Reports surfaced recently that the Boston Red Sox will hire Houston Astros bench coach Alex Cora as their next manager. Cora played 14 seasons in the MLB, including four for Boston from 2005 to 2008. Cora has been lauded by Astros players and coaches, along with baseball personnel around the league, and though it is only his first season as an MLB coach, the Red Sox will entrust him with the managerial reigns next season. Now that the Red Sox have straightened out the issue of manager, there are a number of remaining decisions that need to be made in light of their loss in the ALDS. Here are the biggest three.
Designated Hitter/First Base
These two positions are closely intertwined for Boston. Last season, Mitch Moreland saw the bulk of time at first base, which makes sense considering Moreland is a Gold Glove winner. Moreland had some good offensive numbers last season, 22 home runs, 79 runs batted in, and 34 doubles, but his slash line was less than impressive – .246 batting average, .326 on-base percentage, and .443 slugging percentage. Moreland has never really been a middle-of-the-lineup hitter, as those numbers are on par with his career, but the Red Sox would love to get a little more out of their first basemen. Moreland was only signed on a one-year deal, so Boston will need to decide whether to bring him back next season.
Hanley Ramirez is the other half of the equation. Ramirez was primarily the DH this season but started 133 at first base in 2016. Ramirez struggled this year, posting just 63 RBIs despite hitting fourth or fifth in the lineup for most of the season. Like Moreland, his slash line was nothing to write home about – .242/.320/.429. Ramirez underwent left shoulder arthroscopy and debridement surgery, which means Ramirez likely wasn’t fully healthy this season. Regardless of the injury, Ramirez is still under contract for two more seasons, and at $22 million per year, the Sox need some real production out of him.
Boston has a couple of options here. They could resign Moreland and have the same setup as last year, Moreland at first, Ramirez at DH. They could let Moreland walk and sign a new first baseman, keeping Ramirez at DH. Or, they could start Hanley at first, where he was surprisingly solid in 2016, and look for a DH to give them the power bat they lacked this season.
Perhaps more than any other position, third base was a trouble spot for Boston last year. Then, in late July, Boston brought up top prospect Rafael Devers and acquired Eduardo Nuñez from the San Francisco Giants. Devers, .284 batting average, 10 home runs, 30 RBIs, and Nuñez, .321 batting average, 8 home runs, 27 RBIs, rejuvenated the offense down the stretch, and the Sox third base struggles seemed to straighten out. But as the season closed, problems emerged. For Devers, it was defense. In just 56 games, he committed 14 errors for an abysmal .906 fielding percentage. At just 20 years of age, his defense will improve, but the Sox cannot have a swinging gate at the hot corner. For Nuñez, it was his health. He missed 20 games after being acquired at the end of July and was reinjured in Game One of the American League Division Series. Reports suggest he will be fine after an offseason of rest, but it is certainly a concern moving forward. Nuñez is also currently a free agent.
The Red Sox will need to decide whether Devers is their third basemen of the future, in which case they will need to work hard with him on defense. If they resign Nuñez, the two will likely be splitting time.
Side note: I just want to take a moment to remind fans that the Sox traded Travis Shaw (.273 BA, 31 HR, 101 RBI) because he “couldn’t hit lefties” and got in return a setup man who didn’t pitch a single game this year.
Here is another position where the Red Sox need to make playing time decisions moving forward.
The Sox ran a catcher-by-committee last year, with Sandy Leon playing 85 games and Christian Vasquez playing in 99. Both are elite defensively as Vasquez threw out 42% of baserunners (fourth in the MLB) and Leon threw out 37% (eighth). The big difference between the two is on offense. Although Leon had a decent offensive year in 2016, he struggled last year (.225 BA, 7 HR, 39 RBIs, .290 OBP). Vasquez had better overall numbers (.290 BA, 5 HR, 32 RBIs, .330 OBP) and was red hot in the second half of the season.
Leon is Chris Sale’s personal catcher, which is fine, and former manager John Farrell loved the way he called games. Numbers do back up this idea, as Leon was third in the majors in catcher ERA (3.41). Vazquez wasn’t far behind though at 4.02, which was good for ninth in the league. Also, take into account that Leon caught all of Sale’s starts, which means this gap may be closer than it appears. Vasquez’s combination of offense and defense make him the better choice for the starting role. Moving forward, it would be nice to see the Red Sox stick with one for the majority of playing time.
For a team that won 93 games and their division, the Red Sox have a lot of pressing decisions this offseason. A good place to start would be these three.