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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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What to do…

…as far as what moves the Boston Red Sox should make coming up to the Major League Baseball non-waiver trading deadline on Monday.

What, you thought Eduardo Nunez was enough?

I didn’t.  Actually, I don’t even really want Nunez here.  It’s not like he’s going to make a huge difference, for one.  I don’t care how hot the Sox brass tells me he has been in recent weeks.  There’s a bigger reason I don’t particularly want him here…and we will get to that.  Since the Sox didn’t give up really anything for him (Gregory Santos?  Shaun Anderson?), I suppose it can’t hurt to have him around though.  I mean, with Brock Holt, Josh Rutledge, Tzu-Wei Lin and Deven Marrero still hanging around on the team or close down the road in Pawtucket, it can’t ever hurt to have more utility infielders than you can handle, right?  Oh wait, Nunez and Holt are All-Stars…nevermind…

Anyway, my view of what the Red Sox should do prior to the trading deadline will be much different from what actually happens.  Why?  Because I’d actually consider selling.  And with the Sox in first place, there is no way the organization will do that.  They will be buyers.

But this team is more than another 1B/DH bat and a reliever or two away from winning a championship.  In my opinion anyway.  Sure, the American League is mediocre.  Apparently it is Houston and everyone else at this point.  So the Sox brass will surely say, “we get in the playoffs and anything can happen”.  And they are probably right.

However, they won’t be the only team trying to improve themselves before Monday.  In fact, the Yankees, Twins, Royals, Mariners and Rays have themselves made deals already.  None of them would probably considered blockbusters, but those players should help all those clubs.  In addition, I don’t believe the Indians have hit their stride as of yet.  Maybe the Royals too, though their pitching is suspect, to be kind.

Then you have the National League.  Which looks like the Dodgers and Nationals.  Oh, and the Cubs.  The Cubbies have been heating up and I expect them to continue to.

So you’ve got the competition being one reason I don’t believe the Sox are winning anything.  Then you have the team itself.  Which, other than a select few, is underachieving.  Or are they?  We think Xander Bogaerts is underachieving.  But maybe he is what he is…a decent shortstop with little power, but will hit around .300 every year.  Seems to me the way he is trending.  Mookie Betts has some numbers, but it feels like he should be more.  Jackie Bradley Jr. is definitely what he is and no more…great defensive outfielder with some power.  But not really feared when he has the bat in his hands.  Andrew Benintendi has had a fairly good year…but he ain’t there yet.  You could do worse for catchers but they aren’t world beaters.  Etc.

Bottom line is that this lineup isn’t scaring anyone.  Hard to believe basically just subtracting David Ortiz from the equation caused this much of a drop off, but…

Now, the pitching.  Chris Sale has been otherworldly.  But he has faded down the stretch in his career.  And does anyone really expect him to keep up this pace?  David Price?  Ugh…more on him in a moment.  Rick Porcello apologists like to point to the fact that the Sox offense hasn’t scored while he was on the mound in like 10 of his starts.  But they conveniently forget his mid 4 ERA.  And the fact he won a lot of games in 2016 because he got like 16 runs a game to support him…therefore always pitching with a huge lead and…no pressure.  And…how many bombs has he given up this year?  Eduardo Rodriguez…can he be trusted?  Drew Pomeranz has been better than expected.  But does anyone expect him to have continued good health the rest of the way?

By the way, the rest of the starters behind them?  Some combination of Brian Johnson, Doug Fister, Kyle Kendrick or Hector Velasquez.  Yikes!  Wait, no Henry Owens?  Nope.  He walked 60 guys in 69 innings in Pawtucket before getting DEMOTED to Portland (AA).  He’s walked 23 in 20.2 innings down there.  With a 5.23 ERA.  In 5 starts.  Yup, about 4 innings a start.  A former can’t miss prospect…that clearly missed.  Par for the course it seems with the Sox organization.  Sure guys have come up and played well.  But they have seemingly had so many “can’t miss” guys over they years that they refuse to trade and then they just suck in the end.  Subject for a different day.

Lastly, the bullpen.  Craig Kimbrel has been as awesome in his role as Sale has been in his.  But that’s about it as far as bullpen arms that inspire confidence.  I’m not even going through the rest of the jamokes that have rotated out there all year.  The bullpen has been surprisingly good this season, I will admit, even with Joe Kelly and Matt Barnes being your other late inning guys.  And sometimes Heath Hembree.  But…c’mon.  I don’t want those guys anywhere near the mound late in games when the pressure mounts as the playoff race heats up.  Maybe Carson Smith is coming back…wait, I doubt that.  Tyler Thorn…nevermind.

