Playing Pepper 2014: Boston Red Sox

Since 2009, one of the traditions of the spring has been the Playing Pepper series.  I ask a number of questions of blogs–some in the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, some not–that cover the other 29 teams in Major League Baseball.  This year, not only is my son involved–he and I came up with the last question together–but the series is also brought to you by Purpose, Perseverance and Power Arms, the United Cardinal Bloggers annual publication.  Only $2.99 at the Kindle store, so get yours today!  But first, get out the bats and gloves and let’s play some pepper.

Boston Red Sox
97-65, first in the AL East, won World Series

That last part is what really sticks in the craw of Cardinal fans.  Won World Series.  Not that it was as painful and fully annoying as it was in 2004, but knowing that the Sox have won three titles in the last decade and two have come at the expense of the home team does tend to mean that teeth get put on edge when the Boston squad is mentioned.

Unfortunately, there seems little chance of them repeating their quick dive to the basement circa 2012.  The Red Sox are only getting better, using star prospects to fill the holes and being judicious on the free agent market.  Man, that sounds so familiar…..

When you’ve got a large market team with the following of Boston, it’s not surprising that people tend to jump at the chance to talk about their squad.  Boston is always one of my most prolific posts and this year is no exception.  Below you’ll find comments from the following, all of whom are members of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance:

With this much talent, you know that you better get comfortable.  This isn’t going to be short, but it is going to be good.

C70: How would you grade the offseason?

BRT: While the Sox didn’t make any major blockbuster trades (yet anyway), I would give them a solid B+. They signed 2 low risk-high reward players in AJ Pierzynksi and Grady Sizemore, and resigned Mike Napoli(which certainly needed to happen). They also passed on crazy contracts such as Masahiro Tanaka, and refused to pay insane money for Jacoby Ellsbury. While there are always improvements to be made (you can never have too many quality arms in the bullpen), I think the Sox are in a very good position to contend again this year. However, it’s going to be much harder than it was in 2013. In 2013, no one saw them coming, no one expected a team that won 69 games the year before to come back a year later and win the World Series. Now they know.

JS: B. It was a fairly quiet offseason. Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, and Stephen Drew left as free agents. Two of those holes are being filled by a farm system that is well-stocked. GM Ben Cherington signed A.J. Perzynski as the regular catcher, and added two relievers to the bullpen mix: Burke Badenhop and Edward Mujica.

MQMM: I would grade the Red Sox offseason a “B”. I didn’t expect the Red Sox to go after any of the major free agents on the market. The area they needed to upgrade most was the bullpen, as that is the most problematic area of any baseball team. Edward Mujica was a good addition, and Burke Badenhop and Rich Hill will fight for spots. They made a very good under-the-radar pickup when they traded for the Rockies’ utility man Jonathan Herrera, and may have made the sleeper pickup of the winter with signing free agent Grady Sizemore. I thought A.J. Pierzynski was an intriguing signing, as he is clearly a bridge to the Sox’ catching prospects, and showed he still has a good stick and can still throw out runners on the bases in 2013.

PP: I give it a sold B with a potential of a B+ if they bring back Stephen Drew( I am the ultimate Drew defender on my blog) They didn’t make any flashy moves but they did not need to. They brought back Mike Napoli which was huge and they let Ellsbury walk, which I feel was the right decision. I was not thrilled with the AJ. Pierzynski signing but was glad they did not give in on a long term deal with Saltalamacchia. I would have been on board with them getting McCann. He could have caught for two years until guys like Martinez and Swihart were ready and then moved into the DH/1B role. I think he will make a big impact with the Yankees especially in that park.

