Boston Red Sox best-case and worst-case scenarios for 2024

Sep 27, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Brayan Bello (66) pitches
Sep 27, 2023; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Brayan Bello (66) pitches / Brian Fluharty-USA TODAY Sports

It was challenging to construct a scenario by which the Red Sox challenged for the AL East title even before news broke of the Lucas Giolito injury. Now, knowing he'll undergo some form of reconstructive surgery, it’s unrealistic to hold out hope that Giolito will return and be a force.

The more realistic scenarios – the ones that don’t involve Boston’s most significant offseason pickup pitching at all this season – paint 2024 as one during which the best the Sox can hope for is individual improvement.

Red Sox Best-Case Scenario for 2024

In that light, Red Sox fans are rooting for breakouts from five players, who collectively could form the basis for a future contender.

The best of the lot is certainly pitcher Brayan Bello. He’s only 25, but showed All Star-level stuff at times last season, finishing with a 12-11 record  and 4.24 ERA in 28 starts encompassing 157 innings. With Giolito out, Bello becomes the staff ace basically by default. The Sox need 180 innings, and a sub 3.50 ERA, and those numbers are well within his reach.

Between Garrett Whitlock and Kutter Crawford, somebody has to be a competent support crew for Bello. Crawford made 23 starts last season with a 4.04 ERA. Whitlock came out of the bullpen for 10 starts, but in his third partial season regressed, throwing just 72 innings with a 5.15 ERA.  It will be a successful season if at least one of them – both would be nice – demonstrates long-term starter reliability.

Ceddanne Rafaela is a 23-year-old outfield prospect with serious potential. The system’s consensus No. 4 prospect, Rafaela hit .302 in the minors last year and gets high marks for fielding, throwing and running…in other words, anything that doesn’t involve swinging a bat. If Rafaela can establish his big league bona fides, that will be a win in Boston.

Connor Wong took over the regular catching duties last year. He was average; his DRS broke zero by a point or three, he didn’t get on base and he didn’t hit for power. That’s excusable in a rookie; less so in a veteran. It will be a plus for Boston if Wong can show he deserves veteran status.

It would also be a good year in Boston if Triston Casas breaks through to the All-Star level that is envisioned for him. Casas hit 26 home runs on a .263 average and .856 OPS last season. The 2024 best-case scenario envisions 35 homers, a .290 average and a .900 OPS. That’s a serious mid-order threat a team can build around.

And if it isn't too much to ask for, the return to health and performance of shortstop Trevor Story would be some recompense for the $160 million the Red Sox have committed to him through 2028. In the first two seasons Story has produced batting averages of .238 and .203 while being limited by injuries to just 137 games. The press reports describe Story as 'finally healthy.'

Red Sox Worst-Case Scenario for 2024

It’s no secret that, on paper, there are four AL East teams better right now than the Red Sox. This was an 78-84 team in 2023, but if Giolito is out, if neither Crawford nor Whitlock produce regularly, and if Rafaela isn’t a legit major league starter, the potential exists for a true disaster.

Aside from Giolito, Nick Pivetta is the veteran of the staff. But he only gave the Sox 16 starts last season, and the 4.04 ERA was average at best. If Whitlock and/or Crawford don’t come through, where (after Bello) do the reliable innings come from?

Offensively, can you count on Story? The Sox did in both 2022 and 2023, and got nailed both times.

The Red Sox were bottom third in runs allowed last season, and if Giolito’s truly out, they did nothing over the offseason to improve that staff.

The Red Sox haven’t missed the playoff three straight seasons in a decade. They haven’t had three straight losing seasons since the mid-1990s.

Red Sox Most Realistic Scenario

Fenway Sports Group, which in addition to the Red Sox has costly holdings in professional hockey, soccer, and in the televising of the same, is pleading poverty, which is not news designed to enthrall Red Sox fans. The Red Sox payroll, more than $200 million just two seasons ago, took a $30 million trimming last year and is on course to drop another $10 million in 2024.

That puts the Red Sox in an unusual situation, that of dependent. To really move ahead, they are dependent on their competitors regressing. In fact, the opposite has happened, particularly in Baltimore.

For Boston to make an appreciable move out of the AL East cellar may require Gerrit Cole’s arm concerns to go nuclear in New York or Tampa Bay’s seemingly fail-safe economy plan to blow up for once. The Red Sox do not control either of those scenarios.

Individually, Bello and Casas are the surest bets to step up into star class. The problem is those improvements alone won’t satisfy the Sox fan base.

Texas Rangers' best-case and worst-case scenarios for 2024 season (