By: Tom Cloutier
New year, same story. The Boston Red Sox have been eliminated in the 2017 playoffs. It’s like déjà vu all over again. At least this year they took one game at home before being bounced from the first round.
The MLB playoffs roll on, and I’ll continue to watch, but my heart will no longer be in it. While fans of the seven remaining teams and cheer on their ball club, I am forced to join the hoard of baseball enthusiasts whose teams didn’t even have the chance to play in October this year. As with many of them, I will turn my attention forward to next year, since my home team evidently won’t be the last ones standing.
But before that, I would like to wind the clock back to April 3, 2017, opening day of the season. I watched the first game of the season at Fenway. I spent the game sitting next to a friend of mine who is a Yankees fan and talked his ear off all afternoon about the 2017 Rookie of the Year, Andrew Benintendi. I don’t think I had ever heard the name Aaron Judge at that point. Rick Porcello earned the opening day spot by winning the 2016 AL Cy Young. It appeared he wouldn’t be headlining the rotation this season, because for the second consecutive year, Dave Dombrowski acquired the best free agent starting pitcher on the market. For 2016, it was David Price, whose debut season in Boston left fans demanding more. For 2017 it was Chris Sale, the lanky lefty whose lowest Cy Young finish since he broke into the White Sox starting rotation in 2012 was sixth, but he hadn’t yet managed to take home the trophy. With two pitchers who had previously won the award and one who hadn’t yet, but was bound to soon, the Red Sox rotation looked like a 3-headed monster that no offense could slay.
Fast Forward to the 2017 ALDS. If you had told me on April 3rd, that the Red Sox would be playing the ALDS, I would’ve agreed and further informed you they’d be playing in the ALCS and the World Series, too. If you had gone on to tell me that Chris Sale’s ALDS game 1 start would be followed up by Drew Pomeranz, then Doug Fister, I would’ve asked what tragic accident the rest of the pitching staff dies in, and how can we stop it? The starting pitching, however, is not the area in which the Sox need much improvement. Sale was one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball until the last month of the season. Elbow injuries stunted Price’s season, but I strongly believe 2018 will be the year he puts it all together in Boston. He had a fire lit under his ass coming out the bullpen at the end of the year, and if he can keep that cooking like the eternal flame, he will return to the David Price of old. After an abysmal start to the season, Drew Pomeranz turned it all around and ended up tying Sale in wins. Nobody expects Porcello to repeat his 2016 performance, but everyone is praying he doesn’t repeat his 2017 disaster. A happy medium would be acceptable. The fifth spot in the rotation is up in the air, as several options suffered from injury over the course of the season, and may not be decided until next year’s spring training.
The most important problem the Red Sox need to address is adding a power bat to their lineup. It was no secret that losing David Ortiz would have a negative impact on their offense. And while this year’s deficit in power can’t completely attributed to Big Papi’s retirement, the 2017 lineup didn’t look too much different from 2016’s apart from losing Shaw and gaining Nunez and calling up Devers. The 2016 team combined for an .810 OPS while the 2017 squad managed just .736. Six members of the 2016 team had an OPS of over .800, with Ortiz headlining the group with an impressive 1.021. This year, only Mookie Betts snuck over that .800 mark with an .803. With a regress in offensive performance from last year’s top performers: Mookie, Jackie Bradley Jr, Xander Boagaerts and, and Hanley Ramirez, and an injury plagued season from Dustin Pedroia, someone (or more) is going to need to come, and someone (or more) is going to have to go.
Dombrowski went big the last two years in the offseason to provide what the Red Sox needed. The best power hitting free agent this season is J.D. Martinez. He was an All-Star in Detroit, but turned his production up to the next level once he was traded to Arizona mid-season, crushing 29 homeruns in only 62 games. Another free agent option is the Royals’ Eric Hosmer, who could potentially replace free agent Mitch Moreland if the Red Sox choose not to re-sign him. The Royals’ 3-time gold glove winning first baseman improved his power last year with an .882 OPS. There’s one man about whom talks of departure from his team have been circulating the rumor mills. I’m talking about MLB’s 2017 homerun king, Giancarlo Stanton. The hardest hitting man in baseball could be lured away from the Marlins, but it would come at a great price. Say goodbye to many of your favorite players and probably half our draft picks for the next few seasons, but if the Red Sox don’t at least go after him, others will and there are only a handful of teams that can afford to take on his 12 year $325 million contract, of which he’s only just finished year 3. One of those few teams is the Yankees, who would be pairing Stanton with Judge in the heart of their order drawing self-evident comparisons to Ruth and Gherig.
Adding power won’t solve all problems for the Red Sox. They had David Ortiz in one of his best seasons in 2016 and still didn’t make it past the first round. It will be a tremendous step back in the right direction, coupled with a (hopeful) return to form of the offensive production of the Red Sox outfield and middle infield. This Red Sox team didn’t live up to some inflated pre-season expectations, but if moves are not made to further improve the team, they’ll be destined to a purgatory where they are perennially eliminated in the ALDS, at best.
Image Source: (Gunaxin)