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Boston Red Sox: A Position-by-Position Breakdown at Spring Training

Peter PanacyCorrespondent INovember 2, 2016

Boston Red Sox: A Position-by-Position Breakdown at Spring Training

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    The Boston Red Sox stand poised in 2014 to defend their World Series title.
    The Boston Red Sox stand poised in 2014 to defend their World Series title.Steven Senne/Associated Press

    With Opening Day 2014 just over a month away, the defending champion Boston Red Sox are preparing for yet another World Series title defense—the third in the last 10 years.

    The Red Sox have enjoyed both a quiet and tumultuous offseason—contrasting terms that in many ways describe Boston's prospects entering spring training.

    There were some free agent departures.  There were some signings.  There was buzz about rookies and prospects.  There was also buzz about contract extensions.

    All in all, it would appear like any other preseason around the league.

    Yet one thing that sets the Red Sox apart from the majority of MLB teams is the expectations.

    The first thing a team wants to do following a World Series championship is to back it up by winning another.  There is no questioning that.  Yet repeating as champs is a tough thing to do in this day and age.  Following a relatively quiet offseason in terms of acquisitions, is this Red Sox team capable of achieving that lofty goal?

    Will general manager Ben Cherington's formula pay dividends again in 2014?

    Cherington and the Red Sox are putting their faith into a variety of elements that comprise this team.  First and foremost, Boston shall rely on their solid core of stars that helped this franchise transform from worst to first last season.

    Guys like David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Mike Napoli and Jon Lester shall continue to be at the heart of the Red Sox organization.

    But one cannot overlook the eventual transformation the team is beginning to implement this season.  Budding stars like Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr. are vying to have a substantial impact in 2014 and will assuredly be counted upon to become cornerstones in future seasons.

    These players and more shall make up the product known as Red Sox baseball in 2014. 

    So what should we expect moving forward through spring training?

    In this slideshow, let us take a look at a position-by-position breakdown of the Boston Red Sox, paying close attention to the expectation level described above as well as any other pertinent information that may have sizable impact.

    For the sake of clarity, we shall use the Red Sox's depth chart provided by CBS Sports.

Catcher

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    A.J. Pierzynski takes over as Boston's No. 1 catcher in 2014.
    A.J. Pierzynski takes over as Boston's No. 1 catcher in 2014.Elsa/Getty Images

    Catcher

    Projected MLB Depth Chart: A.J. Pierzynski, David Ross, Ryan Lavarnway

     

    Following the loss of Jarrod Saltalamacchia to the Miami Marlins via free agency, the Red Sox found themselves scrambling a bit for an established player to fill the void behind the plate.

    Finally electing to go with veteran backstop A.J. Pierzynski, Boston signed him to a one-year, $8.25 million contract for the 2014 season.  Immediately backing him up is penultimate No. 2 catcher David Ross, who is also in the final year of a two-year, $6.2 million deal—both catchers are now playing for possible contracts next season.

    Behind that tandem is seldom-used catcher Ryan Lavarnway.  More on him later.

    2014 may be the bridge between an aging cast of Red Sox catchers with the focus on developing young prospects like Blake Swihart and Christian Vazquez—neither of whom should be expected to be on the MLB roster in 2014.

    In Pierzynski, the Red Sox have a career .283 hitter who has enjoyed batting at Fenway Park—.322 in 188 career at-bats.

    Yet Pierzynski is also 37 years old, and while age has not appeared to catch up with him, one has to wonder just how many years Pierzynski has left in his body.

    Then there is the reputation Pierzynski has carried with him over the duration of his career.  Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe describes this further, but indicates that any sort of clubhouse problems will likely not be an issue. 

    In fact, Pierzynski has already made strides to gain friendships within Boston's clubhouse, per Gordon Edes of ESPNBoston.com.

    In the meantime, let us put to rest any of those prior allegations and focus on what Pierzynski can do with the bat and behind the plate.

