Let's continue looking around the Red Sox lineup as spring training is about to dawn.
Since Nomar Garciaparra was traded in 2004, shortstop has been a revolving door for Boston. No more. Xander Bogaerts after arriving in late 2013 in time to help the Sox win the World Series blossomed as a big league shortstop in 2015. Xander not only hit .320 with 196 hits, but transformed into a Gold Glove finalist in the field at shortstop.
If anyone else is playing the majority of games at shortstop for Boston, the chances of this team contending is nearly nil. If another shortstop is needed the candidates are Brock Holt and Deven Marrero.
This could be, along with the status of Ramirez and Sandoval, the key to a winning season. Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox have completely committed to the youthful trio of Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo.
Betts, along with Xander Bogaerts, are poised to become the faces and leaders of this franchise. Betts in 145 games, hit .291 with 18 home runs and stole 21 bases. Betts also cemented his spot as the leadoff hitter for this club.
The question for JBJ as always is his offense. The out of this world defensive fly chaser, exploded at the plate last August, after putting up very strong numbers at AAA. Despite cooling off in September, Bradley Jr. showed enough promise at the dish to expect at least a .250 BA which when paired with his defense is good enough. But I still think JBJK can hit around .275-.280 with an OBP of .340 or so.
The Cuban expatriate, Castillo, is heading into a pivotal year for his major league career. In limited games in '13-'14 Castillo has shown flashes of being worth the $70M+ Boston paid him as an international free agent. But he has also been injury prone and inconsistent. Castillo is penciled in a an everyday player and he could grab a job and run with it. But of the three "young" outfielders, Castillo is young only in major league experience. He is 28 years old and this also factors into his need to make a big step forward now. If Rusney cannot grab ahold of his spot with a big year, then he may hear the foot steps of the 2015 first rounder, Andrew Benintendi. Even if Castillo takes a big step forward do not be surprised if the 2017 outfield consists of the B-town Boys: Betts, Bradley, and Benintendi.
Another hot topic from late 2015 that may or may not be settled is the alignment of the outfield. Castillo seemingly is being penciled into left, although he can play center or right. Both Mookie and JBJ have shown they are top notch major league centerfielders. But no one plays center like Jackie, and it seems the Sox are leaning to JBJ in CF and Mookie in RF. That configuration from left to right of Rusney, JBJ, and Betts would be my first choice as well.
Especially if either Castillo or Bradley Jr. struggle, Brock Holt may get substantial playing time in the outer garden, as he did in '15. But a newcomer who also be a key to the outfield is veteran Chris Young. Young who last year played for the Yankees, is known to hit left handed pitching especially well, and has a swing which should be very conducive to the Green Monster.
2016 is the announced swan song for one of the greatest Red Sox players and characters of all time David Ortiz, Big Papi. In 2015 at age 39, Ortiz incredibly hit 37/108/.273/.360 while playing in 146 games with 528 at bats. The 37 homers put Papi over 500 for his career.
So in a stable roster, yet filled with questions, here is another key question: can David Ortiz put up offensive numbers, now at age 40, that remotely resemble 2015?
It may be foolhardy to expect any 40 year old to hit over 30 bombs and drive in over 100. But if Ortiz puts up a respectable 25/85/.260/.330 where do the Sox make up his offense? And in a worse case scenario what if Ortiz ages overnight and hits only 12/60/.225/.295 or is injured and misses a majority of his last season?
If (and let's all hope neither of these things happen) Papi struggles badly or is injured, look for Dave Dombrowski to go acquire a veteran hitter. But off Papi puts the respectable line with 25 home runs mentioned above, where do the Sox pick up the slight bit of slack? Here are several possibilities:
1. Xander Bogaerts. The X man despite his .320 and 196 hits had only 7 homers. As Bogarts continues to mature, it is very easy to imagine 20 home runs from him, and this jump from 7 to 20 can make him for an Ortiz decline from 37 to 25 by himself. Bogaert's also should spend the whole season(and many to come) hitting in the third hole with plenty of RBI chances.
2. Hanley Ramirez. Lost in the darkness of Hanley's failed 2015 was the fact before injuring a shoulder while playing left field, Ramirez hit 10 home runs in April alone. If(IF) Hanley can play first and stay healthy he could provide much more offense than last year. If.
3. The entire outfield. Mookie Betts, of course, could add another 10 homers by himself (several national reporters are touting Betts as a sleeper candidate for '16 AL MVP), but Jackie Bradley, Jr. and Rusney Castillo, if both reach the upper levels of expected output offensively could add to closing any Papi Gap. Chris Young, who also could get some DH time against tough lefties, also is capable of double digit home runs.
In two days pitchers and catchers officially report to Fort Myers(although more than 35 players are all ready there several days to weeks early), and in a few days we will look over the 2016 red Sox pitching staff.