The Red Sox have a much-improved major league roster, one of the best farm systems in the game, and a whole lot of money. All that has left them with the top spot in ESPN's future power rankings, which as the name suggests, aim to project which teams have the best chance of success in the years to come.
For the Red Sox, it's actually a pretty small jump up to first place from their third place ranking back before free agency. Point-wise, however, it's clear that the panel of Buster Olney, Keith Law, and Jim Bowden are big fans of Ben Cherington's past four months, with the Sox jumping from a 78.3 all the way up to an 87.3, putting them nearly two points clear of the Dodgers and 6.4 up on the third-place Cubs.
While these rankings are for the future, the coming season is certainly taken into account. And if the Red Sox' score of 25 (out of 30) in the majors isn't quite up to par with NL behemoths like the Dodgers and Nationals, they're still considered the class of the American League, outpipping the second-place Angels. The obvious thing holding the team back is the lack of a front-line pitcher, but Bowden notes the team could look to solve that as more arms become available during the season, hopefully at sub-Hamels prices.
Equally weighted with the major league score is the minor league score, where the Red Sox's 27 comes in behind only the Twins and Cubs. Of note: that number is actually up from the rankings before free agency, with the addition of Yoan Moncada apparently having offset the departure of a handful of Triple-A arms and then some. Keith Law does mention Rusney Castillo as a potential "impact prospect," so it's worth noting that they're likely including him in that score. Even if that's the case, though, he's not being counted towards the majors, so it all balances out.
Also getting a single tick up is their finance rating, likely a reflection of their successful Moncada bid despite the interest of the Yankees, who still come in between the Sox and the obvious #1 in Los Angeles.
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Given that the panel approves of the past offseason so much, it also makes sense that the management score got pushed up from 25 to 27. The presence of John Henry's Fenway Sports Group alone would be good for a high score here, and Ben Cherington earned his reputation with the Punto trade and the World Series winning team in allowed him to build. But another strong offseason helps after a 2014 season where he was held in check by a market that simply did not match the team's needs. We've come quite a way from "Daniel Bard, Starter." *
The one category where the Sox saw a drop-off was in "mobility," which also happens to be the least important of the five. It's hardly a surprising drop, as the Red Sox invested heavily in Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez. And while neither player has a particularly prohibitive contract (Hanley's in particular could look exceptional), adding any two large deals to a payroll that scored a 27 in the October rankings will pull it down some.
Amusingly enough, though, even with Sandoval and Ramirez aboard, the Red Sox' score of 22 comes in behind only the Cubs and Cardinals, who themselves are only at 23. This is where all that financial flexibility talk from seasons past comes into play. The Red Sox have a couple other long-term deals in Rusney Castillo and Dustin Pedroia, but when it comes to the sort of huge free agent contracts that tend to litter the rosters of teams of top teams, Sandoval and Hanley are really the only ones on the Sox' payroll. And at just five and four years respectively, they're nowhere near the 7-to-10 year behemoths that are being handed out to the biggest free agents year-in and year-out.
At some point all the glowing "Red Sox are in awesome position" pieces will start to get tiring. At some point. Probably. But they haven't yet, and this is probably the most glowing yet. So we'll take it.
*Granted, this decision was not as awful as it seems in hindsight given the budgetary constraints. Cherington threw a Hail Mary knowing he needed to get lucky to make things work.