Following bold offseason acquisitions and eventful spring training, the Boston Red Sox are finally about to begin the 2016 season.
After finishing in last place three out of the past four years, the Red Sox are looking to flip the script and compete for a division title and the World Series. As they get ready to embark on a 162 game journey, here are five of the top storylines to keep an eye on.
Hanley Ramirez Playing First Base
The 32-year-old will get another shot to stay on the field after last year’s experiment, which put Ramirez in left field and ended in disaster and embarrassment. Once an athletic shortstop, Ramirez’s defensive skills have steadily declined as he has aged.
But what Ramirez lacks in fielding he makes up for at the plate, or at least that’s what Red Sox management thought was the case when they signed him to a four-year $88 million contract in November 2014. While his career batting average is .296, the Dominican Republic native hit a lowly .249 last year in only 105 games. He also boasted a career worst—1.3 wins above replacement, a statistic that shows how many more wins a player contributes to his team than that of a replacement-level player. That’s right, the Red Sox probably would have won another game or two last year with a replacement player in the lineup instead of Hanley Ramirez and his $22 million a year salary.
As he prepares to play first base, a position that many talented hitters and sub-par fielders have been relegated to, Ramirez looks to finally find comfort in Fenway Park.
Pablo Sandoval’s Struggles at the Plate
Pablo Sandoval had the worst statistical season of his career at the plate in 2015. While he needs to address his woes at the plate on the baseball field, he also has to address his problems with the plate on the dinner table.
Sandoval has never been fit and has always been a bit rounder than most players, but throughout his career he has been a great hitter and serviceable third basemen. Last year, neither was true. When an article was published in the beginning of spring training suggesting that Sandoval’s weight might have something to do with his declining defense, Sandoval responded by ranting at the author and smashing his bat on a table.
Sandoval has always been seen as a positive guy and, like most of us, gets touchy when discussing his weight. If he can get himself in better baseball shape, maybe he can start producing like the Red Sox hoped he would when they signed him to a five-year $95 million contract last winter.
Impact of Offseason Moves
Obviously, the offseason before the 2015 campaign did not pan out like the Red Sox front office had hoped. However, that did not discourage them from going out and making major moves this past winter.
The most significant signing was David Price, an American League Cy Young winner who has had great success in the AL East. Having previously pitched for division rivals Tampa Bay and Toronto, as well as Detroit, Price boasts a .650 winning percentage and 3.09 ERA for his career. While there are still questions about Price’s ability to perform in the postseason, the Red Sox have to first worry about getting there. They’re hoping that their 7-year $217 million investment pays off.
Price wasn’t the only big name acquired by Boston this offseason. The Red Sox snagged All-Star closer Craig Kimbrel from the Padres and young reliever Carson Smith from the Mariners.
Kimbrel led the league in saves in the first four seasons of his career in Atlanta. Last year his numbers dipped slightly, but he is still one of the top three closers in the game and will be a huge asset for Boston in late game scenarios.
With Kimbrel as the closer, Koji Uehara will be the set-up man, as Smith and Junichi Tazawa provide depth to a previously pathetic bullpen.
Unlike last year’s signings, Price and Kimbrel should be able to contribute immediately and give the Red Sox the pitching help they so desperately needed.
Potential in the Outfield
With a likely opening day outfield of Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley Jr., the Red Sox are shaping up to have one of the best young outfields in the game.
Betts is ready to breakout and become a star. In his short time in Boston, he has posted a .291 batting average, .818 OPS (on-base plus slugging), a total of 8.0 WAR (wins above replacement), and his numbers should get even better this year.
Bradley Jr. has been inconsistent during most of his time in Boston, but last season he showed drastic improvement at the plate, yet his average was still only .249. With his above average defense and room for improvement on offense, Bradley Jr. can develop into a complete player.
Rusney Castillo remains the biggest question mark in the Boston outfield. The Cuban defector has only appeared in 80 games in his two seasons with the Red Sox and has experienced mixed results. While he has a better average than Bradley Jr. (.262), Castillo has struggled to stay on the field. If he can stay healthy and continue to develop, the Red Sox outfield will be a force to be reckoned with.
The Red Sox also signed Chris Young in the offseason and have utility man Brock Holt ready to fill up holes in case of injury or underperformance. Overall, the young outfield should be an exciting development for fans to follow over the course of the season.
Welcome Back John Farrell, Goodbye Big Papi
With Manager John Farrell returning to the dugout after a battle with cancer, this Red Sox team will have plenty of emotion and inspiration heading into the regular season.
As if that wasn’t enough to make this season more emotional, 2016 will also be the last season for Boston legend David Ortiz. From clutch homeruns to inspirational speeches to three world championships, Big Papi has undoubtedly left his mark on the Red Sox over the past 13 seasons.
“He’s been a big part of the team for a long time,” said Daniel Abrahamson (CAS ’19), a Boston native and lifelong Red Sox fan. “Everyone remembers how clutch he was in 2004 and again in 2013, but what stands out to me is how he responded after the Boston Marathon bombings [in 2013]. He’s more than just a baseball player to the people of Boston. He’s one of us, and I don’t think there will be another personality like him.”
Despite hitting 37 homeruns and having 108 RBI’s last year, his highest totals since 2007, the designated hitter announced he would retire on his 40th birthday in November.
Ortiz has evolved into so much more than just a star player, and the Fenway Faithful will surely let him know how much he has meant to the team and the city. As with recent stars like Derek Jeter and Mariano Rivera, who announced their retirements before their final season, Ortiz will probably be showered with parting gifts from opposing clubs.
While this could be a distraction, it seems more likely that Big Papi’s final season and John Farrell’s courageous return, should fuel emotions and motivate the Red Sox to do well.
If their young guys can fulfill their potential and the offseason moves pay off, the Red Sox could very well find themselves back in the playoffs come October. How fitting would it be for Big Papi to hit one more clutch postseason homerun and go out as a World Series Champion? There would be no better ending to a legendary career.