What can we expect from the Red Sox in 2023? Nobody knows.
On one hand, chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom says, “It’s going to be awesome” when the Sox put it together. He believes the team is on a path back to the postseason.
On the outside, few expect it will be this season. The Sox patched the holes on their roster with veteran free agents, and expectations are as low as they’ve been in years.
Which way will it go? Globe baseball columnists Peter Abraham and Alex Speier offer different scenarios for the coming season.
FORT MYERS, Fla. — When was the last time a Red Sox season went how you expected?
Probably 2012. It became evident about an hour into spring training that Bobby Valentine wasn’t the right choice to manage the team, and a chaotic 93-loss season followed.
An out-of-nowhere World Series championship followed in 2013, followed by an immediate collapse into last place for two seasons.
The Sox went last to first in 2016. Then they won the division again in ‘17 only to fall out of the playoffs in the first round.
Improvement was expected in 2018 when Alex Cora became manager, but certainly not a franchise-record 108-win season followed by an 11-3 rampage through the postseason.
The Sox followed that up by somehow not making the playoffs and finishing 19 games out. After a last-place slog through the COVID season, Cora returned from suspension in 2021 and the Sox advanced to the ALCS.
Then it was back to fifth place last year.
So if you think you know what will happen this season, you don’t. The Sox are the “Bizarro Jerry” episode of “Seinfeld.” Up is down, black is white.
Which brings us to this season.
The mystics and statistics do not see the Sox making the playoffs. The projection systems used by Baseball Prospectus and FanGraphs have the Sox winning 79-80 games after an offseason of seemingly haphazard moves by chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom.
Rival executives and managers all seem to have the same question: What are the Sox doing?
They’re about to win 86 games and contend for a playoff spot. That’s what. The Sox have a knack of doing the unexpected and will again.
It’s not implausible. The Sox won 78 games last season, eight fewer than the Rays did to claim the final wild-card berth in the American League. Eight games would be a significant improvement, but there are reasons to believe it can happen.
Let’s start with the starters. The Red Sox rotation had the fifth-worst earned run average in the American League last season (4.49). There should be an upgrade this season.
Chris Sale has looked solid in spring training, and while it’s unreasonable to expect him to stay healthy all season, 25 starts is a practical goal.
Corey Kluber is long past his All-Star days but offers reliability every five days. Garrett Whitlock, fully recovered from hip surgery, has the ability to be an above-average starter, and the same is true for Brayan Bello.
Kutter Crawford and Josh Winckowski showed improvement in spring training after uneven rookie seasons in 2022.
The bullpen also is better, if only because the Sox have an established closer in three-time All-Star Kenley Jansen. His presence will allow Cora to line up his other relievers in more structured roles.
Righthander Chris Martin and lefthander Richard Bleier have consistently been upper-echelon setup men. If Tanner Houck settles into a bullpen role after opening the season in the rotation, that gives the Sox four tested and reliable relievers.
Success starts with pitching, and the Sox should be much better than the fire drill they were running much of last season.
The lineup also should be improved, although the Sox stubbornly cling to the idea that they don’t need a leadoff hitter.
The top spot had a .296 on-base percentage last season and .319 in 2021, and there is no obvious candidate this season, although it may be wise to give Alex Verdugo a shot. He has a .341 OBP in 42 career games batting first.
It’s fair to expect that Masataka Yoshida will need time to adjust to the majors after seven seasons in Japan. But his performance in the World Baseball Classic suggests he could emerge as a star.
Rafael Devers should get lineup protection from newcomers Adam Duvall and Justin Turner. Triston Casas is an interesting character, both as a player and a person. He could be Kyle Schwarber Lite, a lefty slugger who gets on base at a high clip and gains a lot of fans.
That the Sox are relying on Kiké Hernández to give them a full season at shortstop despite his never starting more than 17 games at that position in one season is a potentially fatal flaw.
So is their expectation that Christian Arroyo can overcome his injury history to play second base on a regular basis. Their primary backup, injury-prone Adalberto Mondesí, will open the season on the injured list recovering from knee surgery.
But Arroyo and Mondesí, if healthy, could both have a big impact offensively.
The Sox, believe it or not, were fourth in the American League with 735 runs last season. Yes, that was with Xander Bogaerts and Christian Vázquez. But this should still be a formidable lineup, especially if Trevor Story can return from elbow surgery in the second half.
The schedule also is favorable. Only four of the first 26 games are against teams that made the playoffs last season. A good start would do a lot to build confidence. The 2013 Sox were 18-8 in April.
A lot of things have to turn the right way for the Sox to escape last place, forget the playoffs. But expectations, good or bad, haven’t proven very reliable with this franchise.