“It’s over! The Red Sox have won the World Championship!”
It’s been exactly five months since Red Sox Nation heard these words from Joe Castiglione, and not much has changed since then, as the Red Sox will send a nearly identical roster out to defend their title in 2019 – with just a few changes.
The Red Sox, who were led by their offense in 2018 have brought back every one of their offensive starters from last season; not to mention to return of 2008 American League MVP Dustin Pedroia who played only three games in 2018 due to a lingering knee injury. The 2018 Red Sox led the league in runs, hits, doubles, total bases, RBI, batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS.
Despite their high-powered offense, Boston has made it a point of emphasis to improve on their two worst offensive positions from last season. In 2018 the Red Sox ranked last in OPS for catchers and 26th for second basemen.
Within the past week, the team has placed catcher Sandy Leon on waivers, and he now has the choice to either be sent down to AAA Pawtucket, or bet on himself and become a free agent. If Leon returns to the organization he will earn $2.75 million. This is a decision that seems long overdue to many, as the Red Sox carried three different catchers on their roster for most of the 2018 campaign – something that isn’t seen too often in baseball.
As for Pedroia who underwent an operation in his left knee following the 2017 postseason, only played three games in 2018 before reaggravating the injury. Looking ahead to 2019, head of baseball operations, Dave Dombrowski, made it clear that he still thinks Pedroia can be close to an everyday-player. “We’re hopeful that he’s a 125-game player at this point,” said Dombrowski. Red Sox Nation will simply have to wait and see how strong the legs are on Dombrowski’s claim, seeing as Pedroia has only played more than 125 games twice in the last five seasons.
This winter the Red Sox were able to keep together their starting rotation with a move that could make or break what was considered to be a slow offseason for the team. Nathan Eovaldi and the team agreed to a four-year, $67.5 million contract according to Mark Feinsand of MLB.com. Paying Eovaldi roughly $17 million per year.
The reason this money could be a gamble for Boston is the uncertainty of the seven-year veteran. Before last season, Eovaldi was a pitcher who saw a whole lot of ERAs above 4.00. In 2018, Eovaldi threw a 3.33 ERA during his time in Boston and is perhaps best known for pitching six dominant innings in relief into the 18th inning of game three of the World Series. It can be tough to guess which Eovaldi the Red Sox will be getting heading into 2019, but it can also be tough to worry about that when he’s surrounded by the likes of Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello.
Speaking of Sale, the Red Sox reached a contract extension worth $145 million over five years. The lanky lefty is guaranteed $30 million per year over the first three years of the contract and will have the right to opt-out in the final two seasons. One of the best pitchers on the planet, Sale has finished in the top six for American League Cy Young voting each of the past seven years sporting a career ERA of 2.89.
The defending champs will be looking to improve upon a bullpen which ranked seventh in ERA among the ten playoff teams from 2018. This should be a difficult task having lost setup man Joe Kelly and closer Craig Kimbrel to free agency.
Kelly, who signed with the Dodgers, was not consistent during his time in Boston, but there aren’t many teams in the MLB who will say no to a pitcher who can throw above 100 mph. As for Kimbrel, he still remains unsigned, but the Red Sox front office has made it clear that he will not be returning to the team in 2019.
The remaining relief pitchers in Boston are highlighted by Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier. These two appear to be leading the pack to take Kimbrel’s spot as the closer – each hold their own set of baggage that will come with that responsibility however. Barnes has had trouble throwing strikes, despite having above average velocity. In 2018 Barnes saw his worst strike percentage through his five-year career at 60.2%.
Brasier is a 31-year-old who has only played 41 total games in the majors; although he shined last fall, the Red Sox appear to be appropriately cautious about handing the keys to the ninth inning over to a guy with limited experience.
The 2019 Red Sox will have some stiff competition atop the division as the Yankees added more depth to an already-strong pitching staff. Look for the rivals to jostle for position in the standings all season, with one of them likely winning the division and the other earning a wild card spot.