2023 MLB Season Preview: Boston Red Sox


2022 Record: 78-84 (.481 win%, 5th in Division)

2023 Payroll: $167,483,182 (14th)

Baseball Culture

In February of 2019, the Patriots defeated the Rams in Super Bowl LIII. This was the last time that New England celebrated a championship in a major U.S. sport, and quite frankly, the people are growing impatient. Sports are king in Boston and it is impossible to overstate how deeply the Red Sox are woven into the city’s fabric. 

There’s no need to wonder if Fenway Park will attract fans in any given year, but frustration with ownership or the front office (depending on who you ask) is at an all time high and the pressure to deliver a championship is as high as it has been in recent years. While a World Series could be a tall task for the Red Sox this year, there will be no shortage of reasons to watch them, and still plenty for fans to talk about.

2023 Projected Lineup 

1. 1B Triston Casas, .249 AVG/.348 OBP/.434 SLG, 1.7 fWAR

2. 3B Rafael Devers, .286 AVG/.351 OBP/.523 SLG, 5.3 fWAR

3. DH Justin Turner, .276 AVG/.353 OBP/.432 SLG, 3.2 fWAR

4. LF Masataka Yoshida, .302 AVG/.379 OBP/.484 SLG, 3.7 fWAR

5. RF Alex Verdugo, .289 AVG/.345 OBP/.437 SLG, 3.1 fWAR

6. CF Adam Duvall, .228 AVG/.288 OBP/.454 SLG, 2.3 fWAR

7. SS Kiké Hernandez, .246 AVG/.318 OBP/.406 SLG, 3.1 fWAR

8. C Reese McGuire, .255 AVG/.304 OBP/.374 SLG, 1.6 fWAR

9. 2B Christian Arroyo, .265 AVG/.315 OBP/.420 SLG, 1.4 fWAR

10. OF Rob Refsnyder, .256 AVG/.337 OBP/.409 SLG, X.X fWAR

*2B Trevor Story is recovering from offseason elbow surgery and is expected to return late in the season (.255 AVG/.325 OBP/.467 SLG, 1.2 fWAR)

2023 Projected Starting Rotation

1. Chris Sale, 140 IP/3.70 ERA/1.21 WHIP, 2.6 fWAR

2. Corey Kluber, 147 IP/4.65 ERA/1.35 WHIP, 1.7 fWAR

3. *Garret Whitlock, 152 IP/3.69 ERA/3.45 WHIP, 2.7 fWAR

4. *Brayan Bello, 109 IP/3.93 ERA/1.35 WHIP, 1.6 fWAR

5. *James Paxton, 127 IP/4.05 ERA/1.32 WHIP, 1.5 fWAR

*Whitlock, Bello, and Paxton will likely start on the IL but return within the first few weeks of the season

2023 Projected Top 4 Relievers:

1. Kenley Jansen, 63 IP/3.90 ERA/1.18 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR

2. John Schreiber, 68 IP/3.70 ERA/1.27 WHIP, 0.7 fWAR

3. Chris Martin, 62 IP/3.57 ERA/1.20 WHIP, 0.7 fWAR

4. Tanner Houck, 81 IP/3.91 ERA/1.31 WHIP, 0.6 fWAR

 2022 Offseason Recap:

Most of the dialogue about the Red Sox offseason has been centered around player departures as opposed to the newcomers. At season’s end, shortstop Xander Bogaerts opted out of the remaining three years of his contract (as expected) and garnered a massive payday on the free agent market in the form of an 11-year, $280 million deal with the Padres. 

Additionally, his World Series teammates Nathan Eovaldi and J.D. Martinez signed deals with the Rangers and Dodgers, respectively. Starting pitchers Rich Hill (Pirates) and Michael Wacha (Padres) were also not brought back.

With the loss of a core of veterans, the Red Sox were on the hunt for a new identity this offseason to get away from some of the issues that ailed them in 2022. Their first addition actually happened during the season when Kiké Hernandez agreed to a one-year deal to return for 2023. He will serve as the shortstop this year and will also serve as one of the new leaders in the clubhouse. 

Relievers Joely Rodriguez and Chris Martin agreed to one and two-year deals, respectively to start the bullpen makeover. Former All-Star Kenley Jansen would also agree to a two-year deal to serve as the closer. 