    According to Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal, Red Sox manager John Farrell has indicated that he plans to alternate Pierzynski and Ross behind the plate during spring training.  Since both catchers will be 37 years old on Opening Day, this rotation makes sense.

    Ross obviously does not provide the offensive prowess that Pierzynski does, but he is as solid a No. 2 backup as one could ask for.  He has excellent defensive capability and works well with the pitching staff.

    This tandem should be a bonus for Boston until the likes of Swihart and Vazquez are ready for their eventual debuts.

    But what of Lavarnway?

    Abraham also indicated the window on Lavarnway's Boston tenure may be closing soon and the Red Sox should consider trading the three-year veteran.

    Yet Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe (h/t Marty Gitlin of CBS Sports) has indicated that Farrell may use Lavarnway at first base, if necessary.

    Sounds as if the Red Sox are not interested in trading Lavarnway just yet.

    Overall, expect the tandem of Pierzynski and Ross to provide the veteran leadership behind the plate necessary to championship teams.  Given that both players are entering contract years, they should also possess the motivation to put up some decent numbers.

    Spring training should give a good indication of that.

First Base

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    Mike Napoli finally landed the contract he wanted to stay in Boston.
    Mike Napoli finally landed the contract he wanted to stay in Boston.Elsa/Getty Images

    First Base

    Projected MLB Depth Chart: Mike Napoli, Daniel Nava, Mike Carp, David Ortiz

     

    If there was one pending free agent the Red Sox needed to bring back from their 2013 roster, it was first baseman Mike Napoli.

    Thankfully enough, Napoli returned—signing a two-year, $32 million deal and ensuring the heart of the Red Sox's order stays strong in 2014.

    Fans know what Napoli means to the Red Sox, both on the field and in the clubhouse.  In the lineup, Napoli's bat protects David Ortiz.  In 2013, Napoli posted a .820 OPS batting in the No. 5 slot, typically behind Ortiz in the lineup.

    That production shall continue to be vital to the Red Sox offense in 2014.

    So what are Napoli's expectations this upcoming season?

    First and foremost, his health is a primary concern and it seems that Napoli wants to hit the ground running—something he was unable to do last season as he noted via Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe:

    Last year I couldn’t run, I couldn’t really do a lot of impact stuff.  The condition I had, I didn’t even know I had.  I had to take precautions.  But there’s nothing holding me back this year.  I miss the game-planning, calling games, working with pitchers.  But the physical part is brutal.  I remember getting out of bed in the morning and it taking me 20 minutes to walk around regularly.

    If that is any indication on what to expect in 2014, Napoli and the Red Sox should be in good shape.

    At 32 years old, there is still plenty of gas left in the tank for Napoli.  Thus, we should not see any sort of drop off from last year's production.

    Daniel Nava, Mike Carp and (albeit infrequently) David Ortiz shall spell Napoli from time to time at first.  Ryan Lavarnway—as described on the previous slide—may also see some action at the position.

    The Red Sox are relatively thin at first base when it comes to prospects, so expect Boston to rely heavily on Napoli for the foreseeable future.

Second Base

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    Dustin Pedroia will once again be a cornerstone for the Red Sox in 2014.
    Dustin Pedroia will once again be a cornerstone for the Red Sox in 2014.Elsa/Getty Images

    Second Base

    Projected MLB Depth Chart: Dustin Pedroia, Jonathan Herrera, Will Middlebrooks

    As far as second base is concerned for the Boston Red Sox in 2014, there really is not much news to report.

    It is Dustin Pedroia's position—no questioning that or what he means to the Red Sox franchise.

    En route to receiving an All-Star nomination and a Gold Glove, Pedroia's 2013 campaign was perfectly in line with career numbers, perhaps overshadowed only by the offensive production from David Ortiz. 

    While his power numbers were down, Pedroia was able to do everything else necessary to ensure he remains a vital part of Boston's prominence in spite of a thumb injury sustained on Opening Day last year.

