Boston Red Sox's Quiet Spring Training a Reason for Optimism Heading into 2014

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Boston Red Sox's Quiet Spring Training a Reason for Optimism Heading into 2014
Steven Senne/Associated Press

We're used to the Boston Red Sox being noisy. Shoot, between their collapse at the end of 2011, the Bobby Valentine Experience, their roster overhaul and their redemptive World Series-winning season in 2013, they spent a good two years hogging headlines.

But suddenly, you can hear pins drop wherever the Red Sox are. Outside of some occasional blips on the radar, they were silent all winter and have carried that silence into spring training. 

This is OK. If anything, it's encouraging. Something to be optimistic about, even.

For starters, I wouldn't be worried about Boston's quiet winter. There would be reason to worry if they failed to line up a contender for 2014, but that's not the case. Though they lost Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and (pending) Stephen Drew, they're still projected to be one of baseball's elites.

FanGraphs has the Red Sox projected for the second-most WAR in the league, as well as the best record in the AL East. Baseball Prospectus' PECOTA-based projections don't like the Red Sox that much, but they like them well enough to be right there with the Tampa Bay Rays in the division race.

Granted, simply going to spring training with a strong collection of talent isn't an automatic ticket to a great season. Certain things can get in the way, including potentially lingering maladies like distractions and injuries. 

But therein lies the beauty of Boston's spring: There have been few of both.

Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Sure, there have been some eyebrow-raising moments. Ryan Dempster's announcement early in spring training that he wouldn't be pitching in 2014 was one. The Miami Marlins being upset with the Red Sox for bringing a knife-fight lineup to a gun exhibition was another.

Both of these, however, blew over pretty quickly.

The Dempster situation could have compromised Boston's pitching depth, but it didn't. The Red Sox took some of the money they saved with his eight-figure salary coming off the books and quickly used it to sign veteran lefty Chris Capuano. He's poised to fill the swingman role Dempster was cut out for.

As for the spat with the Marlins, maybe that could have blown up into a larger controversy. Instead, Alex Speier of WEEI.com reported that the Red Sox paid a small fine to MLB, and the only notable response from the club was this tweet from owner John Henry:

To which everyone pretty much said "He's right, you know," and then moved on.

Another thing that's failed to turn into a big distraction is David Ortiz's contract situation. The veteran DH had everyone's attention when he was hurling expletives at his critics and talking about deserving respect, but he's since piped down.

So much so, in fact, that Nick Cafardo of the Boston Globe couldn't help but wonder this the other day: “David Ortiz doesn’t talk much about his contract anymore. Think there’s a ‘wink-wink, we’ll take care of you’ that’s perhaps been communicated to him?”

Maybe. Either way, Peter Abraham of the Globe reported in late February that Big Papi has seemed happier than usual this spring. His being healthy, as opposed to rehabbing an injury like he was last year, would seem to be a part of it. 

Elsewhere in the world of potentially distracting contract situations is that of ace lefty and free-agent-to-be Jon Lester. But whatever chance that had of becoming a big distraction probably died when Lester said in January that he would take a hometown discount to stay with the Red Sox, and then stayed dead when he confirmed at the outset of spring training that he meant it.

"You guys have probably figured me out by now, I would hope. I usually don't say things I don't mean. So I mean it: I want to stay here," Lester said, via ESPNBoston.com. "This is all I've known. I don't like change. I don't like going into new places that I have to learn."

Nothing's done yet, but Nick Cafardo tweeted that the Red Sox and Lester's people had already talked a couple of times. Maybe Lester has a wink-wink understanding in place as well.

Courtesy of MLB Advanced Media via MLB.com.

Let's see...What else?

Oh, new catcher A.J. Pierzynski is fitting in just fine. He still carries a negative reputation, but Peter Abraham wrote this week that Pierzynski has "blended in well and shown no signs of wanting to be anything but a good teammate."

Elsewhere, the Red Sox haven't had to deal with any notable players showing up to camp out of shape. Felix Doubront did last year, but the lefty showed up to camp in shape and has looked good.

“Overall, the path of his delivery, the way that the arm is working, his body — he looks almost two months into the season,” pitching coach Juan Nieves told Peter Abraham.

Beyond that, it doesn't look like the Red Sox have serious problems at the three positions where they could have had serious problems: third base, shortstop and center field.

Will Middlebrooks and Xander Bogaerts look like they can handle the first two. Bogaerts doesn't have the numbers to match Middlebrooks' .318 average and .984 OPS this spring, but his status as one of baseball's best prospects hasn't been compromised.

"Bogaerts is a stud. Middlebrooks looks committed to being a good player,” an American League scout told Nick Cafardo. 

In center field, Boston's decision to gamble on Grady Sizemore as insurance for Jackie Bradley Jr. is paying off. While Bradley has struggled, Sizemore has hit over .300. After being sidelined by injuries the last two years, Ian Browne of MLB.com says he could be the Red Sox's Opening Day center fielder.

Steven Senne/Associated Press/Associated Press
Sizemore has had seven surgeries since 2009.

That Sizemore hasn't been bitten by the injury bug again this spring seems like a miracle, but even better is the reality that the injury bug has left the rest of Boston's roster alone too.

As I noted in my Red Sox spring training preview, the Red Sox came to camp with a few injury concerns left over from 2013: Dustin Pedroia's and Shane Victorino's thumbs, Clay Buchholz's shoulder, Andrew Miller's foot and Edward Mujica's shoulder.

The only one who's had complications thus far is Victorino, but not because of his thumb. Farrell told reporters that the club brought the right fielder along slowly to get his "core strength" in order, and that there was "no reason" to think he wouldn't be ready for Opening Day.

As for injuries that have cropped up, easily the most noteworthy was Jake Peavy's run-in with a fishing knife. The injury, however, was to his non-throwing hand. He made his spring debut on Thursday and pitched well, allowing one run in three innings against the Minnesota Twins.

Other injuries that cropped up include foot injuries for Pierzynski and David Ross, but they both recovered. Daniel Nava had a problem with his neck earlier, but he's also recovered.

And while it's odd that Craig Breslow hasn't even thrown off a mound yet, Farrell recently told Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald that the lefty reliever is actually ahead of where he was this time last year and that things, in general, are "moving in the right direction."

With no sour storylines or serious injury concerns to talk about, really the only thing to complain about is Boston's exhibition record. It stands below the .500 mark in Grapefruit League play, which inspired Nick Cafardo to wonder aloud the other day that the Red Sox need to find their rhythm soon.

But, meh, I wouldn't worry about it. The 2008 Phillies, 2009 Phillies, 2010 Rangers and 2011 Rangers all had spring records under .500, and they all went to the World Series. And since the Red Sox just won the World Series and kept their core largely intact, it's no surprise there's no sense of urgency.

“This team is so confident,” a scout told Cafardo. “It’s not showtime yet. That’s a team that can flip the switch and they’ll be good. They have so much belief in what they can do.”

The Red Sox darn well should be confident. They came to spring training with a rock-solid team, and have been able to elude the cruel tricks the baseball gods like to play on teams this time of year.

They're not out of the woods yet. But so far, there's plenty to like with how spring training has kept the Red Sox in as good a shape as they arrived in. 

 

If you want to talk baseball, hit me up on Twitter.

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