The biggest outside addition of the offseason would come in the form of 29-year old outfielder Masatka Yoshida, who has been one of the best hitters in NPB for the Orix Buffaloes over the last few years. He agreed to a five-year, $90 million deal after slashing .336/.449/.559 last year and will serve as the team’s new left fielder.

Longtime Dodger Justin Turner also agreed to a two-year contract to serve as the team’s new designated hitter. He may get occasional reps at first base as well after serving as the Dodgers third baseman for the last nine years. 

The team also signed former Cy Young winner Corey Kluber to a one-plus-one contract. Kluber was also recently named the opening day starter for the team. Adam Duvall was added on a one-year deal as well to serve as a power threat and center fielder. 

The Red Sox would make a couple of trades, too, sending reliever Josh Taylor to the Royals in exchange for shortstop Adalberto Mondesi. They would also acquire left-handed reliever Richard Bleier from the Marlins in exchange for reliever Matt Barnes. Catcher Jorge Alfaro and outfielder Raimel Tapia would also be added as depth pieces on minor-league deals. 

The most significant move of the offseason was undoubtedly the extension of third baseman Rafael Devers on an 11-year, $331 million contract. This move not only keeps one of the best young players in the game around, as he would have been a free agent following 2023, but cements him as the face of the franchise for the next decade. 

In spite of all the additions however, the team suffered a significant blow in early January when it was announced that second baseman Trevor Story underwent UCL surgery, which is expected to keep him out until at least the midpoint of the season. 

2023 Regular Season Preview:

The roster was somewhat in need of a shakeup after underwhelming performances from veterans, such as Eovaldi and Martinez, as well as growing tensions in the clubhouse. The bullpen is much improved from a year ago. Big additions such as Jansen and Martin, as well as the return John Schreiber should form a solid back-end that won’t give away nearly as many games as last season. 

The additions of the aforementioned Martin and Richard Bleier also help address the need for relievers that throw strikes and won’t give away free bases. Tanner Houck was also successful as the part-time closer last year and should serve in a swing-man role this year. The long relief role should be filled by some combination of Nick Pivetta, Kutter Crawford, and potentially James Paxton. Zach Kelly, Ryan Brasier, and newcomers Joely Rodriquez and Wyatt Mills will make contributions as well.

The starting rotation also looks much different than a year ago. Corey Kluber will toe the slab on opening day after pitching to a 4.34 ERA in 164 innings last year with the Rays. He also injects control into the rotation, as he finished with only a 1.2 BB/9 last year, which was the best for a qualified starter. 

Chris Sale is back after a lost 2022 in which he only pitched 5.2 innings. The team will likely ease him in slowly and manage his innings at the start of the year. Even with the recent injuries, Sale should have a big impact on the rotation this year. 

Garrett Whitlock made only 9 starts in 2022 but will be relied on for more in 2023. A hotly debated topic amongst fans, Whitlock has been outstanding in the bullpen over the last two years, even pitching to a 1.96 ERA as a rookie in 2021, but his excellent command and three-pitch mix make him an intriguing candidate for more starts. He is recovering from offseason hip surgery and will likely join the big-league roster in mid-April. 

Brayan Bello was the victim of some bad luck in his 57.1 innings last year, pitching to a 4.71 ERA despite a 2.94 FIP. He was one of the more exciting pitching prospects the organization has seen recently and it will be exciting to see what he can do in his first full season. 

James Paxton is also back after picking up his player option this year. He didn’t pitch in the majors in 2022 and only pitched a total of 21.2 innings across 2020 and 2021, but he has had plenty of success in his career and will be a good veteran presence for younger pitchers on the staff. 

The lineup is intriguing in its own right. Poor plate approaches and a lack of power hurt the Sox for much of last season, but they were still able to post 4.54 runs per game, good for eighth in baseball. Rafael Devers is the headliner and should continue to produce at the plate. Alex Verdugo will look to have a breakout year, as he is coming off a year in which he slashed .280/.328/.405 with 11 home runs. He will shift over to right field with the addition of Masataka Yoshida. 

Yoshida is the great unknown of the Red Sox lineup. He profiles as an on-base machine with some sneaky power. There is always a risk in signing players from international leagues, but Yoshida’s elite bat-to-ball skills and knowledge of the strike zone should help him have some success this year. 

