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The Red Sox offseason could take them from worst to first

The Boston Red Sox were a surprise last-place finish last year. Could they go from worst to first?

Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

Dave Dombrowski was relieved of duties by the Detroit Tigers at the beginning of August. By mid-August, he had accepted a promotion to President of Baseball Operations with the Boston Red Sox. From that point, it was clear that Red Sox ownership was looking to move on from Ben Cherington, and he stepped down as one of the first casualties of forced redundancies.

While Cherington worked hard to assemble a contender, his efforts panned out in the worst possible way in 2015. The newly-signed Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval had their worst seasons yet. The former thanks in part to a position change. The latter thanks in part to... Who knows?

While the Red Sox are surely hoping for a bounce back season from two players they owe a significant amount of payroll to, that didn't stop Dombrowski from making his impression felt early on his new team.

The Free Agents

For the rotation that needed desperate help last season, Dombrowski prescribed arguably the best pitcher on the free agent market: David Price. Not only is signing Price a huge benefit, but making sure the division-rival Toronto Blue Jays didn't retain his services serves as another victory.

Not to downplay that move, but that's really the only payroll commitment the Red Sox made. Adding a six-win player by FanGraphs WAR is a big victory though, and should definitely not be looked on as the 'only move' a last-place team made or needed.

For what it's worth, the Red Sox also added Chris Young -- the outfield one -- who is known as a lefty-masher and could be quite beneficial in Fenway Park. But free agency isn't where their best moves came from.

The Trades

The Red Sox made two notable trades this offseason. The one in which they acquired Craig Kimbrel, and the one in which they acquired Carson Smith and Roenis Elias.

Let's start with the headliner. Kimbrel has been as dominant a reliever that we've seen in recent memory. In fact, a case can be made that he's the most dominant closer of his generation -- and it isn't really close. While his productivity slipped with the San Diego Padres last season, there's not much reason to believe that will continue. His home run rate seemed to increase substantially while playing in the very-friendly confines of Petco Park, and his strikeout rate is trending in the wrong direction as well. Furthermore, the price the Padres levied for an elite reliever was pretty steep and included three to-100 prospects. However, having a dominant bullpen seems to be in vogue now.

If the Red Sox overpaid for Kimbrel, they underpaid to acquire Carson Smith. If the Red Sox bullpen only added Kimbrel, then there may be reason to worry. But Smith was sneakily one of the most effective relievers in 2015. Ranking fifth by FanGraphs WAR among qualified relievers, Smith finished ahead of the likes of Andrew Miller and Ken Giles. Wade Miley can be a good addition to the Seattle Mariners, but acquiring Smith was the right move for the Red Sox, and Roenis Elias could provide from good value as well.

Reasons to worry

As bad as they were last season, there's still a chance Ramirez and Sandoval continue their downward spiral. They might not be as atrociously bad, but Steamer projects both to be net positives in WAR next season.

The 28-year old Rusney Castillo still has yet to pan out the way scouts expected. He may have a short leash next season, but the Red Sox seem to have replacements ready.

Rick Porcello also seemed to lose it a bit last season and is still due $82 million. He'll need to return to his Tigers form to generate any surplus value on his contract.

Furthermore, Kimbrel's home run rates are worrying. And in Petco no less. So too are his strikeout and walk rates. Steamer projects his descent from excellence to continue, and only expects 1.2 wins above replacement which would be his lowest total ever. Furthermore, for that price of prospects, one wonders if Ken Giles would have been a better option. But, as they say, hindsight is 20/20.

Reasons for hope

With the price of elite relief help set very high by the Kimbrel and Giles deals, one wonders why it was seemingly so easy to pry Smith from the Mariners.

A full season of Blake Swihart is also something to be optimistic about. It will also be interesting to see how Christian Vazquez fits into the Red Sox future plans.

The Red Sox outfield is also a force to be reckoned with. Despite the fact that Castillo could struggle, if they need a replacement badly enough it would be interesting to see if Yoan Moncada could convert to the outfield. While he's still very young and only played A-ball, Moncada is believed to be one of the top prospects in all of baseball and has made progress beyond his years.

In short, the rest of the AL East should be worried about the moves the Red Sox have made this offseason. And despite the price they paid for Kimbrel, if they need to make a push for the postseason at the trade deadline, the Red Sox have enough options to add some more assets.