The Boston Red Sox officially ended their season with a 3-1 loss to the Cleveland Indians Sunday, although in reality, their season ended weeks ago. With playoff hopes essentially eliminated just a few weeks after the All-Start break, the team focused on the future, and rightfully so.
This wasn’t the goal at the beginning of the season, of course. The goal was a World Series ring, and the Sox fell just about as short of that as humanly possible for a myriad of reasons. Third baseman Pablo Sandoval couldn’t hit, and shortstop-turned-left fielder Hanley Ramirez was mystified by the Green Monster. The bullpen was horrendous and is in dire need of an overhaul, and the rotation wasn’t much better in the first half.
These things are normal in baseball, and unfortunately much too common for Red Sox fans, who have seen seasons like these sprinkled in between World Series runs. However, the end of this miserable season showed more promise for this organization than it has in a long time.
Simply put, Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are very good, young players. They will more than likely become the core of Red Sox teams for years to come, and that’s something that Red Sox fans should be excited about.
Despite some ups and downs, Betts lived up to lofty expectations, hitting .291/.341/.479 with 18 home runs and 21 stolen bases, all while playing great defense in center field. Throughout the season, he was one of the few consistently exciting players in the Red Sox lineup. He was also one of the best position players on the team in his first full MLB season, leading all Red Sox players with a 4.8 Wins Above Replacement (WAR).
Bogaerts rebounded from a disappointing 2014 season to become one of the best young hitters in American League. With a focus on hitting the ball to the opposite field, Bogaerts sacrificed power (he hit only seven home runs this year) to improve in pretty much every other offensive category. After hitting .240/.297/.362 last year, Bogaerts finished his 2015 campaign hitting .320/.355/.421 while dramatically cutting his strikeout rate.
It’s easy to see how good future Red Sox teams can be with these two in the lineup. These two players were two of the biggest reasons this team managed to nearly finish with a .500 record, and the main reason why the Sox can turn it around next season with a few changes.
Some changes for next year have already been announced by the Sox, including moving Ramirez from left field to first base. While Ramirez was lost in left field, his defensive ineptitude should be hidden a little better at first base, and allows Jackie Bradley Jr., one of the best defensive outfielders in baseball, to play everyday in center field.
Bradley’s ability to track down balls in the outfield is unmatched, even when compared to an above-average defensive outfielder like Betts, who will shift to a corner outfield spot. In order to stay in center, Bradley will need to continue to hit just enough to be competent at the plate. After an abysmal 2014 season, Bradley hit .249/.335/.498 in 74 games this year. While it isn’t going to win any Silver Slugger awards anytime soon, it’s really all he needs to do be an above-average player for the Sox. His defense is that good.
Don’t forget about David Ortiz, either. Although many were quick to say early in the year that he washed up, he silenced those doubters with an outstanding second half in which he slugged 22 homers. It would be foolish to expect him to improve, but his track record indicates he will likely turn in similar numbers to his 2015 campaign.
Changes need to be made with the pitching staff, too. While the rotation was a complete train wreck in the first half, it managed to show signs of life after the All-Star break. Wade Miley and Rick Porcello rebounded from terrible starts to finish the year totaling 2.5 WAR in 25 starts in the second half. Rookie Eduardo Rodriguez had his share of ups and downs this year, but showed potential to be a solid middle-of-the-rotation piece, going 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA in 21 starts.
Before being shut down with injuries, Clay Bucholz was spectacular, striking out 8.5 batters per nine innings and posting a 3.26 ERA in 113.1 innings. While this rotation as it is has the potential to be much better in 2016, new President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski loves to make a splash in the offseason, and will likely add an ace either via free agency such as David Price, or by trade for a young talent like Sonny Gray of the Oakland A’s.
Many Red Sox fans will be quick to write off 2015 as another lost season, and to some sense, maybe it was. But getting so much young talent like Bradley and Rodriguez valuable major league experience is something that shouldn’t be overlooked. These two along with Betts and Bogaerts are key players in a core that has the potential to make the Red Sox contenders for years.
While this young core has a head start on developing, the key will be Dombrowski’s decisions in the offseason. Will he try to move Ramirez, Sandoval, or both? Will he bring in an ace, and if so, how? For Dombroski, this offseason comes down to what pieces can be put around this young core as they look to make the playoffs for the first time since 2013. The potential is there, but now it’s time to capitalize on it.