Energetic finish leaves Sox excited for 2016

Young core paired with offseason upgrades could turn team into contender

Energetic finish leaves Sox excited for 2016

The Red Sox have a new leader in the front office in president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski and also a young core that looks primed to lead the club back into postseason contention in 2016.

From mid-August on, the Red Sox played with an energy that leaves their fan base excited about what's ahead.

David Ortiz, the senior member of the club, is also excited.

"You see guys like [Xander] Bogaerts, who just turned 23, having a hell of a season. You see Mookie Betts, another young talented player, having the season he has put together," said Ortiz. "You see guys like [Eduardo] Rodriguez pitching the way he pitched. You see Jackie Bradley Jr., the way he performed once he came back up. [Rick] Porcello, the way he finished the season. It's something that gives you a lot of hope. Now we have the new [executive] and a new GM, who you can already see how [consumed] they are about the following season. It's something I'm very excited about."

• Bogaerts, Big Papi rise up in underwhelming 2015

In his previous stops, Dombrowski has had to rebuild, almost from the ground up. This situation is different. He has a team that might be just a few key acquisitions away from winning.

"I think if we can be a in position where we make a couple of the right decisions this winter and a couple of acquisitions through trades or free agency, I think we have a chance to contend very quickly and I'm excited about that," Dombrowski said.

Arbitration-eligible: Junichi Tazawa; Joe Kelly; Robbie Ross Jr.; Anthony Varvaro; Jean Machi.

Free agents: Clay Buchholz (club option, $13 million); Craig Breslow; Alexi Ogando; Rich Hill.

Rotation: As has been well-documented, the Red Sox went into 2015 without an ace. It seemed like a flawed plan, and it wound up not working. Dombrowski has said several times he'd like to acquire a front-line starter. It remains to be seen if he will get his ace via free agency or a trade. There is some good depth in the rotation -- in fact, enough that Dombrowski can probably trade a starter to fill another need.

Buchholz's option is going to be picked up, even though he missed the final three months of the season with a strained right flexor. The righty was pitching lights-out baseball before getting hurt. Rodriguez had a strong rookie year, and the Red Sox think he will be a stud going forward.

Porcello finally seemed comfortable in Boston by season's end, as he re-established his sinker. Kelly went on a strong run from August through mid-September, only to have his season cut three weeks short because of shoulder fatigue. Lefty Wade Miley pretty much came as advertised -- an innings-eater who generally kept his team in the game. Lefty Henry Owens also showed flashes of brilliance in his first 11 Major League starts. It will be interesting to see if Dombrowski tries to package him in a trade or holds on to him.

Bullpen: Aside from the rotation, this is the biggest area Dombrowski will try to upgrade. Closer Koji Uehara is back for another season, but he will be 41 on Opening Day. Tazawa, the setup man, has been one of the most consistent relievers in the game in recent seasons, but he struggled down the stretch and the Red Sox rested him the last few weeks to get him ready for '16. Look for Boston to add at least two power arms to complement the existing core.

Catcher: At a time when catching is at a premium, the Red Sox have the luxury of having a pair of solid youngsters. Blake Swihart arrived on May 2, after Ryan Hanigan got hurt, and proved over the following months why he was such a well-regarded prospect. Swihart quickly learned how to run a pitching staff and gained the respect of all of his batterymates. A switch-hitter, his bat has always been his strength, and he finished strong at the plate.

The reason Swihart got such a big opportunity this year is because the cannon-armed Christian Vazquez underwent Tommy John surgery in March and was lost for the season. Vazquez is expected to be ready for the start of Spring Training, so it will be interesting to see how the Red Sox divide playing time among their talented tandem. Hanigan is also under contract, so it isn't unfathomable to think Dombrowski could trade a catcher.

First base: Hanley Ramirez will try to transition to a new position for the second straight season. The Red Sox can only hope his move to first goes better than the one to left. Dombrowski would like to see Ramirez gear his offseason workouts toward regaining the athleticism and flexibility that made him one of the best pure hitters in the game for a long time. Ramirez focused too much on power last year, and lost his ability to spray the ball from gap to gap. Travis Shaw got a chance to play every day after Mike Napoli got traded, and proved he can hit for power in the Majors. Shaw can also play third.

Second base: Dustin Pedroia did exactly what he promised last winter, regaining his power thanks to the improved health of his hands. The problem is that he blew out his right hamstring and lost a couple of months. Pedroia hopes to avoid health woes in '16 and become an All-Star again. The Red Sox have a strong backup option at second base in Brock Holt, who plays everywhere.

Shortstop: Without question, Bogaerts was the bright spot of the season for the Red Sox. He turned into a star at the plate and in the field, and looks primed to hold down a key position for many years to come. If Bogaerts hits for more power going forward, he could become a superstar. Holt and Deven Marrero give the Red Sox insurance at short if Bogaerts suffers an injury.

Third base: Things didn't go well for Pablo Sandoval in his first year with the Red Sox. He was inconsistent at the plate and, perhaps more surprisingly, unreliable in the field. The Red Sox are working with Sandoval on his conditioning and hope he'll put himself in better position to avoid the nagging injuries he had for much of 2015. Sandoval finished the season out of action due to pneumonia.

Outfield: This is the area of the Red Sox that has everyone excited. Bradley, Betts and Rusney Castillo give the club a dynamic trio of range and plus throwing arms. The club experimented with the alignment of these three players this year and should decide by the spring how it will play out. It seems certain Castillo will be the left fielder. The question is how to divide center and right between Betts and Bradley. Betts had a strong first full season with the bat, giving the club a good combination of speed, average and power. Bradley produced far more offensively than he did the previous two years, and he might be the best pure outfielder in the game.

DH: Once again, fans and media members fell into a familiar trap, thinking that age had finally gotten the best of Ortiz due to a slow start. And yet again, Big Papi responded the only way he knows how, hitting majestic blasts over fences all around baseball. Ortiz had his best power numbers since 2006, which was fairly stunning, considering he did it at the age of 39. The slugger will be back for at least one more year, and the Red Sox hold an option on him for 2017.

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.