Coming off a magical season that ended with another World Series title for the franchise, the Boston Red Sox have visions of a repeat on their minds going into Spring Training in 2019. Coming off a championship victory, there are surprising moves that can make or break clubs in their first season post-championship.
Riding on the coattails of timely offensive outbursts and shutdown pitching, the Red Sox were able to help manager Alex Cora and company earn rings. Behind the offensive production of Mookie Betts, J.D. Martinez and Andrew Benintendi, combined with the pitching of Chris Sale, David Price and closer Craig Kimbrel, the team was unstoppable, as the Los Angeles Dodgers quickly found out.
Of the mentioned core pieces, only Kimbrel is not back with the team at this point, headlining the crop of free agents still available.
With that in mind, here are three bold predictions for the Boston Red Sox going into 2019:
Kimbrel will not return — and it will bite Boston
Having been the team’s most reliable pitcher for the vast majority of the season, Kimbrel went into free agency rumored to have been searching out a six-year deal that touched $100 million, an unheard-of number for relievers.
The team also lost a good stop-gap option out of the ‘pen, Joe Kelly, to the Dodgers, so they are for sure down one arm from last season. Kimbrel resigning in Beantown remains a possibility as long as he is on the market, but a team like the San Diego Padres could seemingly swoop in during Spring Training, give him the most guaranteed money and bring him in.
Not having either Kelly or Kimbrel will force the Red Sox to work with what they have, and their current bullpen status is a bit bleak. The ‘pen would be led by injury-prone Tyler Thornburg, efficient arms Matt Barnes and Steven Wright, and unproven arms like Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman.
Without that shutdown arm to close out tight games, Boston’s hand may ultimately be forced in the end, as the franchise will either need to pay through the nose at the Trade Deadline to add a piece or suffer through dropping close games.
Christian Vazquez will raise his batting average by at least 40 points
The catching position has been a sore point in the starting lineup that has been lacking regular production for the Red Sox for the past few years. Vazquez, who has scuffled offensively in his four seasons at the big league level, has been looked at to help with this issue, but to no avail.
Never having played in more than 99 games in a season, his durability will also be put underneath the spotlight this year. Competition from backup Sandy Leon will be there too, but Leon has not shown enough to handle a move into the starting lineup on a regular basis.
Vazquez will finally find his swing this season, playing in 120-130 games and hit at least .247 with 10 home runs, finally showing a glimmer of hope for what his potential ceiling can resemble. While still low on the offensive end, these numbers would represent a great improvement from the lack of production in 2018.
Sale will not be the team’s best starting pitcher
After riding Sale throughout the regular season and postseason, he ended up pitching in 173.1 innings, his lowest total since 2011. While a 12-4 record with a 2.11 ERA is a great season for any pitcher, his numbers were down across the board, in tandem with his low innings total that resulted from injury.
In an act to help the team deal with their shortage of power arms from the ‘pen, the team will look to again lower Sale’s innings total in a way to keep him fresh for the playoff push. Skipping a few of his starts and going with bullpen sessions instead will be the most efficient way for Cora to manage his ace’s arm and keep him fresh for October.
With that in mind, David Price or Rick Porcello are the likely options to supplant Sale as the team’s workhorse in 2019. Nathan Eovaldi is a solid arm for this team that can eat up innings in a successful manner, but he should not be considered an integral, ace-like piece to help the team get back to the World Series.
While Price’s age and health are both working against him, his 2018 season was quite impressive and has become a huge part of the pitching flexibility that is sweeping the league. With three more seasons after 2019 left on his deal, Price has a ton more money coming his way, a big-time issue that may plague the Red Sox for years to come, as his performance, while solid, has not been worth the $31-$32 million annually that the club has shelled out.
In a nutshell, while the Red Sox have a great chance to turn their current team structure into a dynasty, there are definite holes that need to be shored up. Lacking a true closer in their bullpen at the moment after being such an integral part to their 2018 success is a big worry, but with already being around $15 million over the luxury tax threshold, any types of huge additions will be hard to pull off.