    Considering he is in the midst of an eight-year, $110 million contract, it is probably a good thing to have the 30-year-old around for a while.

    So what should fans expect from Pedroia this spring and into the regular season?

    According to Chad Finn of Boston.com, Pedroia might be due for a power surge in 2014.  Finn writes:

    I can think of one crucial player who could have an even better year this season: Dustin Pedroia.  Oh, he was very good as usual a season ago, hitting .301 with a .372 on-base percentage and playing exceptional defense.  But the effects of the thumb injury he suffered sliding into first base (do not do that anymore) on Opening Day could be found in his power.  He hit just [nine] home runs—his fewest since 2007, when he hit [eight]—and his .415 slugging percentage was by far the lowest of his career.  It's more than reasonable to expect more pop from the Red Sox's second baseman this season.

    If we want to combine Pedroia's consistency regarding batting average and add some more power to that, it is not difficult to fathom the results.

    Expect his ongoing defensive prowess to be a factor this spring and into the regular season as well.

    Immediately backing up Pedroia will be utility infielder Jonathan Herrera, who was brought in by the Red Sox from the Colorado Rockies in the offseason. 

    Herrera, who hit .292 last season in 195 at-bats, can play all over the infield and gives Boston some options when it comes to resting some of its starters.

    Then there is Will Middlebrooks, who shall be described further on the next slide.

    As much fun as it is to project Pedroia's 2014 and subsequent campaigns, one cannot overlook the development of second baseman Mookie Betts, who is working his way up through the Red Sox's farm system.

    While it is hard to fathom Pedroia going anywhere in the foreseeable future, Betts at least figures to provide some competition at the position at some point down the road.

    It will not be in 2014, however.

Third Base

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    Is Will Middlebrooks playing for his future in Boston?
    Is Will Middlebrooks playing for his future in Boston?Elsa/Getty Images

    Third Base

    Projected MLB Depth Chart: Will Middlebrooks, Xander Bogaerts, Jonathan Herrera

     

    The left side of the infield is an area that starts to draw a little more concern heading into 2014.  Third base is no exception.

    Incumbent third baseman Will Middlebrooks may be under the most scrutiny from the Red Sox's brass this season.  His 2012 and 2013 seasons were as different as night and day in many perspectives.

    After posting a .288 batting average with a .835 OPS his rookie season, a wrist injury thwarted his sophomore year in 2013—a season where he batted only .227 despite a slight increase in power.

    The problems resulted in a demotion to the minors and the starting job eventually being handed to rookie phenom Xander Bogaerts during the postseason.

    The absence of the Red Sox's 2013 shortstop Stephen Drew opens up the door for Bogaerts to play every day at short and potentially gives Middlebrooks a chance for redemption this season.

    Yet with a prospect like Garin Cecchini waiting in the folds, one has to wonder if Middlebrooks' future with the team is in doubt.

    Phil Bausk of Fansided.com was pretty harsh on his evaluation of Middlebrooks' 2014 prospectus.  He wrote:

    Having Will Middlebrooks as the Red Sox starting third basemen scares me.  At times he displays incredible power but up until now hasn’t been able to hit for a consistent average.  I believe he becomes so obsessed with hitting home runs that his swing becomes too big, missing potential hits.  He must improve his hitting vision, meaning he needs to swing at strikes and take balls.  He must learn that there is nothing wrong with a single, a double or even a walk.  Hitting .227 for an average isn’t going to enamor you with anyone.

    Bausk also points out that Middlebrooks struggled with his defense—an element that cannot be overlooked at such a crucial infield position, especially with Boston's expectations of a repeat championship.

    Putting it all into perspective, Middlebrooks is essentially playing on probation this season.  If he performs well enough, he may deserve recognition and earn the chance to retain his job.  If not, it is likely that Boston will turn towards someone else—perhaps Cecchini—in 2015.

    As such, Middlebrooks needs to take spring training and the 2014 regular season very seriously.

