Boston Red Sox: Complete 2017 Season Preview, Predictions

Joel ReuterFeatured ColumnistMarch 29, 2017

Boston Red Sox: Complete 2017 Season Preview, Predictions

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    Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

    The 2017 MLB season will begin on Sunday with a triple-header of games, and the Boston Red Sox will get their campaign started the next day at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates.

    So what exactly can we expect from the 2017 version of the Red Sox?

    The team finished 93-69 last season, winning the AL East title just a year after going 78-84 and finishing in last place.

    However, they were swept in the Division Series by the eventual AL champion Cleveland Indians, so there's clearly unfinished business heading into the upcoming season.

    A new chapter now begins following the retirement of David Ortiz, and the team looks poised to again push for a title after pulling off a blockbuster deal to acquire ace Chris Sale.

    With all that in mind, ahead is a full preview of the upcoming season, complete with an offseason review, breakdowns of the starting lineups, bench, rotation and bullpen, a look at some potential impact prospects and breakout candidates and a final prediction on how the 2017 season will play out.

Offseason Review

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    Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    Key Additions

    NameTransaction2016 WAR
    SP Chris SaleTrade with Chicago White Sox4.9
    RP Tyler Thornburg Trade with Milwaukee Brewers2.5
    1B Mitch Moreland Signed as free agent, 1/$5.5 million0.7
    IF Josh RutledgeRule 5 draft0.4

     

    It's not every offseason that a pitcher of Chris Sale's caliber is made available on the trade market, and the Red Sox jumped at the opportunity to acquire one of the game's best arms.

    The 27-year-old has three years and $38 million left on his contractassuming both of his option years are exercisedmaking him one of the best bargains in the sport.

    He didn't come cheap, though, as the Red Sox gave up highly regarded prospects Yoan Moncada and Michael Kopech as part of a four-player package.

    They also swung a trade for setup man Tyler Thornburg, who will help ease the losses of Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa and give the team an elite-level bridge to closer Craig Kimbrel.

    No one expects Mitch Moreland to replace David Ortiz, but that's what he'll be doing from a lineup standpoint. He's a perennial 20-homer threat and the reigning AL Gold Glove winner at first base. Adding him allows the team to move Hanley Ramirez to DH, which should upgrade the infield defense as a whole.

    Josh Rutledge briefly left for Colorado after turning down a minor league assignment, but he was brought back as a surprise Rule 5 selection to serve as the utility infielder.

     

    Key Losses

    NameTransaction2016 WAR
    DH David OrtizRetired5.1
    RP Koji Uehara Free agent0.8
    RP Junichi Tazawa Free agent0.4
    RP Brad ZieglerFree agent1.2
    SP Clay Buchholz Traded to Philadelphia Phillies0.2
    IF Aaron HillFree agent1.2
    C Ryan Hanigan Free agent-0.9

     

    To say Ortiz went out on top would be putting it mildly.

    In the final season of his storied career, the 40-year-old led the AL in slugging percentage (.620), OPS (1.021), doubles (48) and RBI (127), while launching 38 home runs to bring his career total to 541.

    Replacing him both on the field and in the clubhouse might be the team's biggest challenge.

    Uehara joined the Chicago Cubs, while Tazawa and Brad Ziegler both signed with the Miami Marlins, leaving the bullpen with a new look heading into 2017.

    After Sale was acquired during the winter meetings, Clay Buchholz and his $13.5 million salary were shipped to the Philadelphia Phillies in exchange for second-base prospect Josh Tobias and the subsequent salary relief.

    Aaron Hill and Ryan Hanigan were both expendable veteran depth.

