Bogaerts, Big Papi rise up in underwhelming 2015

Bogaerts, Big Papi rise up in underwhelming 2015

For the Red Sox, 2015 was first a season of utter disappointment, then major transition and improved play.

The club came in with two new established bats (Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval) and a collection of new arms for the rotation (Rick Porcello, Wade Miley, Justin Masterson) that would hopefully make up for the lack of a true ace.

• Energetic finish leaves Sox excited for 2016

Ramirez was a monster with the bat in April, even as he struggled mightily to handle an unfamiliar position in left field. The Red Sox were a decent 12-10 in that first month, but things went sour from there for a good long while.

One clear turning point was the last game in April, when Ramirez banged his left shoulder running into the Green Monster. From then on, he never got his stroke back and his defense in left was, to be kind, a continued struggle. The slugger was getting ready to transition to first base in late August, only to have an injury to his right shoulder foil those plans. He didn't play for the rest of the season, and there's rampant speculation that the Red Sox will try to trade him this winter. It will be tricky, given what is left ($66 million over the next three years) in his contract.

Sandoval similarly struggled to adapt to his new surroundings, and he didn't perform up to standards on either side of the ball. Porcello was a mess the first four months, but regrouped and rediscovered his nasty sinker after going on the disabled list in August. Masterson didn't even make it through the season, getting designated for assignment in early August.

Considering how much went wrong, it wasn't stunning when the front office had a major makeover in mid-August. Dave Dombrowski, fresh off being let go by the Detroit Tigers, came on as president of baseball operations. Ben Cherington was offered the chance to stay on as general manager, but declined. His assistant, Mike Hazen, was promoted to that role. Larry Lucchino stepped aside as club president and CEO and will move into an emeritus position. Sam Kennedy is the new president. Manager John Farrell received the stunning news that he had lymphoma, and Torey Lovullo stepped in as interim manager for the rest of the season on Aug. 14.

The good news is that the Red Sox played inspired baseball for the final six weeks of the season, as several young players came into their own at once.

Record: 78-84, fifth place, American League East.

Defining moment: When the Yankees arrived at Fenway Park on July 10, the Red Sox finally seemed to be settling into a rhythm. They had won four in a row, and eight out of 10, and trailed their rivals by 5 1/2 games heading into the final series before the All-Star break. With a sweep, the Red Sox could be right back in the mix. Clay Buchholz, who had pitched like an ace for several weeks heading into the series opener, walked off the mound with a right elbow injury that would sideline him for the remainder of the season.

The deflation the Red Sox felt that night was symbolic of a frustrating first half, and it carried over to after the break, when the club went winless on a seven-game road trip through Anaheim and Houston. From there, the club's realistic postseason hopes had basically ended.

What went right: Shortstop Xander Bogaerts emerged into the star that many people projected he would be in 2014. All season long, Bogaerts was a hitting machine, and his grand slam on Sept. 21 was one of the highlights of the season.

Must C: Bogaerts' clutch slam

Playing in his first full season, Mookie Betts got the job done at the plate, in the field and on the bases. He finished the season with his best month and looks like he could be an All-Star as early as 2016.

Highly-touted prospect Eduardo Rodriguez made his Major League debut on May 28 in Texas and was brilliant. Rodriguez had a strong first year and his only true struggles came when he was tipping pitches. The Red Sox have no doubt that he can be a front-line starter.

Jackie Bradley Jr. went from forgotten man at Triple-A to red-hot hitter in August. All the while, Bradley continued to demonstrate why he is arguably the best defensive outfielder in the Major Leagues, making one brilliant catch after another.

Lefty Rich Hill, the pride of Milton, Mass., was released from the Nationals' Triple-A roster in June. He went home and worked on becoming a starter for the first time in six years. After proving himself for the Long Island Ducks and Triple-A Pawtucket, Hill returned to the Red Sox and made three terrific starts in a row, including a two-hit shutout that Betts preserved with one of the catches of the season.

Statcast: Betts' amazing grab

What went wrong: Ramirez's defensive struggles weren't all that surprising, but his lack of success at the plate from May onward was stunning. In his final 319 at-bats of the season, Ramirez hit .238 with nine homers, 31 RBIs and a .644 OPS.

Buchholz again failed to stay healthy for a full season, but the Red Sox are expected to pick up his $13 million option for next season. The good news is that he was pitching his best baseball in a couple of years before straining his right flexor.

Catcher Christian Vazquez had to have Tommy John surgery in March and lost his entire season. Backup Ryan Hanigan broke a bone in his right hand on May 1 and was lost for a couple of months, so top prospect Blake Swihart had to be rushed up from Triple-A Pawtucket. By season's end, Swihart looked ready to be the team's catcher of the future, putting into question what happens with Vazquez.

Biggest surprise: Rodriguez's success left everyone in the organization beaming about his future. E-Rod not only has the stuff to pitch in the Major Leagues, but also the poise. The lefty finished with a 10-6 record and a 3.85 ERA in 21 starts. His last seven starts represented his best run of the season, as he went 4-1 with a 2.08 ERA.

Hitter of the Year: At the age of 39, David Ortiz overcame a slow start and crushed the baseball in the season's last four months, looking like the elite slugger he has been since 2003. On Sept. 12 at Tropicana Field, Ortiz nailed career homer No. 500. His home run total was his best since '06.

Must C: Ortiz hits 500th homer

Pitcher of the Year: How would Koji Uehara hold up at the age of 40? Very well, as the closer proved by converting 25 of 27 save opportunities and finishing with a 2.23 ERA. His season unfortunately ended on Aug. 7 on a freak injury, as he broke his right wrist after being struck by a batted ball in Detroit.

Rookie of the Year: Rodriguez seldom looked like a rookie, dominating the opposition on countless occasions.

Ian Browne is a reporter for MLB.com. Read his blog, Brownie Points, and follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.