Playing Pepper 2016: Boston Red Sox

It’s one of those rites of spring, one of those signs that baseball is returning.  For the eighth straight year, we’re Playing Pepper!  We’ll ask six questions of bloggers for each major league team as a way of getting familiar with those teams that don’t wear the birds on the bat.  This year, this series will be “sponsored” by The Cardinals Way, the new book from Howard Megdal.  It’s an outstanding look at the Cardinal organization and I can’t recommend you getting a copy highly enough.

Boston Red Sox
78-84, fifth in the AL East
Last year’s Pepper

For all the success the Red Sox have had in the last 15 years or so, it’s kinda hard to believe that 2015 saw them in last place for the third time in four years.  In fact, it seems of late their main victories come at the expense of the Cardinals, whether it was that one non-last place finish which saw them beat St. Louis in the 2013 World Series or swooping in this past offseason to deny the Redbirds the ace that was in their grasp.  No wonder there’s no huge Boston fans in Cardinal Nation (though getting John Lackey did smooth some feathers).

To talk about the newly revitalized Boston crew, we’ve got a whole slew of Red Sox faithful for your pleasure.  First up is our good friend Christine from Boston Red Thoughts.  Christine’s here for her fourth straight year and fifth overall and you can find her on Twitter @BostonRedThots.  Batting second is Tyler Scionti of Monstah Mash.  Tyler’s making his debut here, so go follow him @TylerScionti or @MonstahMash1.  Hitting third is Michael Lynch, founder of the stellar Seamheads site (and of the Seamheads Podcasting Network, where you can find Gateway to Baseball Heaven every Sunday night).  He’s on Twitter @seamheads.

Moving down in the order, we find Ruben Lipszyc of Ruben’s Baseball.  Ruben’s another one of our regulars, answering questions for the fifth straight year.  You’ll find him Tweeting @BaseballRuben.  John Quinn writes The Mighty Quinn Media Machine and has played Pepper for three straight years.  @TheMightyQuinn is his Twitter handle.  Finally, we have Michael Dobreski from The Big Mike Blog (formerly The Pesky Pole) with us for the third consecutive year.  Find him on Twitter @ThePeskyPole6.

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?

BRT: While I would have liked to have seen Hanley Ramirez (and to a lesser degree, Pablo Sandoval), traded this offseason, because honestly, watching those two play gives me flashbacks to the whole Carl Crawford/Adrian Gonzalez debacle, I overall like what Dave Dombrowski has done. He added a legitimate ace in David Price, and the top of the line reliever in Craig Kimbrel, two things the Sox desperately needed. While I wish they had gotten some more pitching (because you can never have too much), and perhaps another big bat, I am super-glad they did not trade any of the young ‘uns, because I think they are going to be the superstar core that is going to get the Sox to the postseason for many years to come. So as it stands, I like where they are, and am excited for the 2016 campaign to begin.

MM: I’m fairly happy with the Sox this offseason. Pitching was their biggest problem ion 2015 with the absence of a strong core pitcher in their rotation and a weak bullpen. The addition of David Price is huge for them in building out their rotation, but the biggest impact will be their pen with the acquisitions of Kimbrel and Carson Smith who will join Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara to solidify the 7-8-9 innings throughout the season. Now, as long as the starting pitcher makes it through 5-6 innings, the Sox have a fighting chance every night as opposed to last season.

SH: For the most part, yes, although I would have liked to see them jettison Hanley Ramirez as far away from Boston as possible. David Price gives the Sox a much-needed ace at the front of the rotation and brings the added bonus of weakening the Blue Jays who look to be formidable again this year. But I’m especially excited about the additions of relievers Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith, who along with a hopefully healthy Koji Uehara, will make lots of batters look foolish from the seventh to the ninth.

I don’t know much about Roenis Elias, who came over from Seattle in the Carson Smith/Wade Miley deal, but you can never have too many arms and he’s been solid if unspectacular in two major league seasons. The signing of outfielder Chris Young didn’t make a huge splash around baseball, but he should provide quality at-bats against southpaws and serve as insurance in case Jackie Bradley Jr.’s emergence as a hitter last year was a fluke.

RB: The Red Sox’ main needs heading into the offseason were to improve the pitching staff and figure out what to do about 1st and 3rd base. They signed David Price and Chris Young as free agents and traded for Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith and Roenis Elias. Other than a few of Mr. Henry’s greenbacks, the acquisition price of all these was just prospects Manuel Margo and Javier Guerra and starter Wade Miley. Someone was going to be bumped out of the rotation to make room for Price, so Miley was a small piece to give up, and more importantly Boston still has a lot of top prospects in their system. Price will certainly improve the rotation and Elias will give them some extra depth. Kimbrel was brought in to close which will lessen the load on Koji, who together with Carson Smith and the retuning Junichi Tazawa will give the bullpen a formidable set up crew. Chris Young will be a 4th/platoon outfielder and insurance against Jackie Bradley Jr or Rusney Castillo extended slumps or injuries. Since the “Hanley Ramirez as a left-fielder” plan did not work out last year, they are hoping he can play a passable first base. Third base will be manned by Pablo Sandoval again. He had a subpar season last year on both sides of the ball, and his age and physique make a lot of people worry that his skills will continue to diminish. But realistically, he’ll be given a chance to show he can perform before the Red Sox see him as a sunk cost. If his struggles continue, or Hanley can’t handle first base, then they’ll need to use some of their aforementioned prospects to upgrade those areas. Overall, very happy with the offseason, but not convinced they did everything they needed to do.

