Mar 26, 2014, 1:30 AM EDT
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.
Aug 19, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
Mets rookie right-hander Jacob deGrom threw all of his pitches in a bullpen session Tuesday in Oakland without experiencing any discomfort in his shoulder and has been cleared to return to the starting rotation Saturday night against the Dodgers.
Aug 19, 2014, 10:22 PM EDT
The Nationals are the hottest team in the majors. Stephen Strasburg yielded just three hits over eight inning of one-run ball and shortstop Ian Desmond went 3-for-4 with four RBI in an 8-1 stomping of the Diamondbacks on Tuesday night in Washington, D.C.
Aug 19, 2014, 9:36 PM EDT
The Orioles’ four-year, $50 million deal with starter Ubaldo Jimenez is already looking like a disaster. Jimenez registered a 4.83 ERA and 1.55 WHIP over his first 20 outings this season and now MLB.com’s Brittany Ghiroli reports that the right-hander has been demoted to the bullpen for the stretch run.
Aug 19, 2014, 8:41 PM EDT
USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reported Tuesday morning that the Diamondbacks “currently plan to bring back” manager Kirk Gibson next season. But the club’s new chief baseball officer — Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa — is now denying that anything has been decided on the Gibson front.
Aug 19, 2014, 7:57 PM EDT
Jesse Hahn has been optioned to the minor leagues as part of a planned-out strategy to limit the rookie’s innings total in 2014.
Aug 19, 2014, 7:01 PM EDT
Great news here for the second-place Cardinals. Injured catcher Yadier Molina told Jim Hayes of FOX Sports Midwest on Tuesday afternoon that he is hoping to be cleared to begin swinging a bat on Wednesday or Thursday.
Aug 19, 2014, 6:14 PM EDT
Cubs third base prospect Kris Bryant sent a scare through the organization on Saturday when he had to leave a game at Triple-A Iowa with pain in his left big toe. But all is well with the budding superstar.
Aug 19, 2014, 5:29 PM EDT
Ryan Raburn’s disappointing season for the Indians now includes a trip to the disabled list with a sore right wrist.
Aug 19, 2014, 4:40 PM EDT
St. Louis infielder Mark Ellis is headed to the disabled list with a strained oblique muscle, which tends to sideline players for more than the minimum 15 days.
Aug 19, 2014, 3:45 PM EDT
McLouth played just 79 games and hit .173 for the Nationals in the first season of a two-year, $10.75 million deal.
Aug 19, 2014, 3:28 PM EDT
McCutchen was having another MVP-caliber season at the time of the injury, ranking among the NL’s top five in batting average (.311), on-base percentage (.411), slugging percentage (.536), and OPS (.947).
Aug 19, 2014, 2:20 PM EDT
Cespedes said he almost cried when he found out he was traded. But he wishes everyone the best.
Aug 19, 2014, 1:30 PM EDT
The silly NL West wild card race may actually favor the team playing the worst baseball right now.
Aug 19, 2014, 1:03 PM EDT
Before being shut down Cashner had a 2.36 ERA in 12 starts.
Aug 19, 2014, 12:40 PM EDT
A small move for the Indians, but a nice move all the same.
Aug 19, 2014, 11:50 AM EDT
“I’m not a 22-year-old single guy anymore. There are a lot of things that play into coming back and your decision.”
Aug 19, 2014, 11:33 AM EDT
Other than underachieving, alienating certain players and ordering pitchers to throw at guys, Gibson has been fantastic.
Aug 19, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT
Baseball wound up the career path of choice for the A’s right-hander, but football will always be in Samardzija’s blood.
Aug 19, 2014, 11:02 AM EDT
But I suppose someone — two someones, actually — has to win this ugly thing.
Aug 19, 2014, 10:47 AM EDT
“It looked really close to what we normally would see when he’s out there.”
- Tony La Russa denies that Kirk Gibson’s job is safe 9
- Pirates activate Andrew McCutchen from the disabled list 1
- HBT Daily: They’ve dropped six straight, but the Pirates may be the Wild Card favorites 2
- The Diamondbacks plan to bring back Kirk Gibson for some reason 30
- And That Happened: Monday’s scores and highlights 32
- Numbers game: Tigers fall victim to baseball’s speed obsession 45
- Twins prospect Byron Buxton done for season after concussion 3
- Let’s speed up the pace of play. But let’s not be gimmicky about it. Let’s just enforce the rules. 74
- Mike Matheny addresses turmoil in Ferguson: “It’s a sad situation. It’s a tough situation for our city” (125)
- Jayson Werth clocked at 105 m.p.h. in a 55 zone, is charged with reckless driving (88)
- Here’s today’s dose of barfy Derek Jeter sentiment (82)
- Baseball is dying, you guys (78)
- A vote for Tom Werner for commissioner is a vote to return to the dark ages (78)