The Boston Red Sox made it official last week, confirming rumors that Alex Cora will in fact be the team’s new manager having signed him to a 3 year contract. The Sox brass attempted to hold off until Cora’s current team completed their playoff run, but with rumors swirling and additional teams (Mets, Phillies, Nationals) looming Dave Dombrowski put the rumors to bed.
On the surface this looks like a great hire. Cora is widely respected around baseball being called ‘the smartest man in baseball’ by a number of players and executives. Despite not having any MLB managing experience, he did manage Puerto Rico to a second place finish at the recent World Baseball Classic and has been instrumental in the development of many of the young players on the Astros. The hope is that he can do for Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers, and Andrew Benintendi what he did for Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, and George Springer.
That leads me to my next question: how can the Red Sox increase their power numbers in 2018 and beyond?
The Sox desperately missed the big bat of David Ortiz; not just the 38 home runs he provided in 2016, but also that menacing presence. Opposing teams had to be mindful of when Ortiz would be coming up in the batting order, which at times, meant seeing more strikes and more fastballs for the players hitting in front of Ortiz. The 2017 version of the Red Sox did not have that lineup presence and thus opposing pitchers approached the Sox young hitters much differently. This is certainly not the sole reason for the drop in production from virtually every Red Sox player, but it was most definitely a factor.
Whether it be through free agency or through trade, it is very likely that Dave Dombrowski will add a power bat to the lineup prior to spring training. Assuming that to be the case it will certainly help the Red Sox offensively, however I would argue that equally important, if not more so, is for the current core group to return closer to their 2016 form.
Mookie Betts 31 to 24, Xander Bogaerts 21 to 10, Jackie Bradley Jr 26 to 17, Dustin Pedroia 15 to 7 and Hanley Ramirez 30 to 23 all had significant drops in home runs from 2016. In some cases like Bogaerts (hand) and Pedroia (knee) injuries played a part in these drops.
Many Red Sox fans seem eager to throw in the towel with Bogaerts following a step back season, but he simply wasn’t close to the same hitter after getting hit in the hand back in early July and didn’t show signs of returning to form until the very end of the season. An offseason of rest should have him back healthy and ready to compete with Correa and Francisco Lindor for the top shortstops in the American League. Remember that before exploding for 30 home runs this past season, Lindor’s career high had been 21 in 2016 just like Bogaerts. Giving away Bogaerts at age 24 would be foolish.
Whether or not Betts and Bradley peaked in 2016 remains to be seen, however I would be willing to bet that Mookie in particular will put up numbers closer to 2016 next season. Adding that missing big bat to hit behind him in the lineup surely won’t hurt!
Factor in also Andrew Benintendi, who played in only his second full professional season, should only improve from his 271-20-90 slash line as he continues to grow both physically and mentally as a hitter. Also having Rafael Devers for a full season will finally add some stability to the hot corner. Devers’ raw power hasn’t even scratched the surface yet and while he will no doubt have his peaks and valleys playing as a 20 year old in major League baseball, there is no reason to think he can’t mash 30+ home runs over the course of 550-600 at bats. This Sox lineup remains loaded with potential both immediate and in the future.
The Yankees, their fans and their media love their ‘Baby Bombers’ and rightfully so. They have arrived earlier than expected and have a very bright future in the Bronx. Boston fans, however, need only keep in mind that their terrific young core of Bogaerts, Benintendi, Devers and Betts are all YOUNGER than Aaron Judge and Gary Sanchez.
Especially with the news of Joe Girardi’s firing, there may be more growing pains in New York.
The Yankees may have arrived early, but that doesn’t mean the Red Sox are going anywhere.