The Boston Red Sox have stumbled out of the gates to a 20-25 record, failing to live up to the expectations set by their 2013 World Series championship. The Red Sox had a quiet offseason, electing to save money and plug in some developing young players rather than pursue big-name free agents. While it's likely a sound strategy for the future, Boston fans may not be that patient.
Along those lines, last week Red Sox manager John Farrell said (via Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe):
These are our guys. We fully acknowledge there was going to be peaks and valleys but we still go back to the abilities each possess and work ethic. Those ingredients will allow them to perform and create that dependability.
Will [Middlebrooks] is searching a little bit. We need them to perform to their abilities and to be the team we fully believe we can be. They need to feel the support of our staff to help them get through times when they’re not clicking. We’re giving them the opportunity to work through it.
They may be Farrell's guys, but to this point they're not getting the job done. The club's six consecutive losses are as many as its two longest losing streaks from 2013 (none more than three games) put together.
What Could Boston Have Done Differently in Preparation For 2014?
As a whole, the pitching staff has been solid. Last year the Red Sox posted a team ERA of 3.79. This season it's a very similar 3.86. And even with Felix Doubront now on the disabled list, Boston still has plenty of depth at starter. Chris Capuano is a potential fill-in from the bullpen, as are Brandon Workman, Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa in Triple-A Pawtucket.
The bulk of the Red Sox's issues this year stem from their lack of production on offense. Two positions in particular stand out, third base and center field. Boston third basemen are batting a combined .207, while center fielders are hitting just .195.
With Will Middlebrooks and his .197 average on the DL for a second time this season, the Red Sox may have found a solution at third base in the re-signing of free-agent Stephen Drew. Drew is slotted to play shortstop, and Xander Bogaerts will shift over to third.
This leaves center field as the one area of major concern for Boston. How should the Red Sox have avoided this dilemma? The simple and obvious answer was to have...
Paid Jacoby Ellsbury Whatever He Wanted
Shortly after the 2013 postseason concluded, it became fairly clear that Boston had accepted the fact that it was not going to offer Ellsbury as lucrative a contract as somebody else would.
In the long run it will probably be a wise decision that the Red Sox didn't top the seven-year $153 million deal that the New York Yankees gave him—New York will undoubtedly regret paying a 36-year-old and no longer fleet-of-foot Ellsbury $21 million in 2020. But in the present, Ellsbury's absence is a crushing blow to Boston's offense.
Last season the Red Sox led all of baseball with an average of 5.27 runs per game. This year without Ellsbury they are scoring more than a full run less, as that number has dropped to 4.07.
In addition to Boston's current center field tandem of Jackie Bradley Jr. and Grady Sizemore hitting more than .100 points below what Ellsbury (.298) did a season ago, the Red Sox also miss his speed. As a team Boston has just 14 steals this season, and is on pace to finish the year with a total of 50. In 2013 Ellsbury swiped 52 bases on his own.
This season Ellsbury got off to a hot start for the Yankees, batting .346 with a .403 on-base percentage through May 3. However, he's just 7-for-55 since, dropping his average to .272 and his OBP to .346.
By comparison, another high-priced free-agent outfielder is having a much more productive year. Maybe the Red Sox should've...
Signed Shin-Soo Choo
The former Chicago Cubs center fielder inked a seven-year $130 million contract with the Texas Rangers last December, $23 million less than Ellsbury. Choo is batting .310 with a .432 OPB, and he would be an enormous upgrade to Boston's center field situation.
When asked recently what Texas' greatest strengths were, Rangers beat writer Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News replied "Shin-Soo Choo has been the best leadoff man in baseball."
Like with Ellsbury, acquiring Choo in the offseason necessitated an expensive long-term deal, something the Red Sox wanted to stay away from. In a much more economical move, they could've...
Traded for Drew Stubbs
Last winter the Colorado Rockies got Stubbs from the Cleveland Indians for relief pitcher Josh Outman—not a very hefty price. Stubbs is under contract for one year at $4.1 million, and he has been a bargain so far. In 37 games in center field for the Rockies, Stubbs is hitting .330 with three home runs, eight RBI and four steals. He's also on a tear of late, going 17-for-39 (.436) since May 5.
The ship has sailed on Ellsbury, Choo and Stubbs, but like the recent addition of Drew there are still some veteran center field options available depending on how desperate Boston gets. Even at 36 years of age, Juan Pierre stole 23 bases for the Miami Marlins last year, and he remains a free agent. Also unsigned is 35-year-old Vernon Wells, who hit 11 homers and drove in 50 runs with the Yankees in 2013.
Statistics courtesy of RedSox.com.