As you might have heard, the Red Sox are World Series champions for the fourth time this century. The team with the best record in baseball finished off an incredible 11-3 postseason run. Not only was this the greatest Red Sox team of all time, it was one of the greatest baseball teams of all time.
I am not a Red Sox fan, but living in Boston and being married to a hardcore Red Sox fan means that I watched just about every one of their games this year. It was such a pleasure to do so; this team was so much fun to watch. Also, as a Puerto Rican, I could not be happier and more proud of Alex Cora, the first ever Puerto Rican manager to win the World Series. By the time you read this, I will have already gone to the parade.
This was a great victory for Dave Dombrowski, too. He is, in my opinion, one of the best GMs of my lifetime. It must have been difficult for him to have not won a World Series since the 1997 Marlins. He assembled some great Tigers teams, but the playoffs are just such a crapshoot. If Dombrowski was not a Hall of Famer before — and I would argue he was — he has certainly cemented his place in Cooperstown now.
Thankfully, the good times will continue after today’s parade. The Red Sox are very much primed to continue their run in 2019. That does not mean that they should rest on their laurels as if there are no challenges to address. I have no doubt in my mind that Dombrowski understands this.
The Red Sox will bring back just about everybody of note in 2019. That is what happens when you have a largely homegrown team supplemented by great trades (e.g. Chris Sale) and smart free agent acquisitions (e.g. J.D. Martínez). Rentals such as Nathan Eovaldi, Ian Kinsler, and Steven Pearce are entering free agency. Drew Pomeranz, Joe Kelly, and Craig Kimbrel are free agents now, too. David Price is eligible to opt out of his contract, but by all indications it seems like that will not happen.
Dustin Pedroia is expected to return in 2019 to be the starting second baseman after missing all but three games of the 2018 season due to knee surgery. If the 35-year-old struggles, he is going to put the Red Sox in a difficult spot, and it is not just because he is still owed $40 million through 2021. Pulling such a popular and long tenured player from an everyday role will be difficult. Furthermore, if his age and knee problems prevent him from playing a competent second base, then I don’t know what you do with him. He does not have the arm for third, and he does not have the bat to move any further down the defensive spectrum than that.
At the very least the Red Sox should bring in a better second baseman than Eduardo Núñez, if they want a platoon partner for Brock Holt, in case Pedroia misses significant time again. Núñez will certainly pick up his $4 milllion option, but that is pennies to the Red Sox if they want to move on. I am concerned about Ian Kinsler’s bat, but it is still much better than Núñez’s, and he is still a strong defender. It could be worth bringing him back on a one-year deal.
The Red Sox’s biggest problem in 2018 was at catcher. Red Sox catchers were by far the worst hitting catchers in baseball, combining for a line of .202/.254/.293. The second-worst came from the Orioles, and it was not even close. Orioles’ catchers had a 57 wRC+ compared to a 44 wRC+ from the Red Sox.
The Red Sox are clearly invested in Christian Vázquez, who is locked up through 2021, though for only $13.3 million. I can’t imagine that he is going to hit .207/.257/.283 again, so it is reasonable to see if he improves in 2019.
Sandy León, however, might not be a major league quality hitter anymore. He hit .177/.232/.279 during the season, and .095/.167/.164 during the second half. That even makes Jeff Mathis look good. I understand that Red Sox pitchers like throwing to León, but his offense might be untenable even for a backup catcher. I would try giving more appearances at catcher to Blake Swihart, despite his defensive shortcomings. I understand he struggled at the plate this year, but he performed better in the second half, and I still believe in his upside. If not, there are always plenty of backup catchers on the market to consider trying.
Mitch Moreland is still slated to be the starting first baseman in 2019. He was on fire through May, hitting .302/.368/.612. Then the regression monster came for him, as he hit .218/.305/.349 the rest of the year. He finished the year with a 100 wRC+, which was more or less what was projected for him. That is a little light for a first baseman. Pearce hit .284/.378/.512 this past season, and has hit .266/.346/.484 since 2014. He is going into his age-36 season, but it might not be a bad idea to bring him back on the right deal. Platooning at first base is tough because of today’s short benches, though Pearce can play the outfield too when some depth is needed.
It’s probably best for the Sox to let Drew Pomeranz go in free agency, but they should give serious consideration to bringing back Nathan Eovaldi. He could be an above-average pitcher now, and possibly more than that. With his injury history and performance struggles in the past, it might not take more than a three-year deal to re-sign him. The fact of the matter is that Eduardo Rodríguez and Steven Wright are prone to injury, and it is difficult to know what to expect from Brian Johnson.
Worst case scenario if Eovaldi does not pan out is that he could be lights out in the bullpen. The bullpen’s stellar performance this postseason was far from indicative of its true talent, and now Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel are free agents.
Kimbrel is going to get his own post later in November, so I am not going to go too in-depth on him here, but suffice it to say that the Red Sox should definitely move on from him. He is going into his age-31 season, and the playoffs were a microcosm of the inconsistent control problems he has dealt with his entire career. I would not want to gamble on whether or not I am going to get the 5.5 walk rate Kimbrel from 2017, or 12.6 walk rate Kimbrel from 2018.
Kelly was outstanding this postseason, but he was not anywhere near as good during the regular season. His strikeout rates are mediocre, and his control problems are almost as bad as Kimbrel’s. It’s probably not worth bringing him back at the price he is going to demand.
Bullpens have long been Dombrowski’s Achilles heel. Hopefully he will not decide to just throw money at the problem, because that is never a good way to build a bullpen. Just ask the Rockies. Despite his struggles in the past, I know that he is clever enough to figure how to assemble a good bullpen for the 2019 season with smart acquisitions.
The Red Sox have their tasks laid out for them this winter. The good news is that their strengths are more than capable of making up for any shortcomings and failures in other areas that the team cannot successfully address. The 2019 season should be another great year for them.
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Luis Torres is a Featured Writer at Beyond the Box Score. He is a medicinal chemist by day, baseball analyst by night. You can follow him on Twitter at @Chemtorres21.