Starting Lineup and Bench Preview

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Lineup

    Name2016 Stats
    2B Dustin Pedroia .825 OPS, 201 H, 52 XBH (15 HR), 74 RBI, 105 R
    LF Andrew Benintendi (R).835 OPS, 31 H, 14 XBH (2 HR), 14 RBI, 16 R
    RF Mookie Betts.897 OPS, 214 H, 78 XBH (31 HR), 113 RBI, 122 R
    DH Hanley Ramirez.866 OPS, 157 H, 59 XBH (30 HR), 111 RBI, 81 R
    1B Mitch Moreland .720 OPS, 107 H, 43 XBH (22 HR), 60 RBI, 49 R
    SS Xander Bogaerts .802 OPS, 192 H, 56 XBH (21 HR), 89 RBI, 115 R
    CF Jackie Bradley Jr..835 OPS, 149 H, 63 XBH (26 HR), 87 RBI, 94 R
    3B Pablo Sandoval.143 OPS, 0 H, 0 XBH (0 HR), 0 RBI, 0 R
    C Sandy Leon.845 OPS, 78 H, 26 XBH (7 HR), 35 RBI, 36 R

     

    The Red Sox scored 33 more runs than any other team last season, averaging an impressive 5.42 runs per game while hitting .282/.348/.461 as a team.

    Losing David Ortiz is going to hurt, but there's no reason to think they won't again be one of the league's most potent offenses.

    Mookie Betts might be the best all-around player in the game not named Mike Trout, and he became a true five-tool threat last season when he upped his power production.

    Dustin Pedroia remains a constant at second base, Hanley Ramirez is capable of another 100-RBI season, Xander Bogaerts is a budding star at shortstop and Jackie Bradley Jr. is fresh off a breakout season in center field.

    Mitch Moreland and rookie Andrew Benintendi will be tasked with replacing the production that departed with Ortiz.

    Moreland is a safe bet for 20 homers, while Benintendi is the heavy favorite for AL Rookie of the Year honors and has the look of a future batting champ.

    The two big question marks here are Pablo Sandoval and Sandy Leon.

    Sandoval hasn't provided much of anything two years into a five-year, $95 million deal, while Leon's breakout offensive season was largely propped up by a .392 BABIP.

     

    Projected Bench

    Name2016 Stats
    C Christian Vazquez.585 OPS, 39 H, 11 XBH (1 HR), 12 RBI, 21 R
    IF Josh Rutledge.733 OPS, 13 H, 6 XBH (0 HR), 3 RBI, 9 R
    IF/OF Brock Holt.705 OPS, 74 H, 23 XBH (7 HR), 34 RBI, 45 R
    OF Chris Young.850 OPS, 56 H, 27 XBH (9 HR), 24 RBI, 29 R

     

    Defensive-minded Christian Vazquez and former top prospect Blake Swihart are both viable fallback options at the catcher position if Leon does regress to the point of needing a replacement.

    Josh Rutledge could be pushed for the utility infield job by Deven Marrero and Marco Hernandez before the season is over, but he'll get the first crack at that spot on the bench.

    The versatile Brock Holt will continue to see time all over the diamond, and he appears to be the next man up at third base if Sandoval isn't up to the task.

    Rounding out the bench is Chris Young, who posted a .999 OPS with 10 doubles and three home runs in 83 plate appearances against left-handed pitching last season.

Starting Rotation Preview

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    John Raoux/Associated Press

    Projected Starting Rotation

    Name2016 Stats
    RHP Rick Porcello 33 GS, 22-4, 3.15 ERA, 1.01 WHIP, 189 K, 223.0 IP
    LHP Chris Sale32 GS, 17-10, 3.34 ERA, 1.04 WHIP, 233 K, 226.2 IP
    RHP Steven Wright24 GS, 13-6, 3.33 ERA, 1.25 WHIP, 127 K, 156.2 IP
    LHP Drew Pomeranz 30 GS, 11-12, 3.32 ERA, 1.18 WHIP, 186 K, 170.2 IP
    LHP Eduardo Rodriguez20 GS, 3-7, 4.71 ERA, 1.30 WHIP, 100 K, 107.0 IP

    Projected DL: David Price (elbow)

    The Red Sox will be without David Price for at least the first month of the season, but it could have been much worse, as it initially looked like he could be headed for Tommy John surgery.

