The Boston Red Sox season ended with a sweep at the hands of the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS. Despite the disappointing ending, there was 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.
AL Cy Young winner Rick Porcello notched 22 victories in 2016 and, along with the $31-million man David Price, will lead the starting rotation again in 2017. Much will be expected of Porcello after his brilliant performance in his second year in Boston, and the same will be be expected of Price in his second season with the club. Although Price posted a 3.99 ERA, his 3.60 FIP and 3.52 xFIP suggest he was a bit snake-bitten.
The team acquired 27-year-old lefty Drew Pomeranz at the trade deadline and he seems locked into a starter slot despite his 4.59 ERA in the American League. The southpaw’s 3.85 xFIP shows a pitcher who was victimized by an unusually high HR/FB rate (19.7%).
Knuckleballer Steven Wright – assuming the shoulder injury that shelved him down the stretch in 2016 doesn’t linger – should rejoin the rotation in 2017 after going 13-6 in 24 starts last season. The 31-year-old posted a 3.33 ERA and was in contention for the Cy Young award before he was sidelined.
The fifth spot will come down to two pitchers who displayed, in 2016, both troubles and the ability to correct them. Eduardo Rodriguez was sent back to Triple-A Pawtucket after a late start to his season did not go as planned. However, the 23-year-old posted a 3.24 ERA from July 16 through the end of the season. Clay Buchholz struggled through much of the season before being temporarily banished to the bullpen. In September, he returned to the rotation and put up a 3.14 ERA. The September performance, along with a dry free agent class, led to the team announcing on November 3 that it would pick up the contract option on the much-maligned righty. Rodriguez does have an option remaining so it is always possible Boston decides to send him back to Pawtucket to get the most out of their resources if Buchholz proves worthy of a rotation spot.
There are no starting pitching prospects in the high minors currently knocking on the door, and Henry Owens has shown in his few auditions at the big league level that he isn’t a contender to break into the rotation. Dombrowski will probably be aggressive about pursuing minor-league free agents so that the likes of Sean O’Sullivan and Roenis Elias aren’t needed for spot starts next season.
In the bullpen, 26-year-old Matt Barnes established himself as a reliable reliever in 2016, and he’ll most likely be joined by Joe Kelly, Robbie Ross Jr., and a returning-from-injury Carson Smith in front of closer Craig Kimbrel. Forty-one-year-old setup man Koji Uehara, 36-year-old Brad Ziegler, and 30-year-old Junichi Tazawa are pending free agents, and all could be moving on. There is room, and need, to add talent to the bullpen, as well as the cash.
The Front Office & Management
Dave Dombrowski had a successful first season at the helm of Baseball Operations, and he has already stated that manager John Farrell will return to the dugout in 2017. Bench coach Torey Lovullo moved on to become the manager in Arizona. Angels coach, and Mass native, Gary DiSarcina was hired to take his place, but the remainder of the coaching staff is returning intact. After last season’s front office upheaval, the Sox will most likely be a stable, and boring, operation this offseason.
Boston went from last place in 2015 to first place in 2016, improving by 15 games. Winning 93 games and the AL East was unexpected; most fans and observers thought this was a talented team, but not one that would be in contention for the best record in the AL. Young players like Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Andrew Benintendi, and Xander Bogaerts took huge strides forward, while Porcello continued his adjustment to Boston and performed like an ace. Price struggled at times in his first season as a Red Sox, but there is hope that he was adjusting to the town, the media, the fan expectations, and the ballpark, and he will be better in his second season.
The huge loss of Ortiz – at the plate and in the clubhouse – is the major story going into the offseason. But the Sox have talented players up and down the lineup, and robust internal options at their “problem spots” of third base and catcher. How they choose to address the hole at DH will be the biggest story to follow this offseason. They will also be in the market for relievers, with the likely departures of Tazawa, Uehara, and Ziegler. However, Kelly and Smith may pick up some of that load, and the money is there to address that need in the free agent market.
In all, this will probably be one of the quietest offseasons in recent memory for Sox fans. It is unlikely they will make many “splashes” – but they do not need to. This team has young stars who are entering their prime, a robust farm system that is churning out talented players, and a huge budget with which to address their shortcomings – or eat their mistakes. The future in Boston is very bright, and fans will be looking forward to spring training with bated breath.