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2016 Sox Coming Along but Still Some Questions

The Red Sox have clearly made great progress this off-season.  By acquiring ace David Price, relievers Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith, and outfielder Chris Young, they have effectively filled their three biggest holes - and added a young future closer in Smith.

The Sox' biggest problems looking ahead to 2016 are mostly not fixable at any reasonable price.  They are also not insurmountable.  Their top issue is infield defense, followed by outfield offense, and rotation depth.  Minor league depth is also an issue but that will likely be - and already has begun to be - solved through non-roster invitees and minor league free agents

Infield Defense
Going into 2015, I was dead-on convinced that the Sox would have a excellent infield defense with only one question mark: Xander Bogaerts.  I was perfect in this prediction in that everything I thought was wrong.  The Panda looked less Kung Fu and more pick up sticks. Mike Napoli was gone by mid-August.  Pedrioa missed much of the season and might be approaching the (hopefully gradual) down slope of his career.  Meanwhile, Bogaerts was a Gold Glove finalist. 

Looking to 2016, I hope to be equally accurate in this year's prediction: that the Sox will have a pretty bad infield defense.  Sandoval has had decent years in the past defensively, but I doubt with his weight and age that he'll get a lot better, and his new first baseman is unlikely to bail him out on the long throws. 

That brings us to the biggest concern on the team: first baseman Hanley Ramirez.  Long gone are the days when we thought anyone could play first base.  Hanley is a great athlete but it's tough to imagine him being any good at first base.  If he doesn't hit better than last year, and his defense at first lives up to his legacy from left field, we may see some very creative roster maneuvering as the Sox try to hide Hanley under the Fenway cushions until he can DH in the post-Papi land of 2017.  Pressure to rid themselves of or find a bone spur on Hanley will be even greater if Travis Shaw surprises everyone and turns out not to be a fluke.

The middle infield should be good with Bogaerts trending up, Pedroia still rock solid when he's in one piece, Brock Holt is maybe the best utility guy in the game, and Deven Marrero is a stud defender who probably could start for a number of major league teams right now but will serve as the first man up if X, Peddy, or BrockStar go down.  I do worry about Bogaerts losing a step as he eventually gets bigger and Pedroia losing steps as he starts using crazy glue to keep his joints together.  

Outfield Offense
It's not a great thing when your only sure thing in the outfield has really only had one full season in the majors.  That said, it's almost impossible to doubt Mookie Betts.  He and Bogaerts seem set to be the leaders of this team for the next decade. 

Jackie Bradley Jr. may well join them in the leadership role, if not the stardom role, if he can find some level of offensive consistency.  My expectation is that he'll be a decent offensive player who might not hit with the power he did last year, but will continue to improve his contact ability and OBP as he gets more experience.  By all accounts he's a very smart, dedicated player so I feel good.  That said, there are 221 reasons to be concerns.  That's how many times he has struck out in 785 career plate appearances. 

Meanwhile, Rusney Castillo could be just about anything.  If he keeps improving, doesn't get too frustrated with what will likely be a few extended periods on the bench, and learns more and more about the strike zone, he'll be a very good player.  But there's also a chance he just never puts it together and becomes a career backup outfielder.

Chris Young helps ease the pressure a lot.  And having Brock Holt and maybe a little Travis Shaw to play some outfield will also ensure that the Sox don't fall too far behind on this front.  There just has to be concerns when you have such a young outfield with so much left to prove.

Rotation Depth
We can take David Price as a given.  Even if he's not a Cy Young contender, he's one of the best in the game.  Rick Porcello seems ready to have a solid year and to eat innings.  Eddie Rodriquez could be an ace and he's quickly climbing the innings latter, but you never know how well he'll hold up and if he'll make the jump to elite pitcher, but if he's healthy he should be at least good and give upwards of 160 innings. 

The big questions are the health of Clay Buchholz and who is Joe Kelly.  Buchholz tends to be an ace for 15 games, a dud for 5-10, and on the shelf for another 10-15.  I'll take it.  Joe Kelly has the talent and track record to be almost anything: ace, reliever, stadium vendor, radio personality...  I expect if his first 5-8 starts don't go well, he'll permanently transition to the pen (where he might be very good).  That said, it would be fun to see what he could do if he put it all together.

But, we can expect that, between Buchholz and Kelly - and maybe a little of the other 3 guys - we are looking at 15-25 starts from someone not listed in this group.  Henry Owens would very likely be the first one up.  I personally feel like he might make a big jump this year, now that he spent a year focused on his curve and working on a slider so he can now recommit to the change and continue to improve his fastball command.  But there are lots of questions about him.

For the first part of this year, knuckleballer Steven Wright would seem to be the other top option (if he lasts with the Sox, given that he's out of options).  In the second half, that would fall to lefty Brian Johnson who is coming back from an injury that denied him his chance to be the top buy over Owens.

These are good options, but given the near certainty that the Sox will need a 6 & 7 starter, it would behoove them to find another option or two that they could roll out there.  Newly acquired Roenis Elias may be the other big option here.   

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