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.
Ruben Amaro on Andy Oliver’s decision to elect free agency: “I think it was a very foolish move on his part, but that’s OK.”
Apr 17, 2015, 11:30 PM EDT
Ruben Amaro seems a little upset that Andy Oliver didn’t want to start the season with Triple-A Lehigh Valley.
Apr 17, 2015, 10:50 PM EDT
The Mets will be stretching out Rafael Montero as a starter at Triple-A Las Vegas before bringing him back to the majors for a spot start against the Marlins.
Apr 17, 2015, 9:58 PM EDT
Mike Trout became the youngest to join the 100/100 club with a two-run home run on Friday night.
Apr 17, 2015, 9:17 PM EDT
Alex Rodriguez has two home runs on Friday night, leaving him two round-trippers shy of tying Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time home run leaderboard.
Apr 17, 2015, 9:11 PM EDT
Matt Carpenter made a cool maneuver to score the tying run in the bottom of the first against the Reds on Friday night.
Apr 17, 2015, 8:45 PM EDT
Neither side was warned, but Ubaldo Jimenez was ejected for hitting Pablo Sandoval with a pitch on Friday evening.
Apr 17, 2015, 7:50 PM EDT
A-Rod is now three home runs away from tying Willie Mays for fourth on the all-time home run leaderboard.
Apr 17, 2015, 7:15 PM EDT
Since 2000, how often have teams that started 9-1 went on to have playoff success?
Apr 17, 2015, 6:20 PM EDT
Mark Buehrle, baseball’s timeless left-hander, is reportedly considering retiring after the season.
Apr 17, 2015, 5:28 PM EDT
Well, he’s certainly not getting the support of the Los Angeles Angels.
Apr 17, 2015, 5:13 PM EDT
Apr 17, 2015, 4:16 PM EDT
Duensing had an ugly outing Thursday in which he turned a blowout into a save situation for closer Glen Perkins.
Apr 17, 2015, 3:41 PM EDT
Ryan Goins, who was called up from Triple-A, is expected to be Reyes’ primary fill-in at shortstop.
Apr 17, 2015, 3:15 PM EDT
And call up infielder Danny Muno.
Apr 17, 2015, 2:47 PM EDT
OK, maybe that’s a bit strong.
Apr 17, 2015, 2:17 PM EDT
Sanchez was the fourth overall pick in the 2009 draft.
Apr 17, 2015, 1:42 PM EDT
Left-hander Kyle Lobstein will continue to fill in for Verlander.
Apr 17, 2015, 12:30 PM EDT
We want more of this? Really?
Apr 17, 2015, 11:37 AM EDT
Stow used to work as an EMT at San Jose games. Good to see him back.
Apr 17, 2015, 11:20 AM EDT
Jose Abreu or Barbaro Canizares?
- Mike Trout hit his 100th career home run to become the youngest member of the 100 HR/100 SB club 7
- Make that two: Alex Rodriguez hits second homer of the night, giving him 658 for his career 24
- Alex Rodriguez hit his 657th career home run 43
- Let’s all just stare at Kris Bryant’s numbers for a while 27
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 39
- The wait is over: The Cubs are calling up top prospect Kris Bryant on Friday 99
- Carlos Gomez headed to disabled list with hamstring injury 11
- The Commissioner’s Office thinks that the Angels could indeed go after Josh Hamilton under his contract 153
- The Commissioner’s Office thinks that the Angels could indeed go after Josh Hamilton under his contract (153)
- “Why Ted Cruz is like the Atlanta Braves” (150)
- “We no longer need the terrorists. We’re now so good at terrorizing ourselves.” (143)
- Another argument in favor of making the DH universal (127)
- When it comes to Josh Hamilton, Arte Moreno is a craven opportunist, not a “smart businessman” (116)