MQMM: New General Manager Dave Dombrowski certainly made some bold statements this past off season. Above and beyond anything else, the Red Sox needed an ace to anchor the starting staff. And they unquestionably solved that problem by signing David Price to a long term deal. Last season reminded me so much of 1997, as the Sox had just lost Roger Clemens and didn’t have an ace for the following season, and they staggered to a losing record. Then that off season, they traded for Pedro Martinez, who like Price, was a proven winner and Cy Young Award winner elsewhere. It allowed the staff to shift, took the pressure off other pitchers, and Pedro began a streak of dominance rarely seen in baseball. I don’t know if Price will do that, but with him at the head of the class it takes the heat off the other starters.

Many so-called “experts” say the Sox “won” the off season, but they don’t award trophies for that (the Padres would have gotten that last year and look where they ended up). But I am definitely pleased with the moves they made, especially bolstering the bullpen, which was one of the team’s Achilles heels in 2015.

BMB: The Red Sox needed an ace and they went out and got an ace in David Price. This moves does leave a bitter taste in my mouth because I am reminded how bad they messed up the Jon Lester situation. That is water under the bridge though. They have an ace again and that is good. The bullpen also needed reinforcements and they got that and then some with the additions Craig Kimbrel and a very underrated Carson Smith.

I worry about their offense and in a perfect world I would have liked to see the Sox try to move Pablo Sandoval and/or Rusney Castillo, put Hanley Ramirez at third base and pickup either a Chris Davis or Justin Upton. The lineup has too many question marks for me to feel real comfortable. Dombrowski’s hands may have been tied a bit here though as it is tough to find suitors for either of these guys and their contracts.

C70: There are a good number of new faces on this squad. Which one are you most excited about?

BRT: While I am still a huge Koji fan, I am really excited to see Craig Kimbrel pitching for the Red Sox. He is one of the best closers in the game, and I like that Dave went out and addressed the biggest glaring issues from last season–not enough quality pitching. And Kimbrel is definitely a quality pitcher, with more saves than anyone in the NL from 2011-2014, and an All-Star to boot. It will be interesting to see if changing leagues impacts his effectiveness, having spent his whole career in the NL, but while there may be a bit a learning curve, I think he’s a good enough pitcher to adapt quickly. And did I mention he’ll only be 28 this year??

MM: I, and most of Red Sox Nation, am most excited to see how Price will pan out. He’s shown that he has the stuff and metal to make it in the AL East, how he will fare for the Sox is still to be seen. Even more so, can he reverse his post-season history and rise to the occasion for the Sox when they need him come October?

SH: You’d think it would be Price, but I’m a big Kimbrel fan and can’t wait to see him come out of the bullpen and shut enemy batters down in epic fashion. I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing Dick Radatz pitch, but I’ve seen Lee Smith, Jonathan Papelbon, and Koji, and Kimbrel is on a whole different level. Even though he’s averaging “only” 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings over the last three years—down from his career high of 17.4 in his rookie season—he’ll be the best power arm in Boston’s bullpen in the history of the franchise and I’m pretty stoked about that.

RB: I’m going to admit to having a man-crush on David Price. And seeing Craig Kimbrel strike out three batters every time he pitches an inning will be pretty cool. But it’s actually the under the radar acquisition of Carson Smith that I’m most excited about. I think he’ll really lengthen our bullpen and be the new face that is most likely to quietly exceed expectations.

MQMM: I love the moves the Red Sox made in the bullpen. Craig Kimbrel is a flamethrower and one of MLB’s elite closers. They traded four prospects to San Diego to get him, and two were players who definitely looked like they could help the Sox down the road. But they were trading from strength, and I loved the deal. Koji Uehara will be 41 years old, and coming off an injury, so you don’t know how he’d be as the closer. I also liked the trade for Carson Smith from Seattle, as he very quietly had a solid season in the Seattle pen last year. The deals also takes the pressure off Junichi Tazawa, who has clearly been overused the last few years.

BMB: I have lived in Atlanta Braves country for the past two decades and have seen a ton of Braves baseball. Craig Kimbrel is a lot of fun to watch and better than a lot of people realize. There is this notion that last year with the Padres he regressed. He had a bad outing or two at the beginning of the season and was lights out like he has always been from that point on. The Red Sox are getting the most dominant closer in the game. I am looking forward to the Red Sox “tappin’ the Craig” in the 9th inning this year.

C70: Will the David Ortiz farewell tour threaten to overshadow what happens on the field?

BRT: I hope not. I know there has been such a distraction when a number of players retired in the last couple of years, but no matter how good one player is, and how much they have contributed to the game, there are 30 teams (including the Red Sox), who have to play 162 games, and THAT should be the focus. That said, I am hopeful other players and teams will at least acknowledge David Ortiz’s contributions to the game, and the fact that he has had a stellar career. I am also enough of a realist to know that there will be those who will bring up the drug test scandal from 2003 in an effort to be contentious. And if the 2003 test wasn’t such a complete and utter CLUSTER, I would agree, but it was vague and obtuse, and all over the place–and he has never tested “positive” again, so I am hopeful that stuff won’t come up much.

MM: I hope not, but I fear it will. Ortiz is good enough to merit as much playing time as he can get, but, and it’s a big but, Hanley should be the DH with Travis Shaw at first–instead HanRam will man first with Shaw in AAA and on the bench, which could prove to be a disservice to the Sox.