So combine all of the above with what I wrote yesterday…about clubhouse turmoil and an inept manager…and I’m selling at the deadline.  It’s really hard for me to root for this team now.  They are pretty much unlikable from top to bottom.  A big part of me doesn’t even care what happens the rest of this year.  I’m almost onto the Patriots already and they just opened camp.  Depressing, but true.

In any event, once again, they will not sell and probably none of what is proposed here will happen in real life.  But just for sh%ts and giggles, this is what has been going through my mind this week on the moves I would like to make.  If not at the deadline, then maybe the offseason.  In no particular order:

*Trade David Price.  Yes because he is an arseclown, whiner and all of that.  But also because his elbow may well explode at some point.  We all know he may need Tommy John surgery at some point.  If he blows out his elbow here in September and isn’t around the club all of 2018 and then opts out of his contract and gets out of Dodge, that may be a win-win situation as well.  But perhaps they can cut all that off and get something for him now.

Impossible you say?  Maybe not.  If teams treat him like he has one year and change left on his contract and is sure to opt out when he can, maybe someone will jump.  Maybe a team with World Series aspirations and deep pockets will do it anyway.  Perhaps the Dodgers will bail the Sox out again?  Clayton Kershaw is out for several weeks now.  Hmmmmmm…the Nationals with Stephen Strasburg out, supposedly only for one start, but…the Cubs, with their rotation struggling a bit (and knowing Jake Arrieta is probably coming off the books after this year).

Price wants to be moved, that much is clear.  Would the Sox consider it?  Would anyone bite?  I do not think it will happen.  But it IS certainly possible to move that contract.  More than people think.  That’s what I believe anyway.

*Keep Rafael Devers in the majors and give him the majority of starts at 3B.  With Nunez here I doubt he plays much and I believe he will be shipped back to Pawtucket soon enough.  Too bad.  What have they got to lose by playing him?  Well, if he produces like Yoan Moncada did last year, maybe it’s a mistake.  But you know who was absolutely putrid in 95 plate appearances in 2016 down the stretch?  Aaron Judge.  .179 average, .608 OPS and 42 of his 69 outs were K’s.  I’m not saying Devers will be Judge next year if he gets major league experience this year.  But it may be in the teams’ best interest long-term if Devers takes his lumps in the majors the rest of 2017.

*Release Mitch Moreland and Chris Young.  Recall Sam Travis and…gulp…Rusney Castillo.  Maybe you can trade Moreland and/or Young to a contender for some fungo bats and used baseballs.  And if Moreland has truly sucked the last month or so because his toe is broken, then maybe just put him on the DL.  But I have no use for these two really.  Young’s contract is up after this year, and he isn’t really good.  Add to the fact that this veteran was apparently one of Price’s biggest backers in the Eck thing…see ya.  Let’s see if Travis can hit in the bigs.  Let’s also see if Rusney can be salvaged.  He seems to have been playing well in AAA and supposedly can play all the OF positions still.  Why the hell not?

*Release Allen Craig, Jhonny Peralta and Pablo Sandoval.  Oops…already done.  So there are a few positives.

*Release Doug Fister.  Kind of obvious.  But I’m covering everything.

*Give Brian Johnson Price’s rotation spot through the rest of the year.  This guy throws junk and I’m not convinced he will ever make it.  But he has shown some flashes.  Not sure what he has left to prove in the minors.  He’s 26 years old.  Let’s see what he can do.  And if he’s truly part of the future.

*Fire John Farrell.  Another obvious one.  Nothing more needs to be said here.

*Trade Hanley Ramirez.  Good luck.  A guy that really doesn’t care.  Or that cares once in a blue moon.  Maybe they can sell his contract to Japan or something.  Or to Manny’s Korean team.

*Trade Xander Bogaerts.  WHAT?!  Ok, it’s not that simple.  And it’s something that should be investigated in the offseason and not over the next few days.

I have no real particular issue with X.  Disappointed with his progress, or lack thereof.  Maybe the reason for his poor performance lately is the ball he took off the hand.  But how do we explain before that?  His numbers are down across the board this year…since the All-Star Game in 2016, to be exact.

He will be 25 on October 1st.  Still plenty of time to tap into that talent he supposedly has.  But what do we have so far?  A .300ish hitter with doubles power who plays a decent, if unspectacular shortstop?  If that is what he ultimately is, will he be worth all the money that Scott Boras will want in his first big contract?  Nope.

I’d rather give a boatload of money to Betts.  Perhaps Andrew Benintendi earns some money down the road too.  And Devers…if he pans out of course.  Bradley Jr.?  Sure, but he should come cheaper.  If not?  Work on moving him and put either Betts or Benintendi in center.  That conversation can come later however.

One huge thing to consider is that the Sox need some power.  How will they get it?  Seems like a trade is the only way.  Have to give up something to get something.  If teams are still enamored by Bogaerts’ potential, doesn’t that make him a prime candidate to go?  Especially considering all of the above.

