The Boston Red Sox season ended with a sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS. Despite the disappointing ending, there is much to celebrate and look forward to. Though David Ortiz has hung up his cleats and elbow protector, Boston heads into the offseason with a bright future and few, if any, holes to address in the offseason.
Most teams would love to have Boston’s young foundation of position players. MVP candidate and Gold Glove right fielder Mookie Betts blossomed in his age-23 season, putting up a slash line of .318/.363/.534 with 42 doubles, 26 stolen bases (in 30 attempts), and a whopping 31 home runs. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts will be 24 years old next season as well, and while he did not have as good an offensive season as Betts, he did perform very well defensively in addition to putting up a .294/.356/.446 slash line, to go along with 34 doubles, 21 homers, and 13 stolen bases, which won him his second-consecutive Silver Slugger Award.
Center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. turned in another very good season in center field, and also finally established himself at the plate, recording a .267/.349/.486 slash line, 30 doubles, 26 homers, and 9 stolen bases in his age-25 season.
Finally, the Killer B’s were joined in September by precocious rookie Andrew Benintendi, who at the tender age of 21 posted a .295/.359/.476 slash line in 118 plate appearances. Few teams boast an entire outfield of exceptional defenders – Benintendi was a center fielder coming up the minor league ladder and Betts notched 14 assists from right field – with offensive prowess.
Bogaerts teams with veteran second baseman Dustin Pedroia to form an exceptional double-play combo; Pedroia was named Wilson’s Defensive Player of the Year at second base and had his best, most healthy season since his MVP season of 2008. The 32-year old notched a .318/.376/.449 line, coupled with 15 homers and 36 doubles in 2016, and figures to be a quality player for several more seasons.
Further, the Red Sox have offensive force Hanley Ramirez under contract for two more seasons. The 32-year-old played in 147 games in 2016 – his highest total since 2012 – and he made the defensive transition to first base successfully. He recorded a .286/.361/.505 line on the year, with 30 homers and 28 doubles. Where he plays next season – first base or DH – depends upon other moves, and on the performance of other players.
The question marks for Boston in the field are at third base and catcher – as well as at either designated hitter or first base (wherever Ramirez does not end up). However, they have internal candidates to fill all those positions, if they choose not to go outside the organization.
In 2016, catcher Sandy Leon was a surprising contributor to the Red Sox, batting .310/.369/.476 after posting a .184/.238/.202 line in 128 at-bats in 2015. Boston expected Christian Vazquez or Ryan Hanigan or Blake Swihart to handle the pitching staff from behind the plate, but ineffectiveness and injury derailed those best-laid plans. Leon’s emergence, and unexpected contribution, was a major reason the Red Sox were able to capture the AL East crown this season. However, his minor league track record and September swoon don’t suggest that he is a future star – just a guy who got hot for a few months and rode it for all it was worth. It is highly unlikely that Leon reprises his 2016 performance. It is far more probable that Swihart returns from injury to seize the job, or that the defensive skills of Vazquez win the starting gig in spring training.
Meanwhile third base was a complete mess for the Sox in 2016. Travis Shaw, Aaron Hill, Brock Holt, and Pablo Sandoval were all given cracks at the job, and all failed in some way. First, Sandoval – owner of a five-year, $95 million contract signed two seasons ago – showed up to spring training having eaten himself out of baseball shape. Being in no condition to play baseball, he promptly injured himself, was sent to the disabled list for reconstructive shoulder surgery, and missed the entire season (okay, fine, he made seven plate appearances in April). His contract – as well as the fact that no team in its right mind would take him in a trade coming off a terrible 2015, an injured 2016, and being owed $58 million over the next three seasons – means he’ll most likely be a member of the Red Sox in 2017 in some capacity.
Shaw held down third base for most of the season, but the unheralded 26-year-old lost his job as the dog days of summer wore on. His defense is subpar for the position, and while he can play first base more competently, his batting line of .242/.306/.421 would be far below average at either corner position. With several years of club control remaining, it is highly likely that Shaw transitions into a bench role for the 2017 Red Sox playing both infield corners and some left field when one of the regulars needs a day off.
Brock Holt spent most of the 2016 season manning left field, but his true value is in his flexibility and versatility – as well as his general aura. The utility man can play anywhere for a night, and competently hold down backup duties everywhere but shortstop and catcher for a fortnight. He will be another key bench contributor to the team next season.
Finally, the biggest issue for the Red Sox offense to address in the offseason is the replacement of future Hall of Famer David Ortiz. Perhaps Team President Dave Dombrowski imports an aging slugger – such as Jose Bautista or Edwin Encarnacion – to take over the DH duties. Or perhaps Ramirez is shifted to the primary DH role, and a new first baseman is acquired. Or maybe the Sox decide Sandoval is a complete lost cause, bring in a new third baseman, and go with a rotating cast of characters at DH. This question will dominate offseason storylines for the team.
However they choose to address the position, the Sox are in an enviable state: They have all three outfield slots, as well as their double-play combination, locked down with productive and exceptional talents. Figuring out the corners, DH, and catcher from the pool of internal candidates, free agents, and possible trades, is all the Sox have to do headed into the hot stove season.