Don’t look now, but the Boston Red Sox open the 2017 season at Fenway Park in just ten days. TEN DAYS! If you haven’t been following the fun at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers for the past month-plus – heck, if you haven’t kept up since the team was swept by Cleveland in the ALDS – then here is a quick summary to get you caught up with the local nine before they return north from sunny Fort Myers to chilly New England.
The Red Sox may have won the offseason last December when they sent top prospect Yoan Moncada and three other players to the White Sox in exchange for five time All-Star southpaw Chris Sale. Sale has not disappointed this spring; in 16 innings pitched in Grapefruit League action, he has struck out 20 with a WHIP of 1.06, and even held the Yankees, Boston’s biggest rival, to just two runs over six innings pitched on Tuesday in Tampa. Coupled with 2016 Cy Young Award winner Rick Porcello, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, and Steven Wright and backed by Drew Pomeranz and Kyle Kendrick, this rotation is arguably one of the best in the league, making the team early favorites to win another World Series.
Price will begin the season on the DL due to elbow issues that popped up during camp, but he is gaining strength day-by-day and, with effective monitoring and a full-blown throwing program, should return to the team within a month after the season begins. One pitcher who won’t return is Clay Buchholz whom, after ten up-and-down seasons with the Red Sox, Boston traded to the Phillies in December.
Remember last season, when Andrew Benintendi, Jackie Bradley, Jr., and Mookie Betts would conclude each win with a celebratory dance in the outfield? Expect to see that more this season, as all three return to their respective positions (left, center, and right field). Backed by Chris Young and with spot starts from Brock Holt, this will be another strength of the team.
The middle infielders, Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts, remain anchored at second base and shortstop, respectively. With David Ortiz enjoying all his retirement gifts and looking forward to seeing his number retired at Fenway Park in June, the Red Sox tapped last year’s primary first baseman, Hanley Ramirez, to replace Big Papi as the designated hitter. To fill this void, the Red Sox signed free agent Mitch Moreland, who won a Gold Glove at that position last fall with Texas. With no other backups, Ramirez should still see some spot starts at first.
Third base is another story; with Travis Shaw traded to the Brewers, the opportunity is there for former World Series MVP Pablo Sandoval to reclaim the position the Red Sox intended him to play when they signed him to a hefty $95 million contract after the 2014 season. The Internet was abuzz in December when photos appeared online of a slimmer Panda lifting weights and he reported to spring training camp last month looking more physically fit. Results to date this spring have also been promising; through yesterday, he had a .364 / .375 / .660 split in 15 games played. Consider him an early favorite for 2017 Comeback Player of the Year honors.
Slammin’ Sandy Leon returns for another season and was recently tapped as the Opening Day starter behind the dish; whether he returns to form at the plate with a bat in his hand is another story that will develop as the season progresses. Joining him will likely be Christian Vazquez, whose arm appears to finally be back at full strength after undergoing Tommy John surgery that forced him to miss the entire 2015 season. Blake Swihart is also in the mix for a spot on the 25 man roster but will likely start the season in Pawtucket as Vasquez is out of options and Boston doesn’t want to chance putting him on waivers.
Carson Smith, whom the Red Sox brought in last year to serve as the set-up man for closer Craig Kimbrel, is now nine months removed from Tommy John surgery and only recently threw off the mound this spring. Right now, it looks like he will not return until midseason. With Junichi Tazawa joining the Marlins and Koji Uehara joining the Cubs as free agents, Boston had hoped to fill Smith’s void with Tyler Thornburg, whom the team acquired in the aforementioned deal with the Brewers. Unfortunately, Thornburg has dealt with arm issues in camp and has made only two Grapefruit League appearances to date. Whether or not he joins the team in Boston on Opening Day is still in the air; either way, Joe Kelly will likely take the ball in the eighth inning if the Red Sox have the lead.