Boston Red Sox

Boston Red Sox

Monday, October 05, 2015

Red Sox Wrap 2015 Season and Begin Planning for 2016

The Boston Red Sox​ ended the 2015 season at 78-84, a .481 winning percentage.

The Sox finished 15 games behind division-winner Toronto.

This is Boston’s third last-place finish in four seasons, something some of us didn’t think we'd see for many, many years -- if ever.

Remember, even during the Red Sox epic 86-year World Series championship drought, the Sox rarely finished in last place in consecutive seasons, let alone three times in four years.

If you’re looking for a bright side, the Sox posted a winning record at Fenway Park this season, going 43-38 record at home. But the Sox went 35-46 on the road.

The Sox were also 6-4 in their last 10 games. Yet, the four losses were in the season's final four contests. Not a good way to end this terribly disappointing season.

The Red Sox got off to a decent start, finishing April with a 12–10 record — their first month over .500 since September 2013.

But it was all down hill from there.

The Sox only scored 82 runs in the month of May, and went 10-19 -- the worst record in the major leagues.

The Red Sox finished the month of June with an even record of 14–14, but then proceeded to go 10-15 in July.

However, Boston posted winning records in each of the season’s final two months under interim-manager, Torey Lovullo, finishing August at 15-12 and posting a 17-14 record in September/October.

Prior to the August 14 game in Seattle, manager John Farrell announced that he was diagnosed with lymphoma. Lovullo, his bench coach, was named interim manager for the remainder of the season.

Lovullo seemed to light a fire under the players and inspired them to be a much better team. The Sox’ turnaround was evident from that point forward, which makes the team’s decision to bring back Farrell for the 2016 season somewhat curious.

Aside from the Sox unexpected losing season, 2015 will be remembered as the year of the rookies and young, rising stars.

Pitchers Eduardo Rodriguez and Henry Owens both showed why they were viewed as top prospects, and both showed that they could be valuable parts of the Sox rotation for years to come.

The young duo became just the second and third Red Sox pitchers, respectively, in the past 100 years to record at least five innings while allowing one or no runs in as many as six of their first 10 Major League appearances, along with Dave “Boo” Ferriss in 1945.

‪Rodriguez became just the second Boston Red Sox lefty to win as many as 10 games in his rookie season going back to 1950, and the first Red Sox pitcher as young as 22 to win as many as 10 games since Mike Nagy’s 12-win campaign in 1969.

His win total was the most by a Red Sox rookie since Daisuke Matzuaka put up 15 in 2007.

Rodriguez finished with an 3.85 ERA and a 1.29 WHIP in 21 starts. He threw a career-high of 170 total innings between the minors and majors.

Owens finished with a 4-4 record, a 4.57 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP in 11 starts.

At this point, Rodriguez is clearly the more finished product. The Red Sox were 13-8 when he took the mound this season, and 5-6 when Owens started.

Blake Swihart hit .274 this season, which is outstanding for a 23-year-old rookie catcher. It was especially surprising given the defensive demands of the position, and the need for him to quickly become familiar with the entire pitching staff when unexpectedly called upon in May.

Swihart also smacked two home runs at Yankee Stadium in late September, becoming the youngest Red Sox catcher to have a multi-homer game since Mike Ryan on May 2, 1965.

But Swihart also showed solid blocking, throwing and game-calling skills. He could be a mainstay behind the dish for many years to come, and may force the Sox to make a tough choice between himself and defensive whiz Christian Vazquez, who will be returning from Tommy John surgery next season.

Mookie Betts‬ appears on the verge of becoming a superstar. He became the fourth youngest player in Major League history to reach 40 doubles, 15 homers and 20 steals in a season.

Betts joined Vada Pinson, Alex Rodriguez and Hanley Ramirez in achieving the feat by age 22 (Betts turns 23 on Oct. 7).

Jackie Bradley Jr. appeared in 74 games for the Red Sox this season, playing his customarily outstanding defense. JBJ has a knack for making difficult plays look routine, and may be the finest outfielder in baseball.

Bradley posted a .249/.335/.498/.832 slash line, with 10 homers, 43 RBI, 17 doubles and 4 triples. But his season was marked by extended hot and cold steaks. As a result, his capability as a big league hitter is still in question.

