AL East Preview: Boston Red Sox

The Tampa Bay Rays may win the award for Major League Baseball’s smartest organization. But, the Boston Red Sox have another business model that has proven even more successful. While the Rays have to depend on player development and value spending, the Red Sox are equally adept at identifying talent. They are equally adept at finding value. The difference is that Boston can outspend every team in Major League Baseball outside of the New York Yankees and Los Angeles Dodgers.

Smart management and a high payroll ceiling generally equals success.

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The model worked well in 2013 as the Red Sox won their third World Series title in the last 10 years. The club won on the strength of an offense that led the American League in runs scored, on base percentage, and slugging percentage. In fact, the offense finished in the top four in every significant offensive category. That type of offense masked a rotation that had just one starter–Jon Lester–pitch over 180 innings and post a 3.96 FIP. Despite injuries, the bullpen was solidified by Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara and finished fifth in the AL according to WAR. With John Farrell healing the wounds that Bobby Valentine left behind, the Red Sox had everything go right.

The defending champions return largely the same. The offense will once again be powered by David Ortiz and Mike Napoli, while set up by Dustin Pedroia and a cast of role players. The rotation returns intact and the bullpen largely the same. The club is, however, missing Jacoby Ellsbury and Stephen Drew, two standout performers from last season. Can the Red Sox count on a veteran offense replicating its championship performance? Can the pitching staff repeat its stellar performance? In a division that got better from top to bottom, the Red Sox will have to have near perfect answers if they hope to get back to the postseason tournament. Those answers came up perfect last season. Can they find those perfect answers once again? 

The Good

Wise Spenders

A couple of winters ago, the Red Sox outspent everyone, bringing in Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. It didn’t work and it ultimately cost them the 2012 season. During that season, Red Sox management recommitted to its statistical analysis department and vowed to spend wisely. For the second consecutive winter, the Red Sox have not reeled in a big name free agent. This winter, they have brought in Grady Sizemore on a one year, incentive laden deal. Catcher AJ Pierzynski was brought in on a one year deal. Relievers Edward Mujica and Chris Capuano were both signed from the free agent market. Jonathan Herrera and Burke Badenhop were both acquired via trade. Those moves don’t exactly make for headlines, but it does give an indication about how the Red Sox feel about their current roster and their young players.

Because of a relatively thin market, especially considering the Red Sox’s needs, Ben Cherington chose to reinvest in his team–Mike Napoli and pick up the option on Jon Lester–and let the organization try to sustain itself.

Because of that philosophy, the Red Sox will be depending on Jackie Bradley Jr. or Grady Sizemore to replace Jacoby Ellsbury. Xander Bogaerts will be given the shortstop job. Will Middlebrooks will be given another opportunity at the third base job. Sizemore has performed well this spring and gives some hope that he can be a plus contributor to the Red Sox. Bradley has handled the competition well and will be counted on at some point this season, even if he fails to win the starting job out of spring training. The 24 year old Bradley has talent, but he is still very raw at the plate. Anything more than a .250/.320/.375 line would be a surprise.

Cherington also chose to not spend on Stephen Drew and instead hand the job to Bogaerts, the 21 year old shortstop. Bogaerts impressed during his brief time at the Major League level in 2013. Bogaerts has a high offensive ceiling and certainly looks like a future star. The question for the Red Sox is if he can contribute right away despite a history of high strikeout rates in the Minor Leagues. A .260/.330/.450 season is quite reasonable. For a 21 year old shortstop, that is outstanding.

Cherington can afford to give the young players a chance for a number of reasons. First, he is coming off of a World Series season. There isn’t an urgency to begin the year with high priced veterans. Secondly, and more importantly, Bogaerts and Bradley both offer above average defensive potential. Considering that the Red Sox ranked 5th in the American League in defensive runs saved, the need to replace Ellsbury and Drew’s defense was paramount. They appear to have done that, which keeps the Red Sox as a pitching and defense team.

The Manager

The value of a Manager can be debated, especially during a game. The impact of John Farrell, however, cannot be overstated. The Red Sox were downright dysfunctional and embarrassing under Bobby Valentine. Even before Valentine, the organization was reeling from the aftermath of Terry Francona’s firing and some unprofessional behavior from the team. The club was in need of stability and for someone to unite the clubhouse. Farrell did that quickly as he was the popular choice amongst the team’s veterans. Because of his relationship with team leaders such as Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz and his indepth knowledge of the pitching staff, Farrell was able to guide the Red Sox to a title in year one. This season will likely challenge him more as nearly everyone on the roster gave an optimal season. But, John Farrell was perfect for the job, which should allow for the patience necessary with a bunch of young players playing big roles.

David Ortiz Isn’t Done

It was just two or three years ago when most analysts wrote David Ortiz off. Yet, Ortiz is coming off of his third consecutive season with a .900 or more OPS. Even a modest projection of .290/.370/.500 line makes Ortiz the primary power source for the Red Sox. With no discernible sign of slowing down, David Ortiz will continue to add to a potential Hall of Fame career.  He is still one of the game’s best all around hitters and given the lack of power in the lineup, Ortiz is vital to the Red Sox’s offensive attack. As he enters his age 38 season, Ortiz is still an above average hitter.

Versatility

The roster is aged, but Farrell will have plenty of options. The outfield depth chart of Bradley, Sizemore, Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, and Jonny Gomes allows for diverse matchups on a nightly basis. Add Mike Carp to that depth chart and the Red Sox have multiple, high quality options in the outfield. Jonathan Herrera offers above average defense at second base and shortstop, while also being a league average defensive third baseman. Bogaerts already proved he can play third base at the Major League level.

