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This will be the first Red Sox team since 2002 without the loud bat and occasionally louder voice of David Ortiz. For that reason alone, this will be a fascinating team to watch develop over the next six months.
For many Red Sox fans, it’s hard to imagine a team without Big Papi. But the Sox will not lack for leadership or thump. Dustin Pedroia, who played 11 years with Ortiz, has helped cultivate a “win today” ethos with players such as Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and Jackie Bradley Jr. They’re the leaders now.
Hanley Ramirez understands his legacy rests on how he finishes his career and that filling in ably for Ortiz on and off the field will help change how he is regarded.
It also seems reasonable to believe Pablo Sandoval can be at least an average third baseman and not an expensive embarrassment.
New first baseman Mitch Moreland has a Green Monster-friendly swing and the Sox have strong defensive catchers.
The offense will produce 800 runs, perhaps even more. Betts is the kind of MVP-caliber player who will have his number retired someday and Bogaerts could be, too. The Sox may lack Ortiz’s menacing presence in the middle of the lineup, but they have a versatile collection of hitters.
As always with every baseball team at every level of the game, pitching will decide the fate of the season.
The Sox opened up last season with a rotation of David Price, Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Rick Porcello, and Steven Wright. This season it will be Porcello, Chris Sale, Eduardo Rodriguez, Wright and Drew Pomeranz.
This group is better, even with Price on the disabled list. The Sox can afford to look long-term with Price and make sure he is fully healed and ready before activating him. A well-rested Price could be a season-changer come the summer.
Sale seems relieved to be free of the numbing mediocrity of the White Sox. His intense personality, occasionally a problem in Chicago, will find a welcome home in Boston. Fans will take to his approach.
But if Price’s injury worsens and he pitches poorly or doesn’t pitch at all, the Sox will suffer for not paying better attention to their starter depth in the offseason. Trading for Buchholz in July after trading him away in December would somehow be fitting.
The Sox have a bullpen loaded with power arms led by Craig Kimbrel, who had an erratic-but-effective 2016. He appears to have conquered his delivery issues.
But the eighth inning is a question mark.
Tyler Thornburg, a hidden gem in Milwaukee, appeared unprepared for the start of spring training and won’t be ready for late-inning duties at the start of the season. Manager John Farrell has faith in Joe Kelly to set up Kimbrel. But Kelly has never been able to take a role and make it his.
Hard-throwing righthanders Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree could be major factors. The Sox don’t have overwhelming lefthanders in the bullpen, but they’re adequate.
The bullpen depth is intriguing. Carson Smith, a force with Seattle in 2015, should be ready to return from elbow surgery in June. Brandon Workman also appeared healthy in spring training after a long slog with his right elbow.
The Sox clearly have the best talent in the American League East and outside of the Cleveland Indians, the best talent in the American League. This group took an important step in making the playoffs last season. They should be ready to compete for a World Series.
Scouting report: Farrell will miss former bench coach Torey Lovullo, now Arizona’s manager. If the players miss Lovullo more, that’ll be an issue. This is a 93-95 win team if drama is kept to a minimum.
Fast fact: Farrell has 339 wins with the Sox, ninth in team history. With 76 wins this season, he will pass Eddie Kasko (354), Don Zimmer (411) and Jimy Williams (414).
Trade value: He was traded to the Red Sox in 2012, actually. The Sox sent infielder Mike Aviles to Toronto as compensation for hiring Farrell. The Sox also obtained righthander David Carpenter in the deal.
2B Dustin Pedroia
Scouting report: He’s 33 now and the Sox wisely built him up gradually in spring training. Pedroia has settled in as the leadoff hitter but don’t expect many stolen bases. He has only 15 the last three seasons. His game now is plenty of doubles and high-level defense.
Fast fact: Pedroia is 12th in team history with 1,398 games. He’ll tie Dom DiMaggio for 11th with one more game.
Trade value: No player is untouchable. But it’s fair to say Sox ownership would squash any deal involving Pedroia. He’s a Sox lifer.
LF Andrew Benintendi
Scouting report: It’s unfair to call him the next Fred Lynn, but the Hype Train is out of control right now. Benintendi is a heavy favorite for AL Rookie of the Year after an exciting 34-game preview in 2016. He likely will open the season hitting second, that’s how much confidence he inspires. His defense still needs work.
Fast fact: Of Benintendi’s 31 hits last season, 14 were for extra bases.
