Five bold predictions for the Red Sox season
Five bold predictions for the Red Sox season
By Sean McAdam
Predictions are - it should go without saying -- a tricky business. What looks smart and insightful in April can look pretty silly by July or August. And remember, these are supposed to be bold predictions - upping the ante considerably. Keeping in mind the "degree of difficulty'' factor, here are five things that, you know, could, kind of, perhaps, happen to the Red Sox in 2016.
1) Jackie Bradley Jr. finally figures it out
We've been teased before, of course. In 2014, Bradley had a terrific spring, only to be demoted in August, when he was hitting under .200. It was more of the same last year when Bradley had a month-long stretch in August that saw him explode as a hitter. But in September, he was scuffling again, producing more questions about his future.
This spring, Bradley was quietly productive -- .375/.434/.604 - and carried himself with an air of confidence. He's made adjustments with his swing, but you get the sense that it's Bradley's mental approach that has been the biggest factor in his growth. Perhaps it's as simple as not pressing and believing in himself. Don't expect Bradley to put up the sort of numbers that Mookie Betts will. But it seems as if he's ready to be a solid, everyday player in the big leagues -- and perhaps contribute enough with the bat to get himself out of the ninth spot in the lineup.
2) A major trade will take place -- and it will come sooner than the deadline.
If there's one thing that we've seen since Dave Dombrowski took over, it's a sense of purpose and urgency. Within weeks of being hired, the Hanley Ramirez outfield experiment ended. Dombrowski filled his two major off-season needs before the winter meetings got underway. In spring training, he sent an early signal that playing time would be based on merit, not money. At some point, the Sox will show an obvious need -- the starting rotation is a good bet for now - and will require outside help. Bet on Dombrowski to move swiftly, and not wait until the end of August. After two straight last place finishes and one post-season appearance in the last six years, Dombrowski knows patience isn't the right approach. It can be difficult at times to engage other teams in trade talks until after the June amateur draft, but Dombrowski, as he's already shown, isn't afraid to be aggressive.
3) Joe Kelly will turn the corner
A Cy Young season, as Kelly half-jokingly predicted before last year?
Not quite. But Kelly finally made the transition from thrower to pitcher late last season, when it finally dawned on him that man can't live by 97 mph fastball alone.
The results were in evidence this spring, as Kelly showed newfound confidence in his secondary stuff and became a lot less predictable with his pitch mix. This isn't to suggest that Kelly's about to become a front-line starter. But he appears poised to make good on his considerable talent - assuming he can stay healthy long enough to do so.
4) Somebody with a big contract will be dumped
It could be Rick Porcello. Or Pablo Sandoval. Or maybe Rusney Castillo. Or even long-forgotten Allen Craig. At some point, it will become too problematic to carry Sandoval and Castillo on the bench, and unless Porcello makes a big leap forward, to pay him $20 million to pitch like a back-end starter. Perhaps it will be an outright release. Or maybe the Red Sox will take back a significant chunk of the remaining money to one of these three in order to facilitate a deal.
Either way, it's hard to imagine that this team can contend and make the necessary improvements with so much dead money on the payroll. Dombrowski already convinced ownership to set aside its antipathy toward 30-something free agent pitchers. Next, he'll have to make them see that there's no sense keeping sunken money around.
5) Sam Travis and Andrew Benintendi will both make their major league debuts in 2016.
Benintendi has already shown how advanced he is, some nine months after the Red Sox drafted him out of Arkansas. He could well follow the lead of other college outfielders like Kyle Schwarber and Michael Conforto and make the leap to the big leagues the summer after being selected. It might not come until September when rosters expand, but it could happen soon. Travis was the talk of spring training with his intensity, work ethic and quick, short stroke. He'll start the season at Pawtucket, so a callup wouldn't be much of a stretch, especially if Hanley Ramirez needs time on the DL and the Red Sox need depth at first base.