A revamped front office and busy offseason have the Boston Red Sox dreaming big in 2016, though their task will be difficult playing against a strong American League East. 

Opening Day will see the fruits of Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and general manager Mike Hazen‘s labor with new ace David Price stepping on the mound in Cleveland. 

The big story in Boston this season is David Ortiz’s impending retirement. The 40-year-old announced on his birthday in November that this would be his final year after 14 seasons with the Red Sox. 

Yet this is a very different Red Sox team. In four years with Ben Cherington as GM from 2012-15, they didn’t go crazy spending money. There were certainly big deals given out, notably to Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and Rick Porcello last year, but they seemed to shy away from $150-200 million deals for individual players. 

Dombrowski and Hazen immediately changed that philosophy, giving Price the biggest deal ever for a pitcher (seven years, $217 million) and trading two of their top six prospects to San Diego as part of a package to acquire closer Craig Kimbrel

There is still a good, young nucleus in Boston that was not touched, led by shortstop Xander Bogaerts and center fielder Mookie Betts, that will ultimately determine how far the Red Sox go in 2016.


Biggest Storyline: Which Failed 2015 Signee Will Bounce Back?

One reason Cherington is no longer general manager of the Red Sox stems from the complete and total failures of Ramirez and Sandoval in 2015. 

Ramirez and Sandoval essentially agreed to deals with the Red Sox at the same time during the winter of 2014 with a combined value of $193 million, not including option years. They were two of the worst position players in Major League Baseball last season. 

The Red Sox were smart enough to take Ramirez, who was a black hole in left field, and put him at first base with the hope of letting him focus on being the player who posted a .283/.369/.448 slash line two years ago with the Los Angeles Dodgers. 

Per Scott Lauber of ESPN.com, Ramirez has looked better at first base than anyone with the Red Sox was expecting:

In one of his first game tests, on March 7, Ramirez was unable to scoop a dirt-diving throw by third baseman (Sandoval). But a week later, he came off the bag to glove a wide throw by Sandoval, then reached back to apply a tag. Two nights after that, he was in position to cut off a throw to the plate from right field and throw out a runner at second base. He even made a few diving plays on hard-hit balls down the line.

Lauber did note Ramirez still has to face the test of starting a double play and usual growing pains that come with learning a new position, but he’s taken to the position quickly to give Boston some optimism.

Sandoval is a different story. He once again had to deal with stories about his weight early in spring training, per Pete Abraham of the Boston Globe:

For as long as Sandoval has been an MLB player, he’s been heavy. It’s just his body type, making the shock and outrage at his physique silly. 

Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe started fanning the trade winds involving Sandoval by noting the Padres had a scout in attendance at a Red Sox game specifically to look at the third baseman. 

It doesn’t necessarily mean anything, as opposing teams have scouts at every game every day, but Sandoval wore out his welcome in Boston last year, so this gives fans something to latch onto. 

Plus, if betting on one of Ramirez or Sandoval to have a strong 2016, it would be Sandoval. That’s unusual to say, especially in light of the decision to start him on the bench in favor of Travis Shaw. 

It’s a bold decision that does send a message to everyone on the team that things aren’t business as usual, but Sandoval will not be limited for long. He’s making too much money and the team gains nothing by sitting him. 

Shaw was a pleasant surprise last year, hitting .270/.327/.487 in 65 games, though he is 25 years old and was never highly regarded as a prospect. Players change all the time, but his leap forward was so out of nowhere that it’s OK to be skeptical if he returns to that form over 162 games. 

Ramirez has more natural talent, but he’s 32 years old and has had problems staying healthy. He hasn’t played in more than 128 games since 2012. 

Sandoval, while not a prototypical athlete, does have plenty of athleticism in his husky frame. He’s just 29 years old and played in 298 out of a possible 324 games in his final two years with the San Francisco Giants. 

Per FanGraphs, Sandoval was also unlucky last year with a career-low .270 batting average on balls in play. The Panda has never been a patient hitter, but he’s made such consistent contact that some of those balls that were outs last year are going to fall in this year and dramatically raise his numbers. 


Rising Star: Jackie Bradley Jr. 

I wanted to put Betts or Bogaerts here because they are both 23 years old and fun to talk about, but they played so well in 2015 that it’s hard to justify calling either player a rising star heading into this season. 

Instead, let’s examine Jackie Bradley Jr., a player who seemed to wear out his welcome in Boston before a solid effort in 2015 gave him new life. The 25-year-old didn’t get regular playing time in the big leagues last season until the end of July, yet still managed a solid .249/.335/.498 slash line with 10 homers in 74 games. 

The Red Sox have good outfield depth with Betts capable of playing in center or right field, Brock Holt and Chris Young sharing time in left field and Rusney Castillo in the mix for a corner outfield spot if needed. 

Bradley’s presence in the outfield will be a huge boost. Even when he was struggling with the bat in 2014, his glove was never a problem. The former South Carolina star was credited with 15 defensive runs saved two years ago, per FanGraphs

An elite defensive player in center field doesn’t have to do much offensively to be worth three wins above replacement. Bradley somehow fell well below that barrier with the bat in 2014, posting a .198/.265/.266 line in 127 games. 

This spring is continuing last year’s breakout trend for Bradley, with Lauber noting how the outfielder has changed his hitting approach:

[Red Sox assistant hitting coach Victor] Rodriguez and hitting coach Chili Davis have been trying to instill that aggressiveness in Bradley, and the 25-year-old appears to have embraced the idea. He still prides himself on knowing the strike zone and waiting for his pitch, but now, if he gets that pitch early in the count, he isn’t afraid to pounce.

The selective-aggressive approach worked for Bradley last season. He put together a solid spring training that makes it seem more like a legitimate turning-the-corner moment. 

The Red Sox aren’t starved for talent in the outfield, but Bradley’s presence in center field would shift the AL East’s balance of power. 



For all of the Red Sox’s problems last year, particularly with Ramirez and Sandoval, they finished fourth in MLB with 748 runs scored. They only figure to get better with Betts gaining more experience following his breakout season, Bogaerts continuing to grow into his power and potential breakout stars in Bradley and catcher Blake Swihart

That doesn’t even include veteran stars like Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, who has been susceptible to injuries after missing 96 games over the last two years, so there will be plenty of runs found in Boston. 

Moving Ramirez out of left field immediately upgrades the Red Sox’s outfield defense, though his transition to first base will be a key story to watch early. His hands have never been great, so he has to prove himself capable of consistently picking bad throws from infielders. 

The starting rotation is the biggest question mark. Price is a horse at the top. Eduardo Rodriguez has a chance to emerge as the No. 2 by the end of 2016, but he is battling a knee injury that’s expected to keep him out until May. 

Porcello turned his 2015 season around after the All-Star break, posting a 3.53 ERA in 11 starts, enough to provide hope that things will be better this season. Clay Buchholz has to prove he can stay healthy enough to make 25-30 starts in a season before penciling him in as a No. 2-3 starter. 

The addition of Kimbrel not only gives the Red Sox a lockdown closer, but also helps add length to the bullpen with Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa splitting the seventh- and eighth-inning roles. 

It all adds up to a talented, dynamic roster that will be much better than the 78-win group from 2015. This is not a flawless team, by any means, but they are the strongest team on paper in the AL East and ready to make a return trip to the postseason. 

2016 Record Prediction: 91-71, 1st in AL East


Stats per Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.

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