After the August 7 trade of Mike Napoli to Texas, Travis Shaw was given a chance to prove himself at first base.

Shaw, largely an unheralded prospect, performed admirably and surely opened some eyes, posting a .274/.331/.491/.822 slash line, with 13 homers, 10 doubles and 36 RBI in just 65 games and 226 at-bats.

Depending on whether the Sox are able to trade Hanley Ramirez this offseason, Shaw could be given some consideration as the starting first baseman next season.

The Sox have a number of roster decisions to make this offseason, and many will be determined by whether they can trade -- and get a reasonable return for -- Ramirez and/or Pablo Sandoval.

For example, first base comes into question if the Sox are indeed able to find a taker for Ramirez, yet decide that Shaw is not the answer there.

If Sandoval is traded, that leaves a void at third base. It’s not likely that the Sox see Brock Holt or Deven Marrero as their everyday third baseman.

Yet, Shaw was a third baseman in college and showed solid aptitude at the position this season. His positional versatility certainly increases his value to the Red Sox. He is also young (25), cheap and controllable.

Then there's Rusney Castillo, and what the Sox will (or can) do with him.

The Red Sox signed the Cuban outfielder to a seven-year, $72.5 million contract in August 2014, and haven’t gotten much in return so far.

Castillo played in just 80 games for the Red Sox this season, partly due to assorted injuries and partly due to spending time in Triple-A -- where he didn't impress.

During his 80 games with Boston (273 at-bats), Castillo posted an underwhelming .253/.288/.359./647 slash line, with 5 homers, 10 doubles, 2 triples and 29 RBI.

In short, he hardly looks like a major league player, much less a $72 million player. His signing may be nearly as regrettable as those of Ramirez and Sandoval.

Do the Sox trust Castillo in the outfield next season, or have they already seen enough to recognize that Ben Cherington and his staff made a big, expensive mistake?

If Castillo is not viewed as a viable option, then the Sox need to find an every day corner outfielder.

If they decide to keep both Swihart and Vazquez as their catchers, that would necessitate a trade of veteran Ryan Hannigan.

Then there’s the rotation. The Sox have a number of internal candidates vying for the five spots next season, among them: Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez, Joe Kelly, Wade Miley, Henry Owens, Steven Wright and perhaps even Milton, Mass native, Rich Hill.

Let’s begin with Buchholz.

The Sox hold a $13 million team option on the righty for 2016, and it seems quite likely that they will soon exercise that option. Doing so would not preclude them from trading Buchholz, and one way or another, it’s a reasonable cost for a veteran starter. The Red Sox also hold a $13.5 million team option on Buchholz for the 2017 season as well.

Buchholz presents clear risks to the Red Sox, or any potential trade partner. The 30-year-old has never thrown over 189 1/3 innings in his nine-year career due to persistent injury troubles. Buchholz has been on the DL in seven of his nine seasons. He is fragile, to say the least.

My bet is that the Red Sox ultimately trade Buchholz this winter.

Porcello signed a 4-year contract extension worth $82.5 million that won’t go into affect until 2016, meaning he will certainly be back with the Sox next season. With that pact, he is virtually untradable (especially if the Red Sox don't want to eat a significant portion of his contract).

Porcello finished the season at 9-15 (leading the team in losses) with a 4.92 ERA and 1.36 ERA. After his start in Toronto on July 1, he had a 6.08 ERA, and it didn't drop below 5.00 until his final start of the season.

However, the righty improved considerably late in the year. After coming off the disabled list on Aug. 26, Porcello notched a 3.14 ERA over his final eight starts.

Like it or not, he will be in the Sox rotation next season.

Rodriguez is young (22), cheap, and very promising. He will surely have a rotation spot next season.

Kelly finished the season at 10-6, with a 4.82 ERA and 1.44 WHIP. However, the 27-year-old was so bad early on that he was demoted to Triple-A. While he rebounded fairly well, most scouts think he is best suited as a late-inning reliever, and possibly a closer. His high-90s fastball would play nicely in that role.

One way or another, the Sox will not begin the 2016 season with a bunch of middling starters, and that’s why I believe Kelly may ultimately end up in the bullpen next year.

