When the Orioles finished above the Red Sox during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season, it seemed like an anomaly. After all, these are the yo-yo Red Sox, a team that recently went from last place to World Series Champion and back to last place in a three-season span. Surely with stars like Rafael Devers, Xander Bogaerts and Chris Sale, Boston was bound to bounce back to a position of contention. However, after briefly bouncing back with a second-place finish in 2021, Boston once again found itself in last place in 2022—much to the Orioles’ benefit.
All of this makes their outlook heading into the 2023 season murkier than Sale’s health over the last two seasons. After all, rebounding after disappointing seasons has been Boston’s MO over the last decade. 2022 also marked the first losing season in Alex Cora’s four years as Boston’s manager. However, with a lot of off-season roster turnover, there’s a very distinct possibility that Boston’s downturn last season continues into 2023.
Additions and Subtractions
The biggest difference fans will notice in the Boston lineup this season is the lack of longtime shortstop Bogaerts. After a 10-year stay in Beantown that saw him pick up two World Series rings, Bogaerts signed a $280M/11-year contract in San Diego this offseason. Bogaerts’ departure means that Boston will have an entirely new double-play combo for much of 2023. Trevor Story—their marquee signing from the ‘22 offseason—could be out until the All-Star break after undergoing Tommy John surgery in January.
The major additions to this Boston roster all seem to have a high-risk/high-reward aspect to them. Chief among them is Japanese league star outfielder Masataka Yoshida, who comes to the Red Sox after hitting .336 with 21 HRs and 89 for the Orix Buffaloes. Boston also brings in veterans Kenley Jansen and Richard Bleier in the bullpen, Justin Turner and Adam Duvall to beef up the lineup and Corey Kluber for the rotation. Their final major addition was trading for speedy, but oft-injured, infielder Adalberto Mondesi from the Royals.
Along with Bogaerts, several key contributors from the ‘22 team decided to depart in free agency. Starter Michael Wacha joined Bogaerts in San Diego, while long-time DH J.D. Martinez also went West, signing with the Dodgers. Veteran starters Nathan Eovaldi and Rich Hill left for Texas and Pittsburgh respectively, while former All-Stars Matt Barnes and Eric Hosmer were both released.
When it comes to Boston’s starting pitchers, there’s good news and bad news. The good news: ace Chris Sale should be healthy for Opening Day for the first time since 2019. Sale’s journey back from Tommy John has seen him pitch only 48.1 innings over the past three seasons, while also struggling with broken ribs and fingers. If Sale can stay healthy for the full season, it should be a major boost to Boston’s rotation.
The bad news is that, behind Sale, there is a fair amount of uncertainty. Kluber and Nick Pivetta will provide a veteran presence in the two and three spots, though neither is a sure thing after they combined for a 4.45 ERA in 2022. After making nine starts in 31 appearances last season, Garrett Whitlock will look to become a full-time starter this year. Former top prospect Brayan Bello will look to have a better sophomore season after putting up a 4.71 ERA over 11 starts as a rookie. Overall, the starting rotation profiles as Boston’s biggest potential weak spot and could be the biggest factor in whether they meet expectations.
The addition of Jansen—who led the National League with 41 saves last season in Atlanta—will undoubtedly go a long way in strengthening the back end of the Boston bullpen. With Jansen and 2022 breakout reliever John Schreiber, the Red Sox will feel they have the 8th and 9th innings covered this season. It will be getting to Jansen and Schreiber that will likely prove more problematic. Tanner Houck and former Dodger Chris Martin will likely be Boston’s primary middle relievers, with Bleier as their main option against lefties. All three put up ERAs in the mid-3s last year, though only Martin posted a K/9 rate higher than nine. After struggling for much of 2022, Ryan Brasier and Kutter Crawford will also look to make contributions from reduced roles in ‘23.
While they allowed Bogaerts to walk, the Red Sox front office did ink Devers to a $313.5M/10-year extension in the offseason. The two-time All-Star will continue to anchor the Boston lineup, but will half to step up after struggling to a .249/.325/.388 triple slash in the second half of ‘22. With Bogaerts and Martinez gone, Alex Verdugo and Turner will be asked to protect Devers in the middle of the Red Sox order. Verdugo finished strong last season with .304 average and .803 OPS in the second half. Turner was a model of consistency over his last two seasons with the Dodgers, hitting .278 in both seasons while also putting up a .350+ OBP and driving in 80+ runs.
Enrique Hernández looks set to move from CF to SS this season but should continue to hit near the top of the Boston lineup. He’ll be joined at the top and in the middle infield by Christian Arroyo, who will take over for Story at 2B. If Yoshida proves he can handle MLB pitching, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the LF move into the top half of the lineup. The bottom part of the lineup will be rounded out by young slugger Triston Casas at 1B, Duvall in CF and Reese McGuire at catcher.
After being a bottom-third fielding team in 2022, things probably won’t get better for Boston in 2023. Of their top fielders from last season (in terms of defensive runs saved), only Hernández will be an everyday starter this year. Arroyo will represent a significant defensive downgrade from Story at 2B, and while Duvall is a good defender in center, he is a downgrade nonetheless from Jackie Bradley Jr. With Devers and Casas never likely to be anything other than below-average defenders, it wouldn’t be surprising if Boston grades out as the worst defensive team in the division—and by a wide margin.
USA Today: 80-82
DraftKings Sportsbook: Over/Under 78.5 wins, +1500 to win the AL East, +5000 to win the World Series
The projections for Boston seem in line with the overarching theme for this roster: there is undoubtedly talent that will allow them to put up runs and win ball games. However, the weaknesses on the pitching staff and lack of depth in the lineup will likely prevent them from being much more than a mediocre ball club. It’s worth noting: all of these projections have the Red Sox finishing in fourth place, above the Orioles.