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We’ve made it to the eve of the 2023 season and Fangraphs has the Red Sox power ranked 16th overall, landing in their “High-Variance Could Be’s” category. That seems about right to me. Things are going to have to break perfectly for the team to stroll into the postseason, and things are going to have to break terribly for the season to be a disaster.
We’ve seen both ends of that happen; in 2018 seemingly nothing went wrong, and last year, after the team fought back to have a 42-31 record at one point, Trevor Story and literally almost every important pitcher ended up on the injured list and the season was a mess the rest of the way.
The fight for the last one or two playoff spots in the American League should be pretty chaotic, and I'm hopeful that the Red Sox will be in the middle of it all.
Bobby Dalbec v. Yu Chang
Dalbec was basically an afterthought this winter when looking at team building, and if not for the WBC, this roster spot wouldn’t have even been a discussion. Chang can play very good infield defense despite his below average arm. Over the past two seasons, he has a positive Outs Above Average at each infield position, he’s also in the 80th percentile of sprint speed, and can hit fastballs well. That’s a much cleaner fit as a bench player.
Jarren Duran v. Raimel Tapia
I think Duran would have been a moderately more useful last position player on the roster, but he needs to be playing every day in Triple-A to try and salvage as much as you can from him. I’m sure it was a great experience, but being a bench player for Mexico in the WBC basically ended any hope of Duran forcing himself on to the team. Now we wait and see what his skills and numbers look like in Worcester. We can hope that Tapia is a great clubhouse guy and plays competently when he’s occasionally in the lineup.
Connor Wong v. Jorge Alfaro
Alfaro has spent the last few months destroying winter league and spring training pitching, but all you need to know is that in the last few days he and his $2M salary were offered to every MLB team for free, and they all passed, even with the scarcity of catching options in professional baseball. His defense looked extremely rough.
Wong should be a strong backup/platoon catching option, especially if some of the power he showed last summer carries over.
For established relievers, spring training stats mean about as close to nothing as possible to me, which is nice, because passively following Red Sox games this spring it seemed like the guys the team is really counting on were under constant duress. We’re really not going to know the state of the pen until the adrenaline is pumping starting tomorrow.
Joely Rodriguez’s injury makes the pen weaker than you’d like. I’ve complained in the past about a lack of urgency to jettison unproductive middle relievers, but I’m guessing that won't be a problem this year as some members of the initial rotation will be sliding back to the pen, and there are legit arms in Triple-A that should be pushing quickly for MLB innings.
The Rotation Situation
Talk about yearning for Chris Sale, James Paxton, Garrett Whitlock, and Brayan Bello to be healthy and feeding off each other for multiple turns through a rotation. If we can get that, we’re going to have a good time. Corey Kluber will hopefully be a steady presence, and Nick Pivetta is going to have to earn his rotation spot, eating innings will not be enough if he’s posting another season of 4.55 ERA. Kutter Crawford, Bryan Mata, and Brandon Walter are the back-end of the rotation guys I’m most interested in as the season unfolds.
Especially Walter. Usually a 5th starter can command pitches but can’t get a swing and miss, or can get swing and misses but has major control issues. It would be a luxury if Walter could be a back end guy that avoids walks, but has enough stuff to get whiffs. Very intrigued to see how he looks in Worcester early on.
If the Red Sox are playing in October, it would not surprise me if Whitlock and Bello are leading the rotation. Whitlock’s command profile alone gives him a high floor, and his ability to pitch dominantly with 3 pitches gives him a high ceiling to go with it. Bello’s electric stuff and ability to generate weak and ground ball contact is as exciting as it gets. Both will undoubtedly hit bumps in the road as they settle into a MLB rotation, but they give you a lot to dream on.
This year’s lineup isn’t as potent in the middle of the order as it has been recently — at least on paper — but it should be a deeper, more classic Red Sox grinding lineup.
Franchy Cordero, Jackie Bradley Jr., Dalbec, and the catchers occupied the bottom of the order last year, and this year that looks like it could be upgraded to far more professional at-bats from Kiké Hernandez, Christian Arroyo, and Reese McGuire. Masataka Yoshida, Justin Turner, and Triston Casas will make pitchers earn every strike. Alex Verdugo is always a good at-bat, and Raffy Devers will be doing Raffy Devers things. Adam Duvall will be ripping away, but his job is to stack up as many barrels as possible.
The Most Disappointing Part of the Offseason
The Red Sox not being able to trade for a good, controllable asset this winter was probably my biggest gripe with the offseason. Not that it was for a lack of trying, the market was just mostly dead. The Braves got Sean Murphy, but had to trade Kyle Muller, William Contreras, and Royber Salinas, among others, to get it done. The Blue Jays landed Daulton Varsho for Gabriel Moreno and Lourdes Gurriel Jr.. Then the Marlins and Twins flipped Pablo Lopez and Luis Arraez… and that was about it for this genre of trade. Teoscar Hernandez to the Mariners was the other big winter trade, but his contract is up after 2023.
We’ll see if the prospects-for-players market rekindles itself once teams start seeing their playoff odds begin to dwindle in-season. If it does, the Red Sox should have their hands in everything.
I recommend checking out the video on Red Sox Instagram of the players entering their renovated clubhouse at Fenway Park for the first time last night. They are clearly very excited, and the team is checking off items on their Shohei Ohtani and Juan Soto to-do lists.