Wade Miley finished the season 11-11, with a 4.46 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP. Everything about Miley seemed average, which is not a bad thing for a guy who was only expected to be a middle-of the-rotation starter.

However, American League pitchers had an average ERA of 4.01 this season, which means that Miley was actually below average. He is under contract for $6 million next season -- a perfectly reasonable price for a starting pitcher. Yet, that also gives Miley trade value, which may be more appealing to the Sox than seeing him in their rotation next season.

Owens may be viewed as too green to get a rotation spot out of spring training. Aside from his 4-4 record, 4.57 ERA and a 1.37 WHIP, the lanky lefty had 50 strikeouts and 24 walks in 63 innings. None of that overwhelmed anyone.

But the 23-year-old threw 122 1⁄3 innings with Triple-A Pawtucket and 63 more with Boston, for a total of 185 1/3 innings. That puts him in line for 200 innings next season, and the Sox may see enough value in that alone to give him a spot in the rotation.

Thirty-one-year-old Steven Wright showed some great flashes when called upon this season, and ended up with a 5-4 record, 4.09 ERA and 1.29 WHIP. The knuckleballer found an opportunity only because of the injuries and ineptitude that plagued the Sox rotation, but unfortunately his season was derailed by a concussion in August.

Wright is still more of a question than an answer, so its hard to imagine the Sox committing a rotation spot to him next season. He will likely serve as minor league depth and could get another shot at some point in 2016.

Hill is an intriguing story. His sudden revival seems nothing short of miraculous.

He was pitching in Independent ball and hadn't started a big league game in six years when the Red Sox signed him in August.

Yet, he made four late-season starts for Boston, and struck out ten batters in the first three of them.

Hill is the only AL pitcher in the last 100 years to record at least 10 strikeouts in each of his first three starts with a team. The only other Red Sox pitcher in the last 100 years to record 10 or more strikeouts and one or fewer walks in three straight starts at any point is Pedro Martinez in 1999.

Hill tossed a complete game, two-hit shutout in one start, and all four of them were quality starts.

In all, Hill posted a 1.55 ERA with 36 strikeouts and five walks over 29 innings.

However, he is 35 and has experienced more downs than ups in recent years. Though his story is a magnificent one, its hard to imagine the Sox giving him anything more than a non-guaranteed contract and an invitation to spring training. A guaranteed contract and the promise of a rotation spot seem unimaginable.

However, if the Red Sox don’t make him an offer, another team certainly will. Hill earned it, and he deserves it.

My sense is that Buchholz and/or Miley will be traded. I think that Porcello, Rodriguez and Owens are likely to get rotation spots, which still leaves two open spots. Surely, Kelly, Miley and/or Buchholz could also fill one of those spots, but it’s tough to imagine the Sox returning every member of a rotation that failed so miserably this season.

Of course, the Red Sox will be big players in the free agent pitching market this offseason. The organization learned a tough lesson about trying to compete without a bona fide ace atop the rotation, or at least a certified No. 1 starter. They had neither this season, and it cost them dearly. Every team needs a stopper, and the Red Sox did not have one this year.

That will change within the next couple of months.

David Price, Johnny Cueto, Jordan Zimmerman, Doug Fister, Hisashi Iwakuma and Jeff Samardzija will all be sought-after, free-agent starting pitchers this offseason. The Sox will certainly be front-runners for one of them, with Price and Zimmerman likely their top targets.

Then, of course, there is the bullpen, which will see a significant overhaul. Kofi Uehara, Junichi Tarawa and Craig Breslow are the most likely to return. Beyond that, the possibilities and outcomes are endless. Rest assured, there will be changes, and the pen will look quite different next season.

Yes, there are many questions to be answered, needs to addressed and positions to be filled.

To summarize, there could be changes at first base, third base, left or right field (depending on what the Sox do with Castillo), at least one rotation spot, and a good portion of the seven-man bullpen.

That’s a lot of flux for a team that has already seen significant changes in recent years (just seven players remain from the 2013 Red Sox team that won the ‪‎World Series)‬.

But then again, when a team finishes in last place three times in four years, big changes are needed — and deserved.

Hopefully, stability and success will become hallmarks of the Red Sox in the seasons ahead.

It will all begin in the coming months.

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