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Opening Day Is When?

March 29th, to be exact.  Thursday.  In March.  Boy, that sure crept up fast.  I suppose that’s what happens when it is basically still winter up here in the Northeast and baseball is not top of mind when it’s 30 degrees out and plenty of snow remains on the ground.  Not to mention the fact that the Bruins and Celtics are having great seasons, thereby keeping the focus on them for a while…possibly until both are out of the playoffs.

Perhaps also the expectations for the Red Sox aren’t as high this year either?  I don’t know.  I’m not that high on them anyway.  I’m not sold on the rookie manager.  Too many question marks on the pitching staff, especially relating to injuries…or injury risks.  Didn’t necessarily love the J.D. Martinez deal.  Hanley…everything about him.  The Yankees lineup looks prodigious…and have young potential stars on the way to boot.  Some of this stuff we’ve been through before.  Rest assured, we will get into more detail on my hesitations in the paragraphs that follow.

Listen, the Sox should be plenty good this year.  They should be in the mix for the playoffs…of course.  And for the money that the players are getting, they’d better be.  Alex Cora HAS to be better than John Farrell, right?  If he rejuvenates the younger players in the lineup, that alone is a huge win.  You know, those young players who were supposed to be the future stars and the core of this team for years to come?

So anyway, let’s start with a quick look at the roster.  No, it is not officially set yet, but it’s close enough.  In all likelihood, the roster was pretty much set before the spring even started, for all intents and purposes.  Basically just had to be adjusted a little for any spring injuries and for those who need a little more time to recover from previous offseason surgeries and whatnot.

Now let’s be honest, I did not watch a whole ton of spring training baseball.  But I read all the box scores!  And more importantly, I stayed away from all those “feel-good” stories that come out every March.  Didn’t need those influencing my feelings.  Because you all know how I feel for the 72nd guy on the roster.  Root like hell for whoever that may be!  In any event, because Spring Training results are fairly useless, we probably didn’t miss much.

Let’s get to it, in usual Blowhard fashion, we break down the roster by position, using the 40-man roster as a base, but adding in non-roster invitees (NRI) where appropriate:

Rotation (5):

In:  Chris Sale, David Price, Rick Porcello, Brian Johnson

DL:  Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez

DL/Suspension:  Steven Wright

In limbo:  Hector Velasquez, Marcus Walden (NRI)

Minors:  Jalen Beeks, Roenis Elias

Comments:  If Pomeranz and E-Rod aren’t out long, then the starting five should be more than acceptable.  But that’s the big part of the problem.  Those two aren’t the healthiest hurlers around.  They could be out only a week or two, or we could see them in June.  No one ever knows with them…E-Rod specifically.  Price has apparently had a nice spring.  But are we out of the woods on his elbow yet?  Not so sure.  Johnson is in the Opening Week rotation because of all these injuries.  But how about HIS injury history?  Marcus Walden is only noted here because he may actually be the #5 guy at the start since Hector has been less than stellar this spring.

Bottom line?  Lot’s of holes here.  If the starters remain in good health, it could be a top rotation.  But what are the chances of that happening?

Bullpen (7):

In:  Craig Kimbrel (closer), Carson Smith, Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree

DL:  Tyler Thornburg, Austin Maddox

In limbo:  Bobby Poyner (NRI), Tommy Layne (NRI)

Minors:  Brandon Workman, Robby Scott, Chandler Shepherd, Ty Buttrey, Williams Jerez

Comments:  There seem to be some other guys hanging around camp, like William Cuevas, but we don’t need to talk about guys like him.  They won’t be going up to Boston for Opening Day.  Anyway…lots of questions here as well.  Kimbrel was dominant last year, let’s hope he can do it again.  But the rest?  Smith resurfaced at the end of last year, but let’s see how he handles a full season now.  I am no fan of Kelly and Barnes so I don’t even want to talk about them.  If Thornburg can regain his health, that SHOULD help.  Then again, he has pitched in Milwaukee his whole career.  Who knows how he adjusts to the AL East?  Workman has been a huge disappointment this spring and I have no idea what the hell is wrong with late-season darling Maddox.  He hasn’t pitched all spring it looks like and I haven’t even heard his name mentioned.  I have heard Poyner’s name mentioned, as he has apparently turned some heads.  But the Sox had to go sign Layne in the middle of the spring.  That can’t be good.

