Don’t look now folks, but opening day at Fenway Park is a little more than a month away. There hadn’t been much buzz around the Red Sox this offseason until their signing of JD Martinez, which became official on Monday. Now they’ve added the big power bat they’ve been craving ever since Big Papi retired. There are still a lot of questions surrounding this team as we sit a little over a month away from the start of the season.
1. Can David Price prove to be healthy and finally live up to his huge contract?
Photo Credit: The Boston Globe
It’s now been over 2 years since David Price signed a 7 year deal worth $217 million with the Sox. I think it’s fair to say Price’s first 2 years in Boston have been rocky. He’s clashed with the media and team broadcasters, battled an elbow injury all of last season, and hasn’t lived up to expectations on the mound. In terms of the elbow injury, it sounds like Price has fully moved past it. A few weeks ago he was quoted saying, “I haven’t had one instance this offseason, whether it was playing catch or doing anything on the field, where I was like, ‘That doesn’t feel right.” This is great news for the Red Sox because Price appeared to have turned a corner on the mound when working out of the bullpen late last season. He looked as dominant as he has since putting on a Red Sox jersey. He appeared 7 times between September and October throwing a combined 15 and 1/3rd innings, allowing 0 Earned runs, and striking out 19 batters. If Price can carry that momentum into this season, I believe he can make a run at a second career Cy Young Award and form the best 1-2 pitching punch in the MLB, with Chris Sale. Finally, when speaking with the media at Spring Training a few weeks ago, he admitted that he could have handled the media better last year. Let’s hope Price can keep his head on straight both on and off the mound this year.
2. Have Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts already peaked?
Photo Credit: Boston.com
If we rewind 3 or 4 years, Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley were arguably more highly regarded than Mookie Betts. Now as we approach the 2018 season, the Red Sox are getting close to the point where they need to decide whether they see both players as the future of the organization. The hype around both of them has fizzled out in the last year or so. Xander’s batting average has dropped in consecutive seasons. Although he had 21 home runs back in 2016, that was sandwiched between 7 in 2015 and 10 in 2017. People keep waiting and wanting to see him pop 25+ HR’s year in and year out, but it seems like that’s wishful thinking. Bogaerts was once regarded as an exciting elite shortstop in the MLB, but has now become an afterthought with studs Carlos Correa and Francisco Lindor rising as superstars at the SS position. I worry that Bogaerts’ ceiling isn’t quite as high as we envisioned a few years back. Bradley on the other hand continues to be a defensive stud in center field, but proves to be a below-average hitter. He led Red Sox hitters in strikeouts last year, and was below the league average in batting average, and on-base percentage. He just hasn’t made the strides as the solid hitter that Red Sox fans have hoped for. The upcoming season feels like a make or break year for both of them. If they struggle again, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the Sox try and unload one of them next year, since they are both represented by Scott Boras. Boras said it’s likely that neither one will sign a contract extension before they hit free agency in the next 2 years.
3. Can Rick Porcello rebound after his disastrous 2017 season?
Photo Credit: Over the Monster
There’s no denying that Rick Porcello was horrible last year. Just a year removed from winning the AL Cy Young award, Porcello set a career high for most losses in a season with 17, gave up a league leading 38 HR’s, and had an ERA of 4.65. This was a far cry from his 3.15 ERA back in 2016. Over Porcello’s last 4 seasons he’s alternated between good/great seasons to horrible seasons. During even numbered years 2014 and 2016, Porcello had a WHIP under 1.25, an ERA of under 3.50 and 15+ wins. while of course winning the 2016 Cy Young. In odd numbered years 2015 and 2017, Porcello has had an ERA of 4.92 and 4.65 and a combined 32 Losses. If past history is any indicator, Porcello should be in store for a good season. The thing is the Sox don’t need Porcello to return completely to his Cy Young Form. He’s now the clear #3 starter going into the season, with Chris Sale and a healthy David Price together for the first time. The expectations don’t need to be as high for Ricky. If Porcello can keep the ball in the yard this year, and bring his HR allowed to around 20ish, while keeping up his strong strikeout rate (8th in the AL in 2016 and 9th in 2017 in K’s), then he should easily bring his ERA below 4.00. This would give the Sox one of the best rotations in the MLB.
4. Will JD Martinez fill the David Ortiz void?
Photo credit: USA Today
In the Red Sox’ first year without David Ortiz (last year), they finished 27th in Home Runs with 168. By comparison, Yankees sluggers Gary Sanchez, Giancarlo Stanton and Aaron Judge combined for 144 Home Runs between the 3 of them. As a fellow Red Sox fan I was very disappointed when they missed out on Stanton this offseason, never-mind the fact that he went to our arch rival the New York Yankees. Thank goodness, they redeemed themselves by signing JD Martinez. JD hit 45 home runs. in only 119 games. The 45 HR’s were a major outlier in JD’s career, as his previous 3 year totals for Home Runs starting in 2014 were 23,38, and 22. The key question now is can Martinez carry over the momentum from last year and provide the Sox the missing power bat they’ve needed since Big Papi retired. Also, one question we always have to ask when someone is coming from a smaller market like Arizona/Detroit (JD’s previous 2 teams) is, can he handle the Boston Media? If JD can come close to replicating last years numbers of 45 dingers with a .303 Batting Average and 104 RBI’s, then they have clearly found their man… at least in the regular season. The Postseason is totally different, as Big Papi displayed year in and year out.
5. Just how much potential does Rafael Devers have?
Photo Credit: The Boston Globe
Red Sox fans and people in the organization got a glimpse of 20 year old (let that age sink in for a second) 3B Rafael Devers last year. He was highly regarded around baseball as the 2nd best prospect in the organization and had a lot of positive flashes in his brief time in the majors last year. In just 58 games, he had 10 HR’s and batted a very solid .284. He even batted .400 against lefties in 50 at bats last year, so he probably won’t be losing many starts to Eduardo Nunez when a fellow lefty is on the mound. Does anyone remember his opposite field game tying home run against a 103 MPH fastball from stud closer Aroldis Chapman of the Yankees?
While Devers struggled defensively at 3rd base, committing 14 errors in 56 games, The Red Sox have a great deal of confidence in him at the plate. Early whispers out of spring training are predicting he’ll be batting in the middle of the lineup. Fangraphs, a projection website has a projection of 27 HRs/80 RBI’s and a .275 average for Devers. All which would be more than welcome for a 20 year old kid brimming with potential. If Devers can bring his high strikeout percentage down a little, then the sky is the limit for him.
I don’t know about everyone else, but I’m slowly getting excited to get back to Fenway to down some Fenway Franks, sing along to Sweet Caroline, and hopefully see the Sox get back to the World Series. Go Sox!