Revamped Red Sox raring to go in '16
Dombrowski strengthens rotation, bullpen and outfield with offseason moves
BOSTON -- By winter, Red Sox fans had plenty of reasons to be excited for the spring, summer and fall.
The impressive offseason makeover by president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski landed the club an elite ace (David Price), a four-time All-Star closer (Craig Kimbrel), a fourth outfielder who thrives against lefties (Chris Young) and an underrated setup man (Carson Smith).
Dombrowski did all that by subtracting just one significant Major League player from last year's team -- lefty Wade Miley.
The Red Sox appear to be in far better shape now than they were back in August, when Dombrowski was hired.
"I think it's an overall roster where we have strengths everywhere we turn," Dombrowski said." We like our starting rotation. We've got a legitimate No. 1 now and we felt we were always deep at 3, 4 and 5. We've got some young guys in there as well as some veterans.
"Our bullpen has been strengthened a great deal. Our overall positional players really haven't changed that much. We've been able to add the fourth outfielder, but we like the blend of the young players with the veteran players."
The Red Sox, who haven't tasted a pennant race the past two seasons, look forward to regaining their place among the contenders.
Here are five key questions to keep an eye on.
1. How will Hanley handle first?
Hanley Ramirez's transition to first base will be a storyline that dominates the early weeks of Spring Training. It is the second straight spring Ramirez will try to gain comfort at a new position. Things did not go well at all for Ramirez in left last season. However, Ramirez has said numerous times that he's been an infielder his entire life and that moving to first shouldn't be nearly as difficult. He also has one of the best instructors in the game leading him in Brian Butterfield. Perhaps just as important is Ramirez's production at the plate. His bat went surprisingly quite after April last season.
2. Enough offense in the outfield?
The Red Sox know that Mookie Betts will hit. He did it in his brief window of opportunity in 2014 and over a full season last year. They also know that Young will produce against lefties. What they don't know is how productive Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo will be.
Heading into the season, Castillo and Bradley will start in left and center. But they'll need to hit more consistently than in the past to hold down their spots. Bradley has a strong track record in college and the Minors and was dominant for a one-month stretch late last season. His defense is so exceptional that he doesn't need to be a stud offensively. He just has to be average. Castillo, who signed a seven-year, $72.5 million deal in August 2014, remains an enigma. However, he has shown flashes that make it clear why the Red Sox felt compelled to win the bidding war for his services.
3. Who will emerge behind the plate?
At this time last year, the Red Sox were enthused about the prospect of Christian Vazquez being their starting catcher for a full season. Those plans went awry when the cannon-armed receiver underwent Tommy John surgery in March. That gave Blake Swihart a chance to live up to his hype, and though it took a while for his bat to get going, he eventually did.
Swihart probably has the inside track on winning the job for Opening Day, if only because it might take a while for Vazquez to regain his timing and feel for the game. But which catcher will the club commit to once they're both fully healthy? Swihart offers offense that can be tough to come by in a catcher, but Vazquez is the more gifted defender.
4. Can Buchholz come through when it counts?
The addition of Price means that Clay Buchholz no longer needs to try to be the ace. However, the No. 2 spot in the rotation is still up for grabs and Buchholz is the most qualified candidate. Everyone knows how good he is when he's at his best. The problem is that he almost never does it for a full season. If Buchholz is going to be the victim of inconsistency again, the best hope the Red Sox can have is that he'll be at his best late in the season. Whether it is in key pennant race games or in a postseason series, the Sox will need someone who can match up with the other team's second or third starter.
5. Will Papi ride off into the sunset?
An era will end in Boston following the 2016 season when David Ortiz retires. What kind of season will Big Papi go out with? The lefty slugger would love nothing more than to win a fourth World Series ring. Even at 40, Ortiz remains the most dangerous hitter the Red Sox have. To make a deep October run, Big Papi will again have to be a major force in the middle of the lineup. Though Ortiz recently said he was ambivalent on whether opposing teams give him farewell ceremonies, it will be interesting to see what kind of reception he gets as he makes his final stops around the league.