Taking a look at the current 40-man roster, who is untouchable?  Sale, Betts, Devers (for now), probably Benintendi and Kimbrel.  Who else?  Bogaerts is probably next on the list.  Someone like him may be able to be packaged with a little more to get that proven power bat…whoever that may be.  Everyone always points to Giancarlo Stanton, since Miami is always selling players off and he has a huge deal.  But there may be someone else available for the right price that we don’t know about.

I’m not trying to run X out-of-town.  But, you have to admit, something like that may make sense.

That’s about it on the suggestions.  What, nothing about Dustin Pedroia?  After yesterday’s piece?  Yeah, trouble is, I love him on the field.  Not to mention he will be 34 in August.  And is a 10/5 guy.  Not sure he will waive his rights to not be traded.  Or if the Sox can get any value for him anyway.  Looks like he is here to stay.  Maybe he will eventually grow up though…

 

Down the stretch we go…

…for the first place Boston Red Sox.  Yup, I said “first place”.  Still seems hard to believe.  17 games left though, so we will see how it plays out.  Tough loss last night, 1-0 to the immortal Kevin Gausman.  But that just goes to show you that no one has any idea how it will go.  Losing 2 out of 3 at home to Baltimore, after taking 2 out of 3 on the road in Toronto.  “Only” winning 4 of 6 against Oakland and San Diego earlier this month.  Two essentially minor league ballclubs.  Yeah, 2 of 3 against anyone especially on the road shouldn’t be bad.  But after outscoring Oakland 27-4 in the first two games of the series, you had to like their chances in Game 3, right?  Nope.  1-0 loss.  Yuck.  An eleven game road trip in mid-August that started 7-2, then ended with 2 losses to another horrible team in Tampa Bay.

Toss all that in and consider that after the 4 game set with the Yankees starting tomorrow, 10 of the final 13 games will be on the road.  10 game trip to Baltimore, Tampa and New York, followed by 3 at home against Toronto.  I suppose the beauty of it is that they are all AL East teams.  But the reality of it is they could go from first place to out of the playoffs in a heartbeat.  And they don’t even need any chicken and beer to do it.

It’s been quite some time since I have written about the Sox.  So, in typical fashion, I’ll be throwing out all kinds of random crap to pretty much catch up.  Thanks a bunch for your understanding!

*Speaking of last night’s game, I like to take the first point to officially apologize to one Mr. Rick Porcello.  Even with the loss, the numbers read 20-4, 3.12 ERA, 1.00 WHIP, over 200 innings.  Etc.  Who on God’s Green Earth saw this coming?  Ok, maybe Ben Cherington did.  (Side note:  with Porcello and the year Hanley Ramirez is having, specifically the 2nd half of his year, perhaps we need to offer up an apology to Ben as well?  Well, he also signed Pablo Sandoval too, so…).  I have no idea if Porcello has a real chance at the Cy Young, even with the 20 wins.  People may shy away from him based on the single fact that he got about 8 runs a game of run support this year.  Others may be blinded by the 59 1/3 innings that Zach Britton has thrown this year, albeit a kind of dominant 60 innings or so.  But it’s been a helluva run.

*Ben just landed a VP of baseball operations job with the Blue Jays.  So let’s not cry for him anymore.  He apparently had a chance at a prime job with the Minnesota Twins as well.  So he’ll be ok.

*I (we) may also owe an apology to David Price also, due to his recent turnaround.  But since I like my 31 million dollar pitchers to have some playoff dominance mixed in, let’s hold off on that for now.

*The biggest thing that makes me nervous over the next two and a half weeks?  John Farrell.  Why, of course!  I suppose I need to give Farrell some credit for the first place team thus far.  But I also remain among the few (several?) that would still like to see him go.

It would seem that the Red Sox have enough talent to be a playoff team.  Always has seemed that way all year.  But…I have never been confident in Farrell’s in-game management.  Or the way he utilizes a bullpen.  Or many other things.  I especially can’t stand his babbling about subluxations and arm angles and arm action and all that stuff he spins when he speaks.  Noe Ramirez pitching in a close game Tuesday when Craig Kimbrel was still available?  Ruining Steven Wright’s season by pinch running him in a game.  Pinch running?  I get trying to utilize the whole roster in an NL park, but the fattest guy on the staff?  Ugh.  Publicly stating that Drew Pomeranz is a “6 inning pitcher” once he arrived in Boston, then in subsequent weeks throwing him out there to blow leads beyond the 6th.  Playing Ryan Hanigan…EVER.  I could go on, but I’m tired.  Let’s just say that there is a good chance that Farrell himself can torpedo this whole thing easily in 17 games.