SH: I like to think that our guys are too professional to allow that to happen and I’d bet my life that Big Papi himself will keep the ship on a steady course. I’m sure he’ll love the attention but I also know he loves winning more than anything else, and I can imagine his farewell tour will be so much sweeter if he gets another ring. Besides, Dustin Pedroia will probably kick Ortiz’s backside if he allows his farewell tour to become a distraction.

RB: With apologies to Ted Williams, David Ortiz has probably meant more to this franchise than anyone in their history. But if his farewell tour is the highlight of the summer at Fenway, then something has gone horribly wrong. The team’s success and pennant race will hopefully be at the forefront of daily stories, and the farewell tour just a sideshow to that. If, however, the Red Sox find themselves out of the race by the trading deadline, then Ortiz will be the only reason fans will have to look forward to Red Sox fans. I don’t expect that to be the case.

MQMM: I don’t think so. He will be lauded during the year for his many accomplishments by friend and foe alike, and deservedly so. If the Sox are in a heated pennant race late in the year, it will take a backseat to the team, but if the Sox aren’t in the race, it will take on more significance.

BMB: As long as he hits it won’t. The fear I have is this Red Sox team is built in a way that David Ortiz has to really produce if they are going to win. That scares me and it should scare all Red Sox fans. He is saying all the right things and reports are that he had a great offseason and is coming into camp in great shape. I know how much it means to him to finish his career on a high note. He is 40 years old though. He is retiring for a reason.

If he produces at the level he did last season, the farewell tour will only make things better and I think the Sox as a team will feed off that energy. It could get real interesting if he struggles though and John Farrell has to make some decisions about his playing time.

The worst case scenario is Ortiz struggles like Derek Jeter struggled in his final year. Jeter was one of the worst players in the league that year yet Joe Girardi had him out at shortstop every day and high in the batting order every day. Farrell is managing for his job this year. If Ortiz struggles, I think the Sox struggle and it is going to be long year for everyone involved especially John Farrell who will be out of a job before the season ends.

C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

BRT: I really hope it would be Hanley Ramirez, but I just do not think he has the proper attitude. He goes out there and just does not seem to care about happens and the mistakes he makes. Yes, he has injuries last year, and that contributed, but he was pretty awful before the injuries. And now he is going to attempt to play first base, which could go really well, and or really bad, depending on much effort he puts forth. But my confidence is not high in either case.

So I will have to say Pablo Sandoval, if he can get his weigh in check, as I think it will help his game immensely. Supposedly, he is in better health this year, but he needs to keep doing that throughout the whole season, and not gain weight, which baffles me, because you always hear about the guys who have trouble keeping their weight healthy throughout 152 games. Panda obviously does not have that problem.

MM: Mookie Betts for sure. He has MVP written all over him, but I expect big things from Eduardo Rodriguez as well.

SH: Wow, that’s a tough one. I think Xander Bogaerts is going to double his home run output, at the very least, but if he doesn’t he’s still a productive hitter, so he probably doesn’t count. I also think Rusney Castillo will take a big step forward this year and show everyone why the Sox are so high on him. But the guy I expect big things from this year is Eduardo Rodriguez. He’s young, has a history of success in the minor leagues, and acclimated himself to the majors well last year when he went 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA. He needs to be more consistent—one minute he looks like a Cy Young candidate, the next he looks like he forgot how to pitch—but I think Price will be a good mentor to the young southpaw and it never hurts to have Pedro Martinez around to give pointers.

RB: Blake Swihart only got called up to AAA Pawtucket at the end of the 2014 season, and was not expected to get a cup of coffee at Fenway until at least September 2016. But early season injuries to Boston’s catchers caused an accelerated timeline and he was called up by early May. Not much was expected of him after playing less than 40 games at AAA. And he didn’t disappoint those lowly expectations batting sub .200 most of his first month, and having fans worried that his early callup might affect his confidence and long term development. But he progressed quickly, hitting over .300 with an OPS above 800 in the 2nd half of the season, and started showing some power, hitting three of his five home runs in September. I expect he will continue to develop into an offensive force, and by the end of the season they will keep his bat in the lineup at first base or DH, when his body needs a break from squatting behind the plate.

MQMM: All eyes will be on outfielders Jackie Bradley and Rusney Castillo, as they both made their cases late in the 2015 season that they should both be starting outfielders. Both need to get off to good starts. If either start slowly, Chris Young, Travis Shaw and Brock Holt would get more playing time in the outfield. This is especially true for Bradley, as 2016 could well be make-it-or-break-it for him.

And no doubt there is pressure on both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval after signing big free agent contracts last season and having less-than-stellar first seasons in Boston. Ramirez’ conversion to first base will be especially under the microscope. Sandoval showed up to camp this past weekend and all the talk was on his weight. He REALLY needs to get off to a good start in 2016.

BMB: This is my third time doing this for you Daniel and this is the third time you have had a question like this. In 2014 I boasted how Xander Bogaerts was going to become a superstar. He went on to hit .240 with an OPS of .660 that year. He did have a great season last year though.

Last year, I predicted that Rick Porcello was going to hit his ceiling and become the ace of the staff. Ben Cherington lost his job for thinking like that. Porcello of course went 9-15 last year with an ERA just under 5 runs a game.

