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:
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?
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
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…
So we are finally here. Took the Sox forever to clinch the division but they got it done. Does anyone give them a chance in the playoffs however?
I’m not too excited about their chances, to be honest. But in the playoffs, I suppose anything is possible. We all know I have been down on this team since early in the year. How I feel about Manager John Farrell is quite obvious. But the team itself? They won 93 games and the division. How can you feel bad about that? Well, to me, this team has actually underachieved this year. I mean, how many of the players actually improved from last year? Out of the position players, maybe one…and it was Christian Vazquez. He only played 99 games. Of course, I am not counting Rafael Devers and Andrew Benintendi, who obviously improved from last year, since both were essentially minor leaguers.
But the guys that were supposed to be the centerpieces of the offense…Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Hanley Ramirez and I suppose even Jackie Bradley Jr…all regressed this year. Dustin Pedroia probably was about as good as he can be these days. But he missed 57 games this season. Very frustrating.
The pitching staff? Drew Pomeranz and Craig Kimbrel took a step up. And of course Chris Sale came over and dominated. But the rest? Meh. We don’t even need to talk about Rick Porcello’s pathetic year. Well…at least he will have one great year under his belt to look back on.
In my opinion, the Sox have been an unlikable bunch all year and we’ve hashed through a lot of that…the David Price and Dennis Eckersley thing, the Pedroia/Manny Machado thing, just about everything Farrell does…and all that other off the field stuff. Add it all up and it can be tough to root for them. But of course I will…
So now they go up against a 101 win Houston Astro team in the American League Division Series. How do they matchup? Glad you asked! Let’s have a brief look at how the rosters should stack up and see if we can come up with any way the Sox can win this series. Only a 5-gamer, so as noted above, anything can happen. Rosters have not been announced, so a little bit of guesswork involved here…especially for the ‘Stros:
*Catcher: Bos: Vazquez, Sandy Leon. Hou: Brian McCann, Evan Gattis.
I think we can sum this matchup as “defense vs. offense”. I know, Vasky hit .290 this year, but let’s be real. Anyway, not that percentage of base stealers caught is the “be all, end all” here. But Vazquez was 42% and Leon 37%. The Astros? McCann 13%, Gattis 10%…and if they end up keeping a 3rd catcher, it will likely be Juan Centeno…who tossed out 8%, though admittedly in few opportunities. I don’t think Houston cares as long as their guys hit a little and don’t have too many passed balls. I’ve already written enough here.
Edge: Even, believe it or not.
*Infield: Bos: Mitch Moreland (1B), Pedroia (2B), Bogaerts (SS), Devers (3B). Hou: Yuli Gurriel (1B), Jose Altuve (2B), Carlos Correa (SS), Alex Bregman (3B).
Pedey is still hobbling, X has been painfully average all year, Devers has slowed down a bit since his electric debut and Mitch Moreland is…Mitch Moreland. Compare that to two studs who will get MVP votes in Altuve and Correa (who may have been a top candidate if he hadn’t missed over 40 games), a potential future star in Bregman, who got better as the year went on, and a solid first sacker in Gurriel…need I say more?
Edge: Houston, by a landslide.
*Outfield: Bos: Benintendi (LF), Bradley (CF), Betts (RF). Hou: Marwin Gonzalez (LF), George Springer (CF), Josh Reddick (RF).
Josh Reddick? Does anyone know he was .314/13/82 this year? .314? Springer had an awesome year. Gonzalez was a sort of super utility guy until he started playing more left down the stretch. Lot of offense here and the defense is not all that bad either. Reddick did win a Gold Glove in 2012…though that also may have been because he hit 32 homers that year…you know, because that’s sometimes (often) how Gold Glove voting goes. Bradley and Betts are true Gold Glovers, though I know JBJ hasn’t actually won one. And offensively, the Sox OF’s are pretty good too, though the feeling is they could be better. This is a close one.
Edge: Houston, by a smidge.
*Designated Hitter: Bos: Ramirez. Hou: Carlos Beltran.
