Brock Holt figures to be more pivotal than ever to the Red Sox plans. (Dan Hamilton/USA Today Sports)
OK, they didn’t take the three-year, $60 million plunge with Edwin Encarnacion. Instead the Red Sox are building this team around pitching, defense, and the hope that specific skill-sets and assumed evolution will make up for David Ortiz.
It could work.
Right-handed starter? You’ve got the new version of Pablo Sandoval, a Gold Glove first baseman in Mitch Moreland who is just one season removed from an .812 OPS (.876 vs. righties), and Hanley Ramirez as your designated hitter.
Against lefties it figures to be Hanley at first, with southpaw destroying Chris Young at DH. And even if Sandoval can’t revive himself as a righty hitter, Josh Rutledge may be a sleeper of an option after posting an .859 in his 19 plate appearances against left-handers.
As for the outfielders, the Sox are betting on Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts all being able to hit whatever pitcher is thrown their way.
Fair enough. But if Plan A hits a few snags, this could get uncomfortable.
As we sit here, this is most uncertain the Red Sox’ depth has been in some time. A combination of a dearth of high-level minor-leaguers, and potential replacements if something happens to their chief run producers, is making things a bit uncomfortable.
Their initial answer will be Brock Holt. That’s fine. But that’s one player who is at his best when spotted here and there. (In three seasons with the Red Sox, the utilityman still only has a combined .716 OPS.)
But after Holt, where are the answers.
Outfielder gets injured. Young will be pulled away from that DH spot, perhaps exposing Moreland. In this scenario, Bryce Brentz might be the big winner, getting one more chance at the majors. (After Brentz, the Red Sox top outfield prospect may be 2015 fourth-rounder Tate Matheny, who finished last season with a .712 OPS in Single-A Greenville.)
Third base hits a snag, especially against lefties, and you are left hoping Matt Dominguez, who isn’t on the 40-man roster, or Deven Marrero live up to their potential as former first-round picks.
The Red Sox do seem to like Marco Hernandez a bunch, with Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski consistently mentioning the infielder when identifying the top prospects the organization still possesses. Maybe the 24-year-old lefty hitter can solve some of this problem, having hit .309 with Triple-A Pawtucket and .294 in 56 big league games in ’16. But Hernandez can’t be considered a full-time option at this point, and that’s exactly what the Red Sox could ultimately end up needing at some point.
Perhaps the best legitimate hope that the Red Sox might be able to uncover any semblance of offensive punch from within is in the form of Sam Travis. The first baseman should be ready to compete when spring training rolls around after missing the majority of 2016 with a torn ACL. (For Travis’ take on things, click here.)
It is at the point where two players who we thought would never see the light of day at Fenway Park again, Rusney Castillo and/or Allen Craig, have to at least enter the conversation. Neither is on the 40-man roster, but that doesn’t mean can’t be. Desperate times may lead to desperate measures.
There are still options out there to spruce things up a bit.
This story might not be complete, with the Red Sox still putting their ears to the free agent train tracks looking for possible short-term bargains, such as former Padre Adam Rosales or Twin Trevor Plouffe. But there aren’t going to be any difference-maker swooping in, or jumping levels. (Sorry, Rafael Devers won’t be ready.)
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