That is one way of looking at it. But not necessarily the best way.
Unfortunately they played too well at the end and no longer have a protected 1st pick (which last year netted them Andrew Benintendi, an outfielder with power who adjusted to the minors very quickly and was promoted). Hopefully they can get another building block for the future, unless they sign a free agent who got a qualifying offer.
2015 was really a tale of two seasons. The first season got them into last place and cost their pitching coach his job. The hitters struggled in the first month or so. Hanley was HOT in the first month (he and Dustin were the only ones), but then got hurt and pretty much stunk offensively the rest of his shortened year. While Betts, Bogaerts and Ortiz started to hit, Nava, Napoli, Panda etc. did not. Victorino was barely in there as he struggled with injuries again.
And there was the pitching which was horrendous. Short outings, big innings, overworked bullpen. Dumpster fire was it, Yoda would say. There was a reason the coach lost his job. The only bright spots were Clay and Koji.
The outfield defense was hit or miss. Betts did an excellent job. Hanley was horrendous- the worst left fielder they Red Sox have ever had. Epic kind of bad. This did not help the pitchers, at all. It also cost them a few games with costly errors.
Lots of people were wondering how long Farrell would have his job.
Then a few things changed.
- They cleared space for young players to come up by trading Napoli, Nava and Victorino.
- Turnover in the front office. Dombrowski was hired to head up baseball operations, Ben decided to leave too. This gave a fresh set of eyes and no loyalties to the situation
- Farrell had surgery during which they discovered cancer which meant he was done for the season.
- Hanley was essentially benched which allowed them to establish 3 guys in the line up just about every day.
This meant that JBJ and Castillo were able to establish some continuity which helped JBJ have a scorching hot August providing a glimmer of hope that he has turned that corner offensively. Castillo got his defense sorted out and hit better than in his yo-yo stints earlier in the year. Even more importantly, they got incredible defense in the outfield for the rest of the season.
Travis Shaw did his best Mike Napoli from earlier seasons impression hitting over .270 and launching 13 over the wall. Finally offense from the first baseman.
The rest of the offense also came together and Chili Davis kept his job. They were the 3rd best offense. Not quite what we’d hoped but after such a slow start they showed what we hope happens in the future. Xander, who also improved his defense, upped his average significantly to hit over .320. Now, he just needs to hit for power. Betts’ average continued to climb through the second half of the season and is becoming the player we thought he would. Swihart made steady improvement as well.
The pitching got better despite Clay’s latest injury. Porcello and Kelly had their “come to Jesus” moments and pitched significantly better after trips to the minor to fix “injuries”. FA returnee Rich Hill was amazing in 4 starts. Before a concussion ended his season Wright was doing very well with his knuckleball.
They were one of the better teams in the last 2+ months of the season, nearly getting out of the basement of the AL East.
Fans want the big FA signings G-O-N-E. Panda ballooned up and struggled with conditioning and heat. Hitting under .250 didn’t help his cause. He wasn’t signed for the regular season, but first you have to make the playoffs so Panda power can happen. I don’t know if they can trade him at this point. But he needs to drop lots of weight, and keep it off.
They told Hanley to drop 15-20 pounds too. He needs to move a little quicker if he’s going to play first base. But is he a cancer in the clubhouse? He can hit but will it be worth it?
Arnie Beyler was the only coaching staff casualty when they did not renew his contract. There doesn’t seem to be a clear reason. He helped Mookie and Brock adjust to the outfield. He helped Castillo learn the wall in left. He seemed to be doing good work, overall. What he couldn’t do in 2014 was get Cespedes to prepare to play in right. That would be Cespedes fault for being inflexible. What he couldn’t do in 2015 was motivate Hanley to learn how to play left field. Once again the onus is on the player. It is hard for a coach making a few hundred thousand to make a millionaire do anything. It has to come from within.
Luvollo was encouraged to stay on as bench coach instead of looking for a manager position with another team following his successful time as interim in Farrell’s place. Perhaps he is their insurance policy should Farrell not recuperate, or the team falter out of the gate yet again.
The Red Sox have a solid young core in Xander, Mookie and Blake to complement Ortiz and Pedroia. Swihart may pick up his first baseman’s mitt again just in case Christian Vasquez is ready to return. He is the better catcher and Blake’s bat is a welcome addition to the line up.
The Sox can probably afford to play JBJ in center even if August was the aberration. If he can hit .250 or better all should be good in light of the fact that he is probably the best defensive centerfielder in baseball. Therefore the outfield is set moving into 2016. Betts and Castillo should provide sufficient offense, particularly when compared to the debacle of 2014 in that regard.
The real question, offensively, is the corner positions: first and third. The questions are many. Can Panda actually lose weight? Can he stop his late night snacking? Can he return to switch hitting? All he has to give us is about .270 and solid defense. Is that too much to ask?
Who will play first, Ramirez or Shaw? If they don’t trade Hanley, they will probably keep Shaw on speed dial for when Hanley’s inevitable injury or injuries occur. But is Shaw for real or is this Will MIddlebrooks Part 2? Shaw can play both first and third so perhaps he stays in Boston as the utility infielder with Holt who can play everything but catcher.
The other great, big question is the pitching. It looks like the Sox will pick up Clay’s option. With him there is the inevitable injury. There is also the uncertain as to which Clay will show up: Cy Young contender if he stays healthy Clay or boy are we glad he got hurt because he was killing us Clay? Which Kelly and Porcello will show up? Will they get a top of the line starter (tough if they hang on to Panda and Hanley)? Dombrowski is a good talent evaluator and has shown a knack for trading guys you think may be tough to trade (Prince Fielder) and get guys who become great (Cabrera and Scherzer). It will be interesting to see what Dombrowski will do. But it is unlikely he brings back Rich Hill. I’d only do that on an incentive-laden contract. But Rich wants guaranteed money.
Will this be the first time Dombrowski builds a bullpen? Or will he let Hazen or Wren do that heavy lifting because a man’s got to know his limitations? They have a few good pieces in Tazawa (who was great until they overworked him due to a lousy rotation and Farrell’s habit of warming him up and not putting him in) and Koji. Both had short seasons and should be ready to play next year. Maybe Matt Barnes puts it together and finds a home there. Lots of questions here
This will be an offseason filled with questions. I have no answers, but will have to sit back like everyone else and see what happens.