The 2023 Boston Red Sox have an incredibly high ceiling and an incredibly low floor. There is clearly a lot of talent on this team, but it’s a far cry from the powerhouses that Theo Epstein and Dave Dombrowski have put together in Boston in the not-so-distant past. The success of the Red Sox is riding on the ability of one superstar, some home grown youngsters, a few aging veterans, a couple reclamation projects, and one potential star from abroad to gel, stay healthy, fulfill their potential and play themselves into playoff contention.
Nothing would surprise me this season. I could see this team staying healthy and clicking on all cylinders right out of the gate or immediately start dropping like flies from injury. I could see them cutting a swath through the league and making a deep playoff run or being out of the hunt by mid-June. I could see them putting up crooked numbers and shutting offenses down all year or constantly coming up empty at the dish while serving up meatballs to the opposition. On paper, this is the biggest crapshoot team the Red Sox have fielded since … well … 2022.
In the real world, very few scenarios either work out perfectly or go completely to hell. Even 2021 and 2022 were not the years of absolute feast and famine that we remember them as. A few things went wrong in 2021 (Marwin Gonzalez, second-half bullpen issues) and, believe it or not, a couple things even went right in 2022 (John Schreiber, Brayan Bello, Triston Casas). The most likely result of 2023 is that some things will work out for the better, while others will blow up in our faces.
With that in mind, here are three predictions of things that I expect to go well for the Red Sox this season and three predictions of things that I expect to go poorly.
Garret Whitlock Will Be a Good Starting Pitcher
Few relievers have a mix of four different pitches, and Whitlock’s sinker, slider, and change-up are all plus offerings that should make for a solid repertoire when combined with his 96-mph fastball. He did well in a few starts last season before hitting the shelf at the same time as the rest of the Red Sox starting pitchers. If his hip is fully healed when he is slotted into the rotation in the next week or two, he should have the stuff to pick up where he left off. He doesn’t have to be a world-beating ace, but I expect him to manage five innings per start with an ERA below four in his first full season as a starting pitcher. If this comes to fruition, it will be a gigantic positive for the Red Sox.
The Offense Will Rake
The prevailing theory league-wide is that the Red Sox don’t have enough pop this season to make any serious noise. I don’t subscribe to that theory. Between the plate discipline of Triston Casas and Masataka Yoshida, the contact hitting of Alex Verdugo and Justin Turner, the power of Rafael Devers and Adam Duvall, and the energy of Kiké Hernandez and Christian Arroyo, I think this offense can slap singles, mash doubles, and play small ball to the tune of 750 runs. They won’t lead the league in homers, but they’ll draw plenty of walks, work themselves into a lot of hitter’s counts, exploit the ban on defensive shifts, and drive tons of balls into the gaps. This is not the hacking and jacking team of 2021 or M.A.S.H. unit of 2022. This is a team of professional hitters that will excel at good old fashioned, station-to-station baseball.
Alex Cora Will Flex on Us All
I’ve said it multiple times before, and I’ll triple down on it here: Alex Cora is the best manager the Red Sox have ever had. His preparation and in-game management is second to none, and I think he will show it this year just as he did in 2018 and 2021. Provided that his team maintains a reasonable level of health, I think Chaim Bloom has built Cora a very capable roster that is sliding under the radar mostly because of an insanely unlucky rash of injuries last season. I already covered the offense above. Throw in a retooled bullpen featuring Kenley Jansen, Chris Martin, Tanner Houck, and last year’s team MVP John Schreiber, and Cora will have all the tools he’ll need to orchestrate a potent offensive attack and a late-inning hammer to drop on the competition. The wild card here is the starting pitching, which combines a whole lot of arm talent with a whole lot of potential risk. Starting pitchers will get hurt, which is why Bloom acquired about a baker’s dozen of them in the offseason. If the Red Sox manage to prevent the outbreak monkey from sneaking into the clubhouse and infecting three-quarters of the team with the injury bug like last season, Alex Cora’s strategic acumen will force the league to put a whole lot more respect on his name.
Alex Verdugo Ain’t That Dude
We all want him to make that leap from decent player with potential to solid cornerstone of the team, and Alex Verdugo has appeared to be on the fringe of taking that next step since mid-2021. Unfortunately, he always seems to get in his own way. We’re talking about a 5-year veteran with a career slash line of .286/.341/.431/.772 who has never topped 13 home runs and has some of the worst baseball instincts this side of Jeremy Giambi. He’s a good bat to have in your lineup, but the constant stupid decisions and hero ball we see from him pretty much offset any value that his offense brings to the team. Alex Cora seems to have confidence in him, as Verdugo appears to be penciled into the leadoff spot to begin the season. However, I anticipate that the added pressure of being the Boston Red Sox’ leadoff man will be too much of a burden for him to bear. He may bring a lot of energy to the field, but I think he channels that energy in all the wrong ways. I think he has a tendency to work himself into a frenzy and psyche himself out, leading to poor decisions that hurt the team. I need to see Alex Verdugo either hit .300 or slug 20 home runs in a season for me to overlook all his boneheaded decisions and view him as a net-positive asset. Sadly, I think the 26-year-old lacks the maturity and humility to reach that plateau at this stage of his career.
Corey Kluber is Washed Up
I consider myself a pretty optimistic Red Sox fan, but even I cringe at the marks who seem to think that signing Cory Kluber to a one-year, $10 million contract this season was some kind of coup. Last year, Kluber was 10-10 with a 4.34 ERA in his first full season since 2018. He pitched a total of 116.2 innings from 2019 through 2021, and he’ll be 37-years-old in two weeks. Having Corey Kluber toe the rubber on Opening Day of 2023 is a bad look for any team, and I think his contributions as a starting pitcher will be minimal. The best value I could see him adding over the balance of a full season would be as a middle reliever. Limiting his workload to an inning or two per game could even ratchet his fastball velocity back up into the low-nineties, which is still slow as hell for a modern-day relief pitcher. I know he’s crafty and can throw five pitches, but his age, injury history, and utter lack of overpowering or mystifying stuff reeks to me like a failed reclamation project.
Trevor Story Will Not Play an Inning at Shortstop
The UCL internal brace surgery Trevor Story had on his throwing elbow is supposed to require less recovery time than standard Tommy John surgery, but Chaim Bloom himself has gone on record saying that the Red Sox are operating as if Story will not play in 2023. There is talk that he may possibly be able to return after the All-Star break, but internal brace surgery is still an innovative procedure that could offer as many setbacks as any other major surgery. Even if his recovery proceeds under best-case scenario circumstances, the Red Sox are still committed to Story for three more years after 2023. They will ease him back into the fold as slowly and carefully as possible to avoid any major setbacks that could jeopardize the remainder of his contract. I see the idea of Story being a major contributor to the 2023 Red Sox as a distant longshot. If all goes well, I could envision him as a part-time DH and/or second baseman after the trade deadline if Boston is in playoff contention at that point. But the shortstop duties for this season will be left to Kiké Hernandez and Adalberto Mondesi.
The 2023 season opens up at Fenway Park in only two days! I feel like a long-lost family member is making a triumphant return to the household. Prepare for the all the excitement, anxiety, and frustration of the Major League Baseball season.
I live for this.