It is 2016 and I am deathly afraid to answer this question. I am afraid to jinx someone else. Maybe I can lie and say Pablo Sandoval will make great stridesl so that I jinx him so bad that the Sox just eat his contract and bring up Yoan Moncada to dominate all of baseball. However, if I have to be honest I am going to fearfully say Eduardo Rodriguez. He was real good last year even with a tendency to tip pitches. He has apparently fixed this issue. He is also eager to learn from David Price and Price is eager to take him under his wing. The Red Sox could have dual aces in their rotation in 2016.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

BRT: My prognostic skills are completely abysmal, but here goes: The Sox will take the AL East, winning 93 games. It’s too early to tell if they have what it takes to go all the way, but I definitely think they will get to the dance…

MM: Ideally, they’ll win 90+ games and take first place, realistically I think that they’ll win between 80-90 games this season and fight for the Wild Card. Outside of Price the rotation is still weak and unproven.

SH: I’m optimistic and think the Red Sox will win 90 games and take the division. They went from last to first in 2012-2013 and ended up winning the whole enchilada, and I think they can do it again.

RB: The optimist in me says this could be the year they win 100 games (as I’ve said every season since I can remember….). If the young stars continue to develop, Sandoval and Ramirez return to form, the vets maintain their all-star caliber play and everyone avoids injury, it could happen. But more likely is that some of the youngsters will hit slumps, the older players won’t be able to defy aging and their skills will deteriorate, some unexpected injuries will occur and the fill-ins will underperform. If this all happens at the same time, then another last place finish isn’t out of the question either. But since I’m not a politician, I’ll get off the fence and just give a straight answer: 88 wins, good for 2nd place and a wildcard playoff berth.

MQMM: I think this team can win the AL East, and it will take at least 93 wins to do it. The Blue Jays will be formidable again, and I really think it will be a two-team race. So, I’ll go with 93-69 and first in the AL East for the Red Sox.

BMB: This is a team that could finish with 98 wins or 78 wins. I am surprised how many people feel that the Red Sox are one of the favorites in the AL. I can definitely see a way that they could have a great season but I also see many scenarios where they have a below average to bad season. I am going to split it down the middle and give them 88 wins. That will put them between second and third in the division and battling for a wild card spot late into the season.

C70: Which team in the division do you most enjoy beating and how do you think you’ll fare against them in 2016?

BRT: While it is always the Yankees, in recent years Baltimore comes in a close second, as I am NOT a fan of Buck Showalter. Even Tampa Bay and their annoying, cranky fans get on my nerves, so if they Sox can beat anyone in their division, it’s a good day, although a win over the Yankees is always the most satisfying.

There are 19 contests between the 2 ball clubs this year. While I would love for the Sox to win all 19, that is in no way realistic (although it’s fun to think about). I think it will be pretty close, and the Sox will win 12 of the games against the Yankees in 2016.

MM: Duh, the Yankees and pretty well given their rotation isn’t particularly good and their lineup is weaker than Jonny Damon’s arm. I think the Sox will fight for second with the Yankees all season, and hopefully come out on top.

SH: Ha! This is an easy one. In no particular order it’s the Yankees, Yankees, and Yankees. Every year I think age is finally going to catch up to them and every year I’m wrong, but one can always hope. That said, their three-headed bullpen monster of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman is one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, they lost Stephen Drew to the Nationals and that’s going to hurt them. Okay…maybe not. I don’t expect them to beat them every time, although that would be awesome, but I’d settle for anything over .500.

RB: I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the rest of the respondents will all say the *It’s one of those rites of spring, one of those signs that baseball is returning.  For the eighth straight year, we’re Playing Pepper!  We’ll ask six questions of bloggers for each major league team as a way of getting familiar with those teams that don’t wear the birds on the bat.  This year, this series will be “sponsored” by The Cardinals Way, the new book from Howard Megdal.  It’s an outstanding look at the Cardinal organization and I can’t recommend you getting a copy highly enough.

Boston Red Sox
78-84, fifth in the AL East
Last year’s Pepper

For all the success the Red Sox have had in the last 15 years or so, it’s kinda hard to believe that 2015 saw them in last place for the third time in four years.  In fact, it seems of late their main victories come at the expense of the Cardinals, whether it was that one non-last place finish which saw them beat St. Louis in the 2013 World Series or swooping in this past offseason to deny the Redbirds the ace that was in their grasp.  No wonder there’s no huge Boston fans in Cardinal Nation (though getting John Lackey did smooth some feathers).

To talk about the newly revitalized Boston crew, we’ve got a whole slew of Red Sox faithful for your pleasure.  First up is our good friend Christine from Boston Red Thoughts.  Christine’s here for her fourth straight year and fifth overall and you can find her on Twitter @BostonRedThots.  Batting second is Tyler Scionti of Monstah Mash.  Tyler’s making his debut here, so go follow him @TylerScionti or @MonstahMash1.  Hitting third is Michael Lynch, founder of the stellar Seamheads site (and of the Seamheads Podcasting Network, where you can find Gateway to Baseball Heaven every Sunday night).  He’s on Twitter @seamheads.

Moving down in the order, we find Ruben Lipszyc of Ruben’s Baseball.  Ruben’s another one of our regulars, answering questions for the fifth straight year.  You’ll find him Tweeting @BaseballRuben.  John Quinn writes The Mighty Quinn Media Machine and has played Pepper for three straight years.  @TheMightyQuinn is his Twitter handle.  Finally, we have Michael Dobreski from The Big Mike Blog (formerly The Pesky Pole) with us for the third consecutive year.  Find him on Twitter @peskypole6.

