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.
Oct 31, 2014, 7:35 PM EDT
Chad Billingsley is now a free agent after the Dodgers declined their club option for the 2015 season.
Oct 31, 2014, 6:55 PM EDT
Colby Lewis will test free agency after he and the Rangers couldn’t strike a deal.
Oct 31, 2014, 6:05 PM EDT
Madison Bumgarner’s post-season performance prompted Jockey to make underwear with “Mad Bum” on the backside, a special gift to Giants fans at Friday’s World Series parade in San Francisco.
Oct 31, 2014, 5:17 PM EDT
This season Hawkins became one of 16 pitchers in MLB history with 1,000 or more appearances and if healthy he’ll move into the top 10 next season.
Oct 31, 2014, 4:34 PM EDT
But will he accept it?
Oct 31, 2014, 4:26 PM EDT
Rios is now a free agent coming off a season in which he hit .280 with four homers and a .709 OPS in 131 games.
Oct 31, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
The end of this awkward, orchestrated process is in sight.
Oct 31, 2014, 3:50 PM EDT
He’ll be eligible for free agency next offseason at age 34.
Oct 31, 2014, 3:20 PM EDT
Both players will reject the offers.
Oct 31, 2014, 2:55 PM EDT
Here we go.
Oct 31, 2014, 2:44 PM EDT
Dirks missed the entire season following back surgery and then a hamstring injury.
Oct 31, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
Go O.D. on some hot trolley action.
Oct 31, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT
Chavez played for the Yankees in 2011 and 2012.
Oct 31, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Our last HBT Daily of the year gives a brief taste of the coming winter.
Oct 31, 2014, 1:18 PM EDT
This season he hit just .247 with a .616 OPS in 113 games and Aviles hasn’t cracked a .700 OPS since 2010.
Oct 31, 2014, 1:03 PM EDT
Some random, hypothetical musings on a Friday afternoon.
Oct 31, 2014, 12:12 PM EDT
He was drafted by the Red Sox in 2002 and made 241 starts for Boston.
Oct 31, 2014, 11:47 AM EDT
The only question for next season is what inning he’ll pitch.
Oct 31, 2014, 10:50 AM EDT
Weeks has spent his entire career with the Brewers after being the No. 2 overall pick in the 2003 draft.
Oct 31, 2014, 10:19 AM EDT
Matsuzaka left Japan in 2007 to sign a six-year, $52 million contract with the Red Sox and had immediate success, but dating back to 2009 he’s combined to throw 418 innings with a 5.10 ERA.
- The Cubs to announce the hiring of Joe Maddon on Monday 35
- Cubs fire manager Rick Renteria, clear way for Joe Maddon 67
- HardballTalk’s Top 150 Free Agents for 2015 24
- Joe Maddon’s pursuit of the Cubs job called “a classless act” by some in the game 117
- Kevin Youkilis opts for retirement at age 35 31
- 10 nominees for Hall of Fame’s Veterans Committee announced 107
- Bochy’s championship resume ranks among game’s best 19
- Alex Gordon would have been a dead duck had he tried to score 83
- A veteran says enough is enough when it comes to tributes for the soldiers (281)
- Jose Canseco shot his middle finger off (148)
- Shocker! Joe Maddon to opt out of his contract and leave the Rays (142)
- Oscar Taveras dies after car accident in the Dominican Republic (140)
- Joe Maddon’s pursuit of the Cubs job called “a classless act” by some in the game (117)