As we look toward the start of the 2017 season, most of us are filled with a sense of anticipation and expectation for the year to come. This excitement is for good reason, as Dave Dombrowski has built a very strong roster of players that should compete not only for the division, but for the AL pennant. This Red Sox roster is made up of individuals who each carry their own unique mixture of skillset, age, and role that make them pieces of varying importance to achieve those lofty goals.
My goal today is to look at that mixture and determine who on the team carries both the highest level of importance and the highest element of risk. Factors that make a player more important than another include a combination of how much the team relies on that player for production and what is behind them on the bench or in the minors should that player get hurt or underperform. The risk factor can be a combination of age—guys who are both unproven and young or injury-prone and old—and variance in on-the-field performance. When all these factors break right you can have instances like the 2013 season when they rode that momentum to a World Series Championship. On the flip side, talented rosters can underperform like in 2008, a roster Terry Francona referred to as his best. Here is the list of “riskiest” Red Sox players I came up with, along with some injury comparisons for the pain meter.
5. Drew Pomeranz
It’s looking more and more likely by the day that Pomeranz will find himself in the starting rotation to begin the 2017 season, and like it or not, for his entire stay here in Boston he will always be known as the guy for whom Dombrowski traded Anderson Espinoza. With the near certainty that David Price will miss some time, Pomeranz’s role becomes even more important, and many see him acting as the number three starter based on his performance over the entirety 2016. While he was great in the first half, pitching to a 2.47 ERA, his time in Boston was far less successful than it was on the West Coast and saw him post a mark of just 4.59 ERA. All of these results came over a career-high 170.2 IP. To make matters worse, last year’s first half was the first time in his career that Pomeranz showed any signs of being above average as a starter over a long stretch. It’s not hard to imagine a scenario where he doesn’t hold up from a health or performance standpoint and the Red Sox need to call on the likes of Kyle Kendrick. The upside to a downside here is that he would make a pretty solid lefty reliever, not something you want to say about a guy you traded your best pitching prospect to get.
Pain Meter: This loss would be akin to shutting your finger in a car door.
4. Pablo Sandoval
So this signing hasn’t gone all that well, this we all understand. Since arriving in Boston, Sandoval has been far below replacement level and now projects to be the starting third baseman in 2017. There are reasons for optimism. At 30 years old he isn’t old by any stretch of the imagination, and he did actually appear to work himself into decent shape this winter. There is also a track record of sustained above average performance to go off of while he was playing with the San Francisco Giants. The other thing working in Sandoval’s favor is that expectations after the last two failed seasons are woefully low and the team’s offense is good enough to carry him should he continue to struggle at the plate. The scary thing is that the depth behind him consists of Brock Holt—who is below average at third base—and Josh “yeah I’m back again” Rutledge. Not great when even a below-average Panda is your best option for not crippling your team’s bench flexibility.
Pain Meter: Losing the Panda would be like falling off your bike going down a medium sized hill, your landing spot is a thorn bush.
3. Dustin Pedroia
With David Ortiz’s retirement, Pedroia is not only the elder statesman on the team but he is the unequivocal face of the franchise and the main veteran presence in the locker room. Last season Pedey returned to form with the bat, posting a .274 TAv, his best mark since 2013. This performance is notable because 2013 was his last year before the wrist injury. His 154 games played was also his highest total since that aforementioned season. While this is all well and good Pedroia is entering his age-33 season and his all-out style of play is not conducive to prolonged health. Pedey has reportedly been taking some tips from Tom Brady on how to maintain his health However, should this fail, the likely replacement of Brock Holt or Marco Hernandez is downright horrifying. The team needs his defense, offense, and leadership now more than ever.
Pain Meter: Like reaching into the oven to take out your cast iron skillet only to forget it has been on broil and you are not wearing an oven mitt.
2. David Price
He was supposed to be your horse. The guy Dombo needed to sign. The last piece of the puzzle. We all know that Price disappointed us to some degree last season but what gets lost is his stellar DRA of 3.33 and the fact that this guy logged 230 freaking innings! That number led the majors and made sure that the bullpen didn’t get burned out and the team didn’t have to turn to less-than-capable starting pitching depth. Price is currently dealing with an elbow scare, but it somehow seems like he has managed to avoid disaster. If this is really true and he misses just a few weeks then the team is in a fantastic spot. If it turns into something more nefarious all of a sudden the team finds itself relying heavily on the trio of Pomeranz, Steven Wright, and Eduardo Rodriguez to stay health and perform. Should one of these pitchers then fail, the season would exist on a razor’s edge between throwing out incapable junk ballers and burning out the bullpen.
Pain Meter: This one would be the equivalent of dropping a cleaver on your small toe. Grab some ice because the hospital is 24 minutes away!
1. Hanley Ramirez
Did anyone do more to recuperate their image than Ramirez did last season? During last off-season, many Sox fans would have been happy shipping out valuable prospects if it only meant getting another team to take his bloated corpse out of left field at Fenway. Flash to 2016 and Hanley Ramirez, First Baseman, is actually a thing that works! Yours truly had the most faith in his ability to perform in the field last year, but I digress. This spring Ramirez is dealing with a bout of shoulder soreness—the same type of injury that bothered him in 2015. This is troubling because he was terrible offensively that year and the team felt this was serious enough to keep him out of the WBC. To make matters worse Hanley is the replacement for Ortiz at DH and the team needs every bit of that offense he provided last year not to slip significantly. At 33 years old and having averaged just 106 games per year in the three seasons prior to last year, his health is anything but a certainty. If Ramirez misses large chunks of the season, Chris Young, Mitch Moreland, and Sam Travis will likely be the beneficiaries of more at-bats and none of them holds a candle to the abilities of a healthy Ramirez. Losing Ramirez would be crippling to the team’s chances of competing in 2017.
Pain Meter: Tearing both ACL’s before your first dance at your own wedding. Not great.
Photo by Bob DeChiara/USA Today Sports Images