The Boston Red Sox went from worst-to-first in a competitive AL East, but not every member of the roster had what we can consider a successful season.
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Aug 25, 2016; St. Petersburg, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox manager John Farrell (53) looks on against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
A three-game sweep in the American League Division Series was a brutal ending to an otherwise promising season for the Boston Red Sox.
Any season that doesn’t end with a championship parade is considered a failure in this city, but when viewed through a realistic perspective there are many reasons to consider 2016 a success. The Red Sox bounced back from consecutive last place finishes to reclaim the AL East title and return to the postseason for the first time since 2013. They added several new pieces to improve the roster and saw several breakout performances from budding stars. While this falls short of the ultimate goal, this franchise is clearly trending in the right direction.
That being said, losing in the postseason wasn’t the only aspect in which the Red Sox fell short of expectations. There were a number of disappointments on this roster that Boston managed to win in spite of.
No, I’m not talking about David Price. Many are disappointed in the prized free agent for failing to live up to his “ace” reputation, but if you look beyond his 3.99 ERA you’ll find that he was still among the best pitchers in the league. You may still think he’s overpaid and his one start in the postseason clearly didn’t go well, but he’s hardly a bust.
Instead we are going to look at players that performed well below expectations, as well as some that were expected to be key pieces to the puzzle that ultimately contributed next to nothing.
Apr 9, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox third baseman Pablo Sandoval (48) throws his helmet away after being forced out at second base in the seventh inning against Toronto Blue Jays at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
It was hard to fathom how Pablo Sandoval could get any worse than his dismal debut season in Boston last year, yet he somehow managed to sink even further.
First, the rotund third baseman affectionately referred to as “Panda” showed up to spring training in such poor condition that it washed away any endearing qualities the nickname had. Sandoval’s work ethic was called into question and there was even a debate over whether or not the team asked him to lose weight. Based on what we saw last spring, it seemed Sandoval spent his winter hibernating rather than dieting, exercising or swinging a bat.
Sandoval quickly fell out of favor, losing his starting job to Travis Shaw. Manager John Farrell made a bold statement that the size of a player’s contract wouldn’t dictate playing time, it had to be earned.
When the regular season rolled around we barely caught a glimpse of Sandoval. He appeared in only three games, going 0-for-6 at the plate with four strikeouts and a walk. Despite spending very little time on the field, Sandoval still managed to find a way to injure his shoulder, which inevitably resulted in season-ending surgery.
At the time it seemed that the injury was a blessing in disguise for the Red Sox. Not that we would ever wish for any player to get hurt, but banishing Sandoval to the disabled list allowed Shaw to take over third base without having the specter of the high-priced veteran lurking behind him. It was great when Shaw was hitting in the first half, but when he fell apart in the second half we found ourselves wondering if Sandoval could have provided some value if he were healthy. Boston struggled to fill the starting role at the hot corner heading into the postseason, ultimately settling on Brock Holt.
Looking ahead to 2017, expect Sandoval to be back in the mix. His shoulder will be healed and he appears to have lost a significant amount of weight. If he shows up to Ft. Myers in decent shape then he’ll get another shot at a position that none of the other options were able to run away with this season.
Sep 9, 2015; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Mariners pitcher Carson Smith (39) throws during the ninth inning against the Texas Rangers at Safeco Field. Seattle defeated Texas, 6-0. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports
How can we call a pitcher that didn’t give up a run all season a disappointment? Well, when he falls short of tossing three full innings all year, that would qualify. That’s where we find ourselves with Carson Smith.
The 26-year old reliever was acquired from the Seattle Mariners last winter to help form what was expected to be one of the league’s most formidable bullpens. While Red Sox relievers were vastly improved from the dismal results of the previous year, it was in no part thanks to Smith.
Smith’s tenure with the Red Sox got off to an ominous start in spring training when he was shut down with what was initially viewed as a minor arm injury. His return to the mound ended up taking longer than expected and when he did come back in early May there was still some lingering soreness that raised red flags.
The Red Sox would place Smith on the disabled list shortly after his season began and an MRI revealed the worst case scenario. Smith needed to undergo the dreaded Tommy John surgery, knocking him out for the year and likely the start of next season.
It’s unclear when we’ll see Smith on the mound again, but he should be able to contribute at some point in 2017. His expected return should allow the Red Sox to bolster a bullpen that ranked fifth in the league with a 3.56 ERA without needing to make a major free agent signing or trade.