Shortstop

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    Xander Bogaerts is on the brink of becoming the next Red Sox star player.
    Xander Bogaerts is on the brink of becoming the next Red Sox star player.Elsa/Getty Images

    Shortstop

    Projected MLB Depth Chart: Xander Bogaerts, Jonathan Herrera

     

    As touched on during the previous slide, the absence of Stephen Drew has opened the door for Boston's No. 1 prospect Xander Bogaerts to compete for a starting job in 2014.

    Barring any unforeseen setback, there is no reason to assume he will not be able to claim that role.

    Bogaerts is the real deal—perhaps the next Manny Machado in the making.  No wonder Red Sox fans are excited about this talented athlete.

    After seeing some time with the Red Sox during the 2013 regular season, Bogaerts made his mark in the playoffs—posting an impressive .296 batting average with three doubles over 27 at-bats.

    We all know the hype behind Bogaerts.  We can also assume the Red Sox have high hopes for him in the future.

    So what should we expect him to do this spring and into the regular season?

    Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe offers some insight to what we may see from Bogaerts, both in 2014 and into the future:

    Bogaerts is as close to a sure thing as you are going to get in big league baseball.  If he doesn’t blossom into an All-Star, it means that all scouting, all analysis, and Bill James-ian projection mean nothing.  ESPN has declared Bogaerts the second-best prospect in all of baseball (Twins outfielder Byron Buxton got the top nod).  The last Sox player who came to the big leagues with this much expectation was Roger Clemens, and Clemens wound up winning 192 games for Boston.  Oh, we should mention that Bogaerts is also polite and mature beyond his years.

    As Shaughnessy stated, unless everyone is wrong, Bogaerts is the real deal.

    Sure, Bogaerts will have his moments where it appears as if he has not yet adjusted to life at the big league level.  There will be growing pains and difficulties during the maturation process.

    Yet there is no reason to assume Bogaerts will be anything but the heralded player fans are expecting him to become.

    “I’m just going to go out and play like I play and hopefully good things happen,” Bogaerts said via Shaughnessy. “Hopefully, I’m here to stay and I’m here for a long time.’’

    Red Sox fans are assuredly hoping for the same thing.

    They also may be saying to themselves, "Stephen Drew who?"

Left Field

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    Daniel Nava will see split-playing time in left along with Mike Carp and Jonny Gomes.
    Daniel Nava will see split-playing time in left along with Mike Carp and Jonny Gomes.Elsa/Getty Images

    Left Field

    Projected MLB Depth Chart: Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes, Mike Carp

     

    Much like 2013, the Red Sox will employ a platoon of players in left field to start the 2014 campaign.

    Daniel Nava, Jonny Gomes and Mike Carp should see a split in playing time over the duration of the season with emphasis being placed on the first two.

    The switch-hitting Nava is much more effective against right-handed pitching—owning a career .292 batting average against righties compared to only .223 against lefties.  Gomes, on the other hand, hits lefties much better with a career. 277 batting average.

    Thus, the platoon makes sense based on what pitchers the Red Sox see over the course of the season.

    Carp, who hit .296 last year in 216 at-bats, shall also figure into the equation.

    If we ask which player should see more playing time in left, we have to figure in the following information.

    Nava started 56 games in left last year compared to Gomes' 65.  That alone gives Gomes an edge if we are using the past as an indication of the future.  The fact that Nava can play in right or at first base also opens the door for more playing time for players like Gomes and Carp.

    Yet with Nava's abilities against right-handed pitching a factor, Nava could see a jump in these starts during 2014. 

    Dan Shaughnessy of Boston.com makes this argument, but also points out that Nava's performance late in the season gave players like Gomes more opportunity.

    Should we expect anything similar this season?

    We can leave that decision up to manager John Farrell.

    At any rate, Boston will again rely on a platoon in left.  It worked well enough in 2013 and could do the same this year.

