Boston Red Sox 2017 Season Preview

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FORT MYERS, FL- FEBRUARY 16: Pablo Sandoval #48 of the Boston Red Sox talks to Vice President of Player Personnel Allard Baird and Assistant General Manager Eddie Romero on February 16, 2017 at jetBlue Park in Fort Myers, Florida. (Photo by Michael Ivins/Boston Red Sox) *** LOCAL CAPTION *** Pablo Sandoval;Allard Baird;Eddie Romero

In some ways, the 2017 season will be an odd one for the Boston Red Sox. Though it ended too abruptly thanks to disappointing pitching and quiet bats, there was a lot to like about 2016. The “Killer B’s” – Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. (and Andrew Benintendi for a short time) – all came into their own at the plate, and provided an extended look at the firepower Boston should have for many years to come. Though he ran out of gas in the playoffs, Rick Porcello was fantastic all season and carried the rotation. He earned (sorry, Justin Verlander) the American League Cy Young Award for his efforts. David Ortiz went out on the top of his game, and gave fans one last glimpse of his greatness.

Boston Red Sox 2017 Season Preview

Boston will enter this season as the early favorites to win the AL East, and perhaps the American League pennant (though the Cleveland Indians may have something to say about that). However, in spite of the projections, there are still some big questions about the team that must be answered early on. With that in mind, here are the top three things to watch for as the Red Sox go through Spring Training and begin the season. This is the Last Word On Baseball Boston Red Sox 2017 Season Preview.

The Return of the Panda

Travis Shaw wasn’t horrible as the everyday third baseman. He generally displayed adequate defense, and his bat, for the most part, was an asset. However, his inconsistency, and playoff disappearing act, made him a liability. With Pablo Sandoval set to return from injury, Shaw became expendable and was traded for some much-needed relief pitching. Here’s the kicker: Sandoval is now, once again, the presumptive Opening Day starter at the hot corner. Yikes.

Let’s be real for a moment: Sandoval hit rock bottom in 2016. His weight became such a problem that his usually good defense completely disappeared. He also fell apart at the plate, quite literally. A shoulder injury forced him out for the season, and many figured that was the last Boston would see of him. Yet, at that point, he had no value. It would have taken a miracle to move his massive contract (and gut) to another team. If he came back healthy in 2017, there was little chance he wouldn’t at least get a shot at his old job.

Weeks before pitchers and catchers reported, a photo surfaced of a Panda who looked like he had not only lost weight, but was positively slim. It seemed too good to be true. Against all odds, however, that svelte Sandoval showed up at JetBlue Park for workouts. If he truly is healthy AND in shape for the start of the season, the Red Sox have little to worry about. He’s been an offensive weapon at times in his career, particularly in the playoffs. A trim Pablo could be the answer at third Boston has been looking for since the departure of Adrian Beltre. The Panda’s weight has fluctuated drastically in the past, and bears watching over the course of the season.

How will the Red Sox Fill the Void Left by Ortiz?

When Big Papi retired, the Red Sox lost not only one of the greatest hitters, and clutch hitters, in recent memory, but the most dynamic presence in the league. Ortiz wasn’t just a designated hitter. He was The Guy. He ran that clubhouse, and the Red Sox ran through him. He reached fans like no other player. His bat will be hard to replace. His personality will be impossible to replicate.

In the clubhouse, new voices will have to speak up. Dustin Pedroia is still around, but he’ll need help. Betts, Bogaerts, or perhaps Hanley Ramirez will have to embrace more of a leadership role than they have in the past. This Red Sox team is supremely talented, but how they pull together without Ortiz (for the first time since 2003) is actually a major concern.

At the plate, it may also take more than one player to make up for the lost production. With Mitch Moreland joining the fold as the primary first baseman, Ramirez will likely see most of his at-bats as the new DH. Though he proved a capable fielder at first last season, Hanley’s primary tool at this point in his career is his bat. He was hot and cold in 2016, but came on strong and clutch in the second half. Serving as the DH will allow him to focus more on his hitting, which should lessen the frequency and severity of his slumps. Hanley in his new role, plus further improvement from the young core, should almost replicate Ortiz’s production. Almost.

Will the Rotation Live Up to the Hype?

On paper, the Red Sox have perhaps the most talented top-three of any rotation in baseball. Porcello, the reigning AL pitching king, could end up as the third starter to open the season. David Price, another former Cy Young winner, and Chris Sale, who hasn’t won the award but has finished in the top six five years in a row, could easily slot in ahead of him. That should scare the bajeezus out of the AL.

Looking good on paper, however, means exactly nothing until it translates to the field. As talented as they are, all three have questions surrounding them. Porcello had far and away his best season last year. Now, he needs to prove that it wasn’t a fluke. Price, as usual, folded like a tissue in the postseason. That kind of thing might be forgiven in Tampa Bay and Toronto, but it won’t fly in Boston. It remains to be seen how he reacts to the negativity. The truth is, he wasn’t all that great in the regular season, either. If he doesn’t come roaring out of the gates, the good people of New England will surely make their displeasure known. As for Sale, the extreme pressure of pitching in Boston might not react well with his sometimes-volatile personality. Red Sox fans like some fire out of their pitchers, but distracting antics won’t be tolerated.

The final two spots in the rotation are up for grabs. Eduardo Rodriguez, Steven Wright, and Drew Pomeranz could all make it. Each one is currently rehabbing from injury, which further muddies things. Based on potential alone, Rodriguez seems likely to grab the fourth spot if he’s healthy. He displayed vast improvement in limited late-season action. Wright should take the fifth spot, though again that depends on health. However, he’s performed better as a starter than as a reliever in his career, and pitched as well as anyone for most of last season. Pomeranz, then, should wind up in the bullpen, where he could be valuable as a long reliever. This should all get worked out in the coming weeks, and could be tweaked as the season gets going.

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