Whatever your thoughts might be around the 2017 season, it's now in the rearview mirror. It's time to start looking at the Red Sox roster, the lingering injuries, the contracts and evaluate closely position by position.
Let's look at the Red Sox team over a three part series, starting in this article with the infield. Going position by position to see what's possibly going to happen for 2018.
The Red Sox infield has many questions after an injury filled season. From first to third and including the catchers, there are some decisions to be made to improve the infield for a 2018 season.
The 2017 season saw Mitch Moreland, a one year signing at $5.5 million, become the regular first baseman. This was not the expectation, but resulted from Hanley Ramirez's shoulder issues allowing him just 18 games at first base. Moreland turned out to be quite the bulldog, fighting through the season with a broken toe that escalated towards the end of the season into knee issues. He remained on the field for 149 games, including an appearance as a reliever, hitting .246 with a .769 OPS and 22 home runs. Moreland also went 5-for-13 in the ALDS (.385) with two doubles.
The problem moving forward in 2018 is that the Red Sox are looking for more power and first base is a prime candidate for an upgrade. Moreland delivered a career high 34 doubles, but that's can be attributed to playing at Fenway Park. As the DH position was relatively weak this year on delivering power numbers, the Red Sox could be better served spending on a power bat that might play first base instead of resigning Moreland. Even though Sam Travis has shown solid production as a major league player, he lacks the major power that the Red Sox sorely need from this position.
For 2018 expect the Red Sox to be interested in hitters like Eric Hosmer (157 games, 25 HR, 94 RBI) or maybe even rely on Ramirez (126 games, 23 HR, 62 RBI) at first base which would allow for a prime power bat at DH like J.D. Martinez (119 games, 45 HR, 104 RBI), or dare we hope, Giancarlo Stanton (159 games, 59 HR, 132 RBI)?
This would leave the Red Sox with a decision to make. Can Brock Holt fill in as an everyday second baseman?
For 2018 there are no good options at second base on the free agent market and while Holt is a valuable utility player, he's often seen as an AAAA-player if slotted in everyday. Maybe the Red Sox can work with Holt and resign Eduardo Nunez into a workable platoon option at second base. The defense would be a step down from Pedroia, but Nunez brings an extra passion to the field and clubhouse making him a signing option for 2018.
This was the messiest position that the Red Sox had to deal with in 2017. From the revolving door over the years of Will Middlebrooks, Travis Shaw, Pablo Sandoval, and more, it was an error filled journey. Finally, the Red Sox seem to have their answer in 20-year-old Rafael Devers who showed power hitting 11 HR in 62 games. He's had his issues defensively, mostly with throwing to first base, but with more time in the majors that should calm down. Devers made more than his share of above-average plays that gave the Red Sox a glimpse of his potential at the hot corner.
For 2018 Devers needs to become the full time third baseman as it'll be years before he can slide over to first base or fill in as a possible DH. With that infectious smile, little league enthusiasm, and some attention to conditioning, he should be the Red Sox answer at third.
Shortstop Xander Bogaerts is the Red Sox shortstop and this season was arguably the toughest yet for the 25-year-old. He went downhill in the last three months of the season due to being hit by a pitch in the hand. He was hardly shutdown to recover and most likely played those last months with an injury that affected his offense. He finished respectably with .237 AVG, 10 HR and 62 RBI over 148 games, but these need to get better.
For 2018 Bogaerts, who has two years before he becomes a free agent, needs to prove he can be what he was in 2016 where he showed twice the power. The Red Sox need 20+ HR from their shortstop and 80+ RBI.
In 2017 the Red Sox had two catchers, Sandy Leon and Christian Vazquez. This worked surprisingly well with each responsible for catching certain pitchers and one or the other was on a hitting streak. Vazquez over achieved with a .290 AVG and .735 OPS in 99 games while Leon hit for .225 AVG over 85 games which put him at third for the position across the major leagues. Leon also showed his value working with Chris Sale, something the Red Sox won't want to change in 2018.
For 2018 the issue will be most likely what to do with Blake Swihart, who was attempting to cross over from catcher to outfield at the start of 2017 before injury took him out of the picture. He is out of options for 2018 which requires the Red Sox to make a decision as to his value as a depth player or trade chip when looking at the first base upgrade. His value is in question as he only hit for a .187 AVG in 62 minor-league games, but he was a first-round pick and you don't just give up on that. Look to see Swihart moved if a serious trade can be made, otherwise the Red Sox will let this position sort itself out in Spring Training.
Eric is a contributing writer since 2013 and a true Overseas Fan of the Boston Red Sox living in the Netherlands. He's spent years on baseball fields around the world pitching. His weekends are now spent helping the next generations of pitchers to find their passion and love for the sport. More articles by Eric: https://www.redsoxlife.com/search/label/ericschabell