Sox champing at the bit to go on run in '17

Addition of Sale strengthens front of rotation; replacing Papi won't be easy

Sox champing at the bit to go on run in '17

Is it Opening Day yet?

After one blockbuster move to acquire lefty ace Chris Sale, Red Sox fans are salivating for the start of what could be a memorable 2017.

Fenway Park will open its doors on April 3, when the Pirates come to town, marking the first time Red Sox will have started the season at home since 2010.

It is then that manager John Farrell can unveil his vaunted big three to the starting rotation in whatever order he wants. Will it be Sale, Rick Porcello and David Price? Or how about Porcello, Price and Sale? Maybe Price, Porcello and Sale?

It is one of those scenarios where the Red Sox can't go wrong.

Coming off a 93-win season last year built largely around a strong young core, this Red Sox team could push triple-digit wins if everything goes well.

"Well, I think the one thing is the roster is balanced in a lot of different areas," said Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski. "I do like that. Our starting pitching is strong, and it's deep. Our bullpen has become deeper with the [Tyler] Thornburg addition and we think Joe Kelly can pitch well for us and we're in the spot where we led the league in runs scored last year.

"Our offense is good. We have a good defensive club. I think we have a good, solid all-around ballclub is what it comes down to. You've got to go do it."

As good as the Red Sox look in paper, there will be questions going in. Here are a few of them.

1. Will Sandoval bounce back?

There is visual evidence that Pablo Sandoval is putting himself in the best position to revive his career. The third baseman recently released some photos and videos through social media platforms that show a completely reshaped body. Nobody on the Red Sox has more to prove than Sandoval, who is still trying to wash away the bitter taste of his underperformance in 2015 after missing nearly all of last season with a left shoulder injury. The Red Sox still have Sandoval under contract for three more years. Perhaps he can do what Hanley Ramirez did a year ago and completely change the perception of Red Sox fans.

2. How will Sale handle Year 1?

There is little question that Sale will eventually dominate for the Red Sox, because he's just that good. But it sometimes takes even the most established player some time to get used to Boston. Price struggled the first few starts of last season. Porcello struggled mightily in his first season with the Red Sox. If Sale can start strong, there might be no stopping the Red Sox in the American League East.

Farrell on Opening Day starter

3. Who will fill Big Papi's shoes?

For years, David Ortiz led the Red Sox between the lines with his bat and in the clubhouse with his spirit. It will likely come as an initial shock to the system for most players when he is no longer around. The Red Sox are fortunate to have another returning leader in Dustin Pedroia, who still performs at a high level. One player can't replace Big Papi's numbers. Perhaps it can be done collectively with Mitch Moreland finding comfort in Boston and Sandoval regaining the form he displayed with the Giants. Also, the young players (Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Andrew Benintendi) could take another step forward with more experience.

Wakefield on Pedroia

4. How will rotation align?

The front three are set. That leaves Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright fighting for two spots, so there could be an intriguing battle in Spring Training to sort out the lower portion of the rotation. It will be interesting to see how Pomeranz looks after an offseason of rest and rehab. He wasn't particularly sharp after the trade that brought him to Boston. Also, how will Wright perform after shoulder bursitis put him on the shelf toward the end of last season?

Pomeranz strikes out eight

5. Will Vazquez or Swihart re-emerge?

Heading into 2016, everyone wondered if Christian Vazquez or Blake Swihart would emerge into the starting catcher. It turned out not to be a strong season for either player. Vazquez had a hard time being productive in his comeback from Tommy John surgery. Swihart first lost his job, then switched positions and then suffered a season-ending ankle injury. The Red Sox say he will come to camp as a catcher. Vazquez is out of Minor League options. Sandy Leon outperformed all expectations to become the starting catcher down the stretch. Will he be able to hold on to that job in Spring Training with two young and talented players determined to bounce back?

Leon nabs Dickerson at third

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for MLB.com since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and Facebook. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.