RLBB: B. The Red Sox didn’t need to do much after depth carried them to a championship in 2013, and with prospects ready to fill in Major League roster spots, they could afford to let Jacoby Ellsbury leave and not pursue any of the high-end starting pitchers on the market. I would have preferred Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s return at the price Miami paid to the A.J. Pierzynski contact, both because I think Salty’s a slightly better player and because he seems like a decent human being. I’d also like to see some insurance for Bogaerts at short and Middlebrooks at third. Stephen Drew taking the qualifying offer probably would have been best for both parties, but he’s certainly not the only solution, as the kids should start the season in the lineup, perhaps with an Alex Cora-type veteran on the bench.

RSNA: As returning World Series Champions, Boston could afford to deal from a position of strength, and I’m glad the Sox took an “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” approach. Which actually sounds strange, since we will have new players up the middle at catcher, shortstop and centerfield on opening day. Behind the plate we’ve replaced Salty with AJ Pierzynski. I’m not a big fan of his, but we still have David Ross as a capable backup and Ryan Lavarnway may be a decent option as a fill in if something happens. If he’s not, we have Dan Butler and Christian Vazquez waiting in the wings. I’ll call it a wash. The big offseason loss was Jacoby Ellsbury. Although we will miss his speed at the top of the lineup, I’m very excited about seeing what Jackie Bradley Jr. (“JBJ”) can do as the everyday centerfielder. I suspect this will be a net loss in the short term, but have little doubt that Boston will get more performance with the $153 million they saved by not resigning Ells than they would with him. At shortstop, Xander Bogaerts (“X”) is slated to start in place of Stephen Drew. As much as I love superior defense from the middle of the infield, Bogaert’s bat will more than offset that. Mike Napoli’s hip is still a ticking time-bomb and we did nothing to address first base (other than resign him), but Mike Carp showed he is more than capable to step in if necessary. Our starting rotation returns intact (with 6 starters for 5 spots!), and we’ve added some bullpen arms in Edward Mujica and Burke Badenhop. Never a bad idea to stockpile arms. With the caveat that there is still time to make some more changes, as long as they don’t make any stupid moves (e.g., signing Drew long term, displacing either X or Middlebrooks; giving Dempster away from free because of the starter’s logjam), I’m giving them an A- for this offseason.

SVS: I’d give the Red Sox a solid B for the offseason. Yes, they did lose Ellsbury and Salty. But the one-year deals for Sizemore and Pierzynski were smart responses to those losses. Both are veterans. Both have the potential to contribute a solid season, although Sizemore also has the potential to do nothing at all. Most importantly, though, is that neither player will block the younger talent coming in to fill those positions. Jackie Bradley, Jr. already has a good shot at being the starting center fielder. And Christian Vasquez down in Pawtucket could easily give them a Saltalamacchia-type season in 2015. Add to that the smart additions to the pitching roster in Burke Badenhop and Edward Mujica and the Sox have positioned themselves well for the 2014 season.

TSD: B — I thought the Red Sox made some nice augmentations to the bullpen.

C70: Will the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury be significant?

BRT: While I wish Jake and the Sox could have come to some kind of agreement, we all saw the writing on the wall a long time ago, especially with Scott Boras as his agent. You don’t retain him to leave money on the table. And despite the fact that there has been questions about his durability, the 30-year old center fielder got his free agent jackpot from the Yankees. And I am very grateful the Sox did not pay that kind of money to retain him. Yes, the loss of his speed, and his bat will be missed, but I feel a lot better about it with Jackie Bradley, Jr. waiting in the wings.

JS: Ellsbury can be a forceful player, but he has only one superstar season (2011) under his belt. Take that away and he’s a career below average hitter (OPS+). I’m very happy that the Red Sox had no intention of offering anything even close to the Yankees’ deal. The question is how will Jackie Bradley produce at the plate. The Red Sox have some high-OBP guys to fill the leadoff spot. Maybe move the duo of Shane Victorino and Dustin Pedroia to 1-2, or use Daniel Nava against lefties.

