MLB season preview: The Red Sox have sky-high expectations to meet

Hello, expectations.

The Boston Red Sox are coming off a year in which they won their division and looked like a World Series contender, only to get swept out of the postseason. They lost the retiring David Ortiz, but went out and made the biggest move of the offseason by trading for Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale.

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It’s quite a mixture, isn’t it? Huge disappointment followed by huge excitement and now all the hype and expectations that come with being one of baseball’s World Series favorites. These Red Sox look a lot different this year, and it’s not just because Big Papi’s swagger is gone. Pablo Sandoval is back and slimmer than we’ve seen him. The youth movement has fully arrived too — as Andrew Benintendi is expected to be their everyday left fielder and Mookie Betts is expected to play like an MVP for the next 10 years or so.

The lineup is stacked, but the questions surround the pitching. Boston’s trio of Sale, David Price and reigning Cy Young winner Rick Porcello looks fantastic, but Price’s expectations are already tempered because of elbow issues. The bullpen also looks a bit shaky. Craig Kimbrel is the closer and they’re trying Joe Kelly in the eighth, but Tyler Thornburg is hurt and Carson Smith is still recovering from Tommy John surgery.

Like everything with the Red Sox, the potential is sky high. It’s also not a sure thing.

ADDITIONS & SUBTRACTIONS
Additions: Chris Sale, Tyler Thornburg, Mitch Moreland
Subtractions: David Ortiz, Yoan Moncada, Clay Buchholz

The Red Sox only made one big move this winter, but boy it was huge. Chris Sale joins an already strong rotation featuring reigning Cy Young winner Rick Porcello and David Price. Price may miss the first month of the season with an arm issue, but that makes the Sale acquisition even more important. Thornburg didn’t get a ton of publicity while pitching in Milwaukee, but his 34.2 percent strikeout rate ranked 11th among all relievers. He’s missed most of spring training with a shoulder injury, though. Moreland can’t, and won’t be expected, to match David Ortiz’s production. He’s more of a platoon bat anyway. (Chris Cwik)

Chris Sale is in Boston now and the Red Sox's rotation could be fantastic. (AP)
Chris Sale is in Boston now and the Red Sox's rotation could be fantastic. (AP)

KEY PLAYER
After losing a season to a shoulder injury, Pablo Sandoval came to Red Sox camp looking and acting like a new man. His spring training stats are on point, and he’s hitting like the Pablo we used to know. This couldn’t come at a better time, because even though the Red Sox are stocked with talent, they lost Ortiz to retirement in 2016. Sandoval can’t replace Big Papi (as if anyone could), but a productive season could go a long way toward filling that David Ortiz sized hole in Boston’s offense-heavy lineup. (Liz Roscher)

PROJECTED LINEUP & ROTATION
Lineup
1. Dustin Pedroia, 2B (.318/.376/.449, 15 HR, 74 RBI, 105 R)
2. Andrew Benintendi, LF (.295/.359/.476, 2 HR, 14 RBI)
3. Mookie Betts, RF (.318/.363/.534, 31 HR, 113 RBI, 122 R, 26 SB)
4. Hanley Ramirez, DH (.286/.361/.505, 30 HR, 111 RBI, 81 R)
5. Xander Bogaerts SS (.294/.356/.446, 21 HR, 89 RBI, 115 R)
6. Mitch Moreland, 1B (.233/.298/.422, 22 HR, 60 RBI)
7. Jackie Bradley Jr., CF (.267/.349/.486, 26 HR, 89 RBI, 94 R)
8. Pablo Sandoval, 3B (0-for-6 in 2016)
9. Sandy Leon, C (.310/.369/.476, 7 HR, 35 RBI)

Rotation
1. Rick Porcello (22-4, 3.15 ERA, 223 IP, 189 K)
2. Chris Sale (17-10, 3.34 ERA, 226.2 IP, 233 K)
3. Steven Wright (13-6, 3.33 ERA, 156.2 IP, 127 K)
4. Drew Pomeranz (11-12, 3.32 ERA, 170.2 IP, 186 K)
5. Eduardo Rodriguez (3-7, 4.71 ERA, 107 IP, 100 K)

