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We Interrupt…

…this prolonged period of silence to rejoice in the fact that HANLEY IS GONE!!!!  I know, the Celtics just lost Game 7 in the Eastern Conference Finals, a truly impressive run; the Bruins are a few weeks removed from a fairly successful season of their own; the Red Sox currently have the best record in baseball and Tom Brady (plus Rob Gronkowski) is being a colossal baby.

But THIS is what brings the Blowhard out of hibernation??  Sure does!  It’s some of the better news we have gotten recently, as silly as this sounds.  But we feel the need to write something about it, no matter.  And we promise to cover the other stuff soon as well.

HANLEY IS GONE!!!  I’m sorry, that just felt good to say again.

Now, Hanley is not entirely gone yet.  Since being designated for assignment last Friday, he is still kind of in limbo.  I suppose there is always a chance Hanley could end up in Pawtucket, if he agrees to it, that is.  That would seem to be unlikely, however.  He will definitely clear waivers if he hasn’t already…no one is picking up that contract.  He could well be traded for a bag of baseballs and some batting practice pitcher screens.  But even though the club that acquires him would only be responsible for the major league minimum salary, this may not happen either.

In a few days, Ramirez will likely be released.  Ending a stint that gave the Sox .260/.326/.450 for a .776 OPS over 431 games over parts of 5 seasons with the team.  5 seasons?  Yup, Hanley had 2 AB’s (2 K’s) as a 21-year-old in 2005, the year before he was dealt as part of a trade for Josh Beckett, Mike Lowell and I think other flotsam.  Who remembered that?!  Not me…thank you Baseball-Reference.com!

Ok, so it’s really the 4 years, 88 mil that Hanley stole from the Sox from 2015-2018 that is the problem.  Sure, 2016 had some highlights.  But other than a few then, a colossal waste.

Left field was a disaster in 2015, and although we can’t entirely blame Ramirez because he shouldn’t have been stuck there, we CAN blame him for a complete lack of effort in trying to get better out there.  Jeez, guys like Mike Greenwell, Jim Rice and even Manny Ramirez became at least serviceable out there during there careers…for the 81 games in the small left field in Fenway anyway.  Hanley didn’t even try.

Hanley WAS serviceable at first base in 2016.  However, 2017 came and he basically refused to play there again.  There was some bogus shoulder injury or something.  Then in 2018 he comes in all ready to play first and was chirping about a 30/30 season or some nonsense along those lines.

I don’t think anyone who follows the team, specifically principal owner John Henry, wanted to see Hanley rack up the 497 plate appearances during the 2018 season, that would vest the 22 million dollar option for 2019.  Yet here he was in the lineup every day, middle of the order, and actually having a strong April.  Whoops.

Then Friday happened.  Did anyone see this one coming?  I think not.  The little leader in Dustin Pedroia was to be activated and I think everyone believed (former) prospect Blake Swihart would be the casualty.  I think the Sox took huge advantage of Hanley being 0 for his last 20 and down to .254/.313/.395 to make this move.  What if he was still hitting over .300?  Perfect timing.  I’d also call that “dodging a bullet”.

By giving Ramirez all of that playing time early on, they were playing with fire on that 2019 option.  What if he kept the hot April going and later in the year started approaching those 30/30 predictions?  Hanley looked to be in decent shape, seemed to be playing a good first base, appeared to have had a better attitude this year and all that.  You never know…especially when there is a carrot worth 22 million dangling in front of him.

The Sox lucked out that Hanley cooled off.  Simple as that.

Now, would losing Swihart have been the end of the world?  Most assuredly not.  He just would have gone on that long list of especially recent “hot prospects” that the Sox hung onto too long before everyone realized that…they weren’t really prospects after all.  So they haven’t even been able (or willing?) to trade high on them before they all flamed out.  Brian Johnson is one currently on the team.  But you know, Will Middlebrooks, Garin Cecchini, Henry Owens, Lars Anderson, Michael Bowden, Ryan Lavarnway…the list is endless.  You can probably also throw in their top 2 2018 prospects in Jason Groome (Tommy John surgery recently) and Michael Chavis (80 game PED suspension)…but I digress…

Something about Blake I like though…but I could be wrong…since he is still being buried now.  We’ll see.

Ok, this looks like about 800 plus words and it was supposed to be just a few words to get back into the swing of things.  So Hanley Ramirez is gone and I am clearly happy.  But this Sox team still has a lot of the same unlikeable characters from last year.  This may explain why I am still not in love with the team despite their success thus far this year.  A story for a different day perhaps.

But if they could DFA David Price, Dustin Pedroia and Jackie Bradley Jr. also, that may help me a little bit…

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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

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…

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