Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports

Bradford: What now for these Red Sox?

Rob Bradford
October 10, 2017 - 10:13 am

The Red Sox were able to tweak the narrative over the past few days. If they came back from Houston and continued to their lopsided American League Division Series loss, believe it or not, the questions would have come faster and far more furious.

But they won a game and put up a fight in another. And along the way, the likes of Hanley Ramirez, Chris Sale, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Rafael Devers, David Price, Rick Porcello and even John Farrell were able to take advantage of their ALDS second chances.

Still, the season is over and reality has set in. The overreactions that come with wins and losses are gone, and now we can take a measured look at exactly what we're dealing with in terms of the Red Sox' 2018 roster:

FIRST BASE

When we look back on the Mitch Moreland era, there should be a sense of appreciation. This guy played in 149 games despite a broken toe and bad knee, finishing off with a really good postseason. He was also just one of four Red Sox hitters with 20 or more homers (22). But, with the Red Sox' lineup as currently constituted, this is a position that they need star power production from, leaving the chances of Moreland returning seemingly slim. It also puts some doubt in the feasibility of relying on Sam Travis, who has shown solid signs becoming a productive major leaguer, but is a hitter who does not offer the kind of power the Sox need.

2018 outlook: Red Sox will almost certainly make a run at free agent Eric Hosmer. Another target may be Carlos Santana, who is a notch below Hosmer. Hanley Ramirez's return to the postion also isn't out of the question, which would free up a spot for free agent slugger J.D. Martinez (45 homers in 119 games).

SECOND BASE

This is going to be dependent on Dustin Pedroia's knee. The guess is that he finally has to undergo surgery, which may keep him out for a signficant part of the 2018 season. There just simply might not be any way around it. If that's the case then the Red Sox are going to be put in the unfamiliar spot of finding another everyday second baseman. It's a problem that they wouldn't seem to have an immediate internal solution for, unless Brock Holt is deemed fit for such a role.

2018 outlook: It's a terrible free agent class for second basemen, with Neil Walker (coming off back surgery) seemingly at the top of the list. What would I do? Lock up Eduardo Nunez. He is exactly the type of player the Red Sox could use, both on the field and in the clubhouse. And while his defensive acumen isn't close to Pedroia, he can be good enough while perhaps sharing the duties with someone like Holt.

SHORTSTOP

It's time to find out exactly what Bogaerts is. This season was tough on the 25-year-old thanks in large part to the hand injury that derailed most of his final three months. (It's still baffling why they didn't shut him down after being hit by that pitch at Tropicana Field.) Bogaerts' final numbers weren't terrible (.273 batting average, 10 homers, 15 stolen bases, .746 OPS), but they have to get better. This is a guy who has two more years before he becomes a free agent, but is still someone we aren't quite sure is deserving of being identified as a foundation piece.

2018 outlook: Bogaerts has to be what he was in 2016 (.294, .802 OPS, 21 homers) and the last day of the season (opposite field home run). This lineup desperately needs it.

THIRD BASE

The Red Sox have finally found their answer. Rafael Devers is the answer, punctuating his 2 1/2-month major league career with his 11th home run in 62 games (albeit an inside-the-park job). And while he had his issues defensively, the 20-year-old made the kind of above-average plays that would suggest that range isn't going to a factor. Experience will likely take care of those too-much-time errant throws to first. Perhaps the only concern regarding Devers will be conditioning. The Red Sox need him to stay at third base and not quite transfer over to first base or designated hitter for a few more years.

2018 outlook: The Curse of Adrian Beltre has finally seemed to come to an end. After the challenges that came with leaning on the likes of Will Middlebrooks, Bogaerts, Pablo Sandoval, Travis Shaw, Josh Rutledge and Yoan Moncada, the Red Sox have found their guy in Devers.

OUTFIELD

It's hard to imagine the Red Sox dangling any of the three outfielders as trade bait. Maybe Jackie Bradley Jr., but, considering what he does defensively -- with some occasional offensive punch (43 homers over the last two seasons) -- that wouldn't seem wise. They have a good thing going with these three. But who will be their Chris Young in 2018? The priority would seem to be getting a right-handed-hitting option. Howie Kendrick might be an interesting name to consider. You know who else would be? Rusney Castillo. He did hit .395 against left-handers with Triple-A Pawtucket, and the Red Sox' financial restraints wouldn't seem to blocking the outfielder like they did in 2017.

