We’ve come to the mid-season point of the 2016 MLB season, and there are still plenty of questions to be answered about the Boston Red Sox. Namely: are they a good team or a bad one?
First, we need to clarify how we define good or bad. Is a good team one that wins a lot of games in the regular season, a team that wins a lot of playoff games, or a team that wins a World Series? Is a team bad if they miss the playoffs?
For the purpose of this, I am going to take into account expectations (both past and present), and performance to those expectations. Now, given that expectations are subjective, you’ll need to consider this my subjective analysis of the Boston Red Sox (as you always should…). Let’s start with past expectations. After two consecutive seasons languishing at the bottom of the AL East, fans were probably preparing themselves for a similar fate after making just a few additions (albeit big ones). And yet, here we are at the All-Star Break, with the team sitting at 49-38 with sole possession of second place in the AL East and a Wild-Card spot in hand.
So for teams expecting a bad season, this team has exceeded expectations thus far. But two questions arise: Can this team sustain this production? Is losing in the Wild Card round a desirable outcome? The answers are both no, sadly, at least in this writer’s estimation. The Red Sox are a talented team with flaws. They have a great offense that is sometimes extraordinary enough to compensate for a rotation that ranges from dazzling to depressing. As currently constituted, there is no reason they should not make the playoffs, but don’t expect them to be in play for the ALCS or World Series. They’re a good team. Not bad, but also not great.
The goal of course, is to be a great team, and if nothing changed, I would bet that the Red Sox are a great team in 2017. They will, of course, be losing David Ortiz, who has been arguably their best player (and the league’s best?). They’ll also lose Koji Uehara, Brad Ziegler, Aaron Hill and Junichi Tazawa, but the latter three can (and probably should) be easily retained. They can also count on having two substantial pieces return from injury in Blake Swihart and Carson Smith, coupled with the fact that they have two uber prospects tearing up AA.
Yoan Moncada is drawing comparisons to Mike Trout; which should be enough said, but if you need more, he is the fastest minor leaguer, a stud defender, and he always puts the bat to the ball and usually barrels it for power. Andrew Benintendi has a similar toolset, but may not quite achieve the heights Moncada is capable of. If Moncada and Benintendi are promoted and start hitting right away like Mookie Betts did, the two youngsters and Swihart will soften the loss of Ortiz. And if they start their careers like Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley did… well, they won’t be a great team.
But dreams of a lineup featuring Betts, Dustin Pedroia, Bogaerts, Bradley Jr., Hanley Ramirez, Swihart, Moncada and Benintendi should have Red Sox fans drooling. Assuming the Red Sox retain Tazawa and/or Ziegler, they will have one of the best lineups and bullpens in the MLB. The Royals won a World Series in 2015 with that exact roster composition. But that of course ignores the rotation. David Price finally looks like an ace, but will Steven Wright continue to be? I hope so, but I’m not so sure. We can tentatively slot him into the rotation along with Porcello, who is great, and I think it’s too early to believe anything other than that Eduardo Rodriguez will return to form. So that’s 3/4 good pitchers. 5 are needed.
The Red Sox would benefit from bringing in a young controllable arm, but the price for those have been astronomical. Moncada should be untouchable, perhaps 18-year-old prospect Andrew Benintendi too. If Moncada slides to third base, as most expect him to, Travis Shaw becomes expendable, and minor-league stud Rafael Devers becomes less critical. Though Devers would look really good taking over at 1B/DH, the team may have no choice to deal him if they can acquire a good pitcher for next year for a package of him, Shaw, Christian Vasquez and a few throw-in prospects (I’m not a big Julio Teheran believer but this I would do).
But this is where it gets tricky. Dave Dombrowski will need to unearth the asset that doesn’t require the Red Sox to compromise their immediate future by giving up Moncada, Swihart, and Benintendi. Teams no doubt will hold out for these players as they are the Red Sox’ most valuable assets, but Dombrowski must find an alternative. A lot comes down to the team’s perception of Wright, too. If they believe he can be a front end starter, maybe a guy like Jake Odorizzi can solidify the back end? Price-Wright-Porcello-Odorizzi-Rodriguez doesn’t sound too bad.
But what if 2016 is the outlier of Wright’s career? Then the team needs to find a way to pry a frontline starter like Sonny Gray or Teheran, and still maintain that prospect depth. Why is it important to maintain the prospect depth? Given the money Boston has tied up in aging veterans such as Ramirez, Pedroia, and Pablo Sandoval, the team will need young, cheap producers of offense next season.
Herein lies the great predicament facing Dave Dombrowski. I can’t solve this one without knowing who is available, and he definitely has his work cut out for him. But if he trades the right prospects for the right major-leaguers, the Red Sox could be a World Series team next season. Not a good one, a GREAT one.