This offseason feels different for Red Sox fans.
Can you feel it?
Although it’s hard to put your finger on it, there seems to be a lack of excitement surrounding the Red Sox this year. Granted it is only January, the Celtics are the best team in the Eastern Conference, and the Patriots are in the playoffs. But even with that said, something feels different with the Red Sox this offseason than in the last two years.
What exactly do I mean? Well, even though the Red Sox have a strong young core of players and have finished in first place the last two years, there is no excitement, buzz, or intrigue about the team. One obvious reason for this is because it is the middle of the winter and there have been no offseason signings.
However, that is not the only reason. The problem with this Red Sox team is that they seem to be “stuck” with no ways to improve. Take a look at the roster right now. Because the team has a lot of young players, it is the same roster as last season. How did the Sox fare last season?
They got swept in the first round. The starting pitching was solid but inconsistent in September and October. In addition, the offense was not consistent enough and they lacked a middle of the order home run hitter. The Sox just did not have the talent to match up against teams like the Houston Astros or the Cleveland Indians.
Think about the past two offseasons for the Red Sox.
Two years ago, the Red Sox had David Ortiz. Big Papi creates excitement and buzz with his simple presence alone. He is a known winner and with Big Papi in the lineup, the Sox have a chance to score runs. In addition, Xander Bogaerts was coming off a year in which he hit .320, Mookie Betts showed that he was going to be a force to be reckoned with after a solid 2015 campaign, and Jackie Bradley finally had a good season after a horrific beginning to his career. In addition, the Sox also had Andrew Benintendi looming in the farm system. In short, the 2016 Boston Red Sox had a lot of exciting young players who could improve, while also having a middle of the order power hitter. Therefore, the fans were excited for the season to start because there was so much perceived potential with the group.
Last year, going into the offseason, there was a lot of buzz for multiple reasons. First, Ortiz retired. Fans wondered, how would the sox evolve? Well, after Betts had an MVP-type season and Benintendi had success at the end of the year, the team was going to rely on the four B’s (Bradley, Bogaerts, Betts, Benintendi) to transition from the Big Papi era. People were excited to see this core four grow and play together.
In addition, last offseason the Sox traded for one of the best pitchers in baseball, Chris Sale. Even though Papi retired, there was room for improvement and making a World Series run seemed possible.
Now fast forward to this offseason. As a fan, you have to ask, where is this team going to improve?
The Sox have the same rotation as last year. Last year, it wasn’t good enough. There is no reason to think it will change this year. One could argue that David Price will be back healthy. But can we really rely on Price?
Last year, the Sox offense lacked power. They still don’t have it. Even if the Sox end up signing a power bat like J.D. Martinez, it still will not solve all of their offensive inconsistencies.
Last year, there was excitement around the four B’s and the great speed in the outfield. But look at the young group now.
JBJ is what he is. He is an amazing center fielder, but you can’t count on his bat in the playoffs. Bogaerts has been terrible in the second half of the last two seasons, and he has simply looked weak at the plate with no power. Last year, he hit just .273 with 10 home runs and 62 RBIs. As a number-three hitter in the order, you need more production. I don’t know if Xander’s power struggles were due to injuries or simply bad production. But whatever the reason, he is not a number-three hitter and he definitely does not deserve Boras-type money after the year.
After an unreal season two years ago, Betts had somewhat of a down year for him last season, hitting just .264 with 24 home runs and 102 RBIs. However, I would expect him to hit closer to .300 in 2018.
The two guys who could have breakout years for the Sox are Benintendi and Rafael Devers. Benintendi is pretty much an easy bet to have an All-Star type season. He looks like a stud. With Devers, it is hard to guess. He could have a good year or he could have a sophomore slump once pitchers figure him out. Who knows?
In short, the Red Sox have the same group of players with the same team deficiencies as last season. For that reason, I don’t see how this Red Sox team can leap over the best teams in baseball. And I didn’t even mention the Yankees yet! After trading for Giancarlo Stanton, that lineup looks absolutely terrifying.
The Red Sox will still be a good team and should make the playoffs. However, I don’t think they can go further than that. Fans recognize this fact. Fans recognize that they are stuck with a solid team who won’t win it all if they stay with the core four.
It almost feels like an NBA team when you don’t have a superstar. You feel stuck. When you know you can’t win, it takes out the excitement, the buzz, and the intrigue.
Although the Sox did make a change in the offseason by firing John Farrell and hiring Alex Cora as manager, it is hard to imagine Cora having transformative effects on the team. There is only so much a manager can do in baseball.
Who knows, maybe Bogaerts will have a better year because he will be healthy. Maybe Betts has another MVP-type season and Benintendi and Devers become absolute studs. Maybe JBJ can hit consistently and the pitching staff stays healthy and can finally pitch well in September and October. Maybe the Sox sign Martinez or another power bat. And maybe Cora can propel this team into a World Series contender.
But realistically, until the Sox break up the young core and obtain a middle-of-the-order superstar who can hit home runs like Manny Machado, I don’t see this team being a World Series Contender, and it should make for an underwhelming season.
Let’s hope I’m wrong.