Center Field

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    Is Jackie Bradley Jr. ready for an everyday MLB role?
    Is Jackie Bradley Jr. ready for an everyday MLB role?Elsa/Getty Images

    Center Field

    Projected MLB Depth Chart: Jackie Bradley Jr., Grady Sizemore, Shane Victorino

     

    If the platoon in left field raises few questions among Red Sox fans, the situation in center is much more tenuous.

    Ideally, this storyline should have been a simple one—longtime center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury departs for the New York Yankees and a gargantuan contract and the Red Sox replace him with an MLB-ready prospect in Jackie Bradley Jr.

    Unfortunately, ideal situations rarely come to fruition.

    Personally, I have little doubt that Bradley will eventually be a solid everyday player in the Red Sox organization for years to come.  I only wonder if that start time may be a little too soon.

    If his limited 2013 campaign was any indication, this assumption is correct.  In 107 plate appearances last year, Bradley hit an underwhelming .189 and was clearly overmatched at this level during his development.

    Sure, any young player is going to have his maturation struggles while adjusting to the big leagues, but the pertinent question remains—can Bradley be a contributing factor in 2014?

    Dan Shaughnessy of Boston.com breaks this question down by writing:

    In 37 major league games, Bradley hit .189 with three homers and 10 RBIs.  He stole two bases and scored 18 runs.  He was not Fred Lynn. He wasn’t even Dwayne Hosey.  Bradley didn’t exactly light it up in Pawtucket, either.  In 80 games with the PawSox, he hit .275 with 10 homers, 35 RBIs, and [seven] steals (also [seven] caught-stealing).  Now all he has to do is replace Jacoby Ellsbury in center field for the world champions.

    While those numbers arguably do not represent Bradley's potential, they do raise concerns about what the Red Sox will get out of him this season.

    Bradley is easily an upgrade over Ellsbury defensively, but Boston will miss the offensive production once generated by the former-Red Sox center fielder.

    As such, Ben Cherington brought in a little competition for Bradley—signing veteran outfielder Grady Sizemore to a one-year, incentive-laden contract.

    In many ways, Sizemore was Ellsbury before Ellsbury was Ellsbury.  Sizemore had the combination of discipline, power and speed desired from any leadoff-type hitter.  Yet injuries took their toll on what could have been a promising career.

    Sizemore has missed substantial time since 2009 and did not play at all during the last two seasons. 

    His return to baseball is obviously hinging upon his health.

    Fortunately though, Sizemore is feeling good this preseason and is showing that the lingering effects from a myriad of surgeries and procedures is not hindering him.  He stated such via Ricky Doyle of NESN.com:

    I didn’t expect to come in here and have continuous days without any issues and be able to keep pushing it to keep up with the volume and keep going from there.  Again, I’m just taking it day-to-day.  There’s definitely no doubts.  I feel good, and I feel strong.  I think it’s just a matter of being smart and taking it one step at a time and not trying to do too much too soon.

    If one had to speculate, the reasonable assumption is that the Red Sox are banking on Bradley being their future starter in center.  Sizemore is merely an insurance policy if Bradley's struggles continue into 2014.  His recent health issues and incentive-laden contract are a perfect indication of that.

    Spring training should provide a deeper indication of what Boston does moving forward.

    In short, let the competition begin.

Right Field

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    World Series Game 6 hero Shane Victorino will get the nod in right.
    World Series Game 6 hero Shane Victorino will get the nod in right.Elsa/Getty Images

    Right Field

    Projected MLB Depth Chart: Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Mike Carp

     

    If there is one surefire job in the outfield that is all but locked up, it is in right field.

    Barring any sort of odd developments or circumstances, Shane Victorino shall be Boston's Opening Day right fielder.

    In addition, fans should expect him to bat leadoff, taking over the job from Jacoby Ellsbury.

    Leading off is not something new to Victorino.  In 1,010 plate appearances batting atop the order, Victorino owns a lifetime .317 on-base percentage.  He also stole 21 bases (caught three times) last year, which indicates that he still has that added threat despite being 33 years old.