Trade value: He won’t be eligible for free agency until 2023. Dave Dombrowski should make his voicemail message, “Hi, I won’t trade Andrew Benintendi.”
RF Mookie Betts
Scouting report: Betts finished second behind Mike Trout for the American League MVP Award last season. The Angels superstar said afterward that he expected Betts would be a contender for years to come. Betts’s teammates feel the same way. Whether at the plate or in the field, he’s one of the best in the game.
Fast fact: In 21 career games at Camden Yards, Betts has hit .346 with nine home runs and 16 RBIs.
Trade value: Let’s say the Sox called the Giants and offered up Betts for Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco doesn’t hang up, right?
DH Hanley Ramirez
Scouting report: Ramirez has a career 1.014 OPS in 36 games as a DH. What will he do with 100-plus games there this season? Ramirez had a remarkable comeback season in 2016, rebounding at the plate and in the clubhouse. He’s being counted on for another big year.
Fast fact: Ramirez had 63 RBIs after the All-Star break last season, tied with Nolan Arenado of the Rockies for the most in the majors.
Trade value: If the season fell to pieces and somebody had interest, the Sox would get what they could for Ramirez.
SS Xander Bogaerts
Scouting report: Bogaerts struggled in the second half last season, posting a .674 OPS after Aug. 1. That got him dropped down in the lineup, something that will carry over into this season. Bogaerts is not very happy about that. We’ll see where what professional pride says about it.
Fast fact: Bogaerts and teammate Mookie Betts have 388 hits since the start of the 2015 season. Only Houston’s Jose Altuve, with 416, has more.
Trade value: A 24-year-old shortstop who hits like Bogaerts has great value on the trade market. But that’s why he’s a keeper, too.
1B Mitch Moreland
Scouting report: The Red Sox shopped on the discount aisle for a hitter and took on Moreland for one year and $5.5 million. The plan is to use him as the first baseman against righthanded pitchers. Moreland’s opposite-field power should play at Fenway Park and his Gold Glove defense will allow more shifting on the right side.
Fast fact: Moreland has a career .313 batting average as a pinch hitter. He is 15 of 31 the last three seasons.
Trade value: He’s only on a one-year deal, so the Sox have no ties to Moreland. But they need his glove.
3B Pablo Sandoval
Scouting report: Sandoval is trying to copy Hanley Ramirez’s Boston Redemption Plan and has so far pulled it off. He arrived at spring training in much better shape and produced on the field. How well he maintains his conditioning during the grind of the season is key.
Fast fact: Sandoval’s last four home runs (in 2015) were off Felix Hernandez, Masahiro Tanaka, Jeff Samardzija, and Chris Archer.
Trade value: He has $58 million left on his deal. The Sox would take most anything to be free of even a quarter of that.
CF Jackie Bradley Jr.
Scouting report: Bradley was one of four center fielders with 26 or more home runs last season and played the best defense of the bunch. His streakiness at the plate is an obstacle but his glove is always there.
Fast fact: Bradley has 37 home runs and 160 RBIs over the last three seasons at a cost of $1.57 million. Jacoby Ellsbury has 32 home runs and 159 RBIs for the Yankees at a cost of $63.3 million.
Trade value: It won’t happen this season. But trading a Scott Boras client before he hits free agency often makes sense.
C Sandy Leon
Scouting report: Leon hit .310 with an .845 OPS last season and that earned him a lineup spot this year. But Leon collapsed offensively in September and had a poor spring training at the plate. The door is open for Christian Vazquez or Blake Swihart to take his job.
Fast fact: Leon caught seven of the last 15 shutouts thrown by the Sox pitching staff. His game calling is a strongpoint.
Trade value: Teams always need catchers and his value has never been higher. But it’s not high enough to deal him any time soon.
RH Rick Porcello
Scouting report: Porcello benefited from bountiful run support last season. But he also allowed three or fewer earned runs 27 times in 33 starts. Porcello has found the right mix with his sinker and four-seam fastball. That helps him control at-bats and work at a quick pace.
Fast fact: Roger Clemens (1986-87) and Pedro Martinez (1999-2000) won back-to-back Cy Young Awards for the Sox. Porcello is a 35/1 shot to repeat, according to one Las Vegas sports book
Trade value: Porcello has three years and $62 million left on his contract. That’s a team-friendly deal these days, which is why he’s not going anywhere.
