By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — When Red Sox owner John Henry sat down to speak to the media on Monday morning, he did all that he could to place as much possible on the fired manager and the since-replaced coaching staff for last year’s issues without calling out anybody by name.
Despite the fact that every player currently on the Red Sox roster was also on the team last year, Henry boasted of “significant changes” made to his team.
“People have talked about we haven’t made a lot of changes from last year, but in my mind, we’ve made significant changes to address some of the things that were brought up,” Henry said. “I do think we had issues last year that … we’ve addressed those issues.”
Henry affirmed that he was speaking about manager John Farrell, but he also seemed to lump in former hitting coach Chili Davis and assistant hitting coach Victor Rodriguez.
“We made a lot of changes other than just the manager as well,” Henry said. “You haven’t noticed that we … ? Who did we bring back? Dana [LeVangie]? From my perspective at least, we’ve made a lot of changes. I think our approach last year was lacking offensively, and we had issues that the players have already talked about. So I don’t need to talk about it. But I agree with what’s been said. But I don’t agree that we haven’t really made much in the way of changes. I think these are significant changes.”
The Red Sox’ precipitous dip in power in 2017 has been covered fairly heavily, as the team went from seventh in the AL in homers in 2016 to dead-last at 15th in 2017.
Though Henry is not a hitting coach, he seemed to place most of the blame for that drop on the coaching staff rather than the players.
“I think that we would have had significant power if we had a different approach,” Henry said. “That’s in my opinion. It may not be true. But I think we have a very good offense.”
Henry further expressed confidence in the roster as it is currently constituted, even if the team doesn’t end up signing free agent J.D. Martinez.
“I think we have the right team,” he stated. “I thought, you know, people don’t like us apparently saying that we won the division the past two years. But we had the best offense in the American League the year before last, we had significant pitching that was injured last year. I think we are very strong and people are highly underrating this team. If we have the right approach, I think we’ll be very successful.”
What Henry left out of his assessment is that Chili Davis was the hitting coach in 2016. Henry mentioned 2016 as the year when the Red Sox led the American League in runs scored. They also employed a man by the name of David Ortiz, who hit 38 home runs, drove in a league-leading 127 runs, belted a league-leading 48 doubles, and posted a league-leading 1.021 OPS in 151 games played. Entering 2017, the team didn’t exactly replace that massive void in the lineup, instead adding Mitch Moreland (22 HRs, .769 OPS) and rookie Andrew Benintendi into the starting lineup. Injuries limited Xander Bogaerts and Dustin Pedroia, while Mookie Betts took a significant step backward after his near-MVP campaign. Hanley Ramirez also seemed to struggle mightily without Ortiz, as his OPS dropped from .866 in 2016 to .750 in 2017.
It is possible that the Red Sox scored nearly 100 fewer runs because of some ineffective coaching, some poor managing, and maybe even some bad luck. But it would be nearly impossible to argue that the biggest reason for the dip was the loss of Ortiz, who led the majors in OPS, slugging, and doubles in 2016 and was never replaced.
Meanwhile, after making it to Game 7 of the ALCS, the division-rival Yankees went out and acquired Giancarlo Stanton for a reasonable price on the trade market. It’s a move the Red Sox didn’t match, but chairman Tom Werner expressed a belief that Boston can outduel New York’s offense with a superior pitching staff.
“I think it’s good for the rivalry. The Yankees have a very strong team, and we have a very strong team,” Werner said. “I think our pitching, if we’re healthy, we have the best pitching staff – starting pitching, ending with [Craig] Kimbrel – I think we have the best pitching staff in the American League.”
The Red Sox ranked second in the AL in team ERA last year, but they still managed to only go 8-11 against the Yankees. And against the eventual-World Series-champion Astros in the ALDS, the Red Sox were outscored 24-18 while getting eliminated in four games. That series included a pair of 8-2 losses for Boston to open the playoffs. A year prior, they were swept out of the ALDS by eventual-AL-champion Cleveland, outscored in that series 15-7.
Offense has clearly been a problem for Boston, and in terms of adding players who are capable of changing that situation, the Red Sox haven’t done much. Nevertheless, with a new manager in Alex Cora and a revamped coaching staff, Henry expressed full confidence that the team has done enough to bring about a different result in 2018.
“We are very happy with our roster,” Henry said. “I think we do have the highest payroll in baseball. We’re defending American League East champions, and I feel like we’ve done what we’ve needed to do to improve this team.”