Here we go. Just days away from Opening Day. And the goal is to go from worst to first, again.
The Boston Red Sox won the AL East and the World Series in 2013, just a year after finishing the 2012 season in last place in the division. Since that 2013 championship, the Red Sox have sunk back to the basement of that same division the last two seasons.
President of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski has already made an impact on the organization, as he enters his first full season in Boston. During the winter, Dombrowski and general manager Mike Hazen highlighted the team’s biggest needs, and they attacked, trading for closer Craig Kimbrel and signing ace David Price.
Of course, the 2016 Red Sox roster is not perfect. We’ve already gone over the disappointing attitudes of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez to begin spring training. And an early leg injury to Eduardo Rodriguez has forced manager John Farrell to go with knuckleballer Steven Wright as the fifth start in the rotation to begin the season.
Don’t forget about reliever Carson Smith, who was considered a steal for the Red Sox this winter. Like Rodriguez, he will also begin the year on the disabled list.
But for the most part, Dombrowski and Hazen made the necessary improvements to put the team back into the conversation of AL East contenders. Though, as we get closer to Opening Day, some will continue to point out the question marks, as they force themselves to reject the notion that this Red Sox club can contend for a championship.
We’ve already mentioned a few of those question marks (re: Sandoval and Ramirez). Others would be the offensive production of Jackie Bradley Jr., Rusney Castillo’s future, and the realistic expectations for every starting pitcher not named Price.
Those are all fair concerns, and I’d be lying if I told you they were foreign to me. But the way I look at it, during every conversation that previews the 2016 MLB season, I can’t overlook the caliber players that the Red Sox have added. For all the concerns that are out there, you can’t have a much better offseason than the Sox did, by acquiring one of the best starters and — in my opinion — the best closer in baseball.
Combined with the thought of players like Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts coming off career years, Dustin Pedroia being healthy, and an added motivation to send David Ortiz out on top, I find myself feeling pretty optimistic about this group.
Sure, they could use some more pitching. But Rodriguez isn’t expected to be out long, and entering his second MLB season at just 22 years old, he has the type of power stuff that should catapult him to the No. 2 spot in the rotation by Memorial Day. And who knows, by the time you get to the trade deadline, maybe Dombrowski and Hazen can pull the trigger on a blockbuster deal that will get them another stud starter. It’s possible, and if they’re in contention by the end of July, it’s more likely than not.
Also, many in the organization are still high on 25-year-old catcher Christian Vazquez, who will begin the season on the 15-day DL. His return from last year’s Tommy John surgery may be sooner than you think. And if internal comparisons to Yadier Molina prove to be even somewhat accurate, then add his presence and arm behind the plate to the list of weapons that have been added.
Look at it any way you want. But facts are facts: the Red Sox are a much-improved ball club in 2016. Will they go from worst to first? In a couple of days, we’ll start to get some answers.
All I’m saying is, they have a much better chance to accomplish that goal than you might think.