This is the first of our 2017 team previews. Each week during spring training, we’ll preview a division with a team each day (Monday-Friday). First up: The AL East and the Boston Red Sox. Up next: Toronto Blue Jays
93-69, first in AL East (lost to Indians in ALDS)
Key additions: SP Chris Sale (trade with White Sox), 1B Mitch Moreland (free agent from Rangers), RP Tyler Thornburg (trade with Brewers)
Key subtractions: DH David Ortiz (retired), RP Brad Ziegler (free agent to Marlins), 3B/1B Travis Shaw (trade to Brewers), RP Koji Uehara (free agent to Cubs), SP Clay Buchholz (trade to Phillies), RP Junichi Tazawa (free agent to Marlins), C Ryan Hanigan (free agent to Phillies), IF Yoan Moncada (trade to White Sox)
1. It’s time to adjust to life without Big Papi. In his age-40 season, now-retired David Ortiz led Boston in homers (38), doubles (48), RBI (127), on-base percentage (.401) and slugging percentage (.620). However, the offense — tops in the majors in runs scored and OPS last season — still is loaded with veterans Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez, young All-Stars Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts, and rookie of the year candidate Andrew Benintendi. Free-agent pickup Mitch Moreland, who has back-to-back seasons with 20-plus homers and won a Gold Glove in 2016, will supply left-handed power and split first-base and DH at-bats with Ramirez.
2. Panda must prove himself at the hot corner. After signing a five-year, $95 million contract, Pablo Sandoval had the worst season (.245/.292/.366, 15 errors and .949 fielding percentage) of his career in 2015. He reported to camp in terrible shape last spring and played in only three games last April before having season-ending shoulder surgery. Sandoval has slimmed down noticeably this offseason, but questions remain about his durability, bat and glove. Because Boston traded its primary third baseman (Travis Shaw) from last season and possible future star (Yoan Moncada) at the position, there’s even more urgency for Panda to return to form.
3. Boston would welcome a backstop battle. By midseason in 2016, Sandy Leon emerged as the Red Sox’s primary catcher and was equally effective defensively (caught 41 percent of would-be basestealers) as offensively (.310/.369/.476). However, he never had been a starting catcher or hit anywhere near those levels. After impressing in 2014, Christian Vazquez missed all of 2015 because of Tommy John surgery and struggled last season. Former top prospect Blake Swihart is returning to catcher after a failed transition to the outfield — his defense isn’t on par with his offense — resulted in a season-ending ankle injury in 2016. Leon is the favorite but isn’t a lock.
The Big 3 (Chris Sale, AL Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello, David Price) all pitch like aces, Steven Wright’s knuckler returns to All-Star form and at least one fragile lefty (Eduardo Rodriguez, Drew Pomeranz) capably rounds out what becomes a stellar rotation.
The revamped relief corps springs a leak, and closer Craig Kimbrel’s control issues (5.1 BB/9 IP last season) remain an issue.
Mookie Betts and Dustin Pedroia each reached the 200-hit and 100-run plateaus last season — just the second time in franchise history two teammates have done so (Jacoby Ellsbury and Adrian Gonzalez in 2011).
1. Mookie Betts, OF: Betts’ massive 2016 breakout has made him the consensus No. 2 overall pick behind Mike Trout. 2. Chris Sale, SP: Sale is a fantasy ace, though his strikeout numbers dipped last season. 3. Xander Bogaerts, SS: Bogey became a star fantasy shortstop last season, and you’ll need to grab him by the early third round if you want him. 4. David Price, SP: Price’s 3.99 ERA disappointed fantasy owners in 2016, but the guess here is that he’ll be closer to his normal self this season. 5. Jackie Bradley Jr., OF: JBJ’s calling card used to be his glove, but after hitting 26 home runs, he’s a solid third outfielder in mixed leagues.