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The Case for a Red Sox Playoff Appearance in 2023

Red Sox Playoffs

The Boston Red Sox playoff hopes for 2023 are an enigma. The organization continues to face the ire of fans head-on, especially last weekend during the team’s Winter Weekend event. Owner John Henry, CEO Sam Kennedy, and chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom were welcomed with boos upon entering the MassMutual Center in Springfield.

The jeers continued throughout the Q&A session, as Bloom, Henry, and Kennedy couldn’t finish their answers without shouts from the crowd. The anger was analogous to a mob of residents from a small town blitzing their council because of improper budget spending. It was the first Winter Weekend since 2020, and I bet the front office wishes it were the last.

The full-scale anger is conceivable and ultimately unsurprising. Red Sox fans have been simmering since the Mookie Betts trade in 2020. And after a lackluster 2022 trade deadline and the departure of Xander Bogaerts, the water is now boiling. Combine that with Bloom’s meandering explanation for losing a franchise staple, and you now have untenable rage. Altogether, the best any of us can do is move on. Opening Day is March 30, a season after Boston finished last in the AL East at 78-84. The Red Sox might not have made big moves, but it’s enough to keep them competitive in 2023.

Red Sox Playoff Hopes

The lowdown

At this point, it’s difficult to develop an accurate prognosis for Boston’s upcoming season. From a holistic perspective, the roster looks significantly different. Bogaerts is gone, Trevor Story is hurt, positions have shifted, and the pitching staff transformed. For many, the radar is opaque.

That, however, doesn’t mean a playoff appearance is out of the question. If the 2013 and 2021 teams taught us anything, the organization has a knack for exceeding expectations out of the blue. So, there are reasons for optimism moving forward.

More Durability at the Leadoff Spot

After Kiké Hernández went down with his frightening hip injury, Manager Alex Cora tried many possibilities with the lead-off position. The Red Sox used seven different players at the leadoff spot last year. As the leadoff roulette was unsuccessful, those seven batters hit for a combined .235 with a .295 on-base percentage. The latter stat was good for 27th in the league at the leadoff position.

The Red Sox will look to Masataka Yoshida to supplement this issue to add much-needed longevity and consistency. Some executives said the five-year $90 million contract is an overpay, but if all goes well, he fills a void the Sox desperately needed last year. Yoshida led the Nippon Professional Baseball league in Japan in OBP in 2021 and 2022 and also had double the walks to strikeouts. These are critical stats when considering how important it is for a leadoff hitter to get on base and set the tone.

The Red Sox finally added depth to an abysmal outfield situation. His defensive metrics could be more impressive, but as fans saw with Bogaerts, fielding is an area of improvement.

He’s also only 29, and with the way contracts are structured nowadays, where teams are handing out decade-plus deals, I wouldn’t consider this a risk. His low strikeout rates and patience should bode well in a leadoff position. There have been many great players coming out of the NPB, including Shohei Ohtani and Ichiro Suzuki.

The Bullpen Is Improving 

Boston’s relief ERA and WAR were bottom five in the league during the 2022 season, partially due to a committee-by-approach philosophy to their closer position. The bullpen in 2023, however, is more refined.

Boston addressed that by signing closer Kenley Jansen during the offseason. After finishing in the bottom ten in blown saves, the three-time All-Star is a welcome addition to Boston. Jansen accumulated the second most saves in the NL with 41 during the 2022 season. And while some are pessimistic about his elder age, that issue doesn’t matter at the closer spot. It’s not a physically demanding position, and as evidenced by Koji Uehara, closers can have their best years late in their careers if the situation is served right.

The same age argument can be said for Martin, who turns 37 this year. Ironically, though, he had one of his best years with the Cubs and Dodgers in 2022. His 3.05 ERA in 60 games was the second-best ERA of his eight-year career. It was also the best ERA of his MLB tenure in a season where he appeared in at least 50 games. His tenure with the Dodgers in the second half of the season was especially stellar, where he only gave up four runs in 26 games.

He ranked seventh among 192 relievers in WAR during the second half of the season last year, a good indicator that Martin can turn on the engine when need be.

The Search for a Left-Handed Pitcher

While the Martin and Jansen signings should offer a viable one-two punch in the later innings, the Red Sox may still need help finding a lefty reliever. They recently traded Josh Taylor to the Kansas City Royals for infielder Adalberto Mondesi. This move supplemented the shortstop issues and provided the team with much-needed speed. The problem, however, is now they need more southpaws.

They signed Chicago White Sox High-A affiliate Skyler Arias to a minor league deal, but he’s a long-term project. They have options to shift James Paxton to the bullpen to face lefties, but they need to explore other options, like Zach Britton or a veteran like Will Smith. The former is ideal, considering opponents’ career OPS of .638 against Britton is well below the league average. Britton’s shaky injury history has to be monitored going forward.

The Al East Is Competitive but Not Overpowering

The AL East isn’t as imposing as one might think. The New York Yankees are the reigning division champions, but even they fell apart in the second half of last season. The Yankees made the right decision by re-signing Aaron Judge, but his injury history and anomalous 2022 indicate he won’t have another iconic year. Although their pitching staff is good on paper, they still need a closer, as their duo of Clay Holmes and Michael King battled injuries last season.

The White Sox, however, have a shot at being better than they were a season ago. The latter has a knack for finding great pitching, but their hitting and batting lineup is top-heavy. Statistically, they are the middle of the pack in many categories.

The Toronto Blue Jays addressed the middle of their rotation by signing Chris Bassitt to bolster their rotation but also traded Teoscar Hernández to the Seattle Mariners. Hernández was arguably one of their best power hitters last year based on slugging percentage. The trade for Daulton Varsho may work wonders, thanks to his versatility, but his batting average wasn’t nearly as impressive last year as Hernandez’s. It will also be interesting to see Varsho in a division with better pitching and no high elevations like he experienced in Colorado.

And while the Baltimore Orioles showed promise last year, their 2022 trade deadline indicated they are still a few years away from true contention. Losing a veteran presence like Trey Mancini will hurt them in the long run if none of their prospects pan out. But having a promising player in Adley Rustchman could be what the Orioles need to build for the future.

The Third Wild Card Spot

Even if the Red Sox have a tough time in the AL East, they will ultimately benefit from the third Wild Card spot. The Blue Jays and Mariners will probably be battling for those spots, but the White Sox could supersede the Minnesota Twins for the final spot.

The Twins won the Carlos Correa sweepstakes again, but trading Jonathan Arauz was risky, considering his young age and knack for getting on-base. He led the AL in batting average last year, which means a void is felt in the lineup. Without him, it will be much harder for them to sustain a Correa or Byron Buxton injury.

All of these factors and the loss of Justin Verlander allow for a wider playing field. The Red Sox will benefit from these changes in the AL and make a run at the playoffs.

Main photo:

Players/managers mentioned:

Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Kiké Hernández, Trevor Story, Alex Cora, Masataka Yoshida, Kenley Jansen, Koji Uehara, Josh Taylor, Adalberto Mondesi, James Paxton, Zach Britton, Will Smith, Aaron Judge, Clay HolmesMichael King, Chris Bassitt, Teoscar Hernández, Daulton Varsho, José Berríos, Trey Mancini, Carlos Correa, Jonathan Arauz, Byron Buxton, Justin Verlander







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