Spring Training is finally here baseball fans! Now is the time of year where the favorites to win it all are named. Reports coming out of the desert are saying that the Boston Red Sox are 9/2 odds, along with the World Series Champion Chicago Cubs (that still feels like a typo), to win the 2017 World Series. The defending American League East Champions are expected to repeat their outstanding regular season and have a deep run to the World Series. However, this team still has holes and some serious questions heading into the beginning of the season.
The first question has to deal with their pitching staff. The Red Sox acquired Chris Sale in the offseason from the Chicago White Sox giving up the #1 prospect in all of baseball at the time 2B Yoan Moncada, RHP Michael Koepech and two other minor leaguers. Chris Sale is at the top of the starting rotation followed by the $217M man David Price, the defending AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello, the young and talented Eduardo Rodriguez, and All-Star knuckleballer Stephen Wright.
Can Chris Sale be dominant here in a tough market like Boston? We’ve seen players with great talent not be successful in Boston before. Sale also has what seems like a temper. Remember the incident in Chicago last year where he cut up the jerseys before a game? Now I don’t believe he’ll do something like that again, but that remains to be seen.
Can David Price return to ace form like he was in Tampa Bay, Detroit, and Toronto? After the Red Sox had signed him in the 2015 offseason to a record-breaking contract, he underperformed in 2016 with an ERA of 3.99 which was his highest since his rookie year. His postseason woes continued with an abysmal ALDS performance against the Cleveland Indians only lasting 3.1 innings. With Chris Sale now in the fold will Price feel less pressure and perform to his capability?
Not only the top of the rotation has questions, but the bottom half does as well. Rick Porcello had a fantastic bounceback season winning the Cy Young Award in the American League. Can he put up Cy Young numbers again in 2017? More than likely he will come back down to earth and be an average middle of the rotation arm. Eduardo Rodriguez still has the potential of being a top of the rotation arm. With injury concerns heading into the season, will he be ready for Opening Day? Can Steven Wright dazzle the AL with his knuckleball, or will it become a beach ball to opposing hitters?
The bullpen is still a major concern after being questionable all of last season. Red Sox closer Craig Kimbrell looked shaky at times, walking 30 hitters while hitting 4 of them. He needs to regain his command in 2017 if he wants to be a lights out closer. Carson Smith, a hard-throwing set-up man, is coming off of Tommy John surgery and won’t be available until May. That kind of surgery can change a flamethrower like Smith in a negative way. Tyler Thornburg, who was acquired from the Milwaukee Brewers, is an arm surgery waiting to happen. His release is just asking for Tommy John, so who can expect him to stay healthy? Behind these three, are a bunch of question marks with a lack of talent across the board including Robbie Ross Jr. and Fernando Abad.
The offense could potentially be an issue for the Boston Red Sox. Mookie Betts is coming off an MVP-caliber season. He is the number one threat in the order and will have to be a highly productive option for the line-up.
Rookie phenom and MLB’s #1 prospect Andrew Benintendi is going to have to be a key contributor to this line-up. Experts say that Benintendi will more than likely hit out of the two-hole in front of Betts. A very tall order for such a young kid.
Xander Bogaerts will have to hit like he did in the first half of last season. He hit a whopping .350 average in the first half, but after the All-Star break was only hitting .230. He’ll have to be more consistent for the Red Sox to succeed.
With David “Big Papi” Ortiz retiring, who is going to step up and provide that kind of offense? Ortiz had one of the best final seasons in all of sports last year hitting .315/.401/.620 with 38 HRs and 127 RBIs. The Sox acquired Mitch Moreland in the offseason to play 1B and possibly DH a few games, but there is no way that he can produce what Papi did last year. Moreland was brought here to play a Gold Glove caliber first base.
Hanley Ramirez will have to have a repeat performance of last year. Ramirez has the reputation of being lazy and losing his focus if he is not engaged. This lack of attention wasn’t the case last season with David Ortiz being a real motivator and mentoring Hanley. Now with Ortiz gone, what will Hanley look like? Will he finally grow up and be a professional, or will he return to the old dog who cannot learn new tricks?
Not only will they miss Ortiz’s bat in the line-up, but his leadership in the clubhouse. For the past 14 years, David Ortiz has been the leader of the Red Sox on and off the field. With his retirement, who is going to step up in that role? Often people overlook the chemistry of a clubhouse. It can either make or break a team. Just look at the 2013 Red Sox. A bunch of veterans with huge chips on their shoulders banned together to win a championship. Many think long time second baseman Dustin Pedroia will be the vocal leader of this team.
Then comes the question, who is playing 3rd base? Will it be Pablo Sandoval who the Sox signed two seasons ago but didn’t play last year because of a back issue, (let’s be serious it’s because he ate himself out of the lineup) or will it be Brock Holt, the super utility infielder? Reports coming out of Fort Meyers are saying that Sandoval has entered camp in shape and ready to play. He will have to earn the spot he lost back at the beginning of camp last year.
The last and final wild card for the team is manager John Farrell. Farrell is not a good baseball manager. He does not have a feel for the game and makes mediocre baseball related decisions. He has led the Red Sox to two last place finishes in the past four seasons, and if history repeats itself, the Red Sox will finish last again this year. Farrell has his hands full this season with all of the personalities this Red Sox team possesses and no one there to help reel them in. If the Sox get off to a slow start, expect Farrell to be fired sooner rather than later.
The Boston Red Sox have extremely high expectations this season. It’s World Series or bust. However, with all of the lingering questions and concerns with this team, people should slow down on all the hype.