The lineup also offers versatility in its composition. Ortiz and Napoli are both sluggers, but every regular hit at least 9 home runs last season. In addition four left handed hitters and three switch hitters will be on the roster. With a diverse attack and one that has a penchant for getting on base, the Red Sox will prove to be a difficult matchup in any series.

The pitching staff also offers versatility. Chris Capuano is capable of starting or giving multiple innings in relief. Relievers such as Mujica, Tazawa, and Uehara have all pitched in multiple roles.

The organization also has the best type of versatility. Because they did not overspend this winter and that the Minor League system is starting to develop, Cherington can easily add a player or two as the season moves along.  

The Questionable

Age

Assuming Grady Sizemore wins the starting job, the everyday lineup projects to have seven of its nine regulars over the age of 30. The bench also has two key players over 30 years old as well. Three of the five rotation members fit that demographic as well as do three members of the bullpen. The Yankees are rightly criticized for fielding an older team, but the Red Sox have the same age questions. Consider that the Red Sox’s most vital power hitters are 38 and 32 years old. Their catching tandem of Pierzynski and David Ross are 38 and 37 respectively. Their closer is 39 years old. John Lackey is 35 years old. Even Jon Lester is now 30. With age comes many things: decline in defensive range and ability, slower bat speed, the need to play non-regulars, and injuries. The Red Sox were relatively healthy last season. A year older, that feat will be difficult to replicate.

Pitching Health

The year after a World Series run can be difficult for pitchers. The additional innings and later finish time often leaves pitchers struggling to start the season on the same level that they ended it. The Red Sox and John Farrell have experience with this and seem to be managing it well. Jon Lester has had a great spring. Farrell has brought along his pitching staff quite slowly. Still, questions center around the health of the pitching staff.

Lackey is 35 years old and is another year removed from Tommy John Surgery. Generally, the first year or two after surgery are when a pitcher is least likely to get hurt. Lackey is past that window and given his age, betting on his health is risky. Clay Buchholz was outstanding last season, but was limited to just 16 starts. Over the course of his seven year career, he has never made 30 starts in a season and has only started more than 26 times in a season twice.

At 32 years old, Jake Peavy will try to make 30 starts for just the second time since 2007. Due to injuries, Peavy has averaged just 22 starts since 2008. As one Major League Pitching Coach said in 2009, “Peavy is at risk for injury with each pitch he throws.”

Dependable Players

The headline may be misleading as the Red Sox have a solid roster that includes the underrated Dustin Pedroia. But, Shane Victorino gave an extreme bounceback year during his first year in Boston. Can he do it again? Will Middlebrooks struggled after being handed the third base job last season. Can he bounce back? At the age of 30, Daniel Nava posted a career year that included a batting line of .303/.385/.445. Was it a fluke? Jackie Bradley was overmatched after his hot April start. The Red Sox reupped with Mike Napoli after a solid, yet unspectacular 2013. Can Napoli remain healthy and productive? Brandon Workman showed good potential out of the bullpen despite the ugly 4.97 ERA. Can he contribute either as a starter or back in the bullpen at the Major League level? Koji Uehara has been a dominant reliever since coming to Major League Baseball. Can he still be that guy at 39 years old?

The Red Sox likely get mostly positive answers to these questions, but the questions still remain. The American League East will be the toughest division in the sport. There isn’t real room for error. If age or production issues come up in Boston, they won’t be able to compete.

Most Important Player

David Ortiz cannot slow down if the Red Sox are to compete in 2014. Ortiz is still their main power threat and best all around hitter. If Ortiz misses time or cannot perform to his usual expectations, the Red Sox lineup is pedestrian at best.

Under the Radar Player

Mike Carp would likely get much more playing time if he were on any other team. A platoon player, Carp hit .296/.362/.523 in 86 games. Few teams get bench production like that. Carp is in the perfect situation given his skillset.

Farmhand to Know

The Red Sox farm system is quite deep right now. Bogaerts and Bradley, the number one and two prospects, are already up. Given the rotation questions, prospects like Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, and/or Henry Owens could land in Boston at some point. All three project reasonably well at the Major League level. The organization is close to sustaining itself from within, but their prospects would be best served having another year to marinate in the Minor Leagues.

Breakout Player

Bogaerts is a future star. By the end of the season, he will be the Red Sox’s second best offensive threat.

Likely Scenario

The Red Sox will deal with injuries in 2014. The aged team will need to plug holes as the year moves along. Because of the deep postseason run of 2013, the pitching staff will look, at times, sluggish and hittable. Still, the club will be in the mix for a playoff spot with the Yankees, Orioles, and every other Wild Card contender.

Final Prediction

Because of the strength of the division and the improbability that everything comes up with perfect answers for a second consecutive season, the Red Sox will come up just short of contending. While there is the possibility of everything going their way again–which would result in them contending for the division title–the Red Sox will find themselves in a dogfight with the Orioles and Yankees for spots two through four in the division. The Red Sox finish in fourth, just behind the Yankees and Orioles.

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About the author


Gary Armida  

Orioles Analyst

Gary Armida is a Father to the best little girl in the world. After that, he is a writer who has been covering Major League Baseball since 2007. During that time, Gary operated FullCountpitch.com, one of the first independent online sites that gained Major League Baseball media credentials. Over the years, he has covered two Winter Meetings and has written feature articles for a variety of outlets while interviewing Major League personnel such as Rick Peterson, Jason Giambi, Zack Wheeler, Jeff Luhnow, Jack Zduriencik, Michael Bourn, and many others. In addition to his work at BSL, Gary contributes to USA Today Sports Weekly and maintains his personal site, garyarmida.com, that serves as his portfolio as well as a place for additional content.


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