    According to Michael Silverman of the Boston Herald, Price is expected to be sidelined until at least May, and it could be longer since he'll have work to do building his arm strength back up once he's cleared to throw.

    That sorted out what was set to be a three-man battle for two rotation spots between Steven Wright, Drew Pomeranz and Eduardo Rodriguez.

    Wright and Pomeranz were both All-Stars last season, but it's Rodriguez who has the highest ceiling of that group and looks like the biggest X-factor on the roster.

    Rick Porcello gets the Opening Day nod after winning AL Cy Young honors last season, but his impressive performance did come with some regression red flags.

    He benefited from a .269 BABIP and his soft contract rate (16.9 percent) was actually the lowest it had been in four years. The 28-year-old still profiles better as a No. 3 starter than a true staff ace.

    The injury to Price made the offseason addition of Chris Sale all the more important, and the team will be counting on him to be a horse in the early going.

Bullpen Preview

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    Craig Kimbrel
    Craig KimbrelTony Gutierrez/Associated Press

    Projected Bullpen

    Name2016 Stats (*MiLB stats)
    LHP Robby Scott*32 G, 4-3, 2.54 ERA, 0.91 WHIP, 8.4 K/9
    RHP Heath Hembree 38 G, 4-1, 6 HLD, 2.65 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 8.3 K/9
    LHP Fernando Abad 57 G, 1-6, 8 HLD, 3.66 ERA, 1.33 WHIP, 7.9 K/9
    RHP Matt Barnes62 G, 4-3, 16 HLD, 4.05 ERA, 1.40 WHIP, 9.6 K/9
    LHP Robbie Ross Jr.54 G, 3-2, 8 HLD, 3.25 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, 9.1 K/9
    RHP Joe Kelly20 G, 4-0, 2 HLD, 5.18 ERA, 1.70 WHIP, 10.8 K/9
    RHP Craig Kimbrel 57 G, 2-6, 31/33 SV, 3.40 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, 14.1 K/9

    Projected DL: Carson Smith (TJ recovery), Tyler Thornburg (shoulder)

    The Red Sox bullpen has a distinctly different look than it did a year ago after Brad Ziegler, Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa all departed in free agency.

    Craig Kimbrel returns in the closer's role after another dominant season in which he nailed down 31 of 33 save chances with a 14.1 K/9 rate.

    The team's top two setup optionsCarson Smith and Tyler Thornburgare both set to begin the season on the disabled list, though, which could leave the bullpen in some flux early on.

    Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Fernando Abad and Robbie Ross Jr. all return as decent options from last year's relief corps, but it could fall to Joe Kelly to serve as the primary setup man out of the gates.

    He closed out last season on a high note in the bullpen after flopping as a starter and spending time in the minors.

    It looks like the final spot in the bullpen will go to rookie left-hander Robby Scott, at least until Thornburg returns from the disabled list.

Potential Impact Prospects

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    Andrew Benintendi
    Andrew BenintendiAssociated Press

    LF Andrew Benintendi (No. 1 prospect)

    After hitting .295 with an .835 OPS and 14 extra-base hits in 118 plate appearances last year, Andrew Benintendi enters the season as the odds-on favorite for AL Rookie of the Year honors.

    MLB.com gave the 22-year-old a 65-grade hit tool and wrote: "With a pretty left-handed swing and astute pitch recognition and strike-zone management, he repeatedly barrels balls and holds his own against southpaws"

    There's a good chance he'll be penciled in for the No. 2 spot in the lineup right out of the gates, so he'll be thrown right into the fire as a key component of one of the league's best lineups.

    Along with his hitting ability, he's also a standout defender and would play center field on a lot of teams. Don't be surprised if he quickly emerges as a Gold Glove contender in left field as well.

