<
>

Half-full or half-empty? 2016 Red Sox have an ace ... and a lot of questions

play
Can any team win the AL East? (2:55)

Karl Ravech and Curt Schilling break down the AL East heading into the 2016 MLB season and who they believe will come out on top. (2:55)

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- John Henry is through with making predictions.

After financing a club-record payroll last season, the Boston Red Sox principal owner would have wagered, well, another $200 million that his team would contend for a playoff spot in 2015. The Sox didn’t come close, falling below .500 on May 3 and never again reaching the break-even mark en route to a second consecutive last-place finish.

“I was shocked at how bad we were last year,” Henry said when spring training began. “To me, it was shocking. Maybe it wasn’t to people on the outside. But you can’t have the kind of talent we had on the field -- or at least attempt to put the kind of talent we thought we had on the field -- and have those results and not be looking for answers.”

So while Henry would love to say he’s bullish on the 2016 Red Sox, he will leave the forecasting to others -- like us, for example. And as we look ahead to the season, here are three reasons to be optimistic and three reasons to be pessimistic about the Sox, beginning with the glass-half-full view:

HALF-FULL

1. At long last, the Red Sox have an ace.

David Price is the proven No. 1 starter Boston has craved since Jon Lester was traded to Oakland 20 months ago.

And it only cost $217 million to get him.

But Price is legit. He has a 2.97 ERA since 2010, trailing only Felix Hernandez (2.89) and Chris Sale (2.91) among American League starters who have thrown at least 800 innings, and he built that track record in the AL East.

If Price does for the Sox what he did late last season for the Toronto Blue Jays, namely lead them to a division title, the money will be well worth it.

2. 'Win one [more] for Big Papi' is a powerful rallying cry.

David Ortiz has been nothing less than the face of the Red Sox for 14 years and the common thread between the World Series titles of 2004, 2007 and 2013. It stands to reason, then, that Henry said it will be a “disaster” if the slugger’s final at-bats don’t come in the postseason.

Unlike Peyton Manning, Ortiz’s skills don’t appear to have eroded with age. He overcame a terribly slow start last season to finish with 37 homers and a .913 OPS.

As the past two seasons proved, Big Papi can’t do it alone. But at age 40, he still has plenty left in the tank.

3. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are a year closer to stardom.

As a way of tempering expectations for Boston's young core, general manager Mike Hazen recently cautioned “there’s nothing that says these guys are going to continue on a linear path upward. It doesn’t work that way.”

Very true.

But among baseball’s 25-and-under set last season, Betts ranked ninth and Bogaerts 12th in wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs. The only other team with more than one player in the top 20 was the Chicago Cubs (Kris Bryant, Anthony Rizzo and Addison Russell).

Allowing, then, for even some regression, Betts and Bogaerts have the look of future All-Stars and are poised to lead the Sox into the post-Ortiz era.

And now for those who take a half-empty view ...

HALF-EMPTY

1. Injuries are already taking a toll.

First, young left-hander Eduardo Rodriguez temporarily dislocated his right knee when he caught a spike in the grass during a Feb. 27 workout. Then, setup reliever Carson Smith strained the flexor mass muscle in his right forearm.

Not good.

Both pitchers will open the season on the disabled list, the timetable for their return not yet clear, testing the Red Sox's depth almost immediately. Smith’s absence could be particularly impactful considering the Sox play seven of the first 13 games against the Blue Jays' righty-heavy lineup. It could be trial by fire for right-handed relievers Matt Barnes and Noe Ramirez.

2. The rotation is still packed with questions.

After watching Price on Opening Day, ask yourself this: Do you trust Clay Buchholz, Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly?

Buchholz has the ability to be a solid No. 2 starter, at least until injury strikes, practically an inevitability for a pitcher who has never reached 200 innings. Porcello claims to be back on track after mystifyingly straying from his signature sinker last season in favor of trying to overpower hitters with his pedestrian fastball. And despite a promising spring, Kelly is still learning to be a pitcher rather than a thrower.

The rotation has the potential to be among the league’s best. Then again, it’s entirely possible the Sox could be shopping for help before the trade deadline.

3. The "Gold Bust Twins" are back.

Fans of a certain age fondly remember the “Gold Dust Twins,” a nickname given to rookie outfielders Fred Lynn and Jim Rice in 1975.

Now, meet the “Gold Bust Twins.”

Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez made a combined $36 million last season despite ranking among the least-valuable players in the majors. Ramirez adapted well in spring training to his new first-base position, but Sandoval was as much a lightning rod as ever, initially because of his weight and later for defensive struggles that forced him to compete for his job with upstart Travis Shaw.

Here’s a scary thought: For all the changes the Sox made, their success might hinge on bounce-backs from their dual disappointments.