Youngsters were the best players in Boston’s outfield this past year. Mookie Betts was arguably one of the biggest breakout stars of this past season, as the centerfielder hit .291 and played some exemplary defense. His backup, Jackie Bradley Jr., struggled in the 2014 season, and wasn’t fantastic with his bat this year, but provided the team with some amazing glove work and exemplary speed after being called up from the minors. The rest of the outfield was a disappointment. The Hanley Ramirez experiment in left was a catastrophic failure- his defense was horrendous, and he didn’t do near enough with his bat to make up for his horrible glove. Shane Victorino was hurt at the beginning of the season and struggled mightily when he did play, and he ended up getting dealt to the Los Angeles Angels. His replacement, Cuban import Rusney Castillo, struggled to adjust to major league pitching in his first professional season, finishing with a .253 average.
Shortstop Xander Bogaerts had long been regarded one of Boston’s best prospects, and after an underwhelming 2014 season, Bogaerts broke out this past year, finishing second in the AL batting race with an average of .320. The rest of the infield was plagued with inconsistency and disappointment. Pablo Sandoval has never been a player that has hit for a high average, but his .245 batting line, combined with his 10 homers in 126 game played, made the Kung Fu Panda one of the worst free agent signings in the entire league. Dustin Pedroia was his normally steady self, but his season was shortened due to a hamstring injury that kept him out for almost 2 months. His backup, Brock Holt, was a very steady fielder, but didn’t stand out for his work with the bat. First baseman Mike Napoli, expected to be a power outlet with fellow veteran David Ortiz, was abysmal, hitting .207 with 13 home runs in 329 at bats before being designated for assignment. The man that replaced him, lanky lefty Travis Shaw, was fairly average, but didn’t do enough to impress the coaching staff to keep his starting job, as it has been reported that Ramirez will be moved out of leftfield and over to first base in hope of re-booting his career with the Red Sox. Neither of the BoSox’s main catchers, Blake Swihart or Ryan Hanigan, were similar to Shaw- they didn’t exude much confidence in themselves with their performance in the batter’s box. David Ortiz did his typical David Ortiz thing, combining a middling average with some extraordinary power numbers (37 homers and 108 RBI’s).
Pitching Staff: D
There was talk before the season that the Red Sox would live to regret the fact that Jon Lester went to Boston, and that their entire rotation was essentially composed of 3 or 4 starters. That most certainly was the case. The de facto ace, Clay Buchholz, made only 18 starts due to injury. The number 2 man, Rick Porcello, was startlingly bad, and only a late season boost in performance got his ERA below 5, to 4.92. The number 3, Justin Masterson, was even worse- the man who started his career in Boston before becoming a solid starter in Cleveland had a terrible season, finishing with an ERA of 5.61 before being released in mid-August. Team win leader Wade Miley was fairly steady, but he was slightly below average overall. Mid-season call-up Eduardo Rodriguez was a revelation, as he finished with 10 wins and an acceptable ERA of 3.85, but he projects more as a mid or back-of-the-rotation starter than he does a number 1 or number 2.
Boston’s bullpen was probably the best facet of the team this past year, which, considering how underwhelming the rest of the team was, isn’t saying a whole lot. Koji Uehara was exceptional in his 43 appearances, but a broken wrist cut his season short, and his role as closer is under threat in the upcoming season. The trio of Robbie Ross Jr., Tommy Layne, and Rangers castoff Alexi Ogando, each of whom had at least 50 appearances, were steady is not spectacular. Veteran lefty Craig Breslow did well, considering that he was the only reliable lefty arm in the BoSox’ ‘pen, making him easy to for opposing managers to plan for. Uehara’s countryman, Junichi Tazawa, underwhelmed a little bit this year, but he has the stuff to bounce back to an elite level next season.
There are a couple of bonus point thrown in here due to the extremely unfortunate plight of manager John Farrell. On a whole, though, the coaching staff largely underperformed. The team didn’t incorporate its new players very well, and the onus for that often falls on the coaches providing an environment that builds chemistry. The pitching staff was the biggest disappointment, player wise, and was also the most disappointing aspect coaching wise, because Farrell himself is a former Boston pitching coach. Farrell incorporated the team’s call-ups flawlessly, but he has to help his team perform much better next year. After, of course, he completes his treatment for cancer, which is currently top priority.
Front Office: D
Ben Cherington was the man that made the bet on having a pitching staff that was built on pitchers that had no business being at the front of the rotation, the man that decided to sign Pablo Sandoval, the man that decided to sign Hanley Ramirez and stick him out in left field. The biggest moves, and the biggest failures, of this past season fall on Cherington’s shoulders- it makes sense that he was relieved from his duties. Succeeding Theo Epstein could not have been an easy task, but Cherington was generally underwhelming in his term as Red Sox GM, and this season was a culmination of that.
Looking to the Future
Dave Dombrowski and Mike Hazen will have their work cut out for him to make this a competitive team, not just next year, but two or three years down the road. Big Papi is a consistent source of offense, but at 37 he’s getting up there age wise. Betts and Bogaerts were phenomenal this year, but they are almost certain to regress to the mean this upcoming season. Figuring out what to do in order to accommodate, or move, Pablo Sandoval ad Hanley Ramirez, will be vital, especially considering the salary of the two players. Also, finding a catcher, and possible upgrades at the corner outfield positions, will be towards the top of the two men’s to-do list.
The biggest problem they have to deal with, though, is obviously the rotation. Buchholz and Rodriguez might be the only two pitchers that really belong in the pitching staff of a team as ambitious as the Red Sox. Expect the team to pursue the big names, like David Price and Zach Greinke, but also less heralded players, like former Nationals pitcher Jordan Zimmermann.