What can the Red Sox reflect on and look forward to in 2017?
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Aside from the three-game sweep by the Cleveland Indians in the ALDS, the Red Sox have plenty to think about during this upcoming offseason. Fans across New England can reflect on the animated Boston outfielders and the talent they will bring to the table next year. Despite some playoff struggles, next season looks bright for the Red Sox as they bring back many key players.
Jackie Bradley, Jr.’s career has been on the incline. Despite already having proven himself as a solid defender, his inconsistent hitting was a main concern for the Red Sox. But after a slash line of .213/.290/.349 in 734 career games—a reasonable sample size—Bradley was deemed a liability. Luckily for Bradley, he was able to tap into his potential and establish himself as more than just a defensive asset. He finished his season with 26 home runs, 87 RBIs, and an .837 OPS while becoming an unsung hero.
Mookie Betts is considered to be a viable AL Most Valuable Player candidate after an extraordinary performance this year, despite his 2-for-10 and .633 OPS playoff struggles. Betts is coming off a .318/.363/.534 season with 214 hits, 122 runs, 113 RBIs, 31 home runs, 26 steals, and 78 extra-base hits. Jim Rice is the only other Red Sox player to have put together such a season with at least a .315 batting average, 210 hits, 120 runs, 110 RBIs, and 30 homers. Hopefully this season becomes a catalyst for those to come, instead of just another one-time ”Ellsbury” moment.
Hanley Ramirez had a resurgent performance in 2016, after an inconsistent 2015 filled with injuries and defensive woes. Ramirez even kicked it up a notch in the second half when he triple-slashed .305/.386/.616 with 25 home runs in his final 80 games. That brought him to a .286 batting average with 30 home runs and 111 RBIs on the year. Ramirez, Betts, and Ortiz became the first trio in Red Sox history to hit 30+ home runs with 100+ RBIs in the same season. As difficult as it may be to replace someone like Ortiz, the combination of Ramirez and Betts could fill that void.
Rick Porcello reverted back to his former 2015 self during Game 1 of the ALDS, but that does not negate the exceptional season the 27-year-old right-hander was able to put together. A viable Cy Young candidate, Porcello exceeded expectations in a multitude of categories; he led the league in K/BB ratio (5.9) and run support per nine innings (7.63), finishing second in WHIP (1.009) and fifth in pitcher’s WAR (5.0) and ERA (3.15). After this stellar performance, Porcello has shown he can be a pivotal top-of-the-rotation starter in the future.
After receiving a remarkable contract, David Price had a solid and promising first season with the Red Sox. At age 30, Price went 17-9 with a 3.99 ERA, striking out 228 in 230 innings. He allowed 30 homers and had a 1.20 WHIP and a 3.60 FIP. Price’s postseason struggles continued as he failed to get out of the fourth inning in a Game 2 loss in the ALDS, but he has ample time to improve those numbers.
Craig Kimbrel’s numbers this season would suggest he be listed among the likes of Andrew Miller of the Cleveland Indians or even Zach Britton of the Baltimore Orioles. He allowed just 4.8 hits while striking out 14.1 batters per nine innings. Yet, Kimbrel’s inconsistency is what sets him far apart from the aforementioned closers. His habitual loss of the strike zone made him slightly unreliable, as he walked 30 batters in 53 innings, the most walks of his career since his first full season, when he walked 32 in 77 innings.
“What to do with Pablo Sandoval?” This has become the now three-year long enigma that has plagued the Red Sox. The Boston front office attempted to piece together the third base position with Travis Shaw, Aaron Hill, and Brock Holt but the investment in Sandoval has yet to yield returns.
It’s hard to calculate who, in fact, can replace the contributions of David Ortiz. The answer may very well be “no one.” However, the search continues and the free agency market may be of some assistance. Ortiz even gave his own personal recommendation when he endorsed the Blue Jays’ Edwin Encarnación.
John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Offensively, Encarnación is a powerhouse—similar to Ortiz. He hit 42 homers, four more than Ortiz, and tied him for the Major League lead in RBIs (127). His age (34) and salary, however, may turn out to be the biggest factor for the Sox. So, the search continues.
Overall, the Red Sox have plenty to look forward to. The vast majority of their roster consists of substantial young players who are either established in their own right (Xander Bogaerts) or on the cusp of becoming everyday contributors (Andrew Benintendi). Sprinkle in the promise of a 31-year-old knuckleballer in Steven Wright (who had a tremendous first-half with 10 wins in 17 starts and a 2.65 ERA), and the Sox may have the second coming of a Tim Wakefield-like era.
Despite the 2016 ALDS showcasing some of manager John Farrell‘s shortcomings regarding decision-making, the Red Sox reaffirmed that he and his staff would return for the 2017 season. The success of the ‘16 Sox, after back-to-back seasons finishing in last place, surely reinforced the decision to bring Farrell back.
Expectations will be high for Farrell and the entirety of the Red Sox organization in 2017. There will be significant pressure to deliver a far better outcome than what we witnessed this season. They are capable. Now they just have to execute.
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