In signing two of the top free agent position players and revamping a depleted starting rotation, the Red Sox undoubtedly made progress this offseason. Yet, deep down, questions still remain as to whether they improved enough, and whether management could’ve done even more to upgrade a messy roster and steer Boston back to the postseason.
In analyzing the winter work of Ben Cherington, it’s important to remember the thorough incompetence of the baseline roster he sought to improve. As you are probably all too aware, the 2014 Red Sox were awful, ranking 18th in runs, 24th in slugging, 23rd in ERA and 22nd in WHIP. At 71-91, they finished dead last in the AL East, 25 games behind the runaway Orioles. Only three teams American League teams compiled a worse record.
Accordingly, in seeking a swift rebuild, Cherington was at an immediate disadvantage, with the Red Sox basically trying to win a race after giving a head start to all their closest opponents. They would have to work incredibly hard just to get back in the conversation.
Thus, no time was wasted, as Boston committed a combined $192.5 million to Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and Justin Masterson, before acquiring Rick Porcello and Wade Miley via trade, dealing from surplus to add quality.
The success of this approach, and, by extension, the degree to which the Sox will improve in 2015, rests largely on the ability of those five new arrivals to significantly outperform their predecessors. The probability of that happening is relatively high, with the collective 2014 WAR of the incoming players sitting at 11.5, compared to the awful 3 WAR accumulated by the forebears in the same position, namely Yoenis Cespedes, Will Middlebrooks, Brock Holt, Anthony Ranaudo, Rubby de La Rosa and Allen Webster.
Theoretically, the net increase of 8.5 WAR should help the Sox back above the .500 threshold, but, at this point, it’s difficult to foresee a quantum leap back into the 90-win range required to secure a wildcard, let alone the 95-win plateau typically needed to clinch the AL East.
Of course, we’ve seen this team march from worse starting points to loftier destinations, most recently in 2013, but, this time round, there seems to be far more uncertainty and far less magic surrounding the team. As Opening Day approaches, there are still so many landscape-altering factors to be determined, all with potentially major affects on the baseline win-loss record. Will the new superstars meet their expectations? At what point do the Sox abandon their no-ace strategy and pursue elite, frontline starting pitching? What impact will the new hitting coach have? Is the clubhouse culture compatible with another worst-to-first turnaround?
At this point, we just don’t know. This Sox team is harder to define and quantify than most in recent memory. In all likelihood, it’ll be better than the 2014 incarnation, but to what extent? Ultimately, that will only be discovered once this perplexing blend of players jogs onto the diamond in competitive action. Nobody knows what to expect, which, after all, is why 162 actual games are required to capture a definitive answer.