Mar 26, 2014, 1:30 AM EST
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.
Mar 3, 2015, 7:28 PM EST
Yoenis Cespedes made his presence felt around Tigers camp with this fourth-inning grand slam in Tuesday afternoon’s Grapefruit League opener against the visiting Orioles …
Mar 3, 2015, 6:32 PM EST
He can be solid rotation depth for some team.
Mar 3, 2015, 5:46 PM EST
Kang hit .356 with 40 homers in Korea last season.
Mar 3, 2015, 4:15 PM EST
Because, if he does, David Wright and Bobby Parnell are gonna go kick his butt.
Mar 3, 2015, 3:54 PM EST
Unless someone gets injured, spring training game results don’t matter a bit. But they are a reminder that everyone starts from square one each season. No matter how well they ended the season before.
Mar 3, 2015, 3:15 PM EST
Johnson made the All-Star team in 1970 and went on to win the batting championship by hitting .329, marking his third straight season with a batting average above .300.
Mar 3, 2015, 2:48 PM EST
He was only 52.
Mar 3, 2015, 2:10 PM EST
Baseball has officially started, but opinions on pants vary.
Mar 3, 2015, 1:34 PM EST
Also: there is baseball — honest to goodness baseball — on TV right now.
Mar 3, 2015, 12:30 PM EST
As a man who knows from hanging around in loungewear all day, I can tell you: this is cool.
Mar 3, 2015, 12:06 PM EST
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but whatever.
Mar 3, 2015, 11:32 AM EST
Will he be the same Tanaka this spring?
Mar 3, 2015, 11:03 AM EST
The million a year helped, but Chamberlain’s son provided the definitive push back to Detroit.
Mar 3, 2015, 10:48 AM EST
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson was asked about a Dillon Gee trade rumor that made the internet rounds Monday night.
Mar 3, 2015, 10:30 AM EST
Which would be a little ahead of schedule.
Mar 3, 2015, 10:10 AM EST
Dozier is making the minimum salary for this season and would then be under team control via arbitration for 2016-2018.
Mar 3, 2015, 10:00 AM EST
The Daily News is gonna Daily News
Mar 3, 2015, 9:30 AM EST
Against the Nationals, on the road.
Mar 3, 2015, 9:00 AM EST
A nice history lesson from Jack Moore at The Hardball Times.
Mar 3, 2015, 8:30 AM EST
Reds fans may wonder why anyone would WANT to be like Votto, but everyone who doesn’t listen to Marty Brennaman knows that Votto is a pretty swell guy to emulate.
- Blue Jays sign Dayan Viciedo to a minor league deal 8
- Chris Sale will be sidelined for three weeks with foot fracture 11
- Aramis Ramirez says 2015 will be his last year 32
- Francisco Rodriguez re-signs with the Brewers 9
- If addiction is an illness — and it is — Josh Hamilton shouldn’t be suspended 306
- Pirates open to massive extension for Andrew McCutchen 18
- Report: Josh Hamilton had a relapse this offseason that “involved at least cocaine” 86
- Yankees don’t plan on having to pay A-Rod’s $30 million in home run milestone bonuses 52
- If addiction is an illness — and it is — Josh Hamilton shouldn’t be suspended (307)
- San Francisco — and all of California — will consider a smokeless tobacco ban that includes MLB parks (131)
- Curt Schilling lowers the boom on some men tweeting threats against his daughter (124)
- Ichiro is happy to be away from Joe Girardi (88)
- Report: Josh Hamilton had a relapse this offseason that “involved at least cocaine” (86)