John Tomase

Red Sox focused on pitching but have real holes to address on offense

Several of Boston's top offensive contributors from last season won't be back in 2024.

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Craig Breslow is right to focus on starting pitching this offseason. The Red Sox won't survive another season of openers and 4-A hurlers in the brutal American League East.

But can we talk for a second about the offense?

The Red Sox owned a solidly middle-class attack last year that finished sixth in the American League in runs. They scrapped for everything they got with Rafael Devers never really catching fire and Trevor Story missing most of the year, but they've very quietly lost a sizable chunk of production this winter that hasn't yet been replaced.

Gone is perhaps their best all-around hitter from a year ago in DH Justin Turner, who opted out of his contract and is unlikely to return. His 23 homers ranked third on the team and his 96 RBIs second. He also filled an important role behind the scenes as the J.D. Martinez-style hitting guru who could act as another set of eyes for struggling teammates.

Right behind him on the home run list was Adam Duvall (21), who also brought right-handed balance to the lineup. Had Duvall not broken his wrist while being forced to play center, there's no telling what kind of season he might've had, even at age 34.

And while we've already made the case that Alex Verdugo's disappointing production should be replaceable, the outfielder was good for 600 plate appearances of league-average performance. There's a decent chance that replacement Tyler O'Neill, despite clearly possessing a higher ceiling, could end up contributing less, thanks to his injury history. Perhaps Wilyer Abreu, who showed promise in September, ends up playing a larger role.

As things stand now, the Red Sox still need a second baseman to address a position that was a vortex of nothingness in 2023. They're probably going to split DH reps among a series of players, including Masataka Yoshida, who is a terrible defensive left fielder and faded badly down the stretch. They're still planning on entrusting everyday at-bats to Connor Wong behind the plate, even though he contributes little offensively beyond the occasional home run.

And they're not the only reasons to be concerned about the returning lineup. Center fielder Jarren Duran started like a monster but finished with a whimper, hitting just .192 in August before undergoing season-ending toe surgery.

Story, for all of his obvious gifts defensively and on the bases, never found his timing and did not hit at all in his return, and his durability remains in question. The Red Sox are counting on him to reprise his All-Star Rockies form, and that's certainly possible, but he could also be the lineup's version of Chris Sale.

Even Devers, whose $313 million extension officially kicks in this year, is coming off a disappointing season that saw him post decent numbers (.271-33-100) without ever really catching fire and carrying the team. He can't just be good – he needs to be a force.

That leaves first baseman Triston Casas, who was not only the team's best hitter in the second half, but one of the best hitters in baseball, with 15 homers and a 1.034 OPS. There's every reason to believe he'll be even better in 2024, so that's a legitimate building block.

Complicating matters is that Breslow can't simply concern himself with offense. The Red Sox played some of the worst defense in baseball last year, and improving that aspect of their game could come at the expense of the lineup. Prospect Ceddanne Rafaela, for instance, is far and away the best defensive center fielder on the roster. He's also a free swinger who may never exhibit enough patience to play every day. Putting him in center could address one area of need while creating another.

Help technically could be on the way from the minor leagues, but probably not this year, since top prospect Marcelo Mayer, breakout star Roman Anthony, and fast riser Kyle Teel have only combined for 235 at-bats at Double-A.

Even if one of them jumps his timetable, it's asking a lot for a 21-year-old to remake the lineup. It took Xander Bogaerts a good five years to become a star, and Mookie Betts' ascension to MVP candidate didn't really occur until year three.

These are all factors that Breslow must weigh as the offseason grinds towards spring training. His focus is where it should be in the starting market, but he has more work to do with the offense than we might think.

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