    Victorino's offensive prowess will be somewhat less than Ellsbury provided atop the lineup, yet the Red Sox will be looking at Victorino to set the table for the heart of the lineup.

    Spring should be an indication of whether or not he is up for the task, although it is hard to fathom him not being so.

    Defensively speaking, there is the possibility of shifting Victorino over to center in case Jackie Bradley Jr. struggles in his first full season and first-year Red Sox Grady Sizemore falls to injury or something else.

    But Victorino is better suited playing in right—an element indicated by his 106 starts in right compared to only 11 in center.

    After surgery on his right thumb, Victorino has indicated he is ready for the next challenge that awaits him.

    He stated so via Ian Browne of MLB.com:

    I never say where I want to be.  I don't care where I hit.  I've said that all along.  Whatever opportunity presents itself, I'm ready for it, whether it be leadoff, whether it be down in the lineup.  I'm not really focused on all that.  It's all about getting myself prepared.  Wherever I'm put in the batting order, I'll be ready to go.

    Victorino also hinted that he may return to switch hitting—something he has done over the majority of his 10-year career.

    It looks as if "every little thing gonna be alright" in right field this season.

Designated Hitter

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    David Ortiz enters 2014 amidst contractual controversy.
    David Ortiz enters 2014 amidst contractual controversy.Elsa/Getty Images

    Designated Hitter

    Projected MLB Depth Chart: David Ortiz

    No matter how one slices it, this is still David Ortiz's team.

    Even at 38 years old, Ortiz remains the heart and soul of the Boston Red Sox.  Even at 38 years old, the production is still there.

    In 2013, Ortiz posted a .309 batting average with 30 home runs and a .959 OPS. 

    There is nothing yet to indicate Ortiz falling from the heart of Boston's lineup.

    Yet Ortiz enters the season amidst some concerns regarding a possible contract extension.  Currently, he is entering the final year of a two-year, $26 million deal and has voiced that he wants an extension.

    "I'm not looking for a two-year extension, just one," Ortiz said via Barry M. Bloom of MLB.com. "I want to make that clear.  I said a long time ago, after next year who knows how things are going to be?"

    The comment came in the wake of further comments from Ortiz that suggested he would consider moving on from Boston if a deal could not be reached.  The developments later drew the ire of some, including The Boston Globe's Dan Shaughnessy who called Ortiz's contract talks "selfish and offensive."

    Ortiz later lashed back via John Tomase of The Boston Herald:

    I don't even know why they're bitching about me talking about contracts.  Guys putting up my numbers, they're making $25, $30 million.  I'm not asking for that.  I'm asking for half of it.  And they're still bitching about it?  (Expletive) them.  I'm tired of hearing them talk (expletive) about me when I talk about my contract.  Hey, every time I talk about my contract, I earn it, (expletive).  So don't be giving me that (expletive).

    The comments have certainly been an unpleasant distraction this spring, yet they have not fallen on deaf ears.

    Indications from Peter Abraham of Boston.com point to a possible deal in the near future and that Red Sox principal owner John W. Henry was hopeful for a resolution. 

    Hopefully none of this has an effect on what Ortiz does at the plate in 2014.

The Bullpen

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    Closer Koji Uehara will once again anchor a solid Red Sox bullpen.
    Closer Koji Uehara will once again anchor a solid Red Sox bullpen.Steven Senne/Associated Press

    The Bullpen

    Projected MLB Depth Chart: Koji Uehara (closer), Edward Mujica, Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller, Burke Badenhop, Chris Capuano, Alex Wilson

     

    Unless you are a closer—or in some cases a lights-out setup man—being a MLB relief pitcher is perhaps the least sexy role in baseball.  Okay, a third-string outfielder is not much better.

    But the fact is simple—if you do not have a good bullpen, you do not win games, let alone championships.

