Status: Defending their title
The Red Sox were historically good in 2018, winning 108 games and cruising to the World Series. A quiet offseason has followed, though, leaving the door open for the arch-rival Yankees.
This winter has been more about what the Red Sox haven’t done than what they have. Craig Kimbrel, Joe Kelly, Ian Kinsler and Drew Pomeranz all left in free agency. Some of those matter more than others.
Losing Kinsler doesn’t hurt too much, but it does take away a handy infield option. Pomeranz struggled mightily last season, his departure probably helped as it freed up money to re-sign Nathan Eovaldi and Steve Pearce.
Eovaldi provided some historic postseason moments and has been rewarded with a long deal. It’s a risk for Boston, but perhaps an understandable one given his stuff in the playoffs. Pearce was a monster in October too. He will mainly play against lefties, filling in at first, the corner outfield spots, and DH.
Former highly rated prospect Jenrry Mejia signed on a minor league deal with an invite to Spring Training. Mejia has not pitched in the Majors since seven outings in 2015 but will compete for a bullpen role. Bryce Brentz has been added on a minor league deal too, having posted a .915 minor league OPS in 2018 as part of the Mets organisation.
Several other veterans will feature/have featured for the Red Sox in spring. Reliever Zach Putnam did not pitch in 2018 but is an option to make the bullpen on opening day. Erasmo Ramirez struggled with the Mariners last year and has a chance to win a relief job.
Former Arizona catcher Oscar Hernandez did not make it out of the minors last season. He returns to the Red Sox this year, however, providing an option behind the plate after Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez.
What to watch
Xander Bogaerts enjoyed a breakout in 2018, notching MVP votes and an OPS just under .900. He is a free agent at season’s end, leaving the Red Sox with a big decision to make. Returning to around the .800 OPS mark is expected in most projections. If he can replicate last year’s numbers, he will consolidate his place among the sport’s elite shortstops.
Rafael Devers regressed on both sides of the ball last season. That’s pretty concerning for Bogaerts’ left-side of the infield partner, but Devers is still only 22, which should make the Red Sox cautiously optimistic about his future. The Devers we saw in late 2017 would be a gamechanger for a Boston line-up that is shallow in comparison to Houston and the Yankees.
Losing Kimbrel and Kelly is going to hurt. The Red Sox’s American League rivals already had a bullpen advantage – that has only grown this winter. There is a lot of pressure on Ryan Brasier, Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes to deliver.
A farm depleted by trades and an offseason without addition is not a good mix, even for a team that won 108 games. Regression is to be expected this season.
The rotation behind Chris Sale is okay. The combination of Betts and Martinez might still be the sport’s best pairing. Line-up holes and a below-average bullpen, though, could leave the Red Sox settling for a wildcard game at Fenway.