Red Sox Spring Training Preview: How much improvement should we expect?

It’s been a long winter, but somehow, some way, baseball is already around the corner. As snow melts and temperatures warm up north, the Red Sox and every other MLB team are down south getting ready for the season. The regular season begins on April 1, and leading up to that date I’ll have multiple preview posts out.

That all starts today. I’ll be giving my thoughts on Boston’s offseason moves as well as what the team needs this season to succeed. Feel free to comment with your thoughts.

Off-season in Review

Garrett Richards' stuff reminds Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora of  six-time All-Star Kevin Brown; 'This might be cool' - masslive.com
Garrett Richards is at Spring Training with the Red Sox after joining the team this off-season. Photo via Mass Live

The Red Sox will lose outfielders Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi as well as multiple relievers, but Chaim Bloom was busy making moves this off-season and managed to bring in a good number of players while still staying under the luxury tax threshold. Here are my thoughts on his signings:

OF Hunter Renfroe

Renfroe was Bloom’s first signing of the offseason. His price was low considering a rough 2020 season. At his worst, Renfroe is still a rotational outfielder and depth piece. At his best, he can be an everyday starter. Considering the depth the Red Sox have added, it’s unclear how much Renfroe will be used, but he’s likely to have a significant role with the team. I’m not huge on this signing. It’s hard to tell how Renfroe will perform and I feel the Red Sox could have gotten more with the money they spent on him. He does have potential to contribute something meaningful to this team though.

UT Enrique “Kiké” Hernandez

Hernandez, a long time Dodger, was one of the top utility players on the free agent market and one of two that the Red Sox signed. The Red Sox will likely give him time at second base and in the outfield. The Red Sox were in need of extra personnel at both of those positions, so a jack of all trades like Hernandez is a great fit for the Sox and he came at a bargain, just $7 million per year. 2020 was a down year at the plate for Hernandez. However, he is normally not only a versatile defender but also a reliable starter at the plate. I think the Sox will try to use Hernandez almost every day, it’s just a matter of where he plays.

SP Garrett Richards

The prime of Richards’ career came in 2014 and 2015 with the Angels, when he posted a 3.19 ERA across 58 starts. Injuries derailed Richards over the next handful of years until he underwent Tommy John Surgery in 2018. Richards returned to the mound in 2020 with the Padres, posting a 4.03 ERA in 10 starts. No, it wasn’t a full on bounce back, but it was impressive for someone coming right back from surgery. I’m expecting him to improve upon that performance this year now that he’s had more time to recover. Early reports out of camp have been optimistic about a Richards bounce back year. This is an underrated signing by Chaim Bloom that will make a big difference for the Sox rotation.

RP Adam Ottavino

Bloom acquired Ottavino from a crowded Yankees bullpen. In Boston I think he has the potential to be a reliable late inning reliever. He had a rough 2020 season, but dominated in both 2018 with the Rockies and 2019 with the Yankees before that. Ottavino will have the chance to rebound this year and potentially even become the Red Sox closer if he’s able to do so.

RP Hirokazu Sawamura

Sawamura is coming straight from Japan, where he was a successful late inning reliever. He’s a low risk signing by the Red Sox as he comes at just $1.2 million per year. He has the potential to compete with Matt Barnes, Adam Ottavino, and others for the closer role but even if he’s not able to do that, I don’t mind the signing at that price. I think the Red Sox could have done more to seek out a true closer, but there are some decent options in the current bullpen.

OF Franchy Cordero

Cordero came to the Red Sox in the Andrew Benintendi trade. I expect him to get some playing time as an outfielder, especially in lefty-heavy lineups. Cordero has showed potential in his career thus far but hasn’t had a big break through yet. Until that happens, he’ll be limited to a rotational role. He provides good depth in the outfield though.

UT Marwin Gonzalez

Gonzalez, the long time Astros super-utility, has spent the last couple of years in with the Twins. He has regressed since his Astros days, but he’s still a versatile player and a reliable utility guy. This signing didn’t make too much sense after the signing of another utility player in Hernandez. However, the Red Sox still needed more depth and this is one way to add it.

What the Team Needs to Succeed

Red Sox re-hire Alex Cora as manager despite cheating scandal
Alex Cora was re-hired as manager of the Red Sox after a one year suspension. Photo via USA Today

Last year was an ugly one for the Red Sox. However, Alex Cora is back and this roster is very different from what it was last year. When I look at this roster, I see an average team, but I also see the potential for more (or less).

At their best, this team can compete for a wild card. The lineup contains big names like Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and J.D. Martinez in addition to lots of depth. I don’t expect many traditional positional battles in the lineup, as I expect Cora to experiment with different lineups as he utilizes the versatility of Hernandez, Gonzalez, and others.

The rotation looks to be stronger than it was last year. Eduardo Rodriguez is back and Chris Sale should return by June or July. Behind those guys are Nathan Eovaldi and new addition Garrett Richards. The Sox will have the option to use a promising youngster in Tanner Houck, returning veteran Martin Perez, and/or failed Phillies starter Nick Pivetta to round out the rotation. The Sox will likely make their decision on the starting five in Fort Myers. If everyone plays at their best, this could be a great rotation, but that would be a big ask considering Sale is coming off Tommy John surgery and E-Rod is coming off a lost 2020 season due to myocarditis.

The bullpen doesn’t have a clear cut closer now that Brandon Workman is gone, but has late inning options in Matt Barnes, Adam Ottavino, and Japanese reliever Hirokazu Sawamura. The Sox would be an even better bet to succeed if they added another bat through free agency, but there aren’t many guys left on the market and they can probably piece together a strong season without that.

The Red Sox aren’t going all in on contention yet. They aren’t rebuilding either though. This is a year in which they have a chance to find their footing and gain momentum towards future playoff runs. If they can craft good lineups utilizing the rotational players they have and some of their starters rebound, they do have a chance to be a wild card team, but I’m not necessarily expecting that. I’m expecting an improvement from last year, but that improvement could range anywhere from simply surpassing the Orioles in the AL East to snagging a playoff berth.

I’ll have an official MLB predictions post out later in the spring, so stay tuned for that to see where I have the Red Sox finishing.

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