C70: What are your thoughts on the team’s offseason? Did they do what they needed to do?

BRT: While I would have liked to have seen Hanley Ramirez (and to a lesser degree, Pablo Sandoval), traded this offseason, because honestly, watching those two play gives me flashbacks to the whole Carl Crawford/Adrian Gonzalez debacle, I overall like what Dave Dombrowski has done. He added a legitimate ace in David Price, and the top of the line reliever in Craig Kimbrel, two things the Sox desperately needed. While I wish they had gotten some more pitching (because you can never have too much), and perhaps another big bat, I am super-glad they did not trade any of the young ‘uns, because I think they are going to be the superstar core that is going to get the Sox to the postseason for many years to come. So as it stands, I like where they are, and am excited for the 2016 campaign to begin.

MM: I’m fairly happy with the Sox this offseason. Pitching was their biggest problem ion 2015 with the absence of a strong core pitcher in their rotation and a weak bullpen. The addition of David Price is huge for them in building out their rotation, but the biggest impact will be their pen with the acquisitions of Kimbrel and Carson Smith who will join Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara to solidify the 7-8-9 innings throughout the season. Now, as long as the starting pitcher makes it through 5-6 innings, the Sox have a fighting chance every night as opposed to last season.

SH: For the most part, yes, although I would have liked to see them jettison Hanley Ramirez as far away from Boston as possible. David Price gives the Sox a much-needed ace at the front of the rotation and brings the added bonus of weakening the Blue Jays who look to be formidable again this year. But I’m especially excited about the additions of relievers Craig Kimbrel and Carson Smith, who along with a hopefully healthy Koji Uehara, will make lots of batters look foolish from the seventh to the ninth.

I don’t know much about Roenis Elias, who came over from Seattle in the Carson Smith/Wade Miley deal, but you can never have too many arms and he’s been solid if unspectacular in two major league seasons. The signing of outfielder Chris Young didn’t make a huge splash around baseball, but he should provide quality at-bats against southpaws and serve as insurance in case Jackie Bradley Jr.’s emergence as a hitter last year was a fluke.

RB: The Red Sox’ main needs heading into the offseason were to improve the pitching staff and figure out what to do about 1st and 3rd base. They signed David Price and Chris Young as free agents and traded for Craig Kimbrel, Carson Smith and Roenis Elias. Other than a few of Mr. Henry’s greenbacks, the acquisition price of all these was just prospects Manuel Margo and Javier Guerra and starter Wade Miley. Someone was going to be bumped out of the rotation to make room for Price, so Miley was a small piece to give up, and more importantly Boston still has a lot of top prospects in their system. Price will certainly improve the rotation and Elias will give them some extra depth. Kimbrel was brought in to close which will lessen the load on Koji, who together with Carson Smith and the retuning Junichi Tazawa will give the bullpen a formidable set up crew. Chris Young will be a 4th/platoon outfielder and insurance against Jackie Bradley Jr or Rusney Castillo extended slumps or injuries. Since the “Hanley Ramirez as a left-fielder” plan did not work out last year, they are hoping he can play a passable first base. Third base will be manned by Pablo Sandoval again. He had a subpar season last year on both sides of the ball, and his age and physique make a lot of people worry that his skills will continue to diminish. But realistically, he’ll be given a chance to show he can perform before the Red Sox see him as a sunk cost. If his struggles continue, or Hanley can’t handle first base, then they’ll need to use some of their aforementioned prospects to upgrade those areas. Overall, very happy with the offseason, but not convinced they did everything they needed to do.

MQMM: New General Manager Dave Dombrowski certainly made some bold statements this past off season. Above and beyond anything else, the Red Sox needed an ace to anchor the starting staff. And they unquestionably solved that problem by signing David Price to a long term deal. Last season reminded me so much of 1997, as the Sox had just lost Roger Clemens and didn’t have an ace for the following season, and they staggered to a losing record. Then that off season, they traded for Pedro Martinez, who like Price, was a proven winner and Cy Young Award winner elsewhere. It allowed the staff to shift, took the pressure off other pitchers, and Pedro began a streak of dominance rarely seen in baseball. I don’t know if Price will do that, but with him at the head of the class it takes the heat off the other starters.

Many so-called “experts” say the Sox “won” the off season, but they don’t award trophies for that (the Padres would have gotten that last year and look where they ended up). But I am definitely pleased with the moves they made, especially bolstering the bullpen, which was one of the team’s Achilles heels in 2015.

BMB: The Red Sox needed an ace and they went out and got an ace in David Price. This moves does leave a bitter taste in my mouth because I am reminded how bad they messed up the Jon Lester situation. That is water under the bridge though. They have an ace again and that is good. The bullpen also needed reinforcements and they got that and then some with the additions Craig Kimbrel and a very underrated Carson Smith.

I worry about their offense and in a perfect world I would have liked to see the Sox try to move Pablo Sandoval and/or Rusney Castillo, put Hanley Ramirez at third base and pickup either a Chris Davis or Justin Upton. The lineup has too many question marks for me to feel real comfortable. Dombrowski’s hands may have been tied a bit here though as it is tough to find suitors for either of these guys and their contracts.

C70: There are a good number of new faces on this squad. Which one are you most excited about?

