BREWER, Maine — Look for Boston Red Sox to add two power hitters as they try to improve upon last year’s season, which saw them win the American League East Division title for the second straight year but lose in four games in the American League Division best-of-five series to eventual World Series champion Houston.
That was the consensus from Red Sox WEEI radio play-by-play duo of Joe Castiglione and Tim Neverett and NESN TV play-by-play man Dave O’Brien on Monday night at the annual Zone Radio Hot Stove Night held at Jeff’s Catering in Brewer.
The baseball winter meetings are held in Orlando, Florida, and there is usually a flurry of trade activity at the annual event.
The archrival New York Yankees have already made a big splash by adding major league home run leader (59 homers) and National League Most Valuable Player Giancarlo Stanton to a roster that led MLB in homers this past season with 241.
The Red Sox hit an American League-low 168 homers. Only the National League’s Atlanta Braves (165), Pittsburgh Pirates (151) and San Francisco Giants (128) hit fewer.
“It will be really interesting to see what the Red Sox do to counter this week,” O’Brien said. “There are guys out there who fit the bill, but they need to get two bats. The Red Sox were a dreadful, inept home run-hitting team in (cozy) Fenway Park and that makes no sense. That was the opposite of the curve in baseball today.
“There were more home runs hit than at any time in the history of the game and the Red Sox were dead last in the American League. That has to change,” O’Brien said.
“I’m anxious to see what they do this week,” Neverett, who replaced O’Brien in the radio booth after O’Brien moved over to TV, said. “They need a bat, everybody knows that. That was proven last year. You aren’t going to replace a David Ortiz, but you need to have more home run production out of a couple different positions.
“I know they are determined to do something, not to counter the Yankees so much but to worry about their own ballclub and improve the team,” Neverett said.
The Red Sox had a sizeable corps of players see their power numbers drop from the 2016 season. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts fell from 21 homers in 2016 to 10 last year; center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. slumped to 17 from 26; DH-first baseman Hanley Ramirez went from 30 to 23 and right field Mookie Betts dropped from 31 to a team-leading 24.
“Hanley kept telling us he was OK but, apparently, he wasn’t because he had a shoulder operation right after the season,” Neverett said. “He left a lot of runners on base in key situations. You have to pick those guys up, especially if you’re hitting in the cleanup spot. If he had picked up 20 or 30 more RBIs over the course of the year, who knows what could have happened. But I’m not putting the whole thing on him. They need more production.”
Castiglione pointed out that Bogaerts got hit on the hand on July 6 and was hitting “well over .300 at the time.” He finished at .273.
“You can’t play baseball without your hands. He probably should have sat for two to three weeks to let it heal,” Castiglione said.
Castiglione also pointed out that players “don’t always improve every year.
“Some take a step back. But then they’re ready to take one or two steps forward (the following year) and I would think that could be the case this year,” Castiglione said.
“The bat is what they need and we never thought we’d say that about the Red Sox. They’ve never had that problem. It’s always been the arms,” Castiglione said.
The three announcers said the pitching staff looks solid although they would like to see the Red Sox add a shutdown left-handed reliever for the late innings.
O’Brien said director of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and the Red Sox ownership are aggressive deal-makers and “when your number one rival is doing what they are doing to create a murderers row (with Stanton, Aaron Judge (52 homers) and Gary Sanchez (33), the Red Sox are forced to do it and they will probably be forced to overpay a little.”
Castiglione pointed out that just because the Yankees seem to have a wealth of talent, there are “no guarantees.
“When the Alex Rodriguez deal to the Red Sox fell through in 2004 and he went to the Yankees, everyone thought the Yankees were going to roll,” said Castiglione.
The Red Sox wound up winning their first World Series in 86 years that season.
The Red Sox will have a new manager in Alex Cora who replaced the fired John Farrell. Farrell was let go despite leading them to back-to-back division titles and a World Series title in 2013.
“Even though they won the division title last year, you didn’t feel they were capable of winning it all. They were the third or fourth-best team in the American League, and that’s what they turned out to be. And John Farrell was the fall guy even though he had won back-to-back divisional titles and a World Series,” O’Brien, who added that he liked the move to hire the 42-year-old Alex Cora, said.
Orono native Brian Butterfield, who was the Red Sox third base coach and infield instructor last season, was also on hand. He has since joined the Chicago Cubs as their third base coach.
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