LH Chris Sale
Scouting report: Sale has never pitched in the playoffs, something he is determined to change and speaks often to his new teammates about. His unorthodox delivery produces high velocity and a deft touch with the changeup.
Fast fact: Sale and Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers are the only pitchers to be named All-Stars the last five seasons.
Trade value: Sale has immense trade value, as the Red Sox learned when they gave up their two best minor league players to get him. He is due an average of only $12.6 million the next three seasons.
Scouting report: For the first time since he came to the Red Sox from the Orioles, Rodriguez enjoyed a productive and healthy spring training. If he can learn to manage minor injuries and pitch well when not at 100 percent, Rodriguez has the talent to be an All-Star.
Fast fact: Rodriguez has a 3.71 ERA in 20 starts on the road and a 4.77 ERA in 21 starts at Fenway Park.
Trade value: If the Sox made Rodriguez available, 29 teams would call. He turns 24 on Friday and won’t be a free agent until 2022.
RH Steven Wright
Scouting report: In a rotation loaded with hard throwers, Wright and his knuckleball represent an effective change of style. He mixes in an occasional fastball and this season is working on a curveball at the suggestion of Tim Wakefield. Wright had a strong spring training, putting his shoulder woes in the past.
Fast fact: Wright is 16-11 with a 3.53 ERA in 35 career starts.
Trade value: Wright would be an interesting trade chip. He turns 33 in August and relies on a pitch some organizations have no idea what to do with. But he’s successful and cheap.
LH Fernando Abad
Scouting report: Abad was left off the playoff roster last season and it was a bit of a surprise he was tendered a contract in December. Abad can be effective if used only against lefthanders. But, somewhat strangely, the Sox see him as a long relief candidate.
Fast fact: Abad has appeared in 188 games over the last three years. Among lefthanders, only Zach Britton (204) and Andrew Miller (203) have more.
Trade value: The Sox traded minor leaguer Pat Light to the Twins to get Abad. Then the Twins traded Light to the Pirates five months later. So, no, he’s not worth much.
RH Matt Barnes
Scouting report: Barnes gets a lot of tough assignments. He inherited 48 runners last season, the most on the team, and only 11 scored as opponents hit .181 against him with runners in scoring position. Barnes has the mentality and fastball to handle the eighth inning and perhaps even close. But for now he’ll get thrown into more fires.
Fast fact: Barnes was one of four former University of Connecticut players to appear in the majors last season.
Trade value: A hard-throwing and inexpensive reliever would dress up any trade package.
RH Heath Hembree
Scouting report: Lefthanded batters have been his downfall, but he worked diligently in spring training on improving that. Righthanders had a pitiful .591 OPS against Hembree last season and that is where most of his opportunities will come. He’s out of minor league options now, so it’s either stick in the majors or be designated for assignment.
Fast fact: Hembree has 123 saves in the minors, none in the majors.
Trade value: The Sox picked up Hembree from the Giants when they dumped Jake Peavy in 2014. He’s developed into a player they want to keep.
RH Joe Kelly
Scouting report: Kelly was banished to Triple A for a long stretch last season and the tough love seemed to work as he pitched effectively in September and made the playoff roster. Will that success continue this season? Kelly averaged nearly 97 miles per hour with his fastball in 2016, so it’s not a matter of ability.
Fast fact: In 14 career postseason games, opposing hitters are 26 of 123 (.211) against Kelly.
Trade value: Kelly is one season away from free agency, so now would be the time to deal him. But inconsistency limits his value.
RH Craig Kimbrel
Scouting report: Kimbrel was astonishingly good for the Braves from 2010-14. But his earned run average has climbed for four consecutive seasons and his saves have dropped for three straight years. When compared to other closers, Kimbrel remains among the elite. But he’s not what quite what he once was.
Fast fact: Kimbrel’s 255 saves are the most in the majors since the start of the 2011 season.
Trade value: Kimbrel is due $25 million over the next two seasons. That’s not a lot for a closer these days.
LH Robbie Ross Jr.
Scouting report: He’s a do-it-all reliever. Ross went more than one inning 16 times last season and on six occasions faced one batter. He is especially effective against lefthanders, holding them to three extra-base hits in 80 at-bats last season. Ross, a former starter, handles righthanders well. But in a playoff setting, he would be a specialist.
Fast fact: Ross has made 108 appearances the last two seasons, the most of any Red Sox reliever.