     

    1B Sam Travis (No. 4 prospect)

    Sam Travis hit .307/.381/.452 with 47 extra-base hits and 78 RBI between High-A and Double-A during the 2015 season but saw his 2016 campaign cut short by a torn ACL suffered in May.

    The 23-year-old is now back to 100 percent and looking to prove he can be the long-term answer at first base for the Red Sox.

    Mitch Moreland was only signed to a one-year deal and has a .673 OPS against left-handed pitching in his career, so it's not out of the question to think Travis could play his way into a platoon role this year before taking over as the primary option in 2018.

     

    RP Robby Scott (No. 30 prospect)

    Robby Scott won't wow anyone with his stuff as his fastball sits in the upper-80s and rarely touches 90, but he has a chance to carve out a role as a lefty specialist.

    The 27-year-old held lefties to a .159 average and .463 OPS in Triple-A last season, surrendering just 17 hits in 115 plate appearances.

    He may have the upper hand for the final spot in the bullpen on the Opening Day roster with Tyler Thornburg headed for the disabled list, and it wouldn't be surprising to see him stick for the duration.

        

    Prospect rankings courtesy of MLB.com.

Breakout Candidates

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    Eduardo Rodriguez
    Eduardo RodriguezDavid Goldman/Associated Press

    SP Eduardo Rodriguez

    Eduardo Rodriguez has certainly shown flashes:

    • Aug. 11: 7.0 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 1 BB, 6 K
    • Sept. 4: 8.0 IP, 1 H, 0 ER, 2 BB, 5 K
    • Sept. 25: 5.1 IP, 3 H, 1 ER, 2 BB, 13 K

    However, when the 2016 season came to a close, it had been another up-and-down year for the young left-hander.

    The 23-year-old went 3-7 with a 4.71 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 100 strikeouts in 107 innings over 20 starts.

    His fastball command remains a work in progress, and he's still refining the changeup-slider pairing that backs it, but there's legitimate front-line potential in his left arm.

     

    RP Joe Kelly

    The Red Sox acquired Tyler Thornburg with the intention of using him in the eighth-inning role ahead of closer Craig Kimbrel, but a sore shoulder will land him on the disabled list on Opening Day.

    That opens the door for Joe Kelly to fill the all-important primary setup spot to begin the season.

    While Kelly flamed out as a starter last season with an 8.46 ERA over six starts, he finished the season on a high note out of the bullpen upon returning from a minor league demotion in September.

    Over 11 relief appearances, he posted a 0.64 ERA, 0.86 WHIP and 12.9 K/9.

    The 28-year-old has a big fastball (97.3 mph) and a wipeout slider (.143 BA, .114 ISO), but he has always lacked a reliable third offering, making him a better fit for the bullpen.

    Now he'll have a full season to focus on working as a key member of the relief corps.

Season Prediction

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    Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The Red Sox have to be considered the clear favorites in the AL East and perhaps co-favorites with the Cleveland Indians on the American League side of things heading into 2017.

    The long-term health of David Price looks like their biggest concern, but they have as deep a crop of starting pitching talent as any team in the majors and should be able to weather the storm even if he does miss significant time.

    The same goes for the bullpen, which isn't necessarily stacked with proven options but has enough quality arms to be at least passable until Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith return.

    Adding Mitch Moreland and a full season of Andrew Benintendi to the mix should go a long way toward offsetting the loss of David Ortiz for the offense, and if they get anything from Pablo Sandoval at this point it's icing on the cake.

    The Toronto Blue Jays are still a dangerous team, and the AL East as a whole should be competitive top-to-bottom, so it won't be a cake walk for the Red Sox to repeat as division winners.

    Heck, the Red Sox haven't repeated as division champs since 1915 and 1916.

    It's hard to pick against them at this point, though.

    Final Prediction: 95-67, first in AL East

        

    All regular season stats courtesy of Baseball ReferenceFanGraphs and Brooks Baseball, while spring stats come via MLB.com.