Tomase: Red Sox' projected 2023 lineup leaves much to be desired originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston
The Red Sox did not overhaul their lineup this winter. If anything, they under-hauled it, subtracting All-Stars Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez and replacing them with the unproven Masataka Yoshida and the aging Justin Turner.
While there's still time to pull off a trade, the Opening Day lineup may already be in place. And taking a stab at configuring it is even less of an inspiring exercise than you'd think, but we can only work with the pieces that are in place.
In that spirit, here's one possible lineup that will need a lot of either/or scenarios to break in the team's favor for the Red Sox to avoid another last-place finish.
1. LF Masataka Yoshida
The left-handed hitter has all the attributes to bat leadoff, save for one -- experience. He admitted in his introductory press conference that the top of the order doesn't exactly represent his comfort zone, but that he'd do his best if asked. He should probably be asked.
In his last season in Japan, he walked nearly twice as many times as he struck out, and while the Red Sox hope he hits for power, they're absolutely counting on him to put the ball in play and reach base -- if not at last year's .449 clip, then at least at a rate that makes him a solid table-setter.
2. 3B Rafael Devers
Red Sox manager Alex Cora loves left-right flexibility, but Devers is simply too good in the two-hole to hit anywhere else, so we'll live with the consecutive left-handed bats leading things off. While Devers is capable of hitting anywhere, he has posted by far the best numbers of his career batting second, with a .299 average, 58 homers, and .922 OPS.
While a case can be made for hitting Devers in any of the top three spots -- AL home run leader Aaron Judge spent most of September leading off, after all -- let's leave him where he's at his best, because the Red Sox are going to need it.
3. DH Justin Turner
"Umm, what?" is a fair reaction, but this actually makes sense. With the Red Sox in desperate need of a strong start to maintain fan interest, not to mention clubhouse cohesion, Turner's experience could be invaluable. He has appeared in nearly 100 postseason games, and he's no stranger to hitting in the heart of the order. He routinely batted third for the Dodgers and in fact has blasted over half of his 164 lifetime homers there.
His age (38) is concerning, but he's comfortable and proven in the role, and if not him, then who?
4. 1B Triston Casas
The Red Sox probably won't throw Casas into the fire like this right away, but if they want to maintain left-right balance and put their biggest power prospect in a position to do real damage, he'll hit cleanup.
There's a fine line between passivity and patience, and Casas crossed it at times last year, when he hit just .197 while walking at a rate that would've translated to about 120 over a full season. The Red Sox have no interest in Casas becoming Joey Gallo 2.0, so he'll need to swing it and make more consistent contact, but he certainly looks the part of cleanup hitter.
5. SS Trevor Story
I don't view Story's debut as nearly the disappointment that others see. While his final numbers were pedestrian (.238-16-66), some context is in order. He started the year sick and finished it nursing a broken wrist after being drilled by a pitch. In between, he delivered a scorching May (9 HRs, 32 RBIs) and started turning on fastballs again.
Even if he's no longer the .290 hitter of his Colorado heyday, he should do enough as a power and speed threat to justify his place as the highest-paid hitter in the lineup.
6. RF Alex Verdugo
Now we're getting into major either/or territory. Either 2023 is finally the year when Verdugo makes the leap from thoroughly average to something approaching an All-Star, or we just accept that it's never going to happen.
At his best, Verdugo uses the whole field. At his worst, he rolls over to second base like a metronome. The Red Sox have little choice but to hope the centerpiece of the Mookie Betts trade figures it out, but the clock is ticking.
7. CF Kiké Hernández
As good as Hernández was in 2021, he cratered in the opposite direction last year. He started 0 for 17 and never really recovered. One year after justifying Cora's faith in making him an unconventional leadoff hitter, Hernández became a victim of his own worst habits, posting a meager .291 on base percentage and losing the power stroke that had produced 20 homers.
A painful hematoma that limited him to 93 games has been addressed, so the Red Sox must hope for a return to the form that made him a 2021 postseason monster.
8. C Reese McGuire
It didn't seem possible that the Red Sox would enter the season with the McGuire/Connor Wong catching duo -- not after chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom expressed a willingness to upgrade behind the plate -- but the Red Sox were never serious players for A's standout Sean Murphy, and they chose to spend slightly more on Yoshida than the Cardinals gave All-Star Willson Contreras in free agency, which could end up being a very easy second guess.
In any event, McGuire hit well after replacing Christian Vazquez last summer, but he has been a career backup for a reason.
9. 2B Christian Arroyo
McGuire is only hitting eighth to avoid three straight lefties in the 9-1-2 spots. Arroyo could actually be one of the better ninth hitters in the game, provided he can stay healthy, which is his yearly caveat.
He personifies the concept of the second leadoff hitter in the mold of former Red Sox batting champ Bill Mueller. He hits the ball hard and has demonstrated a flair for the dramatic. In a perfect world, he'd play more of a super-utility role, but if we've learned anything this winter, it's that perfect was never really on the table.