A new-look Red Sox team looks to exceed expectations
The Red Sox lost Xander Bogaerts, Nathan Eovaldi and J.D. Martinez this past offseason, but they gained Masataka Yoshida, Justin Turner, Adam Duvall, Corey Kluber and Kenley Jansen. Perhaps most importantly, it seems they have added a healthy Chris Sale, something they haven’t had in four seasons.
As far as most prognosticators are concerned, Boston is expected to finish fifth in the American League East for the second season in a row and the third time in the last four years.
However, Sale is of the mind that this team could be like the 2021 Sox, a team that garnered few high expectations outside its own clubhouse but won 92 games and wound up in the AL Championship Series.
“I think more so than anything, the talent is obviously there, but the excitement is there,” said Sale. “The drive, the focus [are there]. We're very disciplined. I think that obviously starts with our [coaching] staff. [Alex Cora] holds people accountable, and people respect him. As much as people want to go out there and do well for us, we don’t want to let him down either.”
Here is a categorical breakdown of the Red Sox’s upcoming season.
What needs to go right?
Sale has to stay healthy for at least a good portion of the season for the Sox to be contenders again. The same goes for Kluber, who escaped injuries in 2022 after a run of setbacks. Yoshida, who will bat cleanup, needs to make a swift adjustment to Major League pitching to be a force in the middle of the batting order. Alex Verdugo needs to realize his full potential, particularly if he winds up leading off against righties. Triston Casas, the towering first baseman ranked Boston's No. 2 prospect by MLB Pipeline, needs to have a solid rookie year at the plate.
How much will Trevor Story contribute to the 2023 team? The Red Sox shortstop underwent an internal bracing procedure on his right elbow in January, and he isn’t expected to return until after the All-Star break. If Story can play the entirety of the second half -- and at a high level -- it would dramatically improve Boston’s offense and defense. Story offers pop with his bat, speed on the bases and strong defense at either shortstop at second base. There’s a chance the Sox could wait until ’24 to deploy him at shortstop again to lessen the burden on his arm as he comes back.
Team MVP will be … Rafael Devers
The left-handed-hitting slugger is easily the most impactful hitter on the Red Sox. At the age of 26, he is in his prime. He also has security in the form of a 10-year contract extension that will start in 2024. Devers will start the season in the No. 2 spot in the order, where he has thrived through the years. One key will be for Turner and Yoshida to provide solid protection behind Devers so teams can’t pitch around him.
Team Cy Young will be ... Sale
Sale is determined to make up for lost time. He has been open about how not living up to his contract the last three seasons has eaten him alive. As Sale notes, the fact that he’s barely pitched since 2019 should leave him with plenty to attack opposing teams. The lefty threw the ball well throughout Spring Training, sitting in the mid-90s with his fastball, and he didn’t have any hiccups with his health. A healthy and dominant Sale would change everything for the Red Sox.
Brayan Bello will wind up being a dominant force in his first full season in the Majors. Don’t be fooled by Bello’s unspectacular stat line (2-8, 4.71 ERA) from his first taste of the Majors last season. The possessor of dominant stuff, Bello got into a groove in September, notching a 1.65 ERA in a five-start span. In the offseason, he received an invitation to throw at Pedro Martinez’s home in the Dominican Republic. That experience could prove to be invaluable. The prediction here is that Bello will wind up being Boston’s second- or third-best starter in 2023. Bello will miss the start of the season on the injured list due to a minor right forearm issue he had early in camp, but he should be back in the rotation by mid-April.