New year, new offense.
And for the first time since 2020, the Red Sox are set to enter a new year with a substantially worse lineup than the one they had the year before.
Gone are Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Christian Vazquez, Jackie Bradley Jr., Franchy Cordero, Tommy Pham, Kevin Plawecki, Eric Hosmer and others who made an impact on the Red Sox’ overall offensive numbers last year.
Incoming are Masataka Yoshida and Justin Turner.
There’s still some offseason left for the Red Sox to improve, but with all the top free agents off the board, Chaim Bloom and Co. will soon need to orchestrate a trade or two to have something to celebrate in the new year.
As it stands, the Red Sox have lost 38% (59 of 155) of their home run output and 47% (166 of 352) of their doubles output from a year ago.
And this isn’t a team that has power to spare. Their 155 homers ranked 20th in MLB and the two players they’ve added this winter, Yoshida and Turner, aren’t expected to make sizable impacts in that area. Turner, now 38 years old, hit just 13 last year while Yoshida, coming over from Japan, hit 21 in a league in which pitching isn’t nearly as overpowering.
This isn’t a team built on speed, either. They had just 52 stolen bases last year, fifth-fewest in the game, and their only speedster, Jarren Duran, struggled to take competitive at-bats at the big league level.
If this lineup doesn’t hit for power and doesn’t play the speed game, they’ll need to win games like the 2015 Kansas City Royals: with a lot of singles.
It should be a strange season at Fenway Park, but if the Red Sox are going to stay competitive with the lineup they currently have, it’s going to take a few miracles.
To ring in the new year, we’ve found five resolutions the Sox’ offense needs to make in order to stay afloat in 2023:
1. Trevor Story needs a career year
We could say that Story simply needs to stay healthy, but it’s more complicated than that.
Before getting hit by a pitch on the hand and missing almost two months to recover, Story had been a productive hitter for a mere three weeks. He hit half of his 16 homers between May 16 and June 4, when he was on a brief tear that gave him a final season’s worth of numbers that weren’t as terrible as his daily performance would’ve indicated: .238 average, 16 home runs, 66 RBIs in 396 plate appearances.
It’s been four years since Story was a 30-homer, 20-stolen-base All-Star for the Colorado Rockies, and his offensive totals in the three years since don’t provide a ton of room for optimism. His tendency to chase pitches outside of the strike zone made him one of the worst regulars in the sport at swinging at bad pitches last year.
How does he save this offense? Stay healthy, control the zone, rediscover his power stroke, find consistency and oh, by the way, do it all while likely moving back to shortstop, a position many doubt he can handle due to his elbow troubles.
2. Triston Casas needs to be Rookie of Year finalist
No pressure, kid.
But if the soon-to-be 23-year-old Olympian doesn’t stay on the field and build off his promising debut last year, this Red Sox offense is in a lot of trouble.
After Rafael Devers, Casas is the best left-handed bat they have. He controls the zone, takes his walks and has easy power. With a sweet inside-out stroke, he’s more than capable of driving pitches off of (and over) the Green Monster with regularity. It’s not crazy to think he could hit 40-plus doubles in his first full big league season, and if he adds another 20 home runs and an on-base percentage over .360, he could slide into the middle of the order and replace some of Bogaerts’ production.
3. Yoshida needs to be Brandon Nimmo
Shortly after the Red Sox agreed to a five-year, $90-million deal with Yoshida, the Mets re-signed Nimmo to a deal worth $162 million over eight years.
But if Yoshida is the player the Red Sox hope he can be, they’ll have scored a similar player at 56% of the price.
The Sox are bargain shoppers these days and if the offense is going to fly, it’ll need a productive leadoff hitter it hasn’t had since Mookie Betts was traded to the Dodgers. Yoshida has displayed an elite approach during his seven seasons with the Orix Buffaloes, hitting .326 while getting on base at an astounding .419 clip. Only Mike Trout and Juan Soto have matched that OBP in the majors over the last five years.
In MLB, if Yoshida can be similar to Nimmo, a career .269 hitter with a .285 OBP and .827 OPS, the Sox will have a premier table setter to get on base and give Devers, Story and Casas a chance to drive him in.
4. Alex Verdugo needs to finally put it all together
The Red Sox look like fools for getting little value in return for Betts, one of the best players of this generation who helped the Dodgers win a World Series in his first year in Los Angeles. They recently designated Jeter Downs for assignment, leaving Verdugo and catcher Connor Wong carrying all the weight of the Betts trade.
Thus far, Verdugo has been an average outfielder, only sometimes displaying the kind of potential the Red Sox saw in him when making the deal with L.A.
Injuries and inconsistent mechanics have played a role, but it’s time for Verudgo to have a breakout year in his age-27 campaign, or this could be his last year in Boston.
5. Devers needs an MVP season
Few players hit the ball as hard, as consistently as the baby-faced kid from the Dominican Republic. Other than a down year during the pandemic, Devers has shown the kind of extra-base power matched only by the likes of Trout, Soto, Aaron Judge, Yordan Alvarez, Paul Goldsmchidt and Pete Alonso since the start of 2019.
At 26 years old, he’s entering a free agent year with a chance to have the kind of payoff Judge had with the Yankees last season. And if the Red Sox are going anywhere in 2023, Devers needs to show the world that he’s worthy of being in the same conversation as the very best in the game.