BRT: While I am still a huge Koji fan, I am really excited to see Craig Kimbrel pitching for the Red Sox. He is one of the best closers in the game, and I like that Dave went out and addressed the biggest glaring issues from last season–not enough quality pitching. And Kimbrel is definitely a quality pitcher, with more saves than anyone in the NL from 2011-2014, and an All-Star to boot. It will be interesting to see if changing leagues impacts his effectiveness, having spent his whole career in the NL, but while there may be a bit a learning curve, I think he’s a good enough pitcher to adapt quickly. And did I mention he’ll only be 28 this year??

MM: I, and most of Red Sox Nation, am most excited to see how Price will pan out. He’s shown that he has the stuff and metal to make it in the AL East, how he will fare for the Sox is still to be seen. Even more so, can he reverse his post-season history and rise to the occasion for the Sox when they need him come October?

SH: You’d think it would be Price, but I’m a big Kimbrel fan and can’t wait to see him come out of the bullpen and shut enemy batters down in epic fashion. I didn’t have the pleasure of seeing Dick Radatz pitch, but I’ve seen Lee Smith, Jonathan Papelbon, and Koji, and Kimbrel is on a whole different level. Even though he’s averaging “only” 13.4 strikeouts per nine innings over the last three years—down from his career high of 17.4 in his rookie season—he’ll be the best power arm in Boston’s bullpen in the history of the franchise and I’m pretty stoked about that.

RB: I’m going to admit to having a man-crush on David Price. And seeing Craig Kimbrel strike out three batters every time he pitches an inning will be pretty cool. But it’s actually the under the radar acquisition of Carson Smith that I’m most excited about. I think he’ll really lengthen our bullpen and be the new face that is most likely to quietly exceed expectations.

MQMM: I love the moves the Red Sox made in the bullpen. Craig Kimbrel is a flamethrower and one of MLB’s elite closers. They traded four prospects to San Diego to get him, and two were players who definitely looked like they could help the Sox down the road. But they were trading from strength, and I loved the deal. Koji Uehara will be 41 years old, and coming off an injury, so you don’t know how he’d be as the closer. I also liked the trade for Carson Smith from Seattle, as he very quietly had a solid season in the Seattle pen last year. The deals also takes the pressure off Junichi Tazawa, who has clearly been overused the last few years.

BMB: I have lived in Atlanta Braves country for the past two decades and have seen a ton of Braves baseball. Craig Kimbrel is a lot of fun to watch and better than a lot of people realize. There is this notion that last year with the Padres he regressed. He had a bad outing or two at the beginning of the season and was lights out like he has always been from that point on. The Red Sox are getting the most dominant closer in the game. I am looking forward to the Red Sox “tappin’ the Craig” in the 9th inning this year.

C70: Will the David Ortiz farewell tour threaten to overshadow what happens on the field?

BRT: I hope not. I know there has been such a distraction when a number of players retired in the last couple of years, but no matter how good one player is, and how much they have contributed to the game, there are 30 teams (including the Red Sox), who have to play 162 games, and THAT should be the focus. That said, I am hopeful other players and teams will at least acknowledge David Ortiz’s contributions to the game, and the fact that he has had a stellar career. I am also enough of a realist to know that there will be those who will bring up the drug test scandal from 2003 in an effort to be contentious. And if the 2003 test wasn’t such a complete and utter CLUSTER, I would agree, but it was vague and obtuse, and all over the place–and he has never tested “positive” again, so I am hopeful that stuff won’t come up much.

MM: I hope not, but I fear it will. Ortiz is good enough to merit as much playing time as he can get, but, and it’s a big but, Hanley should be the DH with Travis Shaw at first–instead HanRam will man first with Shaw in AAA and on the bench, which could prove to be a disservice to the Sox.

SH: I like to think that our guys are too professional to allow that to happen and I’d bet my life that Big Papi himself will keep the ship on a steady course. I’m sure he’ll love the attention but I also know he loves winning more than anything else, and I can imagine his farewell tour will be so much sweeter if he gets another ring. Besides, Dustin Pedroia will probably kick Ortiz’s backside if he allows his farewell tour to become a distraction.

RB: With apologies to Ted Williams, David Ortiz has probably meant more to this franchise than anyone in their history. But if his farewell tour is the highlight of the summer at Fenway, then something has gone horribly wrong. The team’s success and pennant race will hopefully be at the forefront of daily stories, and the farewell tour just a sideshow to that. If, however, the Red Sox find themselves out of the race by the trading deadline, then Ortiz will be the only reason fans will have to look forward to Red Sox fans. I don’t expect that to be the case.

MQMM: I don’t think so. He will be lauded during the year for his many accomplishments by friend and foe alike, and deservedly so. If the Sox are in a heated pennant race late in the year, it will take a backseat to the team, but if the Sox aren’t in the race, it will take on more significance.

BMB: As long as he hits it won’t. The fear I have is this Red Sox team is built in a way that David Ortiz has to really produce if they are going to win. That scares me and it should scare all Red Sox fans. He is saying all the right things and reports are that he had a great offseason and is coming into camp in great shape. I know how much it means to him to finish his career on a high note. He is 40 years old though. He is retiring for a reason.

If he produces at the level he did last season, the farewell tour will only make things better and I think the Sox as a team will feed off that energy. It could get real interesting if he struggles though and John Farrell has to make some decisions about his playing time.

