|Which David Price will show up this season?|
Time for the annual Playing Pepper preview hosted at the Cardinals C70 website, which previews every team. I was again one of the writers asked to answer some questions on the Red Sox. Below are the questions and answers, which are now also up on the C70 blog. Check there daily for previews of the other MLB teams.
1. What are your thoughts on the offseason? Did the club improve over the winter?
Until the middle of February, saying it was a slow off-season would have been an overstatement. Other than signing Mitch Moreland (who was our regular 1st baseman last year, so not much of a change there), the only other announcement was with someone named Sam Adams – who I doubt could hit a major league fastball. Anyhow, once spring training got rolling, the Red Sox made some moves that have undoubtedly improved the team. First of all they signed Eddie Nunez, who will presumably fill in for Dustin Pedroia until his activation from the DL, and then will be a super-sub utility player. And then they finally signed JD Martinez – like everyone had been waiting for since November – to be a middle of the order power bat/ DH / 4th outfielder. The Red Sox were sorely lacking in the power department last season, so this was the main area of improvement they needed, and they accomplished that with the best player they could acquire without a trade.
2. It’s David Price’s third year with the club. What are your expectations for him this season?
He is very motivated and determined to show Boston fans what he can do. He showed a glimpse of what he’s still capable of in the playoffs last season when he threw 6.2 scoreless innings in relief against the high powered Astros offence. If he remains healthy, I think we'll see more of that this year, as he silences his critics.
3. What’s one thing people may overlook (either positively or negatively) about this team?
The payroll is VERY close to the de facto limit. A lot of smaller market teams assume that the Red Sox (and Yankees and a few others) can always just throw money at a problem, and buy whoever they need, should a need arise. To an extent that’s true, but I think people are overlooking just how strained the Red Sox ability to make any roster upgrades could be this year. They have blown past the $197 Million limit where they have to pay a 20% tax on every dollar they are over, as well as the $217MM with its 32% luxury tax penalty. It’s just money, and John Henry has lots of it, so these limits shouldn’t bother any Red Sox fan. But they are very close to $237MM and at that point not only is there a 74.5% tax to pay on any additional salary, but there are draft pick and slot bonus penalties which need to be avoided at all costs. Although the Boston bench has several players capable of filling in for the short term, if there is a serious injury to a key player, the Red Sox may not have the financial room to acquire a replacement, and that could easily torpedo the season.
4. Who is the one key player, the guy that must have a good year for the Red Sox to do well?
There are several players whose performance range can be predicted with a strong degree of confidence. Guys like Chris Sale, Betts, JDM, Kimbrel, whom you know (barring injury) what you’re going to get from them – they’re either going to be very good or great. There are others with a wider range of probable outcomes, but the lineup can be shuffled around and they can be replaced if they slump (such as Hanley), or not much is being expected of them anyways (any of the catchers). The player for whom there is no apparent replacement if he declines is Xander Bogaerts. If he bounces back from a disappointing 2017 campaign, then he’s another bat in the middle of a lineup that suddenly looks very strong. But if he has a long stretch like last summer (.198 with 3 HRs in July and August), then the Red Sox offense could be very disappointing.
5. What’s your projection for 2018? Where does the team wind up overall?
I picked the Red Sox to win their division with 93 games last year, and that’s exactly what they did! (I know, I know…. something about blind squirrels and nuts). Anyhow, in spite of the Yankees having seemingly improved in the off-season, I’m predicting the Red Sox to repeat as division champions, needing only 91 wins.
6. What’s one question I should have asked and what’s the answer to it?
"Which player do I wish the Red Sox still had on their roster?"Adrian Beltre. He had a great stint in Boston in his one year here in 2010. That offseason, the Red Sox instead of trying to re-sign him, opted to trade for Adrian Gonzalez who would play first base, and move Kevin Youkilis across the diamond to third base, where Beltre had been. Beltre eventually signed with Texas for 6/$96, while AGon got a 7/$154 deal from Boston. Unfortunately Youkilis was a much better defensive first baseman than he was at the hot corner, and Gonzalez left Boston prior to his 2nd year in the infamous Nick Punto trade. Since then, Boston has had difficulty filling the position, using Wil Middlebrooks, Travis Shaw, Pablo Sandoval, and Aaron Hill among others. Rafael Devers looks like he may be there to stay now, but one wonders how much better our infield defense and lineup would have been with Beltre there the past seven seasons.