Trade value: Almost every team needs a lefthanded reliever, or a better one than what they have. They always have value.
LH Robby Scott
Scouting report: When Tyler Thornburg landed on the disabled list, a door opened for Scott. He was a September call-up last season and threw six scoreless innings with two walks and five strikeouts.
Fast fact: In 2011, Scott broke into professional ball playing for independent Yuma Scorpions of the now-defunct North American League. His manager was Jose Canseco.
Trade value: A 27-year-old reliever with seven games of major league experience isn’t going to bring much in return. But Scott isn’t afraid to throw strikes and could become a valuable bullpen piece over time.
Util Brock Holt
Scouting report: The ever-versatile Holt could start at any one of seven positions and would bat close to the top of the lineup when he does. Most of his action could come in the infield with the Sox have three young outfield starters and a capable backup in Chris Young.
Fast fact: Holt has started more games in left field (70) than any other position the last three years.
Trade value: If the Sox believe in Marco Hernandez, trading Holt this season would make sense. Many teams value what he does and the return could be considerable.
INF Marco Hernandez
Scouting report: Hernandez was one of the team’s best hitters in spring training but was ticketed for Triple A Pawtucket until infielder Josh Rutledge strained his left hamstring on March 28. He could get some starts against righthanders.
Fast fact: Hernandez hit .333 with an 829 OPS in 10 starts last season. He hit .200 with a .494 OPS in 30 games coming off the bench.
Trade value: Hernandez is 24, can play shortstop, and showed in spring training he has a dangerous bat. He would be an everyday player for plenty of teams.
C Christian Vazquez
Scouting report: There is a healthy faction of coaches and front-office types in the organization who believe Vazquez will become the primary catcher at some point this season. His arm strength is back to pre-surgery levels and he’s the best pitch framer they have. Vazquez just has to show he can contribute enough at the plate.
Fast fact: In his career, Vazquez has thrown out 23 of 52 base stealers (44 percent).
Trade value: Sandy Leon’s rise had many teams inquiring about Vazquez but the Sox retained him. Depth at that position is fleeting.
OF Chris Young
Scouting report: John Farrell will be actively looking for ways to get Young in the lineup. He’ll DH or play center field against lefthanders but will have to start occasional games against righthanders to stay sharp. Young missed nearly two months with a strained right hamstring last season and the Sox missed his effectiveness off the bench.
Fast fact: Young has a .980 OPS against lefthanded pitchers over the last two seasons.
Trade value: Young would be a commodity at the trade deadline if the Sox fall out of contention.
LH David Price
Scouting report: Price arrived at spring training determined to atone for what he considered a poor season in 2016, even if he did win 17 games and strike out 228. But he injured his elbow in late February and never got in a spring game. Price is expected to return this season but his timetable is now running into May.
Fast fact: Price’s 230 innings last season were the most for a Red Sox pitcher since Pedro Martinez went 233⅔ innings in 1998.
Trade value: He has $187 million left on his deal and hasn’t pitched this spring because of an elbow issue. Nothing to discuss here.
RH Carson Smith
Scouting report: He was dominant for Seattle in 2015 but appeared in only three games for the Sox last season before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Indications are he will return in June. But gauging how effective he will be is impossible at this point.
Fast fact: Smith has allowed only two home runs over 81 career innings and 985 batters.
Trade value: The Red Sox gave up starter Wade Miley to get Smith before the 2016 season. As he recovers from surgery, Smith has no trade value right now.
RH Tyler Thornburg
Scouting report: Thornburg had a career year for the Brewers in 2016. He appeared in 67 games with eight wins, 13 saves and a 2.15 ERA to go along with 12.0 strikeouts per nine innings. But appeared in only two spring training games before going down with a shoulder impingement.
Fast fact: Thornburg has held lefthanders to a .531 OPS. Righthanders (.732) have been significantly better.
Trade value: The Sox dealt three players to Milwaukee to get Thornburg in December. A worrisome spring may have them regretting that.
LH Drew Pomeranz
Scouting report: Pomeranz will open the season on the disabled list but is eligible to return on April 9 and could start that game in Detroit. He was shaky in spring training and it remains uncertain if he has the durability to remain a starter. His future may lead back to the bullpen more sooner than later.
Fast fact: Pomeranz has a 2.10 ERA in 59 career relief appearances and a 4.07 ERA in 49 career starts.
Trade value: Pomeranz has already been traded four times, so apparently he has plenty of admirers.