Boston Red Sox: Is the offense ready for 2016?


With all the discussion about Boston Red Sox President of Baseball Ops Dave Dombrowski’s quest to get an ace, we consider if the bats may need an upgrade this offseason also.

By now you’re probably sick of all the speculation about the Boston Red Sox getting an ace, right? Every other news story reads “something something David Price something Red Sox something.” That kind of talk, unthinkable a month ago, exciting a week ago, is now getting a little tired. Don’t you wish they’d just hurry up and pay the man? But hang on a minute, there’s another consideration based entirely on something I feel too many are taking for granted: Boston’s offense.

Now, ultimately, pitching was indeed the cause of the Red Sox dismal 2015 campaign where they plummeted to the basement, yet again, like a lead balloon. A competent rotation, or less inept bullpen, could have seen Boston seriously competing for a spot in the wildcard race. Both could have seen them take the division. The Red Sox offense was the least of management’s worries and so it makes sense that more time is invested to plugging the gigantic holes on the mound. But enough about the past, 2015 is over and done with, any team not named Kansas City Royals have already palmed it off as an inevitable “bridge year” or a “blossoming of young talent just a year too soon.” 2016 is where it’s at, baby.

So where do Boston’s runs come from next year? Much the same places as in the past. With one more year before his retirement, David Ortiz will be front and center for power shots into fans’ waiting gloves, Travis Shaw too will enjoy time flexing his muscle as mayor of Ding Dong City and Dustin Pedroia, always capable of going yard, will remain a threat. With young talent like Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Blake Swihart and Brock Holt all consistently able to hit, for extra bases even, the Red Sox look to be fairly well covered in the slugging department. But is that really so?

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Obvious question marks remain over the long term future with Papi’s retirement and DH, as no obvious candidate for the position exists in the organization at present. But even beyond that, there are reasons to be cautious. Many of Boston’s wins, particularly in a prolific August, came off the heels of one Jackie Bradley who went on the tear. He finished the month with a monster .354/.429/.734 slashline, this from a player who connects so infrequently that he was statistically the worst hitter in all of baseball in 2014. Even before August, Bradley showed no signs of the splurge he was about to go on and by October you’d wonder if it happened at all.

The inconsistency of Bradley’s hitting either leaves a giant hole at the bottom of the lineup or a giant hole in the sound barrier as he launches yet another rocket shot. If I had to put money on it, I’d say Bradley’s mean is somewhere closer to the former, and that’s fine. He’s basically superman out there in centerfield. His glove is so prolific that he brings more than enough value even if he leaves his bat out there too. But it’s not just Bradley.

Rusney Castillo never really turned into the player the Red Sox hoped they would get when they missed out on Jose Abreu. OK they’re both 28 and from Cuba. Other than that you’d struggle to find similarities. Maybe if you squint really hard. Castillo’s got speed, is an incredible base runner and has good fielding ability. But, my goodness, in terms of offensive output they are as different as night and day. Castillo finished 2015 with a mediocre line of .253/.288/.359 and Abreu with .290/.347/.502, which really speaks for itself. Castillo’s output doesn’t come close and in many ways it doesn’t need to, but I’m not sure it’s even enough to stand on it’s own.

Castillo’s performance deteriorated further than the norm as 2015 went on, indicating a lack of stamina down the stretch. Understandable, you may say, as he is likely still accustomed to the shorter seasons in Cuba. Perhaps, but where does that leave the Sox in 2016? Now two outfielders, supposedly locks for the lineup, are gambles at best and offensive black holes at worst. And then there’s Pablo Sandoval.

Sandoval had a career-worst year in a career characterized by one big continuous slump. Every year he’s posted declining results, not just offensively but defensively as well. Even so, 2015 was a whole new level of bad for Sandoval. His statline for the year, .245/.292/.366, paints a pretty grim picture, particularly when one considers this was but his first year of many on the albatross contract Boston signed him to. It’s little wonder Red Sox President of Baseball Ops Dave Dombrowski tried to have Shaw play winter ball at Sandoval’s third base, as an insurance. Shaw got injured and was unable to compete, but you could see what Dombrowski was thinking. Perhaps the biggest feather in Sandoval’s cap is that he’s still only 29 and could rebound. Even so, that’s yet another question mark.

I won’t go on long about Hanley Ramirez, goodness knows you’ve heard it all before, but the thought of seeing him in a permanent position at first base after a disastrous 2015 campaign doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. If the Red Sox struggle to move Ramirez, as they are rumored to be trying to do, that could leave them with yet another doubt in their lineup going forward and it’s true, if you don’t score runs you don’t win games. Not even Price could change that.

Now Holt can play every position on the park, besides pitcher and catcher, but even he can’t do them all at the same time. So should it be so that perhaps Dombrowski look to do more than simply add a fourth (right handed) outfielder and seek to upgrade the offense in other ways? Obvious free agent targets Chris Davis and Jason Heyward may carry the threat of a lost draft pick, alongside a very expensive contract, but would bring almost an instant upgrade to Boston’s hitting. Davis, as we’ve discussed before, would also carry the advantage of being a candidate to fill Ortiz’s lofty shoes at DH when the latter finally bows out. But perhaps with the distance Dombrowski seems set to go to acquire an ace, free agency seems unlikely.

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Whether the Red Sox will trade for more power or move forward with much the same as we saw in 2015, remains to be seen. Just don’t be surprised to find that Price isn’t the end, or even the beginning of the end, but that he might be the end of the beginning.