Though the Boston Red Sox season came to an untimely end in the ALDS at the hands of the Cleveland Indians, 2016 showed a lot of promise for the organization. The “Killer B’s” (Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Andrew Benintendi) are for real. Rick Porcello pitched like a true ace, Steven Wright was a nice surprise, and Hanley Ramirez bounced back in his new role as the first baseman.
Ultimately, the Red Sox won 93 games and the AL East after finishing in last place in each of the previous two seasons. However, Boston can ill afford to rest on its laurels. If they want to repeat as division champs and make a deeper run in the playoffs, the Red Sox have some work to do this winter.
Boston Red Sox 2016 Offseason Needs
Find a Setup Man
While the Red Sox bullpen morphed from a liability in the first half of the season into a strength in the second half, it still lacks a true bridge to closer Craig Kimbrel. Carson Smith was supposed to be that guy, but injuries, and eventually Tommy John surgery, derailed those plans. Former closer Koji Uehara can still be effective, but age and injury have robbed him of his consistency. He also happens to be a free agent
Kimbrel is one of the top closers in baseball, but he struggled in 2016 when asked to get more than three outs or to pitch in non-save situations. Unfortunately, the lack of a true setup man forced manager John Farrell to use him in those roles far too often. Boston should bring back Uehara if he wants to return, and should also look into retaining Brad Ziegler. However, one more arm would truly solidify the bulllpen.
Fortunately, the one area in which this free agent class is deep in is relief pitchers. Mark Melancon, Aroldis Chapman, and Kenley Jansen, among others, are all free agents. While the tops arms will likely be too expensive for Boston’s tastes, the glut of available relievers will drive down the asking price of the rest of the class. Guys like Travis Wood, Jerry Blevins, Marc Rzepczynski, and Trevor Cahill would all be relatively cheap, and could elevate the back end of the ‘pen.
If the Red Sox want to look toward the lower end of the group, Ivan Nova could be a good, inexpensive option. While he struggled as a starter with the New York Yankees, he blossomed in relief after being traded to the Pittsburgh Pirates. He posted a 3.06 ERA (down from 4.90 as a starter) and a 1.10 WHIP (down from 1.36), demonstrating improved command and confidence, even in the brutal NL Cental. The Pirates will try to retain him, but a decent offer could lure him back to the AL East.
Fill Lineup Holes
The Sox have one major hole in their lineup: designated hitter. For the past 13 seasons, that spot has been occupied by the immeasurable presence of David Ortiz. However, Big Papi retired following the ALDS, and now the Red Sox face the daunting task of replacing him. While no player can truly replicate his leadership on and off the field, there are a couple free agents that could help make up for the dropoff in terms of production at the plate.
The two names that have swirled around Boston for months as potential replacements are Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, both of the Toronto Blue Jays. While the Jays would certainly like to keep both, they will likely be forced to choose just one, leaving the other for the Red Sox. Encarnacion would be the better option; he’s three years younger and had a far better year at the dish in 2016. However, that also means Toronto will push harder to keep him over Bautista, who is now 36 and hit just .234 on the season. Perhaps getting out of the field and focusing on hitting would inject some life into his bat, but Bautista would be little more than a short-term fill-in as the Red Sox DH.
Boston could also look at Mark Trumbo of the Baltimore Orioles. Trumbo had easily the best season of his career in his first year with Baltimore, htting .256 with 47 homers and 108 RBI. He’s also three years younger than Encarnacion, and could be cheaper as well.
Boston also has a need at third base. While Travis Shaw is a solid defender and has value because of his versatility, his bat faded sharply in the second half and never recovered. He has some power, but became almost an automatic out when he didn’t go deep.
Unfortunately, there aren’t many good options available. Justin Turner of the Los Angeles Dodgers tops the list, but carries some risk as well. This was his first truly healthy season, and therefore he brings an unattractive injury history with him. He’ll also be expensive, as the Dodgers will work hard to keep him, and the Red Sox already have another very pricey third baseman on the roster.
For now, Boston may have to stick with Shaw and hope his bat recovers. If that doesn’t work, they may just have to turn back to the Pablo Sandoval. Given the $95 million they shelled out for him after the 2014 season, they may have no choice to to give him one more shot anyway.
Figure out if Buchholz is the Fifth Starter
The Red Sox rotation, despite is failings in the 2016 postseason, is actually fairly solid heading into 2017. Porcello, David Price, and Wright, assuming he comes back healthy from his shoulder injury, represent a strong 1-2-3. Eduardo Rodriguez looked vastly improved over the final two months. If he can continue that development and take the next step, then the Red Sox will have the top four set.
The only question right now is the fifth spot. At the moment, it belongs to Clay Buchholz. However, Buch has been the definition of inconsistency during his time in Boston. While he has ace-like stuff, it doesn’t always translate, and he can become exceptionally hittable. He also seems to be injured just as often as he isn’t, though that’s not really his fault. He finished 2016 on a good note, but had a dismal season overall. If he can’t get off to a strong start in 2017, the Red Sox will have to find someone else.
The starting pitcher market is, unfortunately, barren. The top option seems to be Rich Hill. While Hill had a fantastic year, he’ll be 37 on opening day. Some team will ultimately pay for his services, but the lack of alternatives will drive up his asking price by an unreasonable amount. Boston could turn to an internal option, such as Drew Pomeranz, but for now Buchholz is their best option, which explains why the Sox recently picked up his 2017 option.
The Red Sox, overall, look good heading into next season. They have a talented young core and good pitching staff. However, if they want to take that next step and get back to winning championships, they have a few questions to answer. We can only wait to find out how they do that.