    Fortunately, the Red Sox boast a terrific bullpen that carried their weight during the 2013 postseason and got even stronger thanks to the additions of pitchers like Edward Mujica, Burke Badenhop and Chris Capuano.

    The storylines are relatively simple going into 2014.

    Even at 38 years old—he will turn 39 in April—incumbent closer Koji Uehara will look to replicate his awesome 2013 performance which saw him post a 1.09 ERA, 0.565 WHIP along with 21 saves.

    Uehara indicated via Alex Speier of WEEI.com that he wants to earn the closing job again in 2014:

    I feel that I still have to earn it.  I’m just preparing accordingly to win that position.  I haven’t changed anything to prepare for this season and we’ll see how it goes.  I feel prepared.  I think I can withstand the workload but we’ll see.

    If Uehara is unable to return to his 2013 form, which is currently unthinkable, the Red Sox can bank on Mujica and possibly Andrew Miller in his stead per Speier.

    Mujica has practical closing experience at the major league level, most recently for the St. Louis Cardinals in spite of losing the job late last season.

    The addition of pitchers like Burke Badenhop and Chris Capuano also provide MLB-ready depth in the bullpen—an element that always seems necessary when the postseason comes around.

    Lastly, there are plenty of young arms that Boston has in its farm system.  Whether or not any of these arms earn their way into the majors this season is yet to be determined, but it is a luxury worth having.

    Expect the Red Sox to once again lean heavily on their bullpen in 2014.  While they may not necessarily be the decisive factor in winning games, bullpen arms can certainly cost you if they are not effective.

    Thankfully, that does not appear to be the case in Boston. 

The Rotation

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    Jon Lester's contract talks remain in the shadow of those from David Ortiz.
    Jon Lester's contract talks remain in the shadow of those from David Ortiz.Elsa/Getty Images

    The Starting Rotation

    Projected MLB Depth Chart: Jon Lester, John Lackey, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Felix Doubront, Brandon Workman

     

    Pertinent questions can be asked of each of the projected starting pitchers in Boston's 2014 rotation.

    Will Jon Lester receive a much-deserved contract extension this season?  Can John Lackey continue the success he enjoyed in 2013?  Will Clay Buchholz stay healthy?  Can Jake Peavy avoid becoming a bust?  Is Felix Doubront poised for a breakout season?  What role will Brandon Workman have?

    These questions stand at the heart of the Red Sox rotation in 2014.

    As described on the initial slide, Boston is beginning to implement the first stage of phasing out older, expensive veterans and replacing them with young and talented prospects.  The pitching staff is no exception and may be the first to be subjected to this transition.

    More on the up-and-coming talent later.

    Let us start with Lester, who is coming off a 15-8 season backed by a dominant postseason run.

    Like David Ortiz, the primary focus surrounding Lester this preseason has been contractual talks.  Unlike Ortiz, there has not exactly been a lot of controversy surrounding a possible extension to his five-year, $30 million contract with a club option in 2014.

    Lester's attitude to a pending deal appears much more amicable—sort of like being happy if it happens but not worried if it doesn't.

    Lester described his feelings to WBZ-TV’s Dan Roche on Sunday night’s Sports Final (h/t Dan Roche of CBS Boston):

    I don’t see why we can’t, [work out a deal].  The hometown discount, that is something I believe in but at the same time everyone’s hometown discount is a little different.  I think you have to get into a room, sit down and iron it out.  I’m very optimistic on what we can do, and I feel like ownership and Ben [Cherington], I think it would be a lot more difficult if it was a one-way street—I don’t get that feeling.  They want me to stay, so that makes it a little easier to find common ground.

    Lackey's contract becomes a little more of a concern if one wants to view it as such.  Lackey has one more year on his five-year, $82.5 million deal, plus a conditional 2015 option.

    Lackey has experienced plenty of ups and downs during his tenure in Boston, including missing the entire 2012 campaign while recovering from Tommy John surgery.  Yet his signature moment came during the 2013 postseason which put Lackey back into the fold as a bona fide starter in the rotation.

