Boston Red Sox: 5 Reasons to Be Optimistic About the 2014 Season
There may have not been much optimism for the Boston Red Sox in 2013, but they quickly changed that perception throughout the course of the year.
With another regular season upon us, expectations are high for Boston as they officially begin the defense of their World Series title.
There are some differences to the roster, as Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew are no longer with the team. However, the front office has confidence in the players set to fill those holes on the field.
Returning to the postseason and the World Series will be a tall task, especially when talk of a potential dynasty has been thrown around.
Now that spring training is through and the regular season is underway, here are five things that should have Red Sox fans feeling optimistic about 2014.
Grady Sizemore Anchoring the Outfield
The former three-time All-Star hadn’t played in a big league game since September 22, 2011, but proved worthy of a chance. He hit .310/.356/.429 in 42 at-bats this spring, compared to a .158/.213/.263 line in 57 at-bats from Bradley.
Having Sizemore in center field is a big risk given his injury history. There’s no guarantee he’ll stay healthy and in the lineup for the entire year.
However, his veteran presence in center is something manager John Farrell should be happy to have.
The departures of Ellsbury, Saltalamacchia and Drew left Boston with the task of plugging multiple holes in the middle of the baseball diamond.
Looking at most good teams, the most depending positions (catcher, shortstop, second base and center field) are occupied by quality players. A.J. Pierzynski was brought in to catch, but without Sizemore, Bradley and Xander Bogaerts were slated as the starting center fielder and shortstop, respectively.
Bogaerts had a great postseason in 2013, but they combined for 157 career regular season at-bats prior to Opening Day. Farrell would be giving a lot of responsibility to two young players that, for the most part, haven’t proven themselves in the major leagues.
Sizemore comes with questions, but brings a successful track record when healthy.
Speier reported Farrell would continue easing the outfielder in by not forcing him to lead off immediately. Boston’s medical staff has also done a great job in keeping him healthy.
If he does get hurt, Bradley will be ready for his chance after playing every day in Triple-A, once Shane Victorino gets activated off the disabled list.
The Starting Rotation Is Healthy
A lot of big league teams have scrambled to fill voids in their respective rotations in advance of Opening Day.
That doesn’t count the major injuries to Jarrod Parker, Kris Medlen, Brandon Beachy and Patrick Corbin.
Thankfully, the Red Sox have broken camp with their starting rotation intact. Jon Lester, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, Jake Peavy and Clay Buccholz are all ready to take the mound this week.
A year after Boston ranked sixth in the American League with a 3.79 ERA and 1.30 WHIP, their success in 2014 will largely depend on the pitching staff. Offense is important to reach the postseason, but what happens on the mound could dictate whether they’re hoisting another World Series trophy or not.
Last October, Boston led all playoff teams with a 2.59 ERA in 142.1 innings pitched, while hitting just .227 as a squad.
It’s virtually impossible for a rotation to stay intact throughout an entire season. However, having the opportunity to start the year healthy is a big advantage.
Core Players Are Sticking Around
After putting together a team that went from last place to first place, it’s important to retain key contributors. As I mentioned previously, Boston has a chance to become baseball’s next dynasty.
They must keep their “core” together for the foreseeable future to do that.
Dustin Pedroia is in Boston until at least 2021. There was hope Lester would ink an extension prior to Opening Day, but negotiations have been tabled for now, according to Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe.
The southpaw is due to hit free agency at the season’s end, but there is optimism a deal will eventually get done.
David Ortiz received the extension he desired, according to Gordon Edes of ESPN Boston. He gets one guaranteed year, worth $15 million. Options are in place that could keep him in Beantown through 2017.
Owner John Henry shared his desire for the designated hitter with this latest deal:
With this agreement, we have near certainty that David Ortiz will finish his career in a Red Sox uniform, which is something we have all wanted and that we are all proud of. It is difficult to describe David's contributions to our city both on the field and off the field, and we are so proud to have this ambassador of our game with us as he continues on this road to Cooperstown.
A championship-caliber team needs all 25 players to be successful, but it starts with a core group. Once Lester gets his extension, Boston fans can be fully optimistic with him, Ortiz and Pedroia leading the way for the next few years.
A lot of focus goes into the Opening Day roster. But at different points throughout the year, injuries or poor performances could allow minor leaguers the chance to make an unexpected contribution.
Most importantly, there is depth for the Red Sox on the pitcher’s mound. There was so much talent this spring that Boston released Francisco Cordero despite throwing eight shutout innings and posting a 0.75 WHIP.
Steven Wright and Craig Breslow are working their way back from the DL. Other hurlers like Drake Britton, Rubby De La Rosa, Allen Webster and Matt Barnes are all waiting in Triple-A Pawtucket.
Bryce Brentz had a huge camp in the outfield, while Deven Marrero stayed in the big leagues longer than expected this spring. Bradley lost the center field competition, but he still has plenty of potential.
If something happens to Pierzynski or David Ross, Ryan Lavarnway and Dan Butler are waiting to help out behind the plate.
No team wants to see a starting player land on the DL for an extended period of time. Unfortunately, it happens all too often, and can occur in the blink of an eye.
If that were to happen, organizations must be prepared. Red Sox fans should be optimistic with the multitude of options in the minors to fill potential holes.
They're Defending World Series Champions
What a difference a year makes.
At this point in 2013, the Red Sox were trying to convince everyone they could be a successful team. Making their 66-93 record from 2012 a distant memory could only happen by winning ballgames.
They did that all the way to the World Series title.
If being defending champions isn’t enough of a reason to be optimistic about the upcoming season, the previous reasons should provide additional proof.
Nearly all the same players from last year’s roster have returned for the chance to repeat. As if winning the World Series isn’t hard enough, it’s even tougher to replicate that success the following year.
It shouldn’t be a surprise that the last team to do accomplish this was the New York Yankees from 1998-00. It’s hard to do.
Boston is once again in a deep American League East division. The Yankees spent over $500 million in free agency this past winter, while the Baltimore Orioles, Tampa Bay Rays and Toronto Blue Jays are all hungry for a postseason berth.
It won’t be easy, but they navigated their way through last season, posting a 44-32 record against division opponents.
If there was one team that should feel optimistic in this division, it’s the Red Sox. Conquering this challenge a few short months ago is a great reason why.
Matt's baseball opinions have been featured on MLB Trade Rumors, Yahoo! Sports, MetsBlog, Amazin' Avenue and Mets Merized Online. To keep up with Matt, you can follow him on Twitter.
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