February 20, 2014

Playing Pepper 2014 Red Sox

Yes, these are salt and pepper shakers
As mentioned previously, the Cardinals blog C70 at the bat at Cards Conclave hosts an annual series where bloggers from each team answer some specific questions in previewing their team's seasons.

As in previous years, other Baseball Bloggers Alliance members also participated Including fellow Canadian Red Sox fan and blogger Allan at The Joy of Sox, Christine from Boston Red Thoughts,  John at The Mighty Quinn Media Machine, Michael at The Pesky Pole, Bryan at Replacement Level Baseball Blog, Dave at Sox vs. Stripes and Dan at Talkin’ Sox With Dan.  To see how these Red Sox bloggers answered these questions, take a look at the Red Sox "Playing Pepper" page at C70 at the bat.

Below are the questions with the answers that I provided. As always, I welcome your comments and thoughts:

1) How would you grade the offseason?
As returning World Series Champions, Boston could afford to deal from a position of strength, and I'm glad the Sox took an "if it ain't broke don't fix it" approach. Which actually sounds strange, since we will have new players up the middle at catcher, shortstop and centerfield on opening day. Behind the plate we've replaced Salty with AJ Pierzynski. I'm not a big fan of his, but we still have David Ross as a capable backup and Ryan Lavarnway may be a decent option as a fill in if something happens. If he's not, we have Dan Butler and Christian Vazquez waiting in the wings. I'll call it a wash. The big offseason loss was Jacoby Ellsbury. Although we will miss his speed at the top of the lineup, I'm very excited about seeing what Jackie Bradley Jr. (JBJ) can do as the everyday centerfielder. I suspect this will be a net loss in the short term, but have little doubt that Boston will get more performance with the $153 million they saved by not resigning Ells than they would with him. At shortstop, Xander Bogaerts (X) is slated to start in place of Stephen Drew. As much as I love superior defense from the middle of the infield, Bogaert's bat will more than offset that. Mike Napoli's hip is still a ticking time-bomb and we did nothing to address first base (other than resign him), but Mike Carp showed he is more than capable to step in if necessary. Our starting rotation returns intact, and we've added some bullpen arms in Edward Mujica and Burke Badenhop. Never a bad idea to stockpile arms. With the caveat that there is still time to make some more changes, as long as they don't make any stupid moves (e.g., signing Drew long term, displacing either X or Middlebrooks; giving Dempster away from free because of the starter's logjam), I'm giving them an A- for this offseason.

2) Will the loss of Jacoby Ellsbury be significant?
No. Yes, you won't replace his 6 wins (bWAR) overnight, but barring injury, our outfield defense is set and has lots of depth. JBJ will be starting in CF; Victorino can play there if necessary, and Grady Sizemore is a long shot, but may become a viable option if he returns to form. This team should have learned last year that it's better to have several good players, than a couple of superstars surrounded by average players. The Red Sox have lots of good players and enough depth in the outfield to absorb the loss of Ells to the always and still hated Yankees.

3) Which roster battle will be the most intriguing during spring training?
Barring injury, I don't think there are any real battles. I hope the Red Sox don't use exhibition game stats to determine starters. I'm fairly confident Dustin Pedroia could go hitless in March and still be the opening day second baseman.  That said, if Middlebrooks takes a step backwards, and Garin Cecchini shows he's ready for The Show, there could be some controversy at the hot corner. But ultimately I suspect this will be more media and/or fan fueled than an actual front office plan, and Middlebrooks will be the opening day starter regardless.

4) What rookie, if any, will make the most impact on the team?
Despite JBJ being our opening day centerfielder last year and playing everyday for the first couple of weeks until David Ortiz came off the DL, and then getting called up a couple more times, before coming up for good in September, I was surprised to see he is still rookie eligible. So are Brandon Workman, Allan Webster and Drake Britton who could all be a big part of this year's arms in Boston.  But who am I kidding. Xander Bogaerts has a shot at being the Rookie of the Year, after already having been a big part of last year's postseason in Boston and his bat should have an immediate impact on the 2014 team.

5) What will be the final record of the team and where will they finish in the division? 
Last year I predicted 86-76 and a 3rd place finish, and we ended up World Champions. I'm not going to admit to being superstitious, but I don't want to upset the balance in the Universe, so I'll stick with the same prediction, and hope for the same incorrect result.

6) Which player from your team do you most enjoy watching?
There are so many likeable characters to choose from. It's easy to pick perennial favourites (Canadian spelling, eh?) such as Pedroia or Ortiz. And recent newcomers such as Gomes and Victorino seemed to become immediate fan darlings. Lester going from cancer survivor to team ace makes him a sentimental choice for many as well. And Koji’s crazy high five dugout celebrations are loved by all fans. And Daniel Nava? He goes from being cut by his college team to hitting a grand slam on the first pitch he sees in the majors.  But ever since I saw him play in Scottsdale in the Arizona Fall League, as a teammate to the much more heralded Bryce Harper and Mike Trout, I’ve been a big fan of Will Middlebrooks. After some struggles last year, I look forward to watching him bounce back and show some gold glove caliber defense and become a legitimate power threat with 30+ home runs.

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