It seems odd that a Major League Baseball team coming off back-to-back division titles would showcase a new manager the following season, but that’s the case for the Red Sox, who fired John Farrell at the conclusion of the 2017 season after five years with the club and replaced him with former Boston infielder and rookie manager Alex Cora. Expectations are already high for Cora, who was the bench coach for the 2017 World Series champion Houston Astros, to lead the club not only to another first place finish in the American League East but deep into the postseason after two straight division round exits.
Boston enjoyed a relatively successful if rather low-key spring training. Basking in the warmth of the Florida sun at JetBlue Park in Fort Myers while New England enjoy four March Nor’easters, the Red Sox went 22-9-1, winning 14 of their last 15 and five of six against the Minnesota Twins to claim the Mayor’s Cup (if that is still a thing). With the roster now final, baseball begins for real today in Tampa Bay with the Red Sox in town for four against the Rays; let’s catch up on the state of the team as Opening Day dawns across the league.
One of the few new faces in the dugout is that of outfielder J.D. Martinez, who signed as a free agent early in spring training. With a solid outfield trio in Andrew Benintendi (LF), Jackie Bradley, Jr. (CF), and Mookie Betts (RF), Martinez will most likely see time as the team’s DH, but will get some opportunity to show off his glove. The seven-year veteran has a career split of .285/.342/.514 coupled with 152 home runs and a 130 OPS+. In 2017, he split time between Detroit and Arizona, pacing the latter with 29 home runs and a 1.107 OPS to lead the Diamondbacks to the postseason for the first time since 2011.
The presence of Martinez means that last year’s primary DH, Hanley Ramirez, will move back to first base where he was stationed in 2016. This will result in less playing time for Mitch Moreland, who returns after a successful 2017 season as the primary DH. With Dustin Pedroia on the DL, Eduardo Nunez gets the Opening Day start at second base; this marks the first time since 2006 that the Muddy Chicken doesn’t have that honor for the Red Sox.
On the left side of the infield, Xander Bogaerts returns at shortstop, continuing some stability at the position for the first time since the days of Nomar Garciaparra, while 21-year-old Rafael Devers, in his second year with the club (he is ineligible for rookie status as he had more than 130 at-bats last season), gets the starting nod at third base. Brock Holt also returns in a utility role after Boston sent Deven Marrero to Arizona late in spring training.
In another move late in spring training, the Red Sox signed catcher Christian Vazquez to a three-year extension, signaling to everyone that he is the primary catcher moving forward with the club for the near future. That said, Sandy Leon and Blake Swihart return as well; Leon should service as the backup catcher, while Swihart will serve more in a utility role and spend time in the outfield.
Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello are the easy choices for the first three spots; after that, it gets a little spotty. With Steven Wright, Eduardo Rodriguez , and Drew Pomeranz all on the DL to begin the season, and with Wright further suspended 15 games for domestic violence stemming from an off-season incident, the back half of the rotation will be anchored by Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez. Once healthy and after completing his suspension, Wright should be eligible to return to the roster by the end of April, while Rodriguez should be ready by mid-April; there is no timetable on Pomeranz’s return.
The bullpen remains a key strength of this team heading into the season. Craig Kimbrel enjoyed a monster 2017 season and expectations are high for him again in 2018 despite missing most of spring training to attend to a family matter. Also returning is Carson Smith, who is finally healthy after just 11 appearances over the last two seasons, as well as Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, and Heath Hembree. Also in the mix are two rookies: 2015 draft choice Bobby Poyner, who posted a 0.87 ERA over 10.1 innings pitcher in 10 appearances this spring, and 10-year minor league veteran Marcus Walden, who posted a 0.64 ERA over 14 IP in eight appearances.