By Mark Paulette
The Boston Red Sox recently announced they would begin their season early, with pitchers and catchers reporting to Fort Myers, Florida on Valentine’s Day (February 14). With that in mind, I thought I’d channel my inner Dave Dombrowski and assemble the defending AL East champs. You read it here first, the 25 men that will break camp with the big club. Introducing to you, the 2017 Boston Red Sox.
Catcher: Sandy Leon, .310/7/35, 78 games – Christian Vazquez is knocking at the door and Blake Swihart is expected to make a full recovery by the spring. Dombrowski has gone on record saying it’s King Leonidas’ job to start the year but we’ll see how long he keeps it, as Leon hit just .213 over his final 75 AB’s.
First Base: Hanley Ramirez, .286/30/111, 147 games – Don’t expect his power numbers to fully carry over, his 30 homeruns were the most since 2008 and the 111 RBI were a career best. Hanley will still be a staple in the middle of the lineup and most importantly, not a defensive liability at first base.
Second Base: Dustin Pedroia, .318/15/74, 154 games – Pedey’s resurgence was one of the most overlooked aspects of the ’16 season. After seeing four of his last six seasons cut short or hampered by injuries, the longest tenured Sox found a second wind this season. With Big Papi gone, this is now Pedroia’s team.
Third Base: Pablo Sandoval, 0-6/0/0, 3 games – Yes, you read that correctly. One doesn’t become a professional athlete without having a competitive drive. With Panda’s slimmed down tummy, that drive is closer than ever to the surface. He’s had an entire year to train for this opportunity and Travis Shaw hit just .207 from June 1 through the end of the year.
Shortstop: Xander Bogaerts, .294/21/89, 157 games – Bogaerts has emerged as one of the game’s best shortstops over the last two seasons offensively while making strides defensively. Let’s just hope he doesn’t get homer happy. After leading the AL in average most of the first half, he hit 11 homeruns in 296 second half AB’s, though saw his average fall to .253 over that stretch.
Designated Hitter: Carlos Beltran, .295/29/93, 151 games (New York/Texas) – Rather than splashing $150-million over 6 years on Edwin Encarnacion, as sexy as his numbers may be, signing Beltran to a 1-year deal would be the better business decision and also better for the team’s production. Let Beltran fill a gap until Sam Travis, Travis Shaw or Yoan Moncada are ready to man the corner infield and you can then move Hanley or Pablo to DH as they play out their own hefty contracts.
Left Field: Andrew Benintendi, .295/2/14, 34 games – The kid rarely looked overmatched in the majors after his August call-up. He may platoon the position early in the year against left-handed pitching, but I fully expect Benny to take a stranglehold on the position by the All Star break.
Centerfield: Jackie Bradley Jr, .267/26/87, 156 games – While his average tailed off in the second half, JBJ’s power numbers stayed constant. Couple that with his defensive skills and you’ll find few finer centerfielders in the league.
Right Field: Mookie Betts, .318/31/113, 158 games – Is there anything Mookie can’t do? In three years he’s transitioned from 2B-to-CF-to-RF, where oh by the way, he just won the Gold Glove. His power numbers have risen to completely unexpected heights while maintaining an average north of .300. In the coming days he should be named MVP of the American League and is quickly establishing himself as a top-5 talent in the game.
– Brock Holt, .255/7/34, 94 games – This team is at its best when the Brockstar is manning his “super utility” role. A list of injuries nagged Holt for most of last year. For best use, keep him fresh by playing him 3-5 times a week at 3-5 different positions.
– Travis Shaw, .242/16/71, 145 games – John Farrell will (hopefully) learn from his mistakes last year and realize Shaw offers the team more off the bench than Pablo Sandoval does. Power and the ability to play first and third, Shaw will see plenty of time in ’17, he just won’t be in the opening day lineup.
– Chris Young, .276/9/34, 76 games – CY missed a chunk of his season with a hamstring injury, but was productive when in the lineup. Look for him to open the year platooning against left-handed pitching in left field.
– Blake Swihart, .258/0/5, 19 games – The scapegoat of Boston’s early season pitching struggles saw his season come to an end with an ankle injury after being recalled and playing decently in left field. Vazquez has failed to hit at the major league level, nor did he secure the catching job as people expected. Swihart’s versatility and plus-speed edges him onto the roster. Let Vazquez start off playing every day in Pawtucket.
- David Price, 17-9/3.99/228, 35 starts – As much as Price sucked early in the season, he did turn it around, including winning eight straight decisions from August 12-to-September 22. At the end of the day, he needs to lower the amount of hits and homers allowed. He’s not getting paid $30mil/year to have an ERA hovering around four.
