Now that we have launched our beautiful new site, it’s time to get back to business. Spring Training is in full swing (see what I did there?), and the season opener in Australia is just around the corner, so we’re going to preview every contending team and see who has a chance to be on top come October. Today, we start with the Boston Red Sox. Let’s get to it.
With the Bats
So, apparently the Red Sox won the World Series last year. I could have sworn the season ended after September and then they cancelled the post season because the Yankees didn’t make the playoffs. Is that not how the league works? Anywho, The Sox are still the Sox, so they’re going to be the team to beat in this division.
Offensively, there are going to be a couple of key differences in Boston. Number 1, they’re going to have a new center fielder, because Jacoby Ellsbury is now in the Bronx (more on him in our Yankees preview). The Sox have a couple of viable backups. Unfortunately, however, they both come with some big question marks. The first candidate is Jackie Bradley, whom you might remember from my Rookie Spotlight Series last year. Bradley was handed a major league job out of Spring Training last year, despite not having played above AA. His inexperience really showed, as he struggled to a .097/.263/.129 slash line and was sent down to AAA on April 19. He eventually came back, but his .155 batting average left a lot to be desired. The other option is Grady Sizemore. Yes. That Grady Sizemore. The one who got a major league deal from the Sox despite not having played a major league game since 2011 because of, literally, millions of injuries. Before his body fell apart, Sizemore was one of the best all-around players in the game, so the Sox are hoping he can get back to that. I would have given him a minor league deal, but hey… it’s not my money.
The left side of the Red Sox infield is also filled with some question marks. They seem to have let go of Stephen Drew (he is, as of yet, unsigned by anyone), which means they feel that top prospect Xander Bogaerts is ready to take the reigns at short full time. Bogaerts, who is from Aruba (Jamaica. ooh I wanna take ya), earned a September call up and a spot on the playoff roster last year, and projects to be a solid all-around player, but will be just 21 come opening day. Will Middlebrooks, who has power, but is otherwise not that good, looks to man third. Also, his girlfriend had to quit her job for him this offseason, so he better step up and bring home that bacon.
The other big change is that the Sox let Jarrod Saltalamacchia take his talents to South Beach on a three year deal, so they picked up A.J. Pierzynski to man home plate for 2014. At his best, Pierzynski is an OK defender, actually throwing out 33% of base runners last year, but he will be 37 this year, which is never a good age for a catcher. The fact that he played in Texas last year, and his OPS dropped from .827 (in Chicago) to .722 should also probably be alarming. It will be interesting to see how Pierzynski holds up, and how often the Sox have to use David Ross, and maybe Even Ryan Lavarnway.
On the Bump
The Sox bring back basically their entire rotation, with John Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront most likely to be the top five in the pecking order. There are some questions, like Buchholz’s health and Lackey being the worst human being on the planet, but they should be solid. Lester is coming off of a nice bounce back season in 2013, and heading into free agency in 2015, so he’ll be motivated by that next contract, so I expect him to be solid. Buchholz has all the talent in the world, but that injury bug has really plagued him, and I’m sure the Sox are hoping he can be on the 25-man roster all year long, because he’ll be good. Peavy was solid down the stretch for the Sox, but he has had only one injury-free season since 2007, so expect him to miss some time as well. Doubront is slowly coming into his own, but he shouldn’t be expected to pitch any better than the average bottom of the rotation kind of guy. That being said, he isn’t expected to be an ace, so he’ll be fine. Did I mention Lackey is the worst human being on the planet? Oh good, I did. He had a great season last year, but he’s really a horrible, no good person, and I wish him ill.
As the Yankees showed for the last 18 years, the key to a good bullpen is a good closer. Last year, the Sox had, statistically, one of the best closers in baseball history. Koji Uehara ended the year with 21 saves after becoming the closer in the second half, putting up a 1.09 ERA and a 0.565 WHIP and striking out 101 guys in 74.1 innings. While it remains to be seen if Uehara can keep those types of numbers up, he’s always been pretty solid out of the bullpen, so the Sox should be OK in that department. Junichi Tazawa, Craig Breslow, Brandon Workman and new comer Edward Mujica are locks for bullpen spots too, leaving Andrew Miller, Chris Capuano, Burke Badenhop and Francisco Cordero to battle it out for the other two spots. No matter how it shakes up, the Sox should be solid in relief.
Will the Red Sox Repeat?
Repeating as World Champions is among the hardest things to achieve in all of sports. So many things must go right for a team to win one championship, that two in a row (let alone three in a row and four out of five like the Yankees won in the late 90s) is simply too hard for most teams to get to. That being said, the Sox will have a solid (if healthy) pitching rotation, a solid bullpen and a solid lineup (despite question marks), so they should definitely be contenders to defend their crown in 2014. I’m going to go out on a limb and say that they don’t repeat, but that’s mostly based on the odds of accomplishing that feat… and the fact that John Lackey is a horrible, horrible human being. Seriously… kick that guy out of the league.
The usual suspects should be on your fantasy team this year, namely Ortiz and Pedroia. If you need a catcher in a pinch, Pierzynski could do if he holds up, but he shouldn’t be anyone’s first choice. Bogaerts is very intriguing, but I’m not sure I’d trust a 21 year old rookie to put up consistent fantasy value. He’s a guy to watch for sure though.
As far as the rotation goes, I’d advocate drafting everyone other than Doubront. Lester, Lackey, Peavy and Buchholz should be good again. I wouldn’t draft Lackey if my life depended on it, but that’s not based on his talent. It’s based on the fact that he’s truly the dregs of society. Uehara should be a very solid option out of the bullpen as well, specially since he’ll be the closer from day one.
Featured image courtesy of: The Associated Press
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