MQMM: It remains to be seen about how the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury will affect the Red Sox. Losing him to their archrival makes it all the more significant, but just about everyone figured Ellsbury was leaving, and it was just a matter of where he would end up. (I thought he was heading to Seattle, and Robinson Cano was staying with New York. Oops.) I believe the center field job is now Jackie Bradley’s to lose. Even if he struggles in spring training, I think he will open the season as the starter. If it continues and he appears to be overmatched like last season, he might find himself back at AAA, with Sizemore getting the bulk of CF.

PP: No. I think Jackie Bradley Jr. is the real deal and while he won’t steal as many bases as Ellsbury, he is a much better defensive player with a strong arm and a better overall base runner. JBJ is going to be one of the faces of this Red Sox team for years to come. He is a winner and will quickly become a fan favorite. I predict he will have a higher OPS than Ellsbury in 2014.

RLBB: Ellsbury’s a great player in all facets of the game. He’ll certainly be missed. That said, no one is irreplaceable, and the Red Sox have the outfield depth to replace much of his production. It will be trial by fire for Jackie Bradley, but even if he doesn’t work out and Grady Sizemore can’t find a fountain of youth, an outfield of Jonny Gomes, Shane Victorino, and Daniel Nava is at least league-average.

RSNA: No. Yes, you won’t replace his 6 wins (bWAR) overnight, but barring injury, our outfield defense is set and has lots of options. JBJ will be starting in CF; Victorino can play there if necessary, and Grady Sizemore is a long shot, but may become a viable option if he returns to form. And we still have Nava, Gomes and Carp, as well as Alex Hassan and Bryce Brentz for extra depth in Pawtucket. This team should have learned last year that it’s better to have several good players, than a couple of superstars surrounded by average players. The Red Sox have lots of good players and enough depth in the outfield to absorb the loss of Ells to the always and still hated Yankees.

SVS: The Sox will miss Ellsbury more at the plate than in the field. If Jackie Bradley, Jr. starts, then their defense is actually upgraded. He is a wizard in the outfield. But his hitting isn’t up to what Ellsbury gave the Sox as a lead-off hitter. That isn’t to say he can’t get there…but he isn’t there yet. So the Sox will most likely lose a few runs sine Bradley won’t have Ellsbury’s OBP. But he should save a couple with his glove.

All this comes with a big asterisk; can Ellsbury stay healthy for the Yanks? If he doesn’t this year, then losing him is significant in that the Sox will benefit and their greatest rival will take a huge hit.

TSD: Yes. His lack of durability overshadows the value he brought to this team.

C70: Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during spring training?

BRT: Since so many players are coming back from 2013, and the roles have already been pretty well-defined (It seemed to work out OK last year), I do see any great big battle for positions. However, there are 2 that, if things fall in just the right way, could be some interesting potential for drama. If Grady Sizemore comes to camp as the 2005-2008 version of Grady, rather than the 2009-2011 version, Jackie Bradley, Jr. could start the season with the PawSox. And if the Sox end up re-signing Stephen Drew, it will be interesting to see how that will play out in terms of the Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks dynamic. If Will struggles, Xander could move to 3rd, and Will would be the odd man out. But if Will does well, can the Sox really opt to play Drew over Bogaerts? It will certainly be interesting. But then again, certain things have to happen for these to materialize…

JS: With Pierzynski and Bradley inked in at catcher and center field, there isn’t really a roster battle this spring. There may be, as there often is, a small fight for the last spots in the pen.

MQMM: Right now, the left side of the diamond is most intriguing. The Sox have to make a decision on Stephen Drew, and if he comes back, it impacts Will Middlebrooks most. Xander Bogaerts is clearly ready for MLB, and it is just a matter of which position he plays, either SS or 3B. You can make a great case either for keeping or letting Drew walk. I’d keep him.

PP: Probably the starting rotation. There is a notion the Sox will trade a pitcher late in Spring Training if they are healthy so the question remains who they will trade and which young pitcher will step up and take a rotation spot. My money is on Rubby De La Rosa to be in the rotation as they head north and for him to have a breakout season.