There will be a lot of bodies on and off the pitching staff all year-long.  But I don’t love all the questions right out of the gate.  If I had to guess, Sale, Price, Porcello, Johnson, Velasquez, Walden, Poyner, Hembree, Kelly, Barnes, Smith and Kimbrel head to Boston at the start.  In case you were worried, there is one open 40-man spot for one of Walden or Poyner and another spot can be opened when someone like Dustin Pedroia goes on the 60-day DL.  Or someone like Chandler Shepherd gets designated for assignment.  But, as you know, I’m the only one that cares about the last 40-man roster spot…

Next:  The bats

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Red Sox Offseason Primer

The General Manager meetings started Monday.  I know the World Series has barely ended.  And all of the 2017 awards have not been handed out yet.  But free agency has technically started.  So let’s take a look by position group to see who the Red Sox currently have and what they potentially could (should?) do.

The 40-man roster presently stands at 37.  If they want to protect any prospects from the Rule V draft, they will have to do so by November 20th.  But since Dave Dombrowski has basically traded all their prospects, they may not have to add anyone.  This is not to bash Dombrowski, just to state a fact.  I probably would have done the same thing as him.  In any event, after scanning MLB.com’s list of the Top 30 Sox prospects and comparing it to the list on Soxprospects.com of eligible Rule V players, the top prospect eligible (at #16) is some lefty pitcher named Jalen Beeks.  Yup, someone most have never heard of, including myself.  He did go 11-8, 3.29 between AA and AAA last year and is only 24.  So maybe he takes up a spot.  But I’m not searching for other players that may occupy the three open spots.  Doesn’t appear to be any no-brainers that NEED to be protected, but what do I know?

Let’s just dive right in:

Starting pitchers (10):

Roenis Elias, Brian Johnson, Henry Owens, Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello, David Price, Eduardo Rodriguez, Chris Sale, Hector Velasquez, Steven Wright.

Hey, don’t yell at me because Elias, Johnson and Owens are listed first.  Blame the alphabet.  I think most of us hope that none of these guys are in the rotation at any point during the season.  Actually, I read somewhere that Johnson may be in the bullpen next year because he is out of options.  That sounds awesome, no?  Yeah…

In any event, barring health concerns, it appears the five starters are set heading into the season:  Sale, Price, Pomeranz, Porcello and E-Rod.  Presumably, Wright will have to make the squad as well.  So there’s seven guys already that are locked in to begin the year.  Not entirely a bad thing considering the time bomb that Price’s elbow is.  Plus, you can count on E-Rod having to miss time with…something.  And does anyone expect Pomeranz to hold up for a full season next year?  Not to mention that Johnson doesn’t exactly stay healthy often himself.

If Price can approach a return to past All-Star form, then it’s not a bad rotation, with a little bit of depth.  But what if he doesn’t?  One also has to factor in that with the heavy workload Sale had last year, in addition to his annual second half regression, even he has some question marks going in.  You may not know what you get out of any of these guys.

As for the rest…the way Velasquez was used at the big league level last year pretty much indicates he is a mop-up dude…maybe Elias is too.  Maybe the Sox think more highly of Elias than most others do though.  He was hurt pretty much all year, then they squeezed him back into a roster spot late.  I have no idea why Owens is still on the roster.  At some point in the past he was not only one of the Sox’ top prospects, but also one of the top prospects in all of baseball.  That ship seems to have sailed however, what with his pathetic performance all of last season.  Which included a demotion to AA.  Where he walked 55 guys in 57 innings.  Yikes!

All in all, it looks like the Red Sox hands are tied here.  There will be no major free agents coming in.  Maybe E-Rod gets thrown in a deal, but I’m not counting on it.  I think you will see all of these characters in camp.  And then probably the aforementioned seven breaking camp with the team.  And I believe the Sox brass will be satisfied if that is the case.

Relief pitchers (11):

Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, Williams Jerez, Joe Kelly, Craig Kimbrel, Austin Maddox, Robby Scott, Carson Smith, Ben Taylor, Tyler Thornburg, Brandon Workman.

