The offseason seems to be near completion for the Boston Red Sox, with an ace, a closer, another elite reliever and a fourth outfielder. But is there not more work to be done?
In today’s modern, pluralistic and comfort-seeking society, it truly is a marvel how Physical Education in school still exists and operates much the same as it did 20 years or more ago. Nothing was, and doubtless is, more degrading than the line-up, that time when competitive spirit required making a decision about whether you want the overweight kids on your team or if you’ll just take the handicap and deal with it. But such is sports and, well, to make an omelette you have to break a few eggs.
Take a look at the 2015 Boston Red Sox and, at least to begin with, you’d be forgiven for just throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Last place for a second successive year, a collection of overvalued, underperforming players who at various stages lurched from almighty implosion to simply “meh”. Even Boston media, notoriously the opposite of glass-half-full individuals, were quick to praise Rick Porcello for giving up a mere 2 runs in 6 innings on July 8 against Miami. Of course, in his previous start he had been shelled for 7 runs by Toronto who were gifted 3 bombs off his hanging changeup and had shown the inability to hold even a dog’s lead for weeks before.
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Mediocrity changes expectations, this is certain. However, as we’ve discussed before, there is much to be excited for in 2016, an entirely new kettle of fish. With young superstar players coming of age, an injection of raw heat in the bullpen and an anchor of the rotation, Red Sox President of Baseball Ops Dave Dombrowski is right to be confident in a return to the postseason for Boston. Can Red Sox Nation share the same confidence that a turnabout in fortunes is forthcoming?
Perhaps not so fast. Leaving aside movements, underwhelming though they may seem at present, by other teams in the division, there remains a few question marks that have yet to be addressed closer to home. Much has been made of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval, including here. Both are liabilities that Boston, barring some miracle of perhaps historic proportions, seem to be saddled with for the near future. They are owed too much money to simply dump and, in the end, it’s unlikely any team could bring themselves to be interested after their 2015 campaigns were flushed unceremoniously down the toilet (while on Instagram, of course).
Unfortunately for the Red Sox, there remains yet more doubts. One of the more prominent, that we’ve discussed before, exists in the Outfield. While Mookie Betts, arguably the best player on the team, looks set to do even better than the stellar .291/.341/.479 line, 18 dingers and 4.8 WAR his 23-year-old self contributed in 2015, the other candidates appear far sketchier. Jackie Bradley Jr may bring value in his, perhaps unrivalled, defensive heroics even if his bat is cold, Rusney Castillo can’t point to the same luxury, at least not quite as easily.
That’s not to say Castillo doesn’t have a use for his glove, just that it’s not really a similar case as with Bradley. Castillo’s 5 errors in 2015 leave him with a .969 fielding percentage on the year over some 78 games played. Certainly that doesn’t tell the full story of his excellent usage of the notoriously awkward Green Monster, still when examining his hitting potential it makes his defensive ability seem far more replaceable than Bradley’s.
Castillo’s line of .253/.288/.359 may not seem terribly bad, indeed compared to the kind of performance at the plate we were seeing early on from many it’s positively great, but again it only tells part of the story. Castillo hits an inordinate amount of ground balls, I mean, in 2015 66.7% of the time his bat met the ball it resulted in a ground out. That’s pretty bad and reflects heavily on his ISO, a middling .106 (for comparison, Bradley managed an ISO of .257 in 2015). More advanced sabermetrics paint an even grimmer picture for Castillo going forward, with his wOBA sitting at .283 on the year which, for someone who actually has the speed to make something of it, is a true shame.
Castillo’s shining light, and perhaps Boston’s hope, was his month of August in which he singularly hit to the tune of a .338 AVG. This kind of output is exactly the player the Red Sox hoped they were getting when they committed north of $80 million to acquire the Cuban’s services. Still, this was let down by a September/October of .194, doubtless a result of lost stamina in the stretch. Cuba’s league campaigns are shorter and it’s unsurprising Castillo would run out of puff quicker than many other players. That said, where does this leave Boston in 2016?
Recent acquisition Chris Young provides some of the answer, but not it all. With Bradley’s questionable offensive output doubtless also on Dombrowski’s radar, Young could be called in to cover for either. And even more so, it’s doubtful that Young provides much of an upgrade over either Bradley or Castillo situationally. Both hit lefties over .300 last year and struggled against right handed pitchers, much the same as Young has built a career of (.182 against rights, .327 against lefts last year). With that, I’d struggle to say the job is really done in the outfield.
That’s just an example, but it’s my opinion that Dombrowski is really only setting the stage for something bigger. The young core of the team with newly acquired talent like David Price and Craig Kimbrel can expect to improve leaps and bounds next year, but to truly achieve the goal of contention it’s going to take more than simply papering over the cracks. Whether the offseason moves will continue in Boston or the Red Sox will roll with what they’ve got till the All Star Break, I expect Dombrowski to further tinker, as he is wont to do, with the formula to nullify the weak links that continue to exist in the lineup.
The Red Sox, as they stand, have a very good lineup, making them the favourites for AL East next year. To reach a World Series however, they need to take the next step. Expect Dombrowski not to rest until then.