The 2022 Boston Red Sox hit just 155 home runs, with Rafael Devers being the only player on the team to top 20. Power was down league-wide last year, but still, the Red Sox hit only the 20th most homers in Major League Baseball.
Despite this deficiency, the front office didn’t appear to prioritize adding power to the lineup this offseason. The Sox reportedly showed little-to-no interest in names like Mitch Haniger, Josh Bell, Michael Conforto, Anthony Rizzo, and Dansby Swanson — all players who you could conceivably hope to hit 20 or 30 home runs in 2023. And this is to say nothing of the more established sluggers they ignored — Aaron Judge, Jose Abreu, and Carlos Correa, among them.
Now, with Trevor Story’s elbow surgery keeping him out for at least the first two months of the season (and possibly the season as a whole), the current opening day roster will contain only 3 players who have topped 20 home runs at some point over the last four years: Rafael Devers, whose done it in every complete season he’s played; Justin Turner, who hit 27 homers in both 2019 and 2021, but saw that number drop to just 13 last year; and Bobby Dalbec, who hit 25 home runs in 2021, slumped massively last year, and is not expected to be an everyday player on the 2023 team.
Just how much of a power outage are we looking at here? As a starting point, let’s look at the FanGraphs projections for the roster as it stands:
There are a few caveats to mention here, the first being that the offseason is not over yet. The Red Sox should not be ok starting the season with Jarren Duran in centerfield, and will likely try to address this via a trade for a middle infielder, allowing Kiké Hernandez to return to the outfield. Having said that, unless the Red Sox are willing to part ways with Brayan Bello, Triston Casas, Marcelo Mayer, Miguel Bleis, or Ceddanne Rafaela (and there’s little indication they are) then no impact bats will be coming back. Joey Wendle of the Marlins, who’s been rumored as a trade target, has just 30 career home runs entering his age-33 season. Rumored free agent target Elvis Andrus did hit 17 home runs last year, but his last season appears to be an extreme outlier, as he averaged only 7 home runs in the previous 3 seasons (2020 excluded).
The second caveat is that the above chart is missing 339 additional games. Unless Alex Cora plans on pulling a Coach Norman Dale and putting fewer than 9 men on the field, those games will be played by somebody, we just don’t know who yet. If Trevor Story makes it back on to the field and plays the 73 games FanGraphs currently projects, then that would add an additional 11 projected homers. The remaining 266 games would be played by a hodge podge of replacement players, minor league call-ups, and future trade targets — the 2023 versions of Tommy Pham, Eric Hosmer, Yu Chang, and Jonathan Arauz. Last year, the Red Sox got an additional 15 home runs from the 266 games played by the bottom of their roster.
Adding a half-season of Story and 266 games of mystery replacement players to the above total gives the 2023 Red Sox 198 projected home runs. As it turns out, this would be a significant improvement, and could push the Sox into the top 10. So the question is, how much do we trust these projections?
Interestingly enough, the home run totals projected for Alex Verdugo, Christian Arroyo, Jarren Duran, Reese McGuire, and Rob Refsnyder would all represent career-highs; and this is also obviously the case for the rookies: Triston Casas, Masataka Yoshida, Connor Wong, and Enmanual Valdez. Intuitively, it makes sense that some of these guys may hit more homers than ever before — Christian Arroyo, for instance, has a chance to play more games than he ever has before. But needless to say, nine players on the 2023 Red Sox all reaching new career highs in home runs seems unlikely.
Barring either a shocking personnel move, or a few best case scenario seasons from guys like Casas and Yoshida, it appears that the 2023 Red Sox can only hope to have marginally more power than the 2022 team.
The lack of home run power was by far the biggest offensive weakness of the 2022 team which, otherwise, put up solid numbers. They finished third in batting average, fourth in hits, sixth in on-base percentage, and eighth in slugging percentage — the latter being buoyed by the fact that, despite the low home run totals, they led all of baseball in doubles.
Unfortunately it’s possible, if not likely, that the 2023 Red Sox take a step back in each of those statistical categories. Who led the 2022 team in hits, on-base percentage, and batting average? Xander Bogaerts, who won’t step foot in Fenway Park next year. JD Martinez led the team in doubles, while finishing third in OBP and slugging, and fourth in hits. He will step foot in Fenway Park next year, but only for three games as a member of the visiting Los Angeles Dodgers.
Replacing them will be Yoshida and Justin Turner. Yoshida profiles as an on-base machine who, if all goes well, could come close to replicating Xander’s offensive production, albeit much further down on the defensive spectrum. But he’s also a complete unknown, having only faced Major League pitching in the 2017 World Baseball Classic. Justin Turner’s 2022 offensive line was remarkably similar to JD Martinez’s: .278/.350/.438 with 13 homers and 36 doubles for Turner, .274/.341/.448 with 18 homers and 36 doubles for JD. But Turner is three years older and appeared to be absolutely cooked for the first three months of last season, before turning things around with an excellent second half.
Elsewhere in the lineup, Triston Casas will likely take most of the at-bats chewed up by Bobby Dalbec and Franchy Cordero. He should be an improvement — because how could he not be? — but he’s also an unproven rookie who still struggles mightily against lefties. Reese McGuire and Connor Wong will replace Christian Vazquez and Kevin Plawecki, in what looks to be, at best, a marginal offensive upgrade, with the potential of being a downgrade.
The best case scenario for the 2023 Red Sox offense is essentially that it matches the production of the 2022 Red Sox offense. So if the Red Sox are going to improve on last year’s 78 wins, that improvement is more likely to come from the pitcher’s mound than the batter’s box. Chris Sale isn’t being allowed out of the house unless he’s wearing a bubble suit, right?