The Boston Red Sox made some major upgrades to the team this offseason, but they’ll still have a 6-foot-3, 230-pound hole in their roster come Opening Day.
To say replacing David Ortiz in 2017 is going to be difficult would be an understatement, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Red Sox have to do it. Luckily for the club, it could already have the pieces it needs to match Big Papi’s production and leadership.
One important thing to remember about the designated hitter’s retirement is that the Red Sox never revolved around only him, even if it felt that way much of the time. Ortiz’s veteran presence has been an integral part of Boston’s success for the last decade-plus, no doubt, but along the way, there have been other leaders who brought out the best in the team, too.
And that’s where guys like Dustin Pedroia and Hanley Ramirez come in.
With Ortiz gone, Pedroia and Ramirez are the oldest guys on the team, with both of them heading into their age 33 seasons. They also happen to balance each other out with their leadership styles in a way that mixes two things Ortiz was known for.
Pedroia is more of a lead-by-example kind of player, as the second baseman is known for being one of the first guys to show up at the park every day. He often plays through injuries and has the same dedication to the Red Sox that Ortiz had through his 14 seasons with the team. That’s not to say Ramirez isn’t dedicated — his 2016 comeback is proof that he is — but he’s known for his more laid-back style.
Ramirez has a whole lot of fun playing baseball, and he brings that to the clubhouse, too. Personalities like his (and Ortiz’s) are important because players need someone around to help them relax. Ramirez’s 30 home runs, 111 RBIs and .286 average over 147 games in 2016 shows his teammates that you can be successful and still have fun, much like Ortiz did.
And speaking of Ramirez, he’ll be the one literally replacing Ortiz as Boston’s designated hitter for a majority of the games in 2017. He’s a worthy candidate based on his numbers alone, and the Red Sox should get similar production out of the DH spot this season as they did in years past.
But when we’re talking production, we have to look at just how good Boston was offensively in 2016. The Red Sox were the best hitting team in baseball last season, and it wasn’t a very close race. In fact, if you take away Ortiz’s contributions in 2016 from all of the offensive stats Boston placed first in, the team still looks pretty darn good. The Red Sox would be third in runs scored and first in the American League, 10th in hits, tied for fifth in doubles and tied for 11th in RBIs. The Cleveland Indians posted similar numbers to those last season and won the AL pennant.
Losing Ortiz means the Red Sox might not end up with the best offense in the league, but it shouldn’t stop them from remaining one of the best. Ortiz, Ramirez and Mookie Betts all turned in 30-plus home run, 100-plus RBI seasons, and Xander Bogaerts (21 home runs, 89 RBIs, .294 average), Jackie Bradley Jr. (26 homers, 87 RBIs) and Pedroia (201 hits, 36 doubles, .318 average) put in quite a bit of work, too.
The Red Sox had players finish in the top five or top 10 in nearly every offensive category, and not all of them were Ortiz. Basically, assuming the Red Sox won’t perform at the plate without Ortiz understates how good Boston’s offense was as a unit.
Ortiz will be greatly missed in 2016, and no one is arguing against that because Hall of Fame-caliber players don’t grow on trees. But you can almost guarantee it won’t be the one thing that brings the Red Sox down in 2017.
Thumbnail photo via Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Images