RLBB: Will Middlebrooks vs. Will Middlebrooks. Not long after his three-homer game last spring, Middlebrooks fell apart completely, his on-base percentage dipping to .228 before he was shipped to Pawtucket in late June. In 41 games after his return to Boston, he hit .276/.329/.476, a perfectly acceptable line for a starting third baseman. If that Middlebrooks shows up, the Sox have a very good infield. If we get the bad Will, the team may have to scramble to find a better third baseman or a shortstop, with Bogaerts shifting to third.

RSNA: Barring injury, I don’t think there are any real battles. I hope the Red Sox don’t use exhibition game stats to determine starters. I’m fairly confident Dustin Pedroia could go hitless in March and still be the opening day second baseman. That said, if Middlebrooks takes a step backwards, and Garin Cecchini shows he’s ready for The Show, there could be some controversy at the hot corner. But ultimately I suspect this will be more media and/or fan fueled than an actual front office plan, and Middlebrooks will be the opening day starter regardless. We do have 6 starters, but these things always have a way to work themselves out, and if they don’t Felix Doubront will just be added to our bullpen depth.

SVS: To me there are two spots of interest. First is center field – will Boston let Jackie Bradley, Jr. take over as the starter? A lot of fans (myself included) are calling for just that. But if Sizemore can stay healthy and play to his talent level, he’d be hard to push aside because of what he gives you with his bat. The other interesting position is third, if only because no one still knows exactly what Will Middlebrooks is as a third baseman. Will he finally develop that prodigious raw talent or is he the player who got benched in the post-season? Will Bogaerts have to start there over Middlebrooks? And if Bogaerts has to start at short because Drew doesn’t return, does Middlebrooks get the job by default or does Boston scramble to find someone else?

TSD: Monitoring the left side of the infield. Stephen Drew looms. Sizemore vs. Bradley isn’t a real battle. Don’t be fooled. It’s Bradley’s job.

C70: What rookie, if any, will make the most impact on the team in 2014?

BRT: Xander Bogaerts, the young phenom shortstop who batted .296 in the postseason, with a .412 OBP. And not only is he amazing with his glove, and a joy to watch play, the 21 year old, despite being so young, totally gets the whole “playing in Boston” thing. I just wish, like his compadre, Jackie Bradley, he wasn’t represented by Scott Boras…

JS: Xander!

MQMM: Bogaerts and Bradley will be under the microscope as 2014 begins, but it will also be interesting to see what happens with Brandon Workman and Drake Britton in the pen. Both showed great promise and helped a battered bullpen in 2013.

PP: 2014 is the Year of Bogaerts. He is Alex Rodriguez before the baggage. The combination of him and Jackie Bradley make it exciting for Sox fan. Two home grown young talented players.

RLBB: With all due respect to Bradley and sixth starter candidates Brandon Workman and Allen Webster, the easy answer here is Xander Bogaerts. He showed a decent bat in his September call-up, then dazzled in October, with four extra base hits and six walks in 34 postseason plate appearances. His glove is a work in progress at best, but he’s ready to hit in the big leagues.

RSNA: Despite JBJ being our opening day centerfielder last year and playing everyday for the first couple of weeks until David Ortiz came off the DL, and then getting called up a couple more times, before coming up for good in September, I was surprised to see he is still rookie eligible. So are Brandon Workman, Allan Webster and Drake Britton who could all be a big part of this year’s arms in Boston. But who am I kidding. Xander Bogaerts has a shot at being the Rookie of the Year, after already having been a big part of last year’s postseason in Boston and his bat should have an immediate impact on the 2014 team.

SVS: Bogaerts, hands down. He will either be the starting third baseman or the starting shortstop. His bat is solid and he plays fantastic defense. He is the best position player to come through the Boston system since Pedroia. A future All-Star.

TSD: Xander Bogaerts

C70: What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division?

BRT: 96-66, and I think the Sox will once again win the AL East. I don’t think the other teams in the AL East made big enough changes to knock the Sox off the top.