Aug 31, 2016; Boston, MA, USA; Boston Red Sox pitcher Junichi Tazawa (36) reacts after giving up two runs during the eighth inning against the Tampa Bay Rays at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports
Another pitcher expected to be a key cog in the bullpen, Junichi Tazawa was a disappointment based on his production rather than anything injury related.
While Taz did spend a stint on the disabled list with a shoulder injury in July, it was his dismal production following his return that caused him to fall out of favor. The 30-year old was abused for 10 runs over a six game span in August, finishing with a brutal 9.64 ERA for the month.
He would finish the season with a 4.17 ERA that is only slightly higher than a year ago, but still a far cry from the excellent seasons he produced over the three previous years. His 9.79 K/9 was the highest strikeout rate he’s produced since becoming a mainstay in the bullpen in 2012, but he also walked batters at a higher rate than at any point over that span and coughed up a career-high nine home runs.
While Taz did settle in to toss five shutout innings in September, it wasn’t enough to gain the manager’s trust again. Tazawa was left off the postseason roster and now enters free agency with all signs pointing out of town.
Tazawa was a vital part of the Red Sox bullpen for years, but a heavy workload was at least partially to blame for his demise. Farrell overworked him at a time when the team lacked reliable late-inning arms and the strain has caught up to him. Can he return to form with a bounce-back season? Possibly, but it’s unlikely to happen in Boston.
Apr 9, 2016; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Boston Red Sox catcher Blake Swihart (23) is struck in the face by a pop foul he failed to field against Toronto Blue Jay at Rogers Centre. Mandatory Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
The Red Sox entered the season with a problem most teams would be envious to have – two young catchers with tremendous upside vying for a starting role. With Swihart’s bat and Vazquez’ defensive skills, the Red Sox were supposed to have one of the league’s best backstop tandems.
Only it didn’t quite work out that way. Vazquez started the season in Triple-A Pawtucket to allow him additional time to work his way back from Tommy John surgery. That left Swihart as the Opening Day catcher, but it wouldn’t take long for him to lose his grasp on the role.
Swihart got off to a respectable start at the plate, hitting .278 in April, but it took a mere six games for the Red Sox to realize that his work behind the plate needed more polishing. He was shipped to Pawtucket, where we expected he would refine his catching skills. Instead, his time in the minors was primarily used as an opportunity to transition him to the outfield.
He returned to the big leagues in May and actually seemed to be taking to his new position quite well, until an unfortunate run in with the left field wall at Fenway Park resulted in a season-ending ankle injury.
Missing the bulk of the season with an injury isn’t what is most disappointing about his season though. The Red Sox seem to have given up on Swihart being a viable option at the catcher position. His bat profiled as a potential star if he were to remain at catcher, but seems merely average in left field.
Andrew Benintendi‘s arrival means that spot is no longer available when Swihart returns, putting his future with the team in question. Boston could consider trading him, but admitting he can’t cut it as a catcher shattered the trade value of a prospect that was once rumored to be worth headlining a package for an ace starter. Unless the Red Sox open a spot for him by trading someone else, Swihart may end up toiling away in Pawtucket for a while.
As for Vazquez, he never produced enough with his bat to stick around at the big league level. He hit a mere .227 with a .585 OPS in 57 games with the Red Sox, while spending most of the year in Pawtucket.
The Red Sox remain high on Vazquez’s future based on his game-calling, pitch framing and strong throwing arm to curtail the opponent’s running game, but he needs to prove he can hit at least a little bit in order for him to reach his potential. With Sandy Leon having a breakout season, it may be a struggle for Vazquez to reclaim the starting role he was once destined for.
Mar 22, 2016; Jupiter, FL, USA; Boston Red Sox right fielder Rusney Castillo (38) at bat against the Miami Marlins during a spring training game at Roger Dean Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports
The 29-year old came to the organization with a boatload of hype and managed to impress in a brief 10-game sample to end the 2014 season, but it’s been all downhill since then. Castillo signed out of Cuba under the previous front office regime, so Dave Dombrowski owes no allegiance to him. If he’s ever going to be a factor for the Red Sox he’ll need to earn it by showing steady production. Otherwise the organization seems content to treat him as a sunk cost.