Hanley is infuriating, but can still hit a little. Beltran looks done. He may not be in this spot this series, but I’m putting him here for now.
Edge: Boston, as much as it pains me to say.
*Bench: Bos: Eduardo Nunez (IF), Brock Holt (INF/OF), Chris Young (OF), Rajai Davis (OF/PR). Hou: Tyler White (IF), Derek Fisher (OF), Cameron Maybin (OF/PR).
Seemingly a wasteland on both sides. Sure, Nunez made a difference when he got to Boston. But he got hurt, then came back for a couple of innings and got hurt again. Do we really think he will all of a sudden ready to go this week? Holt should be replaced by Deven Marrero on the roster. Neither one can hit, but Marrero has the better glove. Young stinks and Rajai should only be a runner. The Astros bench may be worse. Maybin can still play a bit (at least run) and Fisher has some promise. But nothing impressive here. Only three bench guys for Houston because of Marwin’s versatility. And because they need as many bullpen arms as possible…since most of them are not necessarily good.
Edge: Boston, simply because of Nunez, if he’s even somewhat healthy. If not, even, since they then both stink.
*Starting Pitchers: Bos: Chris Sale, Drew Pomeranz, Rick Porcello, Eduardo Rodriguez. Hou: Justin Verlander, Dallas Keuchel, Charlie Morton, Lance McCullers.
Sale alternated good and bad starts through September. Pomeranz pitched well Saturday, but was hammered his previous start. Always have to wonder when his bubble will burst. We don’t need to go through Porcello again. E-Rod? You just don’t know. Porcello and E-Rod are probably the right choices for Games 3 and 4, if indeed those are the choices. I really can’t do Doug Fister. You know Farrell will not go away from Porcello in this series too. If that is the case, and it would be hard to do, but it may be worth considering starting him in Game 2. His ERA was about a run and a half better on the road than at Fenway. Would take some serious stones to push Pomeranz back to Game 3. I don’t think anyone thinks Farrell has those stones though. In all seriousness, I doubt I would have the stones to do that either.
The Astros will start with 2 studs in Verlander and Keuchel. Then they have like 12 guys that could start the rest of the games. Morton, McCullers, Collin McHugh, Brad Peacock…they have options. And some pretty good ones.
Edge: Houston, and it’s not as close as one may think.
*Relief Pitchers: Bos: David Price, Matt Barnes, Joe Kelly, Brandon Workman, Carson Smith, Addison Reed, Craig Kimbrel. Hou: Peacock, James Hoyt, Michael Feliz, Francisco Liriano, Chris Devenski, Luke Gregerson, Will Harris, Ken Giles.
I’m not sure Price can be “this year’s Andrew Miller”. But you have to like the way he has responded to his bullpen role. Guys like Barnes, Kelly and Workman have pitched better than expected this year. But I’m not sold on them for the playoffs. As long as they are 6th inning guys, maybe 7th, I suppose I can accept it. Who else do you want? Heath Hembree? Fernando Abad? Blaine Boyer? Austin Maddox? Nah. I’m not sure Smith is ready, but when your next option is Robby Scott, I suppose we can see what Carson has to offer. I think they will put him on the roster and pick spots with him. Reed and Kimbrel are pretty stout at the end.
Total stab on the Houston bullpen. Peacock was in the rotation and did very well the latter half of the year. But he’s used to coming out of the pen, whereas it doesn’t appear Morton or McCullers are, so it’s easy to shift him back there. He’s about 16 innings away from his career high in innings too, so you know managers like to protect those guys. Devenski, Harris, Gregerson and Giles are decent enough, but are we afraid? Liriano hasn’t been great, but he is a lefty you know. Feliz, Hoyt, Mike Fiers, Tony Sipp, Joe Musgrove, Tyler Clippard? Take your pick. McHugh could actually be here too.
Edge: Boston, primarily due to Reed and Kimbrel at the back end.
So who wins the series? Houston, 3-1. Sox win one of the first two. Then some combination of Porcello, E-Rod, Fister and Hector Velasquez get blasted out of Fenway in Games 3 and 4.