    One could argue that the Red Sox would have been better off to trade Lackey in the offseason while his stock was high in exchange for prospects or established talent.  Yet it looks as if Lackey is here to stay for at least one more season.

    Building on his 2013 performance will be paramount to the 35-year-old's future.

    Then there is the saga of Buchholz.

    When he is healthy, Buchholz has No. 1 starter written all over him.  The key part of that sentence is when he is healthy.

    In six full seasons at the major league level, Buchholz has been able to record 20 or more starts only twice.  For whatever reasons, injuries have sidelined him all too often and thwarted his chances of becoming one of baseball's elite pitchers.

    So the question remains—can Buchholz stay healthy for a full season in 2014?

    Manager John Farrell hopes so and stated such via Mike Petraglia of WEEI.com:

    We’re very hopeful he lasts the entire season, and right now he’s in with every other pitcher in terms of his throwing days, his progression to batting practice today, and everything he dealt with from a physical standpoint last year he addressed in the offseason.  His shoulder strength is very good, so we’re looking forward to another productive year from Clay.

    Dan Shaughnessy and Peter Abraham of Boston.com further debate this topic here.

    If injuries and health are the primary concern surrounding Buchholz, then performance and effectiveness have to surround Peavy.

    Even at 32 years old, Peavy looks nothing like the type of pitcher he was back in 2007 when he won the National League Cy Young Award.  Since then, his ERA has steadily inflated over the course of subsequent seasons.

    Sure, one can expect this for a pitcher moving from the National to the American League, but I still am concerned whether or not Peavy will have the effectiveness on the mound in 2014.

    Stats aside for a moment, let us take comfort in the fact that Boston is asking Peavy to be a No. 4 starter at best this season.  He is also committed to the Red Sox contractually through 2014, so it is not as if Boston is heavily invested in the veteran righty.

    On the other hand, Red Sox hopes should be high when it comes to the young and talented Doubront, who posted a respectable 1.429 WHIP in 162.1 innings pitched last season.

    Alex Speier of WEEI.com points out some of the reasons why Doubront may be a breakout candidate and cites the history of other lefties similar to Doubront who reached the same accolade.

    If Doubront is able to accomplish this, it would give even more strength to the back end of Boston's rotation this year and potentially set up their rotation to have a bona fide lefty for years to follow.

    Last on the list of starters is Brandon Workman, who will likely enter 2014 as the swing man in the Red Sox rotation.

    While not as highly touted among the long list of Red Sox prospect pitchers, Workman is arguably the most ready for MLB competition and showed so in 2013—posting a 1.416 WHIP in 41.2 innings pitched last year.

    Workman is another insurance policy for a Red Sox rotation that could see some setback if pitchers like Buchholz are unable to stay healthy over the season's duration.  He can either start or be used as a middle reliever, depending on what Farrell's needs are.

    More importantly however, Workman is displaying the competence and leadership among Boston's young pitchers.

    This facet, which was described in further detail by NESN.com writer Ricky Doyle, touts Workman's attitude as something to be admired.  Doyle writes:

    Workman showed poise beyond his years in 2013, whether in a starting role or out of the bullpen.  It’s reasonable to wonder if he—by virtue of his bulldog mentality—might someday be considered for the Red Sox’s closer role when Koji Uehara eventually departs, although Workman finds all speculation to be irrelevant.

    Those are intangibles that are always good to have, regardless of level, age or role.  The Red Sox can certainly be thankful for that.

    Workman, along with the rest of the rotation, will have spring training to determine what those specific roles and assignments will be.  While the projections are there, the fact remains that there is still time to determine what transpires.

     

    All statistics, records and accolades courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise indicated.  Contractual information courtesy of Cot's Baseball Contracts.

     

    Peter Panacy is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report, covering the Boston Red Sox.  Follow him @PeterMcShots on Twitter.

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