The Red Sox Are The American League’s Best

It’s the first year of the post-David Ortiz era for the Boston Red Sox. Ortiz was the single common thread connecting a trio of World Series champions spread out over a decade and he went out with a bang last season. That’s a lot to live up to, but the 2017 Boston Red Sox have everything it takes to start a new golden age this year.

If the Red Sox are to effectively replace Ortiz they’re not going to do it with another bat, but with what they’ve added to the rotation. Over the course of the last three offseasons, Boston has traded for Rick Porcello, coughed up $30 million for David Price and dealt for Chris Sale. That’s two Cy Young Award winners to start the list and another in Sale, who’s consistently in the top six of the Cy Young voting and is in the running with Johnny Cueto for the unofficial honor of best pitcher to never win the award.

Even allowing that Price is on the disabled list to start the season, he is projected to return sometime in May. And given that last year was the worst season he’s had since becoming a regular major league starter, he’s a natural for improvement. The same can be said for closer Craig Kimbrel, recently one of the top closers in baseball, but who had his worst year in 2016. Price and Kimbrel aren’t old—31 and 29 respectively, so looking for improvement is very realistic.

To support the rotation’s Big Three, the post-Papi Red Sox still have plenty of offense left. Mookie Betts was runner-up in the MVP race in 2016. Xander Bogaerts joins Houston’s Carlos Correa as the best young shortstops in baseball. Dustin Pedroia continues to produce at age 33. Hanley Ramirez hit 30 home runs and finished with a .361 on-base percentage. Boston also got a breakout year from 27-year-old catcher Sandy Leon.

Legitimate questions are out there as to whether Leon can hit like he did last year–.369 OBP and .476 slugging—but his age does make it logical that his emergence can be permanent. The Red Sox also have every reason to be high on leftfielder Andrew Benitendi, who hit .295 in 34 games last year after being called up and has a pure hitter’s stroke.

Given this talent, I’m somewhat surprised Las Vegas isn’t more bullish on Boston. I was expecting preseason betting odds to have the Red Sox right on the heels of the Cubs as market favorites, with those two teams seen as head and shoulders above everyone else.

That’s not the case. Chicago is the clear favorite to repeat, with the Los Angeles Dodgers next in line. Boston is not even the American League favorite, coming in narrowly behind Cleveland—the Indians are at 5-2 odds to win the AL flag and 7-1 to win it all, compared with 3-1 and 8-1 for the Red Sox.

I think that’s underestimating the Sox, perhaps being a case of focusing more on talent that’s lost rather than talent that’s on hand. Boston is the clear team to beat in the American League and the one with the best chance of dethroning the Cubbies in October.