The Sox will probably bring another five or so fringe major league relievers into camp once the moves this winter are all said and done.  But if Wright and Johnson make the club as swingmen, then that leaves only five spots open in the ‘pen.  Some of the extra relievers will be signed to minor league deals, so they can stick with Pawtucket and be called up later if necessary.  Think Blaine Boyer types.  Any way you slice it, there are always a lot of arms in Spring Training.

As for the five spots?  As of right now, seems easy.  Barnes, Kelly, Kimbrel, Smith and either Hembree or Workman.  I’d take Workman, but if he still has options left, which I don’t know if he does, then he goes to Pawtucket.  I imagine Jerez and Taylor will start at Pawtucket as well.  The club seemed to love Maddox at the end of the year, especially since they included him on the postseason roster.  But I am sure he has options left, which puts him in the minors to start the year.  Scott is fungible and likely has options himself.  Thornburg of course should be in the ‘pen to start, and recent reports indicate that he may be ready for the start of Spring Training, but I’m not counting on that.  How can anyone after his saga last year?  There’s probably a pretty good chance they take it slow with him anyway.

I’m not expecting any major moves here this winter either.  Not even a semi-major move, something like bringing Addison Reed back.  I expect them to sign several more relievers, as noted above.  But none that will move the needle.

I think the pitching staff that ended last year will be the bulk of the pitching staff that starts 2018.  I believe that, especially in the bullpen, that the Red Sox feel that getting a couple injured guys back at full strength will account for any upgrades that need to be made.  If Smith and Thornburg get back to where they were before their injuries, then they may have a case.  Time will tell on all of that.

What SHOULD the Sox do on the staff?  Believe it or not, I’m ok with throwing all of the above bodies up there, adding those fringe bullpen arms as well and then seeing what sticks.  I’m not sure a major move needs to be made anywhere on the pitching staff.  Don’t get me wrong, I don’t LOVE everyone listed, probably not even half of them.  But they can get by with these guys.  After all, they did win 93 games last year with plenty of time missed by a few significant pitchers noted above.

I’d say anything major being done with this team needs to be done to the offense…which we will cover soon…

Baseball Hardware…

…so now that the World Series has concluded, Major League Baseball is about ready to announce their award winners.  The Gold Glove awards (yaaaaaaawn) were announced last night.  The Blowhard of course feels like he should add his two cents, starting with the American League…and remember, the postseason does not count:

Most Valuable Player:

  1. Aaron Judge, NY Yankees
  2. Jose Altuve, Houston
  3. Jose Ramirez, Cleveland
  4. Carlos Correa, Houston
  5. Mike Trout, LA Angels
  6. Nelson Cruz, Seattle
  7. Brian Dozier, Minnesota
  8. George Springer, Houston
  9. Josh Donaldson, Toronto
  10. Corey Kluber, Cleveland

Again, a 10 person ballot, so we did what we needed to do here.  Turns out MLB had the same top 3, though it appears there are really only two candidates in Judge and Altuve.  Spots 3 through even 20, I suppose you could have all kinds of different orders.  Since Ramirez had the same OPS as Altuve and was on the best team in the league, I went with him third.

Anyway, back to the top two candidates.  It appears that Altuve may have a leg up on the real ballot, based on what is being talked about nationwide.  And sure, he was consistent all year long, while Judge was miserable in August and not so good in July either.  Altuve hit 62 points higher.  And Judge struck out 124 more times.  But if you take a deeper dive, Judge’s OPS was 92 points higher, he scored 16 more runs (with Altuve being probably in a better overall lineup), walked a ton more and of course…the 52 homers.  For those of you who believe in sabermetrics and the WAR stat, Judge was on top 8.8 to 7.9.

You probably can’t go wrong either way.  But what sealed it for me?  Judge hit .311, with 15 homers, 32 RBI’s and a 1.352 OPS is September as the Yanks made their playoff push.  I know, he may have been hitting some of those bombs against minor league callups.  But one also probably should consider the pressure of a playoff race as a factor as well.  Along with the fact that everyone else is hitting off the same bums too.  Anyway…

As for the rest…the true MVP may well have been Correa if he hadn’t missed over 50 games.  Trout obviously still stakes a real claim to being the best player in baseball.  So despite Mikey missing almost 50 games himself, he’s still gotta be there.  Another member of the “about 50 games missed” club is Donaldson.  His team sucked after having high expectations at the start of the season.  But his numbers were sick in the games he did play.  So I found a place for him.

