Boston Red Sox: 5 Key Spring Training Storylines
The reigning World Series Champion Boston Red Sox have quietly had a busy offseason.
Fans have witnessed center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia sign with other teams, while the front office has brought in outside talent and appear prepared to promote from within to fill the vacancies. Despite steering clear of big-money free agents, the team has been diligent in preparing for a title defense.
As noted by John Tomase of Boston Herald, the Red Sox are looking to once again build a strong middle class of player, as they did last season. After all, it was this type of patchwork that allowed the Red Sox to lead MLB in team on-base percentage, slugging percentage and on-base plus slugging in 2013—statistics even the most diehard fans would have thought improbable before the season began.
With spring training just about four weeks away, the champs are still facing a few important questions that need resolution. Here is a look at five key spring training storylines as the 2014 season approaches.
All statistics taken from Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
The Stephen Drew Debate
Stephen Drew has yet to sign a deal to play Major League Baseball next season.
After an impressive rebound season with the Red Sox, Drew declined the team’s one-year $14.1 million qualifying offer in early November with hopes of signing a multi-year deal. So far that deal has eluded him.
As Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reported, Drew’s agent, Scott Boras, has said that five or six teams have talked with him about Drew, but nothing has been inked yet. Boras added that these things take time.
Sportswriter Peter Gammons tweeted that the Yankees' general manager, Brian Cashman, stated the team would not be signing Stephen Drew. Additionally, Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal supported that sentiment with a recent tweet that stated the Yankees will not be signing any more infielders.
While there is value for Drew outside of Boston, he could be better suited returning to the Red Sox; however, such a return would create a logjam on the left side of the infield.
All signs point to rookie sensation Xander Bogaerts making the major league roster in spring training. Will he play shortstop or third base?
What we know is this: Resident third baseman Will Middlebrooks lost his starting job to Bogaerts in the 2013 playoffs. Despite a poor offensive postseason, Drew’s defense shined, keeping him in the lineup day in and day out.
Even though his 2013 campaign started slowly—he missed three weeks in July due to hamstring tightness—Drew came alive offensively in the second half.
From August through October, he played in 48 games, scored 25 runs and added 25 hits—14 doubles, two triples and six home runs—while knocking in 29 RBI and posting a .291/.365/.498/.863 batting line.
To put that in perspective, on the season he played in 124 games with 57 runs, 112 hits, 29 doubles, eight triples, 13 home runs and 67 RBI, with a .253/.333/.443/.777 batting line.
Could the team bring him back? Of course they could; however, the Red Sox do not need to, especially if the model is to spend less money on free agents. At this point, they’d be wiser to collect the draft pick and continue to cultivate a healthy farm system.
Jackie Bradley Jr. vs. Jacoby Ellsbury: What to Expect
The inevitable happened; Jacoby Ellsbury cashed in. And rightfully so.
Ellsbury earned his contract and was arguably the most sought after free agent on the market. Red Sox fans were naive if they thought he would take a hometown discount to stay and defend the World Series title in Boston.
Instead, he defected for pinstripe country.
Unlike when Johnny Damon left for New York, Red Sox fans knew Ellsbury was going to leave and expected him to become a member of the Yankees.
This time the Red Sox have their replacement waiting in the wings.
Enter Jackie Bradley Jr.
Just one short year ago, Bradley was tearing up spring training, causing much debate over whether or not to have the youngster on the Opening Day roster.
Now, it is almost a certainty that he will be the Opening Day center fielder. With that said, how exactly will he measure up to the departed Ellsbury?
Fangraphs.com has posted their 2014 projections, and there is plenty of potential about which fans can get excited.
In 600 plate appearances Ellsbury is projected to hit nine home runs, knock in 84 runs with 53 RBI, steal 46 bases and have a .287/.348/.395/.743 batting line. Those are precisely the kind of numbers the Yankees expect out of him for $21.1 million next season.
In 600 plate appearances Bradley is projected to hit 14 home runs, score 72 runs with 66 RBI, steal 10 bases and pull in a .254/.329/.419/.748 batting line. He will likely earn about $500K in 2014.
Based on those projections, Bradley will give the Red Sox 98 percent of Ellsbury’s production for two percent of the cost. The Sox will survive that loss.
The X-Man Cometh
Bogaerts may be the most highly coveted prospect in the Red Sox system since Nomar Garciaparra.
After just 18 games during the 2013 regular season, Bogaerts had a monster playoff run. In 12 games he had eight hits—four of which were for extra bases—with a batting line of .296/.412/.481/.893, ultimately earning him the starting third base job in the World Series.
With a need at shortstop, it appears that Bogaerts will get his first full season playing with the big club.
During his four seasons in the Red Sox minor league system, Bogaerts owns a career .296/.373/.489/.862 batting line, which is basically what we saw of him in the postseason. In 378 games, he had 54 home runs and 235 RBI.
