The Boston Red Sox were a pretty big disappointment in 2015, with several of their new players experiencing injury and effectiveness problems. But there is hope on the horizon, with Spring Training in full swing and players returning to health and preparing for the regular season. The Sox were busy this offseason, with new general manager Dave Dombrowski filling holes in the bullpen and starting rotation. But the AL East has other good teams remaining, so it won’t be a cakewalk for the Red Sox to win the division in 2016. Regardless, here are the five reasons why they will win.
5. Hanley Ramirez will bounce back
Hanley Ramirez had his worst season since 2011 when he was still with the Miami Marlins. In the last two-and-a-half seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Ramirez hit .299/.368/.506 in 1,120 plate appearances with 43 home runs. Last year, he hit just .249/.291/.426 in 430 plate appearances with the Red Sox. To think he will continue to hit extremely poorly at just the age of 32 would be a bad assumption.
There are questions, however, of how Ramirez will perform on the defensive side. He was a dumpster fire in left field last year after switching from third base. But he’s playing at first base this year, and the early look says he will likely be a passable first baseman while he waits for David Ortiz to clear out the designated hitter spot.
4. Better overall health
Ramirez, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz, Pablo Sandoval, and others missed various amounts of time last season due to injuries. All teams deal with health issues over the course of each season, but there’s no arguing that the Red Sox were hit particularly hard when it came to the players they relied missing time. As of now, all of those guys are currently healthy, and while you can certainly argue whether or not Buchholz will stay that way (and if Sandoval might perform up to expectations), it’s important that they have everyone at their disposal.
If Sandoval doesn’t perform, he could see himself replaced at third base by Travis Shaw or diminished in his role to just hitting against right-handed pitchers — against whom he hit .266/.317/.427 last season. Pedroia, who only played 93 games last year, is one of the most valuable players on the team and doesn’t generally carry a ton of injury risk. If the Sox can remain healthy, they will be in good shape for the upcoming season.
3. The rest of the division
Outside of the Sox, the AL East didn’t get a whole lot better during the offseason. The Toronto Blue Jays lost their best pitcher (more on that in a minute); the New York Yankees did little other than continue to age; the Tampa Bay Rays made some shrewd moves but it’s hard to tell what to make of the team beyond a good, deep rotation; and the Baltimore Orioles had a terrible offseason and will likely finish in last place in the division.
The major competition in the division will be Toronto, who has the best lineup in all of baseball but also has a ton of questions on the pitching side. The Blue Jays are the reigning division champ, having won 93 games last season and advanced to the ALCS. But the Red Sox won 78 games, despite all their problems, and there could be a big swing coming.
2. David Price and the revamped pitching staff
As alluded to, the Red Sox went out and caught the big fish on the free agent market, starting pitcher David Price. Not only did they improve themselves, but in the process they also damaged their chief rival in the division because Price had been with Toronto. Over the last three seasons, Price posted a 3.01 ERA in 655 1/3 innings pitched, striking out 8.9 batters per nine innings while only walking 1.5. Those are ace-like numbers, and he’s only 30 years old.
An ace at the top of the rotation is a big thing the Red Sox have lacked since trading Jon Lester to the Oakland A’s. Price pushes Buchholz back to the No. 2 spot, with Rick Porcello — who they hope will have a return to his normal numbers after a down 2015 — and Eduardo Rodriguez filling in the No. 3 and No. 4 spots. Boston also acquired closer Craig Kimbrel from the San Diego Padres, in addition to shutdown setup man Carson Smith, who came over from the Mariners. That should help the Sox improve on their team 4.24 bullpen ERA from last season.
1. The kids can play
The Red Sox have plenty of kids in their lineup, and they’re a talented bunch. Xander Bogaerts is only 22 years old and hit .320/.355/.421 last season. Mookie Betts is 23 and also had an outstanding year in 2015, hitting .291/.341/.479 last season. Jackie Bradley Jr., Rusney Castillo, Henry Owens, and Rodriguez didn’t get to play in Boston all year, for various reasons, but they all have talent and the Red Sox are thrilled about seeing what they can do this year. The combination of young talent with the veteran leadership of guys like Ortiz, Ramirez, Pedroia, Sandoval, and others, the Sox could have a strong lineup.
When you consider the upgrades to the pitching — both in adding Price and the changes in the bullpen — as well as the inevitable bounce-back you can expect from some of the players who had the worst seasons of their career last season, things are looking good for Boston. With the Yankees, Orioles, and Rays not expected to finish much over .500 at best, it’s not hard to see the Red Sox winning somewhere around 90 games and pushing Toronto to second place in 2016.
Follow Ryan on Twitter @RyanDavisBP.
Statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com.