Without even mentioning the obvious — the three World Series Championships the Boston Red Sox won in 2004, 2007 and 2013 — it is safe to say that they have been one of the more consistent teams in baseball during recent time. Of course, until the first WS in 2004, the team played second fiddle to the rival Yankees, who were on an impressive run of their own. The Red Sox managed to win 85 or more games every year from 1998-2011, something only surpassed in baseball during that time by the Yankees (18 years, from 1996-2013). The firing of manager Terry Francona led to the hiring of Bobby Valentine and with it came the worst season the Red Sox had since they went 62-100 in 1965 under manager Billy Herman. The 2012 Red Sox went 69-93, fired Valentine, and replaced him with John Farrell. Farrell led the Red Sox to a 97-75 record and a World Series Championship. 2014 was the complete opposite, with the team going 71-91. The 2014 trading deadline was centered around how many Boston starting pitchers were going to be traded. It started with Jake Peavy, then continued with John Lackey and finally, Jon Lester was on his way to Oakland.
The Red Sox got Yoenis Cespedes for Lester, then traded LHP Andrew Miller to Baltimore for a top Orioles pitching prospect. Similar to the 2013 Red Sox team, the foundation for the 2015 squad was put together during a lost previous season. With the Red Sox set to finish in last place for the second time in three seasons, they were putting together their team for 2015. They signed OF Rusney Castillo late in the season and came into the offseason ready to make some noise.
The signings of 3B Pablo Sandoval (.279, 16, 73, .429 avg in 2014 WS) and former infielder Hanley Ramirez (.283, 13, 71) to big contracts certainly gave the team a new look. The signings also have created a logjam of OFs with Castillo, Ramirez and Shane Victorino (.268, 2, 12 in just 30 games) likely to start the season in the OF. OFs Mookie Betts (.291, 5, 18), Allen Craig (.215, 8, 46), Daniel Nava (.270, 5, 37), Jackie Bradley (.198, 1, 30) and Brock Holt (.281, 4, 29) are all looking for playing time that is hard to find assuming the rest of the lineup is healthy. Great depth, but certainly too many players and too much talent to stash away on a bench. Holt can play anywhere and Betts can play 2B if he isn’t the team’s starting CF, but that leaves Craig and Nava with little time to play and Bradley likely ticketed to Pawtucket.
The Red Sox attempted to rebuild a pitching staff which was to return only one of its five starters from the beginning of 2014 (Felix Doubront was traded to the Cubs). The Red Sox dealt Cespedes to the Detroit Tigers for RHP Rick Porcello (15-13, 3.43, 31 starts), then traded for LHP Wade Miley (8-12, 4.34, 33 starts), giving up Rubby De La Rosa (a guest on the Passed Ball Show) and Allen Webster, who combined to make 29 starts for the Red Sox last season. They then traded Freehold’s own Anthony Ranaudo to the Rangers for LHP Robbie Ross (3-6, 6.20, 27 games, 12 starts). They picked up RHP Joe Kelly (6-4, 4.20, 17 starts) last season in the Lackey/Craig deal. Clay Buchholz (8-11, 5.34, 28 starts), along with Kelly, is the only returning starting Boston pitcher. Thoughts are that RHP Justin Masterson (7-9, 5.88, 25 starts) is finally healthy and is ready to return to form. If that is the case, it may make for one of the shrewdest signings in the most recent offseason. I would start the season with Porcello, then go Miley, Kelly, Buchholz and Masterson. This way it takes some early pressure off the two pitchers returning from injury.
In spite of the loss of Miller, the Red Sox still return a decent to very good bullpen. Closer Koji Uehara (6-5, 2.52, 26 saves, 80 Ks, just over 64 IP) and RHP Junichi Tazawa (4-3, 2.86, 71 games) lead the charge with some uncertainties behind them. These uncertainties, LHP Craig Breslow (2-4, 5.96, 60 games) and RHP Edward Mujica (2-4, 3.90, 64 games) have track records of pitching well but had bad 2014 seasons. The additions of Ross and RHPs Anthony Varvaro (3-3, 2.63, 61 games) and Alexi Ogando (2-3, 6.84, 27 games) give some support in case Breslow or Mujica struggle. Don’t forget about NRIs Dana Eveland and Mitchell Boggs, both of whom can make this bullpen. Brandon Workman, Steven Wright and Matt Barnes are also in the mix for front of the bullpen and spot starter roles.
The Red Sox offense should be able to score runs, assuming Farrell pushes the right buttons. The knowns are that DH David Ortiz (.263, 35, 104), 2B Dustin Pedroia (.278, 7, 53), SS Xander Bogaerts (.240, 12, 46), Sandoval and Ramirez will be in the starting lineup opening day, assuming they are healthy. Mike Napoli (.248, 17, 55) is the likely starting 1B, but guys like Craig and Nava have to be monitored if they happen to be hitting. CF looks like it will be a competition between the Cuban-born Castillo and Betts, with the loser getting time as the 4th OF. Then there is Victorino, injured last season, but in seemingly good shape. He is expected to be the starter in RF, but he will have to produce if he wants to stay in the lineup. The Red Sox do not want to have the wrong player sitting on the bench, which is why I would be in favor of a trade, or two, involving a Nava or Craig. Christian Vazquez (.240, 1, 20) is the starting C with Ryan Hanigan (.218, 5, 34) the backup.
The Red Sox top prospects are LHPs Henry Owens (17-5, 2.94, 170 Ks in 159 IP) and Eduardo Rodriguez (6-8, 3.60, 22 starts). Rodriguez was acquired from Baltimore in the Miller trade. C Blake Swihart (.293, 13, 64) seems like he will be the Red Sox catcher of the future. Garin Cecchini, Gavin’s brother, has a good chance to help out at the MLB level if a trade or two is made, like I suggested earlier. Also look for Barnes to get a chance to start if any of the pitchers struggle this season.
The Red Sox are due for a bounce back this season. But, similar to what I said about the San Diego Padres, the key will be the clubhouse chemistry. The change in the amount of players from last season in Boston is not as evident as it is in San Diego but there are a lot of new faces that were not there last year with many of whom never playing together before. Vegas has the Red Sox at 86 1/2 for the O/U and lets be honest, the AL East is as weak as it has been in many seasons. I look at the Red Sox as the favorite, winning this division with an 88-74 record.