Boston Red Sox can top AL East next season

When the Boston Red Sox signed Hanley Ramirez for a guaranteed $88 million to play a position that he never had at any level, many were left looking for some type of explanation for the rationale behind the move. Yes, it was nice to see Ramirez return to the franchise where he spent so much time developing in the minor leagues, but this is a player whose commitment had been questioned prior, had dealt with a number of injuries and was now being asked to transition to playing the outfield after spending his life solely on the left side of the infield.

The Red Sox also brought in Pablo Sandoval from San Francisco for $95 million, but it’s hard to say what Boston saw in this player to back up a duck boat filled with cash to his front door. Sandoval, who hit .300 or better in three of his first four major league seasons, hadn’t eclipsed that mark since the 2011 campaign. Over that same stretch of time, Sandoval averaged 16 home runs per year, including two seasons of 20-plus homers. From 2012-15, Sandoval averaged just 13 taters while struggling to find the same power. His on-base percentage and slugging percentage had both gone down every year since 2011, and despite battling ongoing weight issues throughout his career, Sandoval was somehow viewed as a transcendent star capable of helping to carry a flawed Red Sox team.  

Maybe the Panda hats were strapped on a little too tight in Boston’s marketing department. Maybe the thought of Ramirez’s return sparked a feeling of nostalgia that swept through the organization when it was experiencing brighter times. Whatever the case, fans can be certain that the 2015 offseason will be different now that Dave Dombrowski is running the show.

31 JULY 2014:  Detroit Tigers general manager Dave Dombrowski talks on the telephone during the seventh inning of a regular season game between the Chicago White Sox and the Detroit Tigers played at Comerica Park in Detroit, MI.  The Detroit Tigers traded outfielder Austin Jackson, pitcher Drew Smyly, and minor league infielder Willy Adames to the Tampa Bay Rays in exchange for pitcher David Price.  The Chicago White Sox defeated the Detroit Tigers 7-4.

With Dombrowski making the calls in Boston, the Red Sox might not be very far away from contending again.

Unceremoniously dismissed from his position running the Detroit Tigers after the July trade deadline, Dombrowski was the baseball’s most coveted free agent before landing in Boston. With strong relationships around the game and a track record filled with success, the Red Sox received a rare ray of hope during a dark, dismal, nightmarish season when Dombrowski walked through that door.

During a period of evaluation that would follow his arrival, Dombrowski, the Red Sox and their fans all learned a valuable lesson: This team isn’t in that bad of shape for what should be a much brighter not-so-distant future. While the contracts of Sandoval and Ramirez still loom largely on the payroll ledger, there is young talent all over the field and a budding outfield in Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley Jr. that looks like it could be one of Major League Baseball’s best before much longer. And if Dombrowski can fix the one fatal flaw of this team, the American League East is there for the taking as soon as the 2016 season.

Of course, I’m talking about a pitching staff that ranked in the bottom 10 in both team ERA (4.31) and batting average against (.264) last season.  

With the pitching an enormous question coming into a 2015 season, the Red Sox cast of characters left a lot to be desired. Wade Miley and Rick Porcello, who combined to sign for more than $100 million before throwing a pitch in Boston’s uniform, are undoubtedly question marks coming into next season after flopping like fish out of water in their inaugural campaign. Henry Owens, the team’s star pitching prospect, struggled mightily with his control and shouldn’t be considered a lock for anything as the team remakes its identity. The bullpen, an absolute atrocity, has to be upgraded virtually across the board.

And Dombrowski knows it (via Sean McAdam, CSNNE).

“First and foremost,” said Dombrowski, “we’ve talked about trying to improve our pitching staff — our starters and our bullpen. That will be the primary focus we go after. Those are areas we want to improve. The rest of the club is pretty well set.”

Good pitching neutralizes good hitting, and you don’t have to look very hard to find the most recent example of that with the New York Mets in the World Series.

The Red Sox had a bad season made worse by their stars underperforming and a shaky pitching staff that presented more questions than answers with every turn taken on the bump, but with Dombrowski now piloting the plane and prioritizing the proper areas of need to ensure a safe flight, a turbulent takeoff is likely to result in an impressively smooth landing back into where Boston is known to belong.

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