No sportsbook has put out the "first manager to be fired" prop yet, but I assure you that Boston's John Farrell is atop the list when it does happen. No manager is more on the hot seat entering the 2016 season.
What an odd tenure it has been for Farrell in Boston. The Red Sox went from worst to first in his first season and won the 2013 World Series. But they slumped to 71-91 and last in the AL East in 2014. It was only slightly better in 2015 with a 78-84 mark and another fifth-place finish. Ferrell missed the end of the season to deal with Lymphoma treatments and Boston played much better (27-20) under interim manager Torey Lovullo, normally the bench coach. He's a rising star in the managerial ranks, so the Red Sox probably won't waste any time dumping Farrell if they get off to a slow start and turn it over to Lovullo. He has interviewed for several managerial openings in recent years, becoming a finalist for the Minnesota Twins' job last offseason before Paul Molitor was hired. Reportedly some teams wanted to talk to him this past offseason, but Lovullo declined out of loyalty to his good friend Farrell. Lovullo refused to use Farrell's manager's office at Fenway Park or on the road while the interim manager last year. But loyalty only goes so far.
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Also consider this: Dave Dombrowski, the new man in charge of the Boston front office hired during last season, didn't hire Farrell. So Dombrowski feels no loyalty toward keeping him if things go bad. What this season also will be all about is a 162-game curtain call for one of the most beloved Boston athletes ever: "Big Papi" David Ortiz, who has announced he will retire after this season and then should go into the Hall of Fame in five years. Expect plenty of tacky celebrations and gifts every time Ortiz visits a city for the last time.
Boston opens the season April 4 at Cleveland.
Red Sox 2016 Projected Lineup
Here were your top-four scoring teams in the majors last year: Toronto, NY Yankees, Texas and Boston. The big difference being that the Blue Jays won the AL East, the Yankees were a wild-card team and the Rangers took the AL West.
This Red Sox lineup should be excellent as it's basically untouched from last season. There were no major losses and the only addition was Chris Young, who will serve as a fourth outfielder.
Future perennial All-Star Mookie Betts plays right field and leads off. This guy has it all and hit .291 with 18 HRs, 77 RBIs and 21 steals last season. The Sox wouldn't trade him for anything. Second baseman Dustin Pedroia (.291, 12 HRs, 42 RBIs) bats second. Still a solid player but hasn't played more than 135 games the past two seasons.
Boston's other young rising superstar and untouchable is shortstop Xander Bogaerts, who will hit third. He batted .320 with seven HRs and 81 RBIs in 2015. Scouting reports have suggested he could hit 20-30 homers in his prime, and he's about to enter that. I expect at least 15. Big Papi hits cleanup. He batted .273 with 37 homers and 108 RBIs last year. How realistic is it to think he can match those numbers at age 40?
Now we come to the question marks: Hanley Ramirez (.249, 19 HRs, 53 RBIs) moves from left field to first base this season and then surely to DH next year if the Red Sox can't trade him. Ramirez bats fifth with Pablo Sandoval (.245, 10 HRs, 47 RBIs) batting sixth. Both guys were mega-busts in their first seasons in Boston -- by some advanced stats, the two worst every-day players in the AL when you include defense -- and the Sox would love to give them away (their deals were signed under the old regime), but their contracts make that impossible. One big story of Red Sox camp is how fat Sandoval showed up after the Sox told him to get into shape this offseason. When some guys get the big contracts, they stop caring.
No. 7 hitter and Cuban left fielder Rusney Castillo (.253, 5 HRs, 29 RBIs) is still a mystery but starting to look like a potential high-paid bust as well. Catcher Blake Swihart (.274, 5 HRs, 31 RBIs) and center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. (.249, 10 HRs, 43 RBIs) round things out. The Sox have a good super-utility guy in Brock Holt who can play just about everywhere but catcher if a regular gets hurt or struggles.
Some major potential for this group, no question about it. I think Ramirez will be better offensively but have given up on Sandoval. Ortiz will regress some. No clue what Castillo actually is. Love Betts and Bogaerts.
Red Sox 2016 Projected Rotation & Closer
Since Boston was so good offensively last year, I'm sure you can deduce that the pitching staff was a mess. And it was. The Sox ranked No. 25 in ERA at 4.31. The 2015 team went into the season with some apparent good depth but no true ace and it really showed. There was no one to stop a losing streak. One of those starters, lefty Wade Miley, was traded to Seattle after a disappointing season.
So Dombrowski addressed that in a big way by signing the top free agent on the market in left-hander David Price. He got a cool $217 million over seven years. Dombrowski was the guy who acquired Price in Detroit at the 2014 trade deadline and then sent him to Toronto at the 2015 deadline -- and was then fired soon after. Last season, Price went 18-5 with a 2.45 ERA with Detroit and Toronto, striking out 225. He was runner-up in the Cy Young voting. Price is great and has been durable. The only worry: He is 0-7 with a 5.27 career ERA in eight career postseason starts.
Clay Buchholz (7-7, 3.26) slots into a No. 2 role he is better suited for. The Sox gave Rick Porcello a huge extension early last season, and that blew up on them as he was 9-15 with a 4.92 ERA. Joe Kelly (10-6, 4.82) is the No. 4 guy and the No. 5 was supposed to be promising youngster Eduardo Rodriguez (10-6, 3.85). But the lefty is likely to miss at least the first three weeks with a knee issue. So either Steven Wright or Roenis Elias, acquired in the Miley deal, will open as the fifth starter.
Dombrowski's big trade of the offseason was getting one of the majors' top closers, Craig Kimbrel, from San Diego for four prospects. Kimbrel went 4-2 with a 2.58 ERA and 39 saves last season for the Padres. He struck out 87 in 59 1/3 innings. The Sox gave up a good haul to get Kimbrel, but he's lights out. That moves former closer Koji Uehara to a set-up role if healthy.
Red Sox Futures Odds
At BetOnline , Boston is +1400 to win the World Series, +650 for the AL pennant, +185 in the AL East (just behind Toronto) and has an "over/under" wins total of 87.5, with the under a -120 favorite. Ortiz is +6600 to lead the majors in homers and is given a total of 27.5. Betts is +1000 to win AL MVP and has as total of 23.5 steals. Price is a +400 second-favorite to win the Cy Young and has a wins total of 15.5.
Red Sox 2016 Predictions
FanGraphs projects Boston to finish 88-74 and first in the AL West by four games. I do think this division comes down to the Blue Jays or Red Sox, and when I previewed Toronto I had it finishing second mainly because it lost Price to Boston. Nothing has changed my mind since writing that about a month ago. Sox win the East, go over the wins. Over Price's wins and he takes the Cy Young thanks to great run support. Under on Big Papi dingers. Over on Betts steals.
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