The worst case scenario is Ortiz struggles like Derek Jeter struggled in his final year. Jeter was one of the worst players in the league that year yet Joe Girardi had him out at shortstop every day and high in the batting order every day. Farrell is managing for his job this year. If Ortiz struggles, I think the Sox struggle and it is going to be long year for everyone involved especially John Farrell who will be out of a job before the season ends.

C70: What player do you expect to make the greatest strides this year?

BRT: I really hope it would be Hanley Ramirez, but I just do not think he has the proper attitude. He goes out there and just does not seem to care about happens and the mistakes he makes. Yes, he has injuries last year, and that contributed, but he was pretty awful before the injuries. And now he is going to attempt to play first base, which could go really well, and or really bad, depending on much effort he puts forth. But my confidence is not high in either case.

So I will have to say Pablo Sandoval, if he can get his weigh in check, as I think it will help his game immensely. Supposedly, he is in better health this year, but he needs to keep doing that throughout the whole season, and not gain weight, which baffles me, because you always hear about the guys who have trouble keeping their weight healthy throughout 152 games. Panda obviously does not have that problem.

MM: Mookie Betts for sure. He has MVP written all over him, but I expect big things from Eduardo Rodriguez as well.

SH: Wow, that’s a tough one. I think Xander Bogaerts is going to double his home run output, at the very least, but if he doesn’t he’s still a productive hitter, so he probably doesn’t count. I also think Rusney Castillo will take a big step forward this year and show everyone why the Sox are so high on him. But the guy I expect big things from this year is Eduardo Rodriguez. He’s young, has a history of success in the minor leagues, and acclimated himself to the majors well last year when he went 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA. He needs to be more consistent—one minute he looks like a Cy Young candidate, the next he looks like he forgot how to pitch—but I think Price will be a good mentor to the young southpaw and it never hurts to have Pedro Martinez around to give pointers.

RB: Blake Swihart only got called up to AAA Pawtucket at the end of the 2014 season, and was not expected to get a cup of coffee at Fenway until at least September 2016. But early season injuries to Boston’s catchers caused an accelerated timeline and he was called up by early May. Not much was expected of him after playing less than 40 games at AAA. And he didn’t disappoint those lowly expectations batting sub .200 most of his first month, and having fans worried that his early callup might affect his confidence and long term development. But he progressed quickly, hitting over .300 with an OPS above 800 in the 2nd half of the season, and started showing some power, hitting three of his five home runs in September. I expect he will continue to develop into an offensive force, and by the end of the season they will keep his bat in the lineup at first base or DH, when his body needs a break from squatting behind the plate.

MQMM: All eyes will be on outfielders Jackie Bradley and Rusney Castillo, as they both made their cases late in the 2015 season that they should both be starting outfielders. Both need to get off to good starts. If either start slowly, Chris Young, Travis Shaw and Brock Holt would get more playing time in the outfield. This is especially true for Bradley, as 2016 could well be make-it-or-break-it for him.

And no doubt there is pressure on both Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval after signing big free agent contracts last season and having less-than-stellar first seasons in Boston. Ramirez’ conversion to first base will be especially under the microscope. Sandoval showed up to camp this past weekend and all the talk was on his weight. He REALLY needs to get off to a good start in 2016.

BMB: This is my third time doing this for you Daniel and this is the third time you have had a question like this. In 2014 I boasted how Xander Bogaerts was going to become a superstar. He went on to hit .240 with an OPS of .660 that year. He did have a great season last year though.

Last year, I predicted that Rick Porcello was going to hit his ceiling and become the ace of the staff. Ben Cherington lost his job for thinking like that. Porcello of course went 9-15 last year with an ERA just under 5 runs a game.

It is 2016 and I am deathly afraid to answer this question. I am afraid to jinx someone else. Maybe I can lie and say Pablo Sandoval will make great stridesl so that I jinx him so bad that the Sox just eat his contract and bring up Yoan Moncada to dominate all of baseball. However, if I have to be honest I am going to fearfully say Eduardo Rodriguez. He was real good last year even with a tendency to tip pitches. He has apparently fixed this issue. He is also eager to learn from David Price and Price is eager to take him under his wing. The Red Sox could have dual aces in their rotation in 2016.

C70: What’s your projection of the team’s record and where will they finish in the division?

BRT: My prognostic skills are completely abysmal, but here goes: The Sox will take the AL East, winning 93 games. It’s too early to tell if they have what it takes to go all the way, but I definitely think they will get to the dance…

MM: Ideally, they’ll win 90+ games and take first place, realistically I think that they’ll win between 80-90 games this season and fight for the Wild Card. Outside of Price the rotation is still weak and unproven.

SH: I’m optimistic and think the Red Sox will win 90 games and take the division. They went from last to first in 2012-2013 and ended up winning the whole enchilada, and I think they can do it again.

RB: The optimist in me says this could be the year they win 100 games (as I’ve said every season since I can remember….). If the young stars continue to develop, Sandoval and Ramirez return to form, the vets maintain their all-star caliber play and everyone avoids injury, it could happen. But more likely is that some of the youngsters will hit slumps, the older players won’t be able to defy aging and their skills will deteriorate, some unexpected injuries will occur and the fill-ins will underperform. If this all happens at the same time, then another last place finish isn’t out of the question either. But since I’m not a politician, I’ll get off the fence and just give a straight answer: 88 wins, good for 2nd place and a wildcard playoff berth.

MQMM: I think this team can win the AL East, and it will take at least 93 wins to do it. The Blue Jays will be formidable again, and I really think it will be a two-team race. So, I’ll go with 93-69 and first in the AL East for the Red Sox.