Is this the year Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez both deliver for Boston? (Getty Images)
Is this the year Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez both deliver for Boston? (Getty Images)

BEST-CASE SCENARIO
The splashy acquisitions over the last two winters pay off. That’s already questionable thanks to David Price’s arm troubles, but assuming he comes around he’ll form a big time trio with Chris Sale and Rick Porcello. Combine that with a relentless offense that likes to wear opponents down, and Boston should be poised to win over 95 games, take the AL East crown and challenge for a World Series championship. (Mark Townsend)

WORST-CASE SCENARIO
The lack of bullpen depth proves to be a bigger weakness than its offense or rotation is a strength. This team will slug its way to a lot of wins, but nothing crushes a team’s confidence quicker than a leaky bullpen. If the bullpen stinks, Boston could slip into more of wild-card contender than a division favorite. (Townsend)

PRESSING FANTASY QUESTION
Q: What is Andrew Benintendi ready to do?
The highly-touted Benintendi made a two-level jump in August and wasn’t overwhelmed — he essentially kept the same average and OBP he had with Double-A Portland, and his slugging percentage was a reasonable .476. We didn’t get a lot of category juice (two homers, one steal), but that’s standard for a young player. Over 151 games in the minors, he had 20 home runs and 26 steals (albeit the swipes came on 38 attempts).

Expectations are lofty entering Benintendi’s rookie year and age-22 season — he’s expected to be the team’s full-time left-fielder, and the Red Sox desperately need more left-handed contributions after the retirement of Ortiz. Benintendi might get a shot at the No. 2 spot in the lineup, as the team looks to break up the glut of right-handed hitters. Even if we assume Benintendi will be in the top half of the lineup, he’ll probably be the only lefty in that five-man group.

[Elsewhere: Read more pressing fantasy questions about the Red Sox]

Unfortunately, this is the type of buzzy player — and on a buzzy team — that often costs a lot at the draft table. Benintendi’s NFBC ADP currently stands at 141 — that’s No. 33 at the outfield position — and that sounds awfully expensive for someone with a limited resume and an uncertain batting position.

Unless I knew Benintendi were locked into the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in the lineup, I wouldn’t consider writing this ticket. And even if he gets that nod before the year, it still is a difficult way to make a profit. Shiny New Toys generally come with inflationary costs. And Benintendi’s average might arrive quicker than his power and speed will. (Scott Pianowski)

BEST FOLLOW
Some baseball players just retweet flattering things from their Twitter account. But Mookie Betts isn’t like those guys.


When Mookie Betts needs help buying a car, he makes a video and sets it to music. He also plays tennis, which was captured in a video that was also set to music and can dunk. Some. Basketballs. Who knew he was so multitalented? (OK, everyone knew that.) (Roscher)

BEST REASON TO ATTEND A GAME
Fenway Park is the real attraction here. You’ll want to make sure you explore the famous landmarks in the stadium, including the Green Monster and Pesky’s Pole. If you’re lucky, you can head down to the bullpen and try to find the bullpen cop who became famous for celebrating a David Ortiz walk-off in 2013. Make sure you get a glimpse of the manual scoreboard at the base of the monster as well.

Honestly, you’ll probably be best served trying to tour the park before each game. Thankfully, the team offers those on game day. Tours last an hour and the last one leaves three hours before game time. It’s not a bad idea, if it’s your first time visiting the iconic stadium. (Cwik)

ALSO IN THIS SERIES: San Diego Padres, Cincinnati Reds, Philadelphia Phillies, Oakland Athletics, Milwaukee Brewers, Los Angeles Angels, Atlanta Braves, Minnesota Twins, Arizona Diamondbacks, Chicago White Sox, Tampa Bay Rays, New York Yankees, Baltimore Orioles, Kansas City Royals, Detroit Tigers, Colorado Rockies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Cardinals, Toronto Blue Jays, Texas Rangers, New York Mets, Houston Astros, Washington NationalsSan Francisco Giants, Cleveland Indians, Los Angeles Dodgers, Boston Red Sox, Chicago Cubs
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Mike Oz is the editor of Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at mikeozstew@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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