The big addition, no pun intended, to the BoSox infield this offseason was third baseman Pablo Sandoval. Fresh off a World Series win of his own, his third in five years, Sandoval brings a swing made for Fenway and a strong postseason pedigree. The Kung Fu Panda owns a .344 lifetime postseason average with 6 home runs and 20 RBI, mostly in big spots. He may seem like he is in cruise control for the majority of the regular season. When the playoffs start though, he's one of the toughest outs there is. Speaking of tough outs in the postseason, David Ortiz returns for his 13th year as Red Sox DH. After several offseasons of contract hubbub, Big Papi goes into 2015 with an incentive and option laden extension in tow. He can still rake at 39 and passed 100 RBIs for the eighth time in his career a season ago. He should probably hit third for the Red Sox until they put his jersey number along the outfield mezzanine. Mike Napoli will man first base again after a sub-par year by his standards. Napoli has the added incentive of 2015 being a contract year so he'll have to better his .248, 17 HR, 55 RBI line from a year ago to improve both the team and his chances of getting one final big contract. A way for that to happen will be having a healthy Dustin Pedroia ahead of him again. The diminutive former MVP fought hard through injuries but in the end predictably put up full season career lows in most offensive categories. He was able to snag his fourth Gold Glove at second base but it seemed hollow as the Red Sox season ended in shambles. A bounce back from Pedroia should be expected. Even with the addition of Hanley Ramirez, who we'll get to shortly, Xander Bogaerts remains the Boston shortstop. The highly touted 22 year old Aruban hasn't quite lived up to the lofty expectations bestowed upon him just yet but I still he feel he has the makings of a future All-Star. Of course nothing statistically backs up this notion as of now, but I feel I've seen enough baseball in my life to know when a guy either has it or he doesn't. The lone negative that has come from the infield this Spring Training is the unfortunate loss of catcher Christian Vazquez to Tommy John surgery. Tommy John gettin' errbody! He's takin' pitchaz, yo catchaz, errbody! I needed that quick aside so I didn't have to try to write a sentence about Ryan Hanigan. For those looking for any mention of top catching prospect Blake Swihart, wait until the 2016 30 Teams In Under 30 Days.
The outfield brings back an old face in a new position in the aforementioned Hanley Ramirez. El Nino will give left field a go for the first time in his career with the ever imposing Green Monster at his back. While said Monster will be a perfect target for him to launch double after double off with his sweet right handed swing, it may be tricky for him on defense. We've seen even the staunchest of defenders in the past look like Little Leaguers dealing with caroms off of Fenway's trademark wall. Red Sox fans, be patient. It'll be worth it. Mookie Betts looks to have fully secured the center field gig. He played all over the outfield and second base last year but a torrid Spring Training (2 HR, 7 RBI, 1.295 OPS) has Daniel Nava on the bench and Rusney Castillo and Jackie Bradley Jr. optioned to Triple-A Pawtucket. Shane Victorino is looking to be ready for Opening Day in right field. He has struggled for fitness this spring after a disappointing season in which he just made 30 appearances. If injury woes befall Victorino again, the Red Sox outfield bench is rock solid with Allen Craig, Nava, and last year's breakout star Brock Holt. Castillo and Bradley are also just a phone call away.
The starting pitching presents the greatest cause for worry to Red Sox Nation. Fragile Clay Buchholz will lead they way as he looks to put one of his worst seasons behind him. Buchholz has never made 30 starts in a season and has been a regular on the Boston disabled list for a high percentage of his career. Those aren't two characteristics you want from your ace. Rick Porcello comes over from Detroit in the Yoenis Cespedes trade on the heels of his best year as a pro. It is easy to forget that Porcello is still only 26 and entering his prime as a pitcher. He may take the reigns of the number one spot in the rotation, either by performance or the latest Buchholz injury. Justin Masterson returns to Boston but with far less shine on him than his last stint with Beantown. His combined 2014 between Cleveland and St. Louis was a nightmare. It is tough to tell if last year's 5.88 ERA and 1.63 WHIP were him battling through injuries or a total loss of stuff. From what Spring Training has shown, the Red Sox are willing to bank on it being the former. Wade Miley is slated to be the team's fourth starter. Miley was the Opening Day starter for Arizona last year but he'll face less pressure lower in the Red Sox rotation. He does what you want most from the bottom of your starting five, get deep into games and pitch every fifth day. The fifth starter is still to be determined. Joe Kelly seemed primed for the spot before he got put onto the disabled list recently. Knuckleballer Steven Wright has the inside track on the job but at 30 has just two Major League starts to his name. How long will it be before Henry Owens, Eduardo Rodriguez, or Brian Johnson stake their claim to a Major League roster spot?
The bullpen is in flux with closer Koji Uehara starting the season on the DL. Uehara was visibly fatigued in the latter stages of 2014. He was still able to power through, save a 5 run beating at the hands of Seattle, but didn't look fully recovered in Spring Training. While Koji is sidelined, Edward Mujica will serve as Boston's interim closer. Mujica did admirably during Uehara's September swoon going 5-for-5 in his save opportunities that last month. A pair of former Rangers will help out an overworked Junichi Tazawa in the seventh and eighth innings. Tazawa, who has pitched in 71 games in each of the past two years, won't need to work as hard with Alexi Ogando and Robbie Ross Jr. to help from the right side. The southpaw contingent wasn't able to reacquire Andrew Miller this winter, but Craig Breslow and Tommy Layne remain. Layne is the better of the two (0.95 ERA) but is less proven than Breslow. Manager John Farrell is going to have to weave some magic to make all these oblong pieces fit.
GM Ben Cherington had to make changes after another season in the cellar. The contracts handed to Sandoval and Ramirez have the potential to become cumbersome over the next few seasons. That doesn't matter because the goal for the 2015 Red Sox is to get back to the dance. As the 10th team here on 30 Teams In Under 30 Days, I believe they'll do just that. As Kansas City showed last year, as well as many teams before, a Wild Card team can cause a lot of chaos in the postseason. The Red Sox, whether it be good or bad, are sure going to be chaotic in 2015.
LAST YEAR'S RANKING: #2 (DOWN 8)
PREDICTED RECORD: 88-74
PREDICTED ALL-STAR REPS: Dustin Pedroia (second baseman), Mookie Betts (outfielder), Hanley Ramirez (outfielder), Rick Porcello (starting pitcher)
Trevor Utley is looking forward to seeing a lot of these young players on the Dodgers, with inflated contracts of course, within 3 to 5 years.
Image Credit: Red Sox logo (sportslogos.net)