game out.
4 Greatest Liability: Diminished farm system
To build a winning ball club, you must be able to make sacrifices. That is what Dave Dombrowski has done since taking over at the helm. What was once a highly touted farm system is no longer among the best, courtesy of trades that brought the likes of Craig Kimbrel, Chris Sale, and Drew Pomeranz into Boston.
While names such as Andrew Benintendi and Rafael Devers have risen through the ranks and shown early success at the biggest stage, there are none in the system who have shown they are ready to follow in their footsteps. Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech are in Chicago as centerpieces in the Sale trade. Anderson Espinoza was shipped to San Diego for Pomeranz, and Manuel Margot was sent there in the Kimbrel deal.
But, frankly, this is a good problem to have. Such is the strength of the other facets of the Red Sox organization, Boston is expected to contend for at least the next two years. By then, through savvy scouting and drafting efforts, the cupboard can be refilled while pre-existing pieces such as Jay Groome will be ready to take the next step.
5 X-Factor: David Price
There are a lot of questions regarding David Price entering 2018. How will his elbow hold up? Will he be able to stay focused on baseball and not get caught up in off-field drama?
Price's first year in Boston was a bag of mixed results: his 230 innings pitched were on par with the workhorse reputation he has created over his career, but the 3.99 earned run average that accompanied those innings was the highest it's ever been since he was a 23-year-old.
His second-year? Well, remember the dust-up with a Hall of Famer and overall pitching legend? All of this after the speculation that a barking elbow might have required Tommy John surgery? If Price's first year was a bag of mixed results, his second year was a rollercoaster on a perpetual downward spiral which saw him pitch less than 80 innings during the regular season.
And let's not forget about his postseason demons. A career 2-8 record with an ERA over five will not get it done, especially in a media market that heavily scrutinizes poor player performance at the biggest stage. Sure, he dazzled out of the 'pen in 2017, but you can't hide a $30m a year pitcher in the bullpen.
Price has a lot to prove if he wants to show the seven-year $217m contract was worth it, even if he opts out after this year.
6 Final Thoughts
The American League East is Boston's to lose. The two time defending division champions have a right to claim the division belongs to them. All facets of their game are above average, especially including Martinez in such a promising lineup.
But there are no true promises in baseball. The Red Sox need to stave off the surging and youthful Yankees while also trying to catch the Houston Astros at the top of the league. But you can only climb a mountain one step at a time.
One thing is for certain: it will be a fun time for the boys in Boston.
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