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2014 Preview: Boston Red Sox

Mar 26, 2014, 1:30 AM EDT

Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz Getty Images

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2014 season. Next up: The Boston Red Sox.

The Big Question: Have the Red Sox taken the steps necessary to avoid a post-championship decline?

No team has repeated as World Series champions since the Yankees won three straight from 1998-2000. The Red Sox, though, didn’t suffer from any championship hangovers their last two times around, winning 95 games and returning to the postseason in both 2005 and 2008.

The Red Sox didn’t desire to partake in any sort of shakeup over the winter; they just weren’t willing to outbid the Yankees for Jacoby Ellsbury or commit to substantial multiyear deals for fellow free agents Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Replacing the trio will be either rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. or former superstar Grady Sizemore in center field, phenom Xander Bogaerts at shortstop and the much beloved A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate. Interestingly, the team’s only newcomer to get a multiyear deal was new setup man Edward Mujica (two years, $9.5 million).

The pitching staff has survived almost entirely intact, with the rotation set to include Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront. The surprising exit of Ryan Dempster turned heads — he gave up $13 million to spend the year with his family — but he was being viewed as a middle reliever or swingman. Replacing him in that role is left-hander Chris Capuano.

So, the Red Sox are counting on their returning stars and a gradual infusion of young talent to stave off any decline. Boasting one of the game’s very best farm systems makes that an easier choice, and if it turns out that they do need help as the season goes along, they’ll have about as much artillery to pull off a trade as any team in the league.

What else is going on?

  • The Bradley-Sizemore battle in center remains unsettled, and complicating matters is that there’s only room for one on the roster. Sizemore has shown surprising speed as he comes back from multiple knee surgeries and he’s also been making decent contact at the plate, but a month in the minors might not be a bad idea for him as he tries to shake two years of rust.
  • Working in Sizemore’s favor is that the Red Sox see him as a possibility to replace Ellsbury in the leadoff spot, whereas Bradley would hit at the bottom of the order if he wins the job. There was some thought over the winter of simply moving everyone up a spot and going with a Shane Victorino-Dustin Pedroia-David Ortiz top three with Ellsbury gone. However, that idea seems dead now, and it looks like Daniel Nava will lead off against righties if Bradley makes the team.
  • Victorino hasn’t ruled out switch-hitting entirely, but it appears he’ll focus on batting right-handed for now. It made him more of a threat against righties last year when an injury forced him to give up batting left-handed for a time, and he’s always been weaker left-handed anyway. Batting right-handed exclusively could lead to bigger numbers this year. On the other hand, it could also lead to more injuries, since he stands directly over the plate hitting right-handed and gets hit by pitches with ridiculous frequency.
  • So far, however, the injury bug that has racked fellow contenders in Texas and Detroit, as well as left Oakland minus a couple of starters, has avoided Boston. Those losses the Rangers, Tigers and A’s have suffered may not affect the AL East race, but they will help the Red Sox’s postseason chances by increasing the odds that one or both wild cards will come from their division.

Prediction: If spring training numbers are any indication, it’s going to take some time for the Red Sox lineup to start clicking. Still, the bats are there to make the team a top-three offense in the AL, and the pitching staff has both top-level talent and excellent depth. The Red Sox’s decision to largely stand pat could cost them a few wins and perhaps the AL East, but the team should return to the postseason in some form.

Second place, American League East.

  1. renaado - Mar 26, 2014 at 1:44 AM

    Capuano seriously is goin to get bombed there….

  2. renaado - Mar 26, 2014 at 1:48 AM

    Braves will win The WORLD SERIES !! Go Braves! Our country is rooting for You!! Fight 100x !!

    • 18thstreet - Mar 26, 2014 at 9:11 AM

      This deserves a thumbs-down for 1000 different reasons, but it also deserves to be deleted for being so thoroughly off topic.

      • renaado - Mar 26, 2014 at 9:17 AM

        Sorry, I can’t see any Braves page in this site other than the Kris Medlen twitter page yesterday.

      • renaado - Mar 26, 2014 at 9:19 AM

        Still currently waiting for the “2014 Preview: Atlanta Braves” though, hopes it comes out soon.

  3. ez4u2sa - Mar 26, 2014 at 5:49 AM

    While the Rays are a popular pick to win the division, until they do, the Sox should remain the favorites to repeat as division winners. The two teams will battle it out over the season leaving the aging Yankees in a woeful third place at best.

    • renaado - Mar 26, 2014 at 6:16 AM

      Well if your possibly be talking about offensively the Yanks would probably have trouble there but for me in a Pitching perspective they still might have chance , Not a big chance but still a chance they might make it to 2nd place or possibly take the Wildcard even with an aging pitching staff.