I felt that someone from that inexplicable Twin playoff team had to be in the Top Ten…so that’s why Dozier is here.  And he won a Gold Glove too…YAAAAY!  Cruz and Springer…I suppose Francisco Lindor, Gary Sanchez, Jose Abreu, Justin Upton, Jonathan Schoop, Edwin Encarnacion or whoever else could have filled those spots.  Lastly, as I’ve said in the past, I don’t love including pitchers in the MVP race.  Once every 5 days for a starter and once every 3 days or so for a closer aren’t the same as playing every single day.  But for one, I included 3 guys that missed about a third of the season here.  And for two, if a pitcher’s performance deserves consideration, then it deserves consideration.  Kluber’s 5-0, 0.84 in September helped him to deserve consideration.

Cy Young:

  1. Corey Kluber, Cleveland
  2. Chris Sale, Boston
  3. Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland
  4. Luis Severino, NY Yankees
  5. Craig Kimbrel, Boston

This race seems pretty cut and dried to me.  As opposed to last year where Kluber, Rick Porcello or Justin Verlander were pretty tight and any one of them could have won.  Porcello did and boy do the voters probably feel foolish about that now.  Maybe not, since each year is different.  But we all know Porcello was horrific this year.  Kind of makes me personally want to take the award away from him last year.

As for this year, Sale had his 300 strikeouts and all and had probably had a healthy lead in this race as the summer wore on.  But Kluber’s stretch run blew him past Sale to take the Cy.  Severino will be third in the real world, as he has already been announced as the third finalist.  I’m going with Carrasco though, maybe for the sole reason that I hate the Yankees, I don’t know.  Kimbrel was pretty dominant this year, so even though I don’t love relievers in this spot, his performance was hard to ignore.  If you put Verlander there, I could live with that.  But Ervin Santana or Drew Pomer…nevermind.

Rookie of the Year:

  1. Aaron Judge, NY Yankees
  2. Trey Mancini, Baltimore
  3. Andrew Benintendi, Boston

There really is no 2nd and 3rd here.  Judge will be unanimous.  Mancini had a higher OPS than Benintendi (.826 to .776), so I went with him 2nd.  Plus, I was continuously furious with Andrew for all the boneheaded plays he made on the bases this season.  Deserves to be knocked down.  There really weren’t any other choices here.  Yuli Gurriel is apparently technically a rookie this year.  But since he is 33 years old, has played professionally since he was about 8 and had exactly 130 at-bats in 2016 (if he had 131, he would not have been considered a rookie in 2017), I’m passing on him for my ballot.  Honorable mention goes to Matt Olson of Oakland here, since he hit 24 bombs in only 59 games and 216 plate appearances this year.  Maybe I should have put him second…

Manager of the Year:

  1. Paul Molitor, Minnesota
  2. A.J. Hinch, Houston
  3. Terry Francona, Cleveland

Hinch’s Astros won the World Series.  Tito’s Indians had the best record in the league.  But Molitor is the ONLY choice here.  The Twins made the playoffs this year after losing 103 games in 2016.  How did they do that?  I have no idea.  Have you seen that squad?

Dozier had a good year.  Miguel Sano was having a good year…until he missed the last 6 weeks or so with some sort of shin problem.  Byron Buxton woke up in the second half (and won a Gold Glove…YAAAAY).  Jose Berrios developed some and Santana had a nice year leading the rotation.

But the rest?  Brandon Kintzler was an All-Star closer for the team…then was dealt to the Nationals at the trading deadline.  The corpse of Joe Mauer is still around…and did hit .305.  Kind of an empty .305 though.  The rest of the pitching staff was pretty horrendous…and they actually gave a 44-year-old Bartolo Colon 15 starts, AFTER he went 2-8, 8.14 in 13 starts for the Braves.

I can’t see how this team finished anywhere near the playoffs.  So Molitor should win this thing unanimously.  Though I’m sure some idiot voted for John Farrell because the Red Sox finished first this year.  After all, Nick Cafardo probably has a vote, eh?

Next:  The National League

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