Bradford: How the Red Sox could be even better next season

Rob Bradford
November 04, 2018 - 10:42 am

USA Today Sports

The conversation back in September was about why David Price signed with the Red Sox in the first place. Part of the pitcher's explanation included his feeling that Dave Dombrowski was going to do whatever was needed to give winning a whirl, each and every year.

"I wanted to put myself in the best chance to win," Price told WEEI.com. "I still feel like I did that even though my first two years didn’t end the way we wanted to. This year if we win however many games, set records and go on to win a World Series I promise you we’re going to be better in ’19 than we were in ’18."

Here we are.

Records set. World Series won. Now comes the question regarding that thing Price promised.

Can this 119-win Red Sox team be better next season?

At first glance, this would seem to be an unlikely proposition. The lower tier of the American League -- especially the East -- can't be as bad as they were this time around. The Red Sox are potentially losing one of the game's best closers (Craig Kimbrel), two of their most valuable postseason pitchers (Nathan Eovaldi, Joe Kelly) and the World Series MVP (Steve Pearce).

Who knows how Chris Sale's shoulder is going to hold up? Maybe pitchers started figuring out how to limit the power of Andrew Benintendi, Mookie Betts or even J.D. Martinez? Are you going to primarily get the good or bad of David Price, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Eduardo Rodriguez?

Price's premise is that Dombrowski was going to do what he has done during the majority of his tenure with the Red Sox, not be shy about adding to the roster via free agency and/or trades. Last year it was Martinez. The year before Sale. Prior to that it was Price and Kimbrel. And even the likes of Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg have to be included because they represented a willingness to not sit idly by heading into a new season.

And while things promise to get really uncomfortable after 2019 thanks to expiring contracts, that's not what we're talking about for the time being. Yes, the Red Sox have the potential to be even better while trying to defend their championship. 

Looking back at prior Red Sox' championships, the only one that was followed by a team that could be considered as good if not better came in 2008. That was, in large part, because there simply wasn't a whole lot of turnover, with the re-signing of Mike Lowell serving as the biggest offseason salvo. After 2004? They lost Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe, and even Orlando Cabrera, with such replacements as Edgar Renteria, David Wells and Matt Clement not going quite as planned. In 2014 some of the lightning-in-the-bottle performances couldn't be duplicated in large part due to injuries and age.

Contracts aside, this group would seem to have the ability to keep evolving.

A strong case can be made that with the continued production and presence of Martinez, the likes of Benintendi, Bradley and Xander Bogaerts could all take steps forward. Another full season of Rafael Devers could truly be a game-changer assuming the uneasy lessons of 2018 are built upon. The catching position isn't going to get worse. Finding a complement at first base for Mitch Moreland (Pearce actually still makes sense) shouldn't be all that difficult.

As we've noted, the best chance to cement an uptick for 2019 is re-signing Eovaldi. This would be viewed as a luxury for some, but when staring at the prospect of two of your top three starters leaving after next season -- along with the need for top-of-the-rotation dominance -- such a proactive maneuver makes a lot of sense. Steven Wright. Brian Johnson. Hector Velazquez. They have proven their worth on the 25-man roster as protection for the top four or five.

Replacing Kimbrel actually might not be all that painful. As Dombrowski suggested, you can bump up Matt Barnes and/or Ryan Brasier in the pecking order with legitimate bullpen help (Travis Lakins, Durbin Feltman, Darwizon Hernandez) on the horizon. And while you're executing your internal promotions it wouldn't be that difficult to dip into a free agent market that has quite a few high-end relievers (Zach Britton and Andrew Miller, for example) looking to re-establish their value.

There will also be the possibility that the likes of Michael Chavis and/or Bobby Dalbec pops up to offer the kind of internal position-player insurance the Red Sox didn't really have whole lot of this past season.

On paper, Price might be correct. The 2019 Red Sox could actually be better. But injuries, contract uncertainty (remember Jon Lester and John Lackey in 2014) and down years are always waiting around the corner ready to derail things.

For now, however, the pitcher's proclamation doesn't seem all that crazy.

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