The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in three of the last 13 seasons and the big bat right in the middle of it all was David Ortiz.
Welcome to 2017, and the Red Sox beginning life after Big Papi, the spiritual and statistical leader of this baseball team.
The Sox pulled off another last-to-first run last season but, amid the Ortiz celebrations, stumbled into the playoffs and were swept by the Cleveland Indians in the Division Series.
Now, Ortiz has retired and club president Dave Dombrowski spent the winter churning the roster with an aim at another run to the top of the American League East. He made several moves, none bigger than trading super prospects Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech to the Chicago White Sox for ace left-hander Chris Sale. The farm system has been heavily tapped by the Dombrowski regime, and the time to win is now.
On paper, the acquisition of Sale gave the Red Sox a killer trio atop the rotation, with Sale joining aces David Price and Rick Porcello, the latter the 2016 Cy Young winner. But Price threw a scare into everyone in Boston when he went to see Dr. James Andrews earlier in the spring about an elbow problem. The bad news is Price will not open the season on the active roster, but the good news is he should be back by May.
Replacing Ortiz in the lineup … well, you don’t replace Ortiz in the lineup. But rookie Andrew Benintendi showed enough during last year’s stay to let the world know he’s going to be a quality player, third baseman Pablo Sandoval is in shape and back from shoulder surgery and Mitch Moreland was acquired to provide power and also give the Sox a true fielding first baseman — thus allowing Hanley Ramirez to move to designated hitter.
Dombrowski quickly announced John Farrell would be coming back as manager for 2017. Now, the folks who set the odds on the coming season have the Red Sox and Cleveland Indians as the teams to beat in the American League.
“I think that when you have a good club, those expectations don’t really bother them,” Dombrowski said. “I think you just really have to go about taking care of your business on a daily basis, and that’s how you deal with expectations.”
ROOKIE WATCH: LF Andrew Benintendi is the consensus top prospect in baseball and he’s already been around long enough to tell us he’s the rookie of the year favorite. The kid, a natural center fielder, is part of the Killer B’s outfield along with Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts. Benintendi should be the only rookie on the Red Sox roster, and manager John Farrell has him penciled into the second spot in the lineup.
ON THE RISE: It’s hard to look at an established roster and find a breakout player, so let’s go to a veteran who is looking to break out again. Pablo Sandoval missed last season because of shoulder surgery and returned in shape and ready to re-establish himself as a contributing major leaguer. His power numbers have fallen annually but the Red Sox have a lineup that doesn’t beg for his major power numbers. Sandoval is a .287 lifetime hitter with a great postseason resume.
BACKSLIDING: RHP Rick Porcello won the Cy Young Award in 2016 and there doesn’t appear to be any way he can repeat that kind of season. Even if he pitches like an ace in a rotation of three potential aces, a 22-4 record with a 3.15 ERA is hard to imagine two years in a row, especially for a guy who was 9-15 the previous season.
ROTATION: 1. RHP Rick Porcello, 2. LHP Chris Sale, 3. LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, 4. RHP Steven Wright, 5. LHP Drew Pomeranz,
BULLPEN: RHP Craig Kimbrel, RHP Joe Kelly, RHP Matt Barnes, LHP Robbie Ross Jr., RHP Heath Hembree, LHP Robby Scott, LHP Fernando Abad
LINEUP: 1. 2B Dustin Pedroia, 2. LF Andrew Benintendi, 3. RF Mookie Betts, 4. DH Hanley Ramirez, 5. 1B Mitch Moreland, 6. SS Xander Bogaerts, 7. CF Jackie Bradley Jr., 8. 3B Pablo Sandoval, 9. C Sandy Leon
RESERVES: IF/OF Brock Holt, OF Chris Young, IF Jeff Rutledge, C Christian Vazquez
Holt is as versatile as any player in the major leagues and can again expect to play everywhere but behind the plate. He provides insurance against any injury in the infield or outfield.
Rutledge, back from knee surgery, provides a right-handed alternative to Pablo Sandoval if his righty swinging continues to be a problem. He also backs up Mitch Moreland at first base until Hanley Ramirez is able to play then field without a sore right shoulder.
NOTES: RHP Carson Smith, coming back from Tommy John surgery, is throwing and there is optimism he will make it back by June. … DH/1B Hanley Ramirez is battling a right shoulder injury that will keep him working as the DH and out of the field for the foreseeable future. … LHP Roenis Elias, a candidate to make the staff, was battling an intercostal injury. … Third base coach Brian Butterfield starts the season as the bench coach after knee replacement. Gary DiSarcina will take over at third until Butterfield is ready.
|byline:The Sports Xchange