Expectations are extremely high for the 21-year-old.
MLB.com’s Teddy Cahill put Bogaerts on top of his Top 10 Shortstop prospect list because of his versatility to play shortstop or third base and hit for both power and average.
By all accounts, X-man has the makings of a future all-star. Certainly the Red Sox hope he will have a tremendous rookie season and provide some pop from the right side of the plate.
New Kids on the Block
One trade and two free-agent signings later, the Boston Red Sox are prepared to start the 2014 season with three new faces.
December was a busy month for the team, according to ESPN. They signed catcher A.J. Pierzynski to a one-year contract for $8.25 million. Three days later, they added bullpen depth by signing Edward Mujica to a two-year, $9.5 million contract. Lastly, they sent left-handed pitcher Franklin Morales and right-handed pitcher Chris Martin to the Colorado Rockies in exchange for utility infielder Jonathan Herrera.
Let’s take a closer look at the new faces.
The former “Most Hated Player in Baseball”—let’s face it, A-Rod wears that crown now—has always rubbed fans and other players the wrong way.
He doesn’t appear to be the type of player the Red Sox have been coveting in recent years, given the stigma that follows him. NESN.com’s Ricky Doyle, however, wrote that the reputation following Pierzynski is likely overblown and should not be a problem in Boston.
The 37-year-old catcher comes to Boston with a career .283/.322/.428/.750 batting line. While he is not the catcher he once was, Pierzynski should be able to provide ample offense to fill the void left by Saltalamacchia.
Pierzynski has played a total of 1,412 career games against the 20 teams the Red Sox will face in 2014, and he has statistically performed well, owning a batting line of .279/.314/.417/.732.
If you can’t beat them, join them.
So it would seem in the case of Mujica, the journeyman bullpen arm who spent the last two seasons as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Mujica seemingly found his groove as a member of the Cardinals, owning an impressive 1.03 ERA in 2012, appearing in 21 games and 26.2 innings. His workload doubled in 2013, when he appeared in 65 games, owning a 2.78 ERA in 64.2 innings.
He brings added depth to an already formidable bullpen.
According to Fangraphs, Mujica’s repertoire relies heavily on his fastball and a split-finger fastball, and he occasionally mixes in a slider.
There has only been one time when utility infielder Herrera played in 100 games in a season. That was in 2011 when he played in 104 games for the Colorado Rockies.
His time spent in the majors has been relegated to 375 games of utility work, which has included time at second base, shortstop and third base, along with two games playing left field for the Rockies.
The addition of Herrera nullifies the need to bring back Drew and affords the Red Sox the ability to move forward with Bogaerts as their everyday shortstop, while also providing insurance for Middlebrooks should he not perform as expected in 2014.
Herrera is a lifetime .265 batter with a .325 on-base percentage. He isn’t here to win any starting positions, but he will certainly help the Red Sox with spot starts from time to time.
Why should there be any concerns? The Boston Red Sox are the World Series Champions for the third time in 10 years. Everything is great in Boston, right?
Okay, there is always room for improvement.
While most of the championship team will be back to defend the title like 25 Hulk Hogans ready to give the rest of baseball the big boot, there is enough reason to pump the brakes and examine the holes in the lineup.
First, as WEEI.com’s Alex Speier points out, a team with either a rookie shortstop or center fielder has only won the World Series a combined six times in baseball history.
Only once has it happened with a rookie in both positions: the 1959 Dodgers with Dom Demeter in center and Maury Wills at short.
That should be the first concern.
The second concern should be focused on the need for another right-handed power bat. If 2013 taught us anything, it's that the power bat is not necessarily a glaring need. Rather, it's a luxury that would be nice to bookend David Ortiz with.
Mike Napoli can and has provided pop at first base. Jonny Gomes seemingly came through last season whenever the team needed a huge hit. Should the Red Sox rely on that happening again?
What appears more likely would be the team making a move with some of their pitching depth or farm system to get a coveted right-handed bat.
Could it be Giancarlo Stanton? History tells us no. The team has also been tied to Matt Kemp as The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo points out in his mailbag, but Kemp’s health and price tag are a bit too questionable right now.
Speaking of pitching depth, are six fully capable starters enough?
John Lackey is only one season removed from Tommy John surgery. When healthy Clay Buchholz is dominant, however, he has never sniffed 200 innings in a single season during his career.
Additionally, how comfortable is the team rolling Koji Uehara out as their everyday closer again? The 38-year-old closer turns 39 in April.
While this may seem like nitpicking, all are valid questions as we head toward spring training.
One thing we know for sure is that the 2014 Boston Red Sox have money, prospects and pitching—a combination that could net them just about anything to fill their needs.