BMB: This is a team that could finish with 98 wins or 78 wins. I am surprised how many people feel that the Red Sox are one of the favorites in the AL. I can definitely see a way that they could have a great season but I also see many scenarios where they have a below average to bad season. I am going to split it down the middle and give them 88 wins. That will put them between second and third in the division and battling for a wild card spot late into the season.

C70: Which team in the division do you most enjoy beating and how do you think you’ll fare against them in 2016?

BRT: While it is always the Yankees, in recent years Baltimore comes in a close second, as I am NOT a fan of Buck Showalter. Even Tampa Bay and their annoying, cranky fans get on my nerves, so if they Sox can beat anyone in their division, it’s a good day, although a win over the Yankees is always the most satisfying.

There are 19 contests between the 2 ball clubs this year. While I would love for the Sox to win all 19, that is in no way realistic (although it’s fun to think about). I think it will be pretty close, and the Sox will win 12 of the games against the Yankees in 2016.

MM: Duh, the Yankees and pretty well given their rotation isn’t particularly good and their lineup is weaker than Jonny Damon’s arm. I think the Sox will fight for second with the Yankees all season, and hopefully come out on top.

SH: Ha! This is an easy one. In no particular order it’s the Yankees, Yankees, and Yankees. Every year I think age is finally going to catch up to them and every year I’m wrong, but one can always hope. That said, their three-headed bullpen monster of Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller, and Aroldis Chapman is one of the scariest things I’ve ever seen. On the other hand, they lost Stephen Drew to the Nationals and that’s going to hurt them. Okay…maybe not. I don’t expect them to beat them every time, although that would be awesome, but I’d settle for anything over .500.

RB: I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that the rest of the respondents will all say the *$&@ Yankees. But to me it’s the Blue Jays. Maybe it’s because I used to live in Toronto and had to put up with Jays fans when those two teams consistently fought for the division title every season from the mid 80s to the early 90s. Also, their fans and media constantly whine about not being able to compete with us because of our higher payroll – never hear a Yankees fan complain about that! I suspect we’ll finish ahead of them in the standings this season. They still have an explosive offense, but I don’t think they have enough arms to contend all summer. And for that reason I expect we’ll beat them in the season series 11 games to 7 (although 18-0 would make me very happy!)

MQMM: Who else? The Yankees. I see them fighting for third. They could give the Red Sox fits with their strong bullpen, but they could split the season series with the Red Sox in 2016.

BMB: The obvious answer is the Yankees and while the rivalry remains big, it has cooled a bit over the years. It is still great to beat them though. Personally, I have never liked Buck Showalter. He comes off as an arrogant jerk who thinks he knows more baseball than anyone in the world. It just rubs me the wrong way.

I met him several years ago in Fenway Park. He was working for ESPN and was with Peter Gammons. Gammons shook my hand, briefly chatted with me, and seemed genuinely appreciative after I told him how much I admired his work. Showalter just stood there awkwardly looking down at me like I was scum. I never forgot that and probably shaped my opinion of him more than it should.

While the Sox have a winning record over his teams, his teams seem to beat the Red Sox when it hurts the most. He also seems to enjoy beating the Red Sox a little too much for my taste. He cemented all of my bad feelings towards him in a game against the Sox in 2011. I blogged about this here. I go into more detail about my dislike for him and his teams.

My thanks to all the above for their thoughts on the Red Sox.  While it seems unlikely many in Cardinal Nation will wish them well, it still should be a very interesting season for the Boston crew!amp;@ Yankees. But to me it’s the Blue Jays. Maybe it’s because I used to live in Toronto and had to put up with Jays fans when those two teams consistently fought for the division title every season from the mid 80s to the early 90s. Also, their fans and media constantly whine about not being able to compete with us because of our higher payroll – never hear a Yankees fan complain about that! I suspect we’ll finish ahead of them in the standings this season. They still have an explosive offense, but I don’t think they have enough arms to contend all summer. And for that reason I expect we’ll beat them in the season series 11 games to 7 (although 18-0 would make me very happy!)

MQMM: Who else? The Yankees. I see them fighting for third. They could give the Red Sox fits with their strong bullpen, but they could split the season series with the Red Sox in 2016.

BMB: The obvious answer is the Yankees and while the rivalry remains big, it has cooled a bit over the years. It is still great to beat them though. Personally, I have never liked Buck Showalter. He comes off as an arrogant jerk who thinks he knows more baseball than anyone in the world. It just rubs me the wrong way.

I met him several years ago in Fenway Park. He was working for ESPN and was with Peter Gammons. Gammons shook my hand, briefly chatted with me, and seemed genuinely appreciative after I told him how much I admired his work. Showalter just stood there awkwardly looking down at me like I was scum. I never forgot that and probably shaped my opinion of him more than it should.

While the Sox have a winning record over his teams, his teams seem to beat the Red Sox when it hurts the most. He also seems to enjoy beating the Red Sox a little too much for my taste. He cemented all of my bad feelings towards him in a game against the Sox in 2011. I blogged about this here. I go into more detail about my dislike for him and his teams.

My thanks to all the above for their thoughts on the Red Sox.  While it seems unlikely many in Cardinal Nation will wish them well, it still should be a very interesting season for the Boston crew!

Next Post:

Previous Post:

 

Archives

Subscribe to The Conclave via Email

Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 9,860 other subscribers