Boston Red Sox: 2016 ESPN Power Rankings Anticipate Improvement


The Boston Red Sox finished up their 2015 campaign with the fifth worst record in the American League, 15 games behind the division winning Blue Jays. A 4.31 ERA for the pitching staff put them 25th out of 30 MLB teams. Still there was reason to hope, with the Red Sox youth taking a major leap forward.

23-year-old Mookie Betts proved he can get the job done over the course of an entire season. In 2014, he batted .291 in 52 games. He matched that average this season in 145 appearances and added 18 home runs, 77 RBIs, and a team-high 42 doubles. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts, also 23, increased his batting average by a staggering 80 points, from .240 to .320, good for second in the AL. It’s worth noting he did it while also increasing his plate appearances by 60, from 594 in 2014 to 654. He also upped his RBI total from 46 to 81. Catcher Blake Swihart and Jackie Bradley Jr. had there moments as well and 22-year-old pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez went 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA in his first MLB season.

All this adds up to better days ahead for the Red Sox, despite the major disappointments of free agent acquisitions Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval. Yesterday ESPN released their 2016 MLB Power Rankings and they put Boston 10th in the league, ahead of the Astros, Rangers, and Yankees, who all made the playoffs this season. In fact, only the world champion Royals, Blue Jays, and Indians rank ahead of them as far as AL teams go, flattering placement given the Red Sox 78-84 record this year.

The ESPN rankings cite Boston’s plethora of promising young players as their chief reason for improvement, as well at their ability to go out and get a top-line starting pitcher. New Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski will be looking to shake things up and for better or worse Boston has always been willing to spend the money to lure free agents to town. Ramirez and Sandoval didn’t work out in year one and they may be unmovable, but Boston will still be putting big offers on the table.

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As mentioned, the bats weren’t the problem in 2014 and the majority of the cash the Sox hand out this winter should go to those who throw the ball for a living. Ace David Price will be a free agent, and is likely on his way out of Toronto after a rocky postseason. Jordan Zimmermann is another solid starter hitting the market and should be able to be had for a lot less than Price. He’s spent his entire career with the Washington Nationals, but they had a mess of their own this season and he may want a change.

It will be tough for Dombrowski to turn around one of the worst pitching staffs in the league in a single offseason, but Boston doesn’t have to have the best arms to be competitive next year. Ideally they’ll go out and get a clear number one guy, but even a couple competent starters should due. The Red Sox finished fourth in the league in runs scored in 2015. The ageless David Ortiz led the team in RBIs with 108, but even if he declines a bit in what will be his 20th MLB season, the rest of the Red Sox young lineup should be able to pick up the slack.

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Whether or not Ramirez and Sandoval bounce back, Boston should have a great offense again in 2016. They went on a 26-14 run at the end of this season, before losing their final four games. Still, that bodes well heading into next year. If the pitching staff can get into the top half of the league, not an unreasonable expectation with a couple smart moves, the Red Sox should contend for the playoffs, and make good on ESPN’s early predictions.