Why Red Sox Are In Far Better Shape Than Last Season Entering Spring Training

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If you look at the odds, the Boston Red Sox are in a similar position to last season, entering spring training among the World Series favorites. But if you look at the roster, this year’s club looks even better.

The Red Sox were an intriguing pick for the 2016 season after they signed David Price in the offseason, worked on readying two of Major League Baseball’s best prospects for their big-league debuts and shuffled a few players into new positions after finishing last in the American League East. The formula worked, and Boston won a division title. But the work didn’t stop there.

Boston made some key additions for the 2017 season, and things already are looking up despite pitchers and catchers reporting Tuesday. Let’s take a look at what the Red Sox did to turn things around even further.

The rotation is formidable.
The addition of Price last season was huge, of course, but there still was plenty of doubt surrounding the guys behind him in the rotation. Rick Porcello had a rough 2015 campaign, Clay Buchholz always was hot and cold, Joe Kelly was better suited as a reliever and Eduardo Rodriguez sustained a knee injury early in spring training.

Now, the Red Sox have Chris Sale thanks to a blockbuster trade with the Chicago White Sox, Porcello is the reigning AL Cy Young Award winner and Boston has a plethora of options for the Nos. 4 and 5 spots, including Rodriguez, Stephen Wright and Drew Pomeranz. Opposing offenses will want nothing to do with the Big Three of Sale, Price and Porcello, and there’s slightly more depth on the roster and in Triple-A Pawtucket in case anything goes awry. If you don’t believe us on how good the Red Sox’s rotation is, just take a look at the ZiPS projections.

There are fewer questions surrounding individual players.
A team doesn’t just jump from finishing 78-84 in one season to being World Series contenders in the next without assuming a lot of things will go right. And for the Red Sox, fans and media weren’t ready to assume anything.

Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval endured terrible 2015 seasons, leaving people wondering if they could bounce back. Ramirez was moving to a completely new position at first base after an embarrassing year in left field. Christian Vazquez returned from Tommy John surgery, and there was no guarantee he’d be the same great defensive catcher he was before. Rick Porcello finished 2015 strong after a rough season, and it was important he keep that up. Travis Shaw had a solid 2015, but it was a small sample size, and Boston could have been left with almost no backup at first and third base if he couldn’t perform.

Since then, Ramirez and Porcello both turned in excellent 2016 seasons, Vazquez’s arm strength suffered, but he still was above average defensively and Shaw is now a member of the Milwaukee Brewers. There still are questions about Sandoval after he missed most of 2016 with a shoulder injury, but he showed up to spring training early and in much better shape than last season. Other than that, the Red Sox pretty much have their bases covered.

The outfield is stacked.
One of the most impressive things the Red Sox have done over these past couple seasons is that they were able to add real talent without giving up Xander Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. or Andrew Benintendi. And those last three guys are their starting outfield, from right to left.

There was a huge hole in left field last spring training with Ramirez at first and Rusney Castillo not playing up to expectations. Brock Holt wound up spending a lot of time there, limiting his presence a super-utility player. But with Benintendi having a seemingly solid grip on the position, Boston has three hard-hitting, defensively talented starters backed up by Chris Young, Holt and possibly Blake Swihart, too.

They’re coming off an early playoff exit.
Finishing last is good motivation, but making the playoffs and getting swept might be even better. The Red Sox had the most productive offense in baseball in 2016, and the Cleveland Indians held them to seven total runs in a three-game sweep in the AL Division Series. It was the first taste of the playoffs for many of the Red Sox’s young players, and they’ll certainly want to get that feeling back and go even further.

They’re healthier than in years past.
Yes, yes, spring training is notorious for producing some of the weirdest injuries of the season. But for now, the Red Sox are in a pretty great position health-wise. There are a few players returning from surgery, including Sandoval (shoulder), Swihart (ankle) and second baseman Dustin Pedroia (knee). Rodriguez tweaked his knee while playing for Venezuela this offseason, but the team doesn’t seem overly concerned. Pitchers Brandon Workman and Carson Smith both are coming off Tommy John, and the Red Sox are hopeful each can contribute early in the 2017 season.  Boston also has a lot more depth this season should any of those diagnoses take a negative turn.

Thumbnail photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images

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