The Boston Red Sox might just enter the 2023 season with more questions than answers, which certainly helps with this exercise.
The Red Sox spent the majority of their offseason re-tooling their roster while seeing notable contributors from their last World Series run in Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez and Nathan Eovaldi depart in free agency. That forces Boston to try to incorporate many new pieces onto a team that will look to dig out of the basement of the American League East.
There are a number of questions for the Red Sox to solve this season, but here are the six biggest ones as they get set to open a new campaign Thursday against the Baltimore Orioles.
Will Masataka Yoshida live up to the hype?
Yoshida was the highlight of the Red Sox’s free-agent class this offseason and his stellar performance at the World Baseball Classic, where he hit .409 and drove in a tournament record 13 RBIs, only fueled expectations as he makes the transition to Major League Baseball. Yoshida showed in helping Japan to the WBC title that he can perform well in the spotlight, an attribute he’ll need if he looks to become a star in Boston.
Yoshida, with his elite bat-to-ball skills and terrific plate discipline, seemed like the perfect option to slot in at the top of the Red Sox order, but manager Alex Cora has opted to bat him cleanup. There certainly won’t be any easing into things with that type of responsibility and how Yoshida handles it will go a long way in the amount of offense the Red Sox can produce.
Can Chris Sale stay healthy and return to form?
It has been four seasons since Sale made at least 20 starts as a slew of injuries has prevented the lanky lefty from regularly toeing the rubber in recent years. Sale made just 11 appearances and pitched 49 1/3 innings the last three seasons, including missing the entire 2020 campaign due to Tommy John surgery.
But Sale is healthy now and is happy he made it through spring training without any injury hiccups. Just making his regular appearance on the mound every fifth day this season will be a win for the soon-to-be 34-year-old, but the Red Sox will need more out of the pitcher that signed a five-year, $145 million extension in March of 2019. Sale understands that, too.
The Red Sox need an ace at the top of their rotation and eyes will be on Sale to see if he can look anything like his seven-time All-Star self.
How will Kiké Hernández fare as an everyday shortstop?
With Bogaerts leaving for the San Diego Padres, the Red Sox had a huge void to fill in the middle of the diamond. It looked like Trevor Story would slide over to shortstop, but an elbow injury landed him on the shelf for the foreseeable future.
So, Boston took an unconventional approach as Hernández will convert from center field to shortstop. He has only played 100 games in his career at the position and will be tasked with doing so now on an everyday basis. That can be taxing and the Red Sox will need Hernández, who dealt with a hip injury last season that cost him 60 games, to come through especially since they are thin in the middle of the infield.
How much of an impact do Red Sox youngsters make?
It will be the first full season in the majors for Triston Casas and Brayan Bello, who will get a delayed start to his campaign due to a minor injury he suffered in spring training. It’s not a full-on youth movement but Casas and Bello are expected to provide a spark.
Casas was a September call-up last season and showed flashes of his talent. He’s an early candidate to take home AL Rookie of the Year honors while Bello will look to build off his last six starts when he posted a 2.59 ERA to go along with 31 strikeouts in 31 1/3 innings while only walking 12 batters.
How quickly Casas and Bello develop on the job will be important not only to this season, but for the future of the Red Sox, who have several high-end prospects waiting in the wings that could make an impact this year as well.
Does revamped bullpen become source of strength for Red Sox?
Boston made the bullpen a priority in the offseason after it had letdown after letdown in 2022. The Red Sox brought in Kenley Jansen and Chris Martin to fortify the backend of the bullpen and made smaller moves by signing Richard Bleier and Joely Rodríguez.
With John Schreiber still to be prominently featured, it should be an upgrade over last year’s unit. But they will still have to go out and prove they can get the job done in the late innings.
Can Alex Verdugo put together breakout season?
Verdugo was the prized asset the Red Sox landed in the Mookie Betts trade. He has been serviceable during his three seasons with Boston, but has yet to fully morph into the star many believed he could be.
Verdugo batted .280 with 11 home runs and 74 RBIs, which was a solid campaign but left Cora wanting more. The 26-year-old seemed to get the message this offseason and changed his approach with a turning-point season in his career ahead. He won’t be able to hide behind the bats of Bogaerts and Martinez in the lineup anymore, as Verdugo taking his game to the next level is of high importance to the Red Sox.