The Red Sox’s future is bright with young stars Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Andrew Benintendi and Jackie Bradley Jr., all of whom can hit for power and average, run the bases and play solid defense. Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez provide the veteran leadership, and the rotation is in solid shape. Another first-to-worst pitfall seems highly unlikely, but there’s work to be done if Boston wants to make consecutive playoff appearances for the first time since the 2007-09 seasons. On the to-do list:
Find another Big Papi
OK, so that’s not going to happen, but life without David Ortiz has begun. The Red Sox obviously are losing a ton of power, clutch hitting and leadership, but they are gaining some flexibility and versatility. They can rotate several players at the DH spot and/or sign a big bopper. One such target is free agent Edwin Encarnacion, whom Ortiz himself already has (somewhat illegally) recruited. Ultimately, Boston’s full-time DH of the future already is on the roster, though his days in the field might not be over. Or have you already forgotten about …
Make room for the Panda
When we last saw Pablo Sandoval, he was swinging the bat so hard that he busted his belt. That was early April, which also is when his 2016 season ended because of a shoulder injury that required surgery. Two years into his five-year, $95 million deal, Sandoval has suffered through the worst statistical season of his career and a three-game disaster. However, the job at the hot corner seemingly is his to lose (again) after Travis Shaw, Brock Holt and Aaron Hill rotated at the position in 2016. On the horizon, of course, is top prospect Yoan Moncada, assuming the Red Sox continue his third base experiment.
Reload on relievers
The back end of the bullpen is set with Craig Kimbrel, but there are some gaps to plug in the middle and late innings. Setup men Koji Uehara (he will turn 42 in April) and Brad Ziegler are free agents, as is Junichi Tazawa. Among the interesting internal options is Joe Kelly, who could make the permanent transition from starter to reliever. The Red Sox will have a few bucks to spend, and the free-agent relief market is loaded with quality arms.