*I don’t know what happened to Xander Bogaerts in the 2nd half.  But I sure hopes he wakes up soon.

*Good thing Dustin Pedroia hates hitting leadoff.  He’s only been on fire since he started hitting there.  Hate to see what would’ve happened if he stayed in his preferred 2-hole.

*Something that probably only bothers me…along with the Brentz family…Bryce Brentz gets to play in the majors for like 2 months, contributes a bit, then doesn’t get called up along with all the other September additions.  Only 4 players on the 40 man roster didn’t get the call.  Brentz was one of the 4 (Brian Johnson, Williams Jerez and Roenis Elias were the others, for the record).  Obviously, it really doesn’t matter in the end.  Though he really should be able to enjoy the playoff chase!  In all seriousness, I will say that there have been several blowouts recently where Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley Jr. have to stay in the game because the Sox didn’t have enough outfield depth to yank them.  May have made sense to have another outfielder for that reason alone.

*I know I am not trying to manage the Los Angeles Dodgers toward a World Series championship.  And I know Rich Hill has had some blister issues this year and missed plenty of starts, including some after the Dodgers traded for him.  But I still would have left him in to chase that perfect game last week.

*Yoan Moncada should be glued to the bench the rest of the year.  Maybe not even have him pinch run.  Certainly not pinch hit.  He doesn’t need to get up once every 5 or 6 days to add another strikeout to the ledger.  The kid does look like he has some physical ability.  But it also looks like he needs more ABs.  He certainly needs more playing time at the hot corner if they plan to move him there for the long haul.  His arm looks legit though…makes you wonder why the Sox started him off in the minors at second base.  Seems like a waste of his arm to put him there.  Another strike against him was forgetting the number of outs in a game this weekend.  Not a good look in your first couple weeks in the majors.

Personally, I’d keep him on the bench for as long as this season goes, just to soak in the atmosphere.  Then send him to winter ball to play RF and maybe 3B.  I’d shop Bradley this offseason and if there is a deal to be made, move Mookie back to center and consider Yoan for RF down the road.  Or move Benintendi to center.  Something like that.  But we will worry more about the offseason when we get there.

*One more thing on the offseason though:  Do the Sox try to unload the last 2 years of Hanley’s contract this offseason based on his performance this year?  Or stick him at DH and tell him to do nothing but hit?  Good question.  With David Ortiz not around next year to help keep Hanley “buying in”, I think we need to consider the first option.  He has played ok at first this year.  Not as good as everyone wants to tell you he has played, but certainly serviceable.  But I don’t think I want him there next year.

*The Sox have to rein in their aggressive base running a bit going forward.  Lot of head-scratchers here this year.  Kind of topped off by Brock Holt trying to steal home Sunday down a run and with a guy who had earlier hit a 3 run homer at the plate.  That particular one didn’t come back to haunt them.  But that kind of stuff has got to stop.

*I hate the Yankees.  I hate Joe Girardi.  But he should get even more credit than he already does.  How this guy has had the Yanks in the playoff chase over the past few years with those rosters, I have no idea.  That’s all the positive stuff I’m going to say about that outfit though.

*The AL MVP race seems wide open.  But why is all the Red Sox talk focused on Mookie Betts?  I know Big Papi is a DH only and he has not been as dominant in the 2nd half as he was in the first.  But I feel like he deserves a little more chatter anyway.

*Lastly, let’s talk about this bullpen.  Is it really figured out?  Who do you have faith in out there?  Will Noe Ramirez still get some key innings in September?  Kimbrel doesn’t like to pitch in non-save situations and Farrell apparently won’t force the issue, so how is he going to stay sharp?  Joe Kelly is all of a sudden a key component?  And so on.  A couple of weeks ago, Clay Buchholz was supposed to be the “8th inning” guy.  Think about that for a second.  Now we are all set apparently?  Kelly, Koji Uehara, Heath Hembree, Matt Barnes, Robbie Ross Jr., Fernando Abad, Brad Ziegler…I don’t know.  Don’t rule out Farrell trying to re-implement Junichi Tazawa in high-leverage situations either.

All of the relievers listed above are seemingly capable major league relievers…in the regular season…and maybe only in the 7th inning or earlier (outside of Kimbrel…but he sometimes doesn’t inspire confidence either).  But as the pressure gets greater, how many of these dudes will step up?  Remains to be seen.  I know we all love Koji for what he has done over the past few years.  But I am not ready to say he is “back” based on a few good innings in September.  We shall see…

Ultimately, it was great to enjoy baseball in Boston over the summer again.  So even if they collapse, hell, the Patriots have started so it’s not all that bad!  But the Sox do have the talent to compete.  So hopefully it will be a fun two and a half weeks any way you slice it.  Anything after that would be a welcome bonus for sure.

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