- Rick Porcello, 22-4/3.15/189, 33 starts – The possible Cy Young, Porcello strung together wins with ease in ’16. Let’s hope the true ace of the staff didn’t throw out his salt-stained cap at season’s end and has it ready to go in 2017.
- Eduardo Rodriguez, 3-7/4.71/100, 20 starts – When he finally took the mound in ’16, E-Rod showed flashes of brilliance as well as flashes of ineptitude. Bear in mind he’s 23 years old. At full health, Rodriguez should be closer to the form he displayed as a rookie and be a fixture in the middle of the rotation.
Fringe Starters/Long Relief –
– Steven Wright, 13-6/3.33/127, 24 starts – The good for Wright: 10 wins and a 2.68 era in the first half which earned the knuckleballer a trip to San Diego for the All Star Game. The bad: a 5.06 era in seven starts after the break before hurting his shoulder. While Wright should have a spot in the rotation to begin the year, last year’s first half was unprecedented in Wright’s career. Should his numbers reflect the second half splits, he could find his finely kept nails in the bullpen.
– Drew Pomeranz, 11-12/3.32/186, 30 starts (San Diego/Boston) – The lefty was excellent with the Padres, representing the hometown team at the 2016 ASG. Then he came to Boston and under a cloud of uncertainty regarding an undisclosed injury, wasn’t so hot, allowing 35 runs in 68.2 innings, (compared to 28 earned runs in 102 innings pitched with San Diego). After surpassing a career-high for innings pitched, the 27-year-old broke down towards the end of last season. He should have a place in the rotation, but may also have value out of the bullpen.
– Clay Buchholz, 8-10/4.78/93, 21 starts – The 50 Shades of Clay were on full display in 2016. Who would’ve thought that between July 2 and July 21 of last season, when Buchholz didn’t see the light of day after being banished to the ‘pen, that we’d be considering him for a starting role in 2017. Over the final two months, Buchholz proved reliable as a starter and while making 16 appearances out of the ‘pen. While he’s likely the odd man out of the rotation on opening day, if anyone struggles he’ll be waiting in the weeds.
Stretch Relief – Matt Barnes, 4-3/4.05/71, 62 games – Barnes emerged as one of the more reliable pitchers at Farrell’s disposal out of the pen. While he had his share of hiccups along the way, he showed an adaptability to a multitude of situations, be it long, middle or short relief.
Stretch Relief – Robbie Ross Jr, 3-2/3.25/56, 54 games – While I was in the camp of people who often held their breath when Ross entered the game, his overall stats were pretty impressive in the 2016 campaign. Like Barnes, Ross can serve multiple rolls though is most effective in short relief lefty-on-lefty match-ups. Plus, every ‘pen needs a resident left-hander.
Mid Relief – Carson Smith, 2.2ip/2k, 3 games – Coming off Tommy John, the short reliever is targeting a June 1st return to the Sox. To fill the void, look for the Sox to use a combo of minor league options, including Robbie Scott and (gulp) Noe Ramirez. This may even open a spot for Fernando Abad on the roster, but let’s hope not. When Smith returns, he’ll bring with him a career 2.00 era in 81 innings pitched.
MR/Set Up – Joe Kelly, 4-0/5.18/48, 20 games – The fire-baller has a pitching arsenal to be a dominant back-end of the bullpen guy. After being lights out for much of the second half in Pawtucket and posting an era of 0.64 in his final 11 relief appearances with the Sox, it looks like Kelly may have finally figured it out.
Set Up – Greg Holland, 18-12/2.42/430, 309 games (2010-15 with Kansas City) – Holland missed the entire 2016 season recovering from Tommy John and after being released by the Royals, is on the open market. A closer by trade, Holland is open to being an 8th inning man in the right scenario and comes at a much cheaper price than the likes of Aroldis Chapman, Andrew Miller and Mark Melancon (though we’ve been there and done that and it didn’t go so well).
Closer – Craig Kimbrel, 2-6/3.40/83, 57 games – As maddening as Kimbrel was at times last season, he still racked up 31 saves in 33 opportunities. What does that tell us, kids? Use him in save situations! If only John Farrell could comprehend that. Oh well, there’s always next year.
There you have it. Your 2017 Boston Red Sox as constructed by Mark Paulette. See? Dombrowski’s job isn’t so hard after all. All you need is a computer and a notepad.
Mark Paulette is the PVC of The Drive, weekdays 4pm to 6pm on 92.9fm The Ticket and streaming live at DriveShowMaine.com. Follow us on Twitter, @DriveShowMaine and “Like Us” on Facebook, Drive Show Maine.