JS: First place, 93-69.

MQMM: I can see the Sox winning 95 games and the AL East in 2014. A lot of things went right in 2013, and they have to again this coming season. Lots of questions to be answered. Will Clay Buchholz stay healthy? Will Jon Lester sign an extension before the season begins? Does Koji Uehara still have the magic? Is Dustin Pedroia’s thumb 100%? How many games can A.J. Pierzynski catch?

PP: I have them going 96-66 and beating out the Yanks by one game for the AL East title. I think they have too much depth and young talent not to win it.

RLBB: In a division in which no team can be counted out, Boston should be the favorite, if only slightly. They won’t win 97 games again, as too many things broke the right way in 2013, but 90 seems reasonable, and that may be enough to win the A.L. East.

RSNA: Last year I predicted 86-76 and a 3rd place finish, and we ended up World Champions. I’m not going to admit to being superstitious, but I don’t want to upset the balance in the Universe, so I’ll stick with the same prediction, and hope for the same incorrect result.

SVS: The fan in me wants to say 100-62, another AL East pennant and a second straight ring. The realist in me recognizes that the Sox caught lightning in a bottle in 2013. That said, they are still a very good team. They have pitching in depth, a solid squad and talented youth ready to fill the gaps as needed. They can still win the AL East. The Yankees are too old and depending on too many things to go right. The Rays look a little thin, the Orioles aren’t consistent enough and Toronto is a mess. I’m going with 94-68 and another first-place finish for the Sox.

TSD: 93-69, second.

C70: Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?

BRT: Daniel Nava. This is a guy for who the Sox organization bought his contract for a DOLLAR. He was never meant to make it anywhere, and yet he not only plays for the Boston Red Sox, which is impressive enough, but the World Series Champion Boston Red Sox–and he contributes. And when I watch him play, I see the JOY that is there. He gets to do what other guys only dream about–and he is grateful for that opportunity every time he puts on that uniform and steps out on that field. How can you not enjoy watching that?

JS: David Ortiz and Koji Uehara.

MQMM: Dustin Pedroia is my favorite player on the Red Sox to watch. Always gives 1000%, hates to lose, and is always a stick in the mud to the opposition. He is the unofficial captain of the team.

PP: Dustin Pedroia is always fun to watch but I am really looking forward to watching Bogaerts and Bradley this year. The Killer B’s will rival the The Gold Dust Twins of 1975 when Fred Lynn and Jim Rice roamed the outfield in Fenway

RLBB: Dustin Pedroia. He takes bad pitches, fouls off good ones, has surprising power and speed, and routinely makes excellent defensive plays. Watching a man of his size cover every inch from second base to Mike Napoli’s right hand is a pleasure fans of most teams don’t get to enjoy.

RSNA: There are so many likeable characters to choose from. It’s easy to pick perennial favourites (Canadian spelling, eh?) such as Pedroia or Ortiz. And recent newcomers such as Gomes and Victorino seemed to become immediate fan darlings. Lester going from cancer survivor to team ace makes him a sentimental choice for many as well. And Koji’s crazy high five dugout celebrations are loved by all fans. And Daniel Nava? He goes from being cut by his college team to hitting a grand slam on the first pitch he sees in the majors. But ever since I saw him play in Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League, as a teammate to the much more heralded Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, I’ve been a big fan of Will Middlebrooks. After some struggles last year, I look forward to watching him bounce back and show some gold glove caliber defense and become a legitimate power threat with 30+ home runs.

SVS: Personally, my favorite player to watch right now is Pedroia. He never takes a play off and always gives his all. Plus, he always looks like he is having fun. Being able to watch someone do what they like the most at a high level of talent is always a satisfying experience.

TSD: Dustin Pedroia. He plays the the way I would want my son to approach the game.

My thanks to each one of our fine Red Sox bloggers for their take on their favorite team.  It seems well within the realm of possibility that the ’14 Series could be a rematch, though hopefully with a different ending!

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