For the fourth time in the last 15 seasons, the Boston Red Sox open the season as the defending World Series champions of Major League Baseball; only time will tell whether Boston successfully defends its title against the other 29 teams. In three previous attempts, the closest the Red Sox came to doing so was in 2008, when they took the Tampa Bay Rays to seven games in the American League Championship Series but failed to win the deciding game. Boston also looks to defend its current run of three straight division titles, the longest streak in franchise history.
After winning 108 regular season games on their way to another 11 wins in the 2018 postseason, Alex Cora’s roster looks very much like the one he had for most of last season. In fact, the Opening Day roster includes only one player – Colten Brewer – who did not play for Boston last season. Spring training was, like last year, relatively quiet, and the Red Sox finished with 12 wins versus 17 losses and a tie. Perhaps the biggest news out of Fort Myers was a contract extension Boston gave to pitcher Chris Sale; the five-year, $145M payout ensures that he will stay with the team through 2024, unless he chooses to opt out after the 2022 season.
With the roster now final, let’s see who will be with the team in Seattle tonight when they start the season against the Mariners at T-Mobile Field (formally Safeco Field).
To almost no one’s surprise, the Red Sox chose not to go with three catchers to begin the season, and the odd man out was Sandy Leon, whom Boston placed on waivers Sunday. He cleared waivers Tuesday and he has until today to decide whether to accept an assignment in Triple-A Pawtucket or become a free agent. Thus, it will be Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart to begin the season. Vazquez remains the number one catcher on the depth chart, while Swihart offers utility options at nearly every position in the field.
Dustin Pedroia, who missed all but three games last season, had hoped to make the Opening Day roster but will need extra time to rehab his surgically-repaired knee; this will be the second straight season he starts on the injured list (IL) (this term replaces the previously-used disabled list moniker). Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt will split time at second until he returns.
The star of the infield is undoubtedly Xander Bogaerts, who finished last season with a career-best .833 OPS and a 135 OPS+. Another player whose star continues to rise is Rafael Devers, who played his first full season in 2018 and is still only 22 years old. With Steve Pearce on the mend due to an injury late in spring training, Mitch Moreland and Sam Travis will split time at first base, with Moreland facing all right-handed pitching; Travis will like head back to Pawtucket once the World Series MVP is ready to return.
On a team filled with talent – MLB.com picked Boston’s lineup as the best in baseball entering the season – the one player who sticks out above everyone else is 2018 AL MVP Mookie Betts. His WAR of 10.9 last season tied Ted Williams for the second-best single season mark in team history among position players, bested only by Carl Yastrzemski’s remarkable 1967 season.
Boston also features arguably the best outfield talent in baseball, split between Betts, AL batting champion J.D. Martinez, left fielder Andrew Benintendi, and center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr.; Martinez will most often get the start as the team’s DH as was the case in 2018.
The Starting Rotation
Boston’s rotation, picked as the fourth best by MLB.com, includes the aforementioned Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Nathan Eovaldi, and Eduardo Rodriguez. Dogged by his inability to win games in October, Price’s postseason run in 2018, including a victory in the deciding game of the World Series, quieted the critics and nearly earned him World Series MVP honors. Price’s first start will not be until Monday against Oakland to give him more time to recover from norovirus, which slowed him during spring training and limited him to only a handful of innings.
The Relief Corp
The bullpen appears to be the only question mark for the Red Sox entering the season. Two notable subtractions – closer Craig Kimbrel, who remains unsigned as the season begins, and Joe Kelly, who went to the Los Angeles Dodgers via free agency – have been left unresolved in the minds of many baseball analysts. Cora has stated that, to begin, Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier will split duties as the go-to pitcher in the ninth. Rounding out the bullpen will be Brewer, Heath Hembree, Tyler Thornburg, Brian Johnson, Brandon Workman, and Hector Velazquez.