Your 2016 Red Sox Are a Complete Mess
Last season will go down as one of the biggest embarrassments in Red Sox history. After shelling out a record-setting amount of money on payroll, the Red Sox stumbled to their third last-place finish in four years—with plenty of humiliating moments along the way. But this year threatens to be just as bad.
The Red Sox responded to their despondent 78-win campaign by cleaning house at the end of last summer, most notably with the hiring of Dave Dombrowski as the new head of baseball operations. Dombrowski immediately made his impact felt, throwing $217 million at David Price just two years after principal owner John W. Henry told Bloomberg Businessweek the Red Sox were determined to steer clear of free agents older than 30. Price turned 30 last August.
The decision to sign Price is another contradiction for an organization that’s completely lost its way. A few months before Henry made his comments to Bloomberg, former CEO Larry Lucchino declared the team was largely finished making high-profile free agent acquisitions. But then the Red Sox won 71 games in 2014, and spent a combined $183 million on Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez the following offseason. Those moves have worked out swimmingly.
— Joon Lee (@iamjoonlee) July 22, 2015
With Price on board, flamethrower Craig Kimbrel in the back of the bullpen, and a blossoming group of young stars, the Red Sox seem ready to compete again. But the bright spots fail to cover up their flaws, which are littered across the diamond.
The easiest place to start is third base, where Sandoval lost his starting job to Travis Shaw. That sentence is damning, given that Sandoval makes $18 million per season and Shaw is an unheralded ninth-round pick who’s played 65 games in the major leagues. But that’s what happens when you show up out of shape after posting the worst season of any starting third baseman in the American League. You lose your spot.
— Jared Carrabis (@Jared_Carrabis) February 21, 2016
Amazingly, Sandoval isn’t the only high-profile bust on the Red Sox this season. Rusney Castillo, the highest-paid Cuban player in history, can’t even crack the starting lineup. Manager John Farrell announced Tuesday utility man Brock Holt will receive the majority of the playing time in left field to start the year.
The decisions to bench Sandoval and Castillo may cause Red Sox fans to celebrate in the interim, but it’s a sad indictment of the state of the team. The Red Sox will now have $167.5 million riding on the bench this season and are panicking before the first game is even played. It’s also a sign that Farrell is squirming, with the knowledge that his job is in jeopardy after two straight last-place finishes. (Sandoval and Castillo are signed for four and five more years, by the way.)
Another costly disappointment is Rick Porcello, who the team inked to an $82.5 million extension last spring. Porcello, 27, currently has a ghastly 9.77 ERA in Grapefruit League play. That’s not the followup performance the Red Sox were hoping for after he posted the highest ERA of his career in 2015.
Behind Price, the rotation is just as uncertain as it was last season. With young left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez set to begin the season on the disabled list, perpetual underachievers Clay Buchholz and Joe Kelly and unimpressive knuckleballer Steven Wright round out the starting five.
But as bad as the rotation was last year, the bullpen was even worse. The Sox’s pen allowed the third-most runs in the league in 2015, which is why they went out and traded top prospects for Kimbrel and acquired Seattle Mariners setup man Carson Smith. Everything was going to plan, but then Smith injured his forearm. Smith will be sidelined for at least the first month, so the onus once again falls on the 41-year-old Koji Uehara and overworked Junichi Tazawa to pitch most of the crucial late innings.
The one area of hope that can’t be dampened with any negativity is the top of the lineup, which will be occupied by Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts. Both players are coming off sensational sophomore campaigns and can only be expected to get better. But counting on them to carry the load offensively may be a bit much, even though that’s exactly what they might have to do.
Dustin Pedroia, who’s slated to hit between Betts and Bogaerts, has seen his performance decline for four straight years. David Ortiz shows little sign of slowing down, but then again, he is 40.
With Shaw and Holt set to man third base and left field, two positions that are typically occupied by elite hitters, the Red Sox will likely need other players to step up. Shaw posted a putrid .674 OPS in Triple-A last season and Holt tailed off after the All-Star Break for the second straight year. It’s difficult to score 800 runs when you have a dearth of offensive production at those key spots.
With that in mind, the biggest key to the Red Sox’s success this season may be Ramirez. In addition to being a train wreck in the outfield last year, he was a lightweight at the plate, hitting .238 after May 1 and not belting a single home run in the second half of the season.
Perhaps the biggest storyline heading into Spring Training was whether Ramirez could play first base, and oddly enough, that was one of the few positive developments that occurred in Fort Myers, Fla. But beware before you buy in: Ramirez has been one of the worst defensive shortstops and left fielders in baseball over the last decade. It’s dubious to think he’ll improve with the glove at 32 years old.
Spring is supposed to produce boundless optimism, but one of the only things the Red Sox can hang their hat on is that Ramirez might not be that much of a disaster at first base. For the second straight year, this franchise will spend a record amount of money on payroll, and it seems destined to blow up in their face yet again.