Our previews of the AL East teams, part of previewing all 30 MLB teams leading up to the start of the 2016 season, continue with the Boston Red Sox, the last-place finishers in the division last season.
After consecutive last-place finishes, the Red Sox decided it was time to make some moves in the offseason to make the team better. Pithching was the team’s focus this winter, including trading several minor leaguers to get closer Craig Kimbrel from the Padres, but that wasn’t the biggest pitcher the team landed. They also signed one of the winter’s top free agents, SP David Price to a seven-year contract worth more than $200 million, immediately putting him at the top of their rotation. The offense basically remains unchanged from last year as the team heads into its final season with DH David Ortiz, who has said he is retiring after 2016.
So why did the Red Sox focus on adding pitching this offseason? Because their team ERA (4.31) was the second worst in the American League, in front of only the Tigers. The only starters who had ERAs below 4.00 were Clay Buchholz and Eduardo Rodriguez, who made just 18 and 21 starts, respectively, in 2015. The rest of the regular rotation had ERA well above 4.00, with a couple approaching 5.00. So Price’s career-low 2.30 ERA was enticing to the Red Sox, particularly because signing him dealt a blow to the Blue Jays, who won the division last year in part because of Price’s contributions to the team. Kimbrel, meanwhile, will look to boost a bullpen that had a 4.24 ERA, the fifth-worst in the AL. Although his 2.58 ERA last season was the worst of his career, it is a marked improvement over what most of the Red Sox bullpen did. The offense fared better last season, with the .265 batting average and 706 RBI each ranking fourth among AL teams, though the team’s 161 home runs ranked in the bottom half of the league.
Price and Buchholz should make for a strong 1-2 punch at the top of the rotation. If the team can get better seasons out of SPs Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly than they did last year, that would help to take some more pressure off of the offense. 1B Hanley Ramirez had one of the worst seasons of his career in 2015, so he should see some improvement this season. The Red Sox have a young outfield with Rusney Castillo, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts patrolling the outfield. If they can take a step forward this year and live up to their prospect status, that would offer a bit of extra protection for the veterans in the lineup, like Ortiz and 2B Dustin Pedroia.
The Red Sox are improved over last year, but they’re in a tough division so it won’t be easy to leap straight to the top. I think they’ll compete with the Blue Jays and Yankees for the top couple of spots in the AL East, which may not be enough to make the playoffs if they don’t win the division, which I don’t expect them to do.