      • Jack Marshall - Mar 26, 2014 at 12:34 PM

        If the Yankee personnel was on any other team, it would be picked for last place, unanimously. The line-up would be contending in 2005. The bench and minors are thin. The likely ace has never won a game in the majors; the long-time anchor of the bullpen is gone. Unless they are very lucky, NY won’t get to 80 wins.

  4. phillysports1 - Mar 26, 2014 at 7:46 AM

    I have Tampa winning the division. Toronto and Baltimore winning the two WILDCARD spots . Detroit winning the central & Texas winning the west .

    • renaado - Mar 26, 2014 at 7:49 AM

      I really don’t know about the Blue Jays though.. Well as I said anything can happen in Baseball.

  5. kastout11 - Mar 26, 2014 at 8:04 AM

    The Yankees will need the CC from about five years ago, and they need Tanaka to win 15-18 games to have any chance. I just see too many holes for the Yanks. I see a 2 team race for the division. Boston will probably struggle to score some runs early in the season, but their pitching is probably the tie-breaker. Boston by a few games.

    • dillongeeescapeplan - Mar 26, 2014 at 8:28 AM

      The Sabathia from 2012 was still pretty good (125 ERA+, 1.14 WHIP, 4.48 K/BB (led AL), 3.5 WAR, 200 innings in just 28 starts).

    • clydeserra - Mar 26, 2014 at 10:13 AM

      and jeter from 5 years ago, and Texierira from 5 years ago and ichiro from 5 years ago and pinada from 3 years ago…

  6. mattinglyschmidt - Mar 26, 2014 at 8:16 AM

    What is this Yankees “aging pitching staff” people keep writing about? Sabathia is 33, Nova is 27, Tanaka and Pineda are 25. They have Banuelos coming back at only 23. Robertson is 29, Warren is 26, Betances is 26, Claiborne is 26. The only old guys are Kuroda at 39 and Thornton at 37. Their position players may be collecting Social Security, but not their pitching staff.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Mar 26, 2014 at 8:26 AM

      Banuelos is two years removed from pitching, essentially. His only goal is to make it through AAA healthy all year. He’s not pitching in the bigs this year. But they still have Phelps, Warren and Nuno who are all under 30 available.

      • renaado - Mar 26, 2014 at 8:51 AM

        Still, Phelps 2013 season is somewhat worrying though.

  7. dillongeeescapeplan - Mar 26, 2014 at 8:30 AM

    It’s gonna be a fun race this year. There isn’t a single bad team in the division.

    • Jack Marshall - Mar 26, 2014 at 12:38 PM

      Yes, it will be a fun race. No, the Yankees are NOT a good team. They are the best bet to crash and burn of all the teams in the AL…everyone in the lineup except third and left are old or injury-prone.

    • pastabelly - Mar 26, 2014 at 1:00 PM

      Toronto is pretty bad.

  8. proudlycanadian - Mar 26, 2014 at 8:38 AM

    Every team has some pitching question marks. So far this spring, the Yankees starters have probably out performed Boston’s. Lester, Buchholz and Peavey have all had strong springs; however, Dubront and Lackey have struggled. Ortiz, and Bradley have been in a slump all spring. The best Boston hitters this spring seem to have been Sizemore and Middlebrooks.

    • indaburg - Mar 26, 2014 at 10:11 AM

      Ortiz is known for poor spring numbers.

      I generally don’t put much faith in spring numbers. Small sample sizes, too many unfamiliar faces, guys working on stuff.

      • proudlycanadian - Mar 26, 2014 at 10:29 AM

        2 hits in 35 at bats is quite poor.

      • unclemosesgreen - Mar 26, 2014 at 1:52 PM

        Ortiz is also known for huge fall numbers. Bigger sample size.

    • clydeserra - Mar 26, 2014 at 10:14 AM

      I am not sold on Peavy and Lackey

      • proudlycanadian - Mar 26, 2014 at 10:28 AM

        Peavy has looked quite good this spring and had a good season in 2013.

  9. aceshigh11 - Mar 26, 2014 at 10:33 AM

    Last year was pure magic. Everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, broke right for the Red Sox. You couldn’t have written a movie script any better.

    They’ll be very competitive all year but you’ve gotta think that there’s going to be some regression.

    • pastabelly - Mar 26, 2014 at 12:58 PM

      Pedroia played hurt the whole year. I’m not even sure that any players had career years for the Red Sox. Arguably, you have a healthy Pedroia this year who will hit for more power, Will Middlebrooks having a productive season, more production at short with Bogearts > Drew, less time on the DL for Buccholz, a better first half from Lester, a better full season from Peavy, further removed from his injury. I would say the Red Sox didn’t get any breaks, but EVERYTHING didn’t go right. They won the WS because they had depth and were a very strong well rounded team. That’s still there.

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