2018 outlook: Status quo, plus Castillo might be enough. The caveat here is the perceived need for another veteran clubhouse presence. That was some of thinking behind committing to Young for two years.

DESIGNATED HITTER

The Red Sox have to find out what Hanley Ramirez is going to be. This is a team that had the seventh-best slugging percentage out of the DH spot in the American League, a trend that did not help matters when trying to find prolonged offensive success. If they think Ramirez's shoulders are going to be better thanks to his new workout approach, then that's where they go. But they better be sure, because if there is a commitment to Ramirez that will mean enough plate appearances for his $22 million option for 2019 to vest and then you really have doubled-down. If there is doubt, the move would probably be to cut the 33-year-old loose, putting the Red Sox on the hook for the one year of $22 million instead of double that with the extra year.

2018 outlook: It wouldn't be the worse thing, if Ramirez can find a way to manage his shoulder issues, to revisit his everyday status at first base to free up room for a more potent power threat (Martinez) at designated hitter.

CATCHER

The dynamic of splitting time between Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez was one of the few things that worked better than the Red Sox probably anticipated. Sure, people will be clamoring for more Vazquez considering he finished with a surprising .290 batting average and .735 OPS in 99 games. But it would be a mistake -- like it was with Leon after the 2016 season -- to put all the eggs in that one basket. Leon has his value, as was evident a catchers ERA that was third-best in the major leagues. The intrigue here revolves around Blake Swihart, who will be out of options.

2018 outlook: This would seem to be a "it ain't broke so don't try to fix it" scenario. Swihart, who only hit .187 in 62 minor-league games in 2017, still has upside and value. Teams are reluctant to jump ship on catching until the last possible moment, so unless there is a legitimate trade to be had, look for the Red Sox to see how things play out in spring training before moving on from the former first-round pick.

STARTING PITCHERS

Chris Sale is your ace, and will be for the next two seasons. After that the Red Sox have to figure some things out. Rick Porcello is under contract for two more years, and has earned the right to try and figure out what went awry in 2017. Drew Pomeranz has another year before becoming a free agent, and is setting himself up for a pretty good payday after his 17-win, 3.32 ERA season. Eduardo Rodriguez remains ultra-talented, and ultra-frustrating. The guy who Dombrowski deemed untouchable two offseasons ago might actually be an avenue for finding the big bat most believe the Red Sox are missing. Don't forget about Steven Wright, who will be back after knee surgery. And then there is David Price. It's hard to envision Price going the surgery route this offseason after watching what he did for the last month. It's also difficult envisioning the lefty not being good after witnessing his relief pitching exploits. Also, for those people suggesting the Red Sox might trade Price, don't count on it. The fact that he is still committed to being a $30 milllion-a-year player for the next five years is one thing, but also consider that that elbow might be magical in some ways, but typically teams' medical staffs don't sign off on magic when it comes to acquring players. Also of note: Depth-starter Brian Johnson is out of options.

2018 outlook: The only change here might be Rodriguez. With Wright coming back, and the potential need to include major league value in any trade, the 24-year-old might be the one the Red Sox float in the offseason. The guess here, however, is they don't make any major alterations.

RELIEF PITCHERS

It's hard to envision any signficant changes here, either. News flash: The Red Sox will be picking up Craig Kimbrel's 2018 option. As for set-up guys, Joe Kelly has another year before free agency, with Carson Smith entering his first year of arbitration eligibility. Matt Barnes. Heath Hembree. Robby Scott. All under contract for some time and have shown enough to be back in some capacity. Addison Reed will be gone, looking to close somewhere. But Tyler Thornburg will be counted on to finally land back in the eighth inning spot after his 2017 medical chaos. Austin Maddox also showed enough to suggest he is going to be a 2018 major leaguer. Fernando Abad is gone.

2018 outlook: While the Thornburg for Reed switch should offer some discomfort, the Red Sox can't keep chasing eighth inning guys every offseason. It would be understandable if they settled with Smith, Thornburg and Kelly in the eighth, at least to begin with.

Comments ()