Justin Turner slashed .278/.350/.438 and will look to bring some solid contact and on-base skills as the designated hitter, but the Monster will allow him the opportunity to tap into some more power as well. Rookie first baseman Triston Casas brings big-time power and outstanding plate discipline to the table and is absolutely an AL Rookie of the Year candidate. 

The lineup should also get contributions from the likes of Adam Duvall in center field, Christian Arroyo at second base, Kiké Hernandez at shortstop and a catcher platoon of Reese McGuire and Conner Wong.

This may not be a Red Sox season to remember, but it’s difficult to think that this team came out of the offseason worse. The lineup should be more balanced and the bullpen has been shored up. With an injection of some youth, one could hope that this team won’t stumble across the finish line, like last season.

Player to Watch #1: 3B Rafael Devers

Rafael Devers’ at-bats were must-watch events throughout the first half of last season, but a hamstring injury slowed him down towards the end of the year. He still finished with a solid slash line of .295/.358/.521 and 27 homers.

 Devers, still only 26 years old, enters this year as the new face of the organization and will look to keep up his reputation as one of the best hitters in all of baseball. He made a jump on defense last year as well, going from -13 OAA in 2021 to -2 in 2022. 

While Devers is still a below average defender, he will look to continue to improve that facet of his game. There’s no question that Devers is the best player on this team, and he will continue to be a force at the plate in 2023.

Player to Watch #2: P Brayan Bello

For as highly ranked of a prospect as Bello was, there wasn’t much fanfare around his debut last year. He was originally projected to debut at some point during the 2023 season, but his stellar performances in AA and AAA combined with a rash of injuries at the major league level accelerated his timeline a little bit. 

On the surface it looks like Bello was nothing special in the majors last year, with a 4.71 ERA in 57.1 innings over 11 starts. However, Bello was the victim of some pretty bad luck last year, as his BABIP against was .404 and his FIP was good for 2.94. Bello is excellent at generating swings and misses and soft contact with his combination of an upper 90’s fastball, devastating changeup, and slider. 

He struggled a bit more with his command in the majors (4.24 BB/9), but if he can improve this and continue to generate the results he has, Bello should be able to establish himself as one of the best pitchers in the organization. Forearm tightness has limited him in spring training, however he should be good to go shortly after Opening Day.

Player to Watch #3: OF Alex Verdugo

Alex Verdugo is at a fork in the road in his Red Sox tenure. Is he just an everyday player or is there another level that he can get to? As the main part of the return in the Mookie Betts trade, Verdugo’s numbers have ticked down in every season since his first with the team in 2020 and he was even called out by Alex Cora as a player that needed to take a step forward in 2023. 

He slashed .280/.328/.405 last year and played below average defense in both corner outfield spots last year. Verdugo doesn’t swing and miss much, but he also doesn’t walk much either and has about average power. He will make the full-time transition to right field (his best position by OAA in 2022) this year with the arrival of Masataka Yoshida. 

Something that makes Verdugo intriguing this season is his contract situation. He is currently slated to become a free agent after the 2024 season, so it will be important for the Red Sox to decide if he is a player that they would like to keep around in the future, especially given the fact that Yoshida is under contract for the next five years, and prospects Ceddanne Rafaela and Miguel Bleis are continuing to make noise in the minors.

2023 Record Prediction: 83-79

The 2021 Red Sox exceeded expectations, the 2022 group failed to meet expectations, so what will it be in 2023? I think you could make a decent argument for this team to have anywhere between 75 and 88 wins this year, but 83 wins is right about where they belong. 

The bullpen is much improved and should help prevent plenty of games from getting away like they did last year, and while the lineup lost Martinez and Bogaerts, they should still get ample production from Devers, Turner, Verdugo, Casas, and Yoshida. 

If there’s something that limits the ceiling of this team, it’s the rotation. While there’s plenty of potential around Bello and Whitlock, neither has been a starter in the majors for an extended period. Sale and Paxton also have had plenty of injuries over the past few years. 

However, MLB sent the Red Sox a bit of a life preserver this offseason by reducing the amount of games that teams will play against their own division (52 instead of 76). The Red Sox were an abysmal 26-50 against AL East teams last season, and the division is still loaded, with every team having a chance to make the postseason.

There’s more unknowns on this Red Sox team than there have been in previous years, so I think it’s safe to put them round the middle of the pack in the American League and just short of a postseason spot.

Categories: 2023 Season Preview, Season Analysis

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