Ben Cherrington’s protestations to the contrary, the Red Sox have to make a big deal before Spring, merely because they are overloaded with Big-League outfielders. And they have always gone to Spring Training with a surplus of pitching, not a surplus of outfielders. Here are the actual Big League outfielders on their roster.
- Jackie Bradley, Jr.
- Mookie Betts
- Rusney Castillo
- Allen Craig
- Daniel Nava
- Hanley Ramirez
- Shane Victorino
You might send Jackie Bradley back to Pawtucket, but the rest of these players have to play in the Majors next season. If the Sox start the year with an outfield of Ramirez, Castillo, and Victorino, with Betts in reserve, that leaves Nava, Craig and Bradley to deal, all bonafide Big League starters.
Garin Cecchini is an infielder whose time has come as well. His name is mentioned in possible trades. With Brock Holt as an all-purpose substitute, Cecchini is less likely to make the squad in the spring.
So where is this talent going to play come March? Hopefully with some team that has a number 1 starter to deal. The Red Sox just need to match their talent with another team’s needs. It’s all about supply and demand.
When you have this kind of supply, you don’t go out and buy another free agent (e.g. James Shields), you make a trade. Find a match, Ben!
When the Red Sox go on the road, the broadcasters and fans want to know what happened to the 2013 World Champions. Worst to first to worst again? How could it be?
The old saw about strength up the middle seems to apply. With the departure of Jacoby Ellsbury and Jared Saltalamacchia and the decline of Xander Bogaerts and, till August, of Dustin Pedroia, the Red Sox had a gaping alley where All-Stars used to be.
Everyone talks about the weak hitting outfield, but the Sox did not have a heavy hitting outfield in 2013. Well, Daniel Nava and Shane Victorino finished strong, but Victorino was hurt much of the year and Nava came in under the radar with a strong finish. Ellsbury was really their most consistent hitter and lit up the basepaths, when the hits were fewer and far between. Then Ellsbury and the Red Sox went south.
But think if Pedroia and Bogaerts were hitting as they did in 2013 and if A.J.Pierczinski delivered on his offensive reputation as a catcher. How different that batting order would be. While Jackie Bradley, Jr. has won admirers with his spectacular play in center field, his hitting has been demoralizing. At this point he really can not have all the confidence he claims to have at the plate or we might consider him dissociated. He probably needs what we euphemistically call “seasoning” at Pawtucket.
The Red Sox have made the right moves to repave the pot-holed alley from catcher to center field. They trusted their young talent by returning Bogaerts to shortstop, bringing up Christian Vasquez at catcher, and auditioning a series of players in center field. Bradley Jr. may still be the center fielder of the future, but for the immediate future, they have Brock Holt and Mookie Betts, two infielders who showed amazing versatility in the outfield.
Once you are committed to re-building you can bring up all the ripening talent you can find and see what combination works up the middle. Bogaerts has been making big plays at shortstop and Vasquez has been praised for his work behind the plate. Except for third base, the infield is tightening. And Pedroia is now hitting, proving that going out and working hard everyday has to pay off eventually.
The immediate impact of the Fire Sale of 2104 has brought a solid pitcher (Joe Kelly) and a power outfielder (Yoenis Cespedes) to the Red Sox. Tuesday night they showed what a good investment they will be, as they led the visitors to a 3-2 win over Cincinnati.
But the secondary reinforcements on the Red Sox, the strength up the middle, will be the foundation for the future. Already we see the infield healing its wounds, and center field has candidates to finish the season. This could be the biggest change in the team once headed for worst in 2014.
So my favorite baseball analyst, Tim Kurkjian, has put the Red Sox in third place in the AL East. I know he likes Boston, so I’m not going to accuse him of Hub-prejudice, but I think he is overly cautious in forecasting the success of a club with many unknowns. Admittedly some luck will determine where the Sox finish in 2013.
In Major League baseball Luck is always on deck. Typically, the Red Sox are stocked with starters with Achilles’ tendons, Tommy John elbows, and the constitution of Jimmy Piersall in center field. Add to this the mysteries of concussions and hidden hip ailments you have a line-up for the infirmary, rather than the All-Star team. So any hopeful predictions will assume a reckless disregard for the curse of injury.
But we are done with curses. Leaving Spring Training we have every reason to hope for dramatic recovery from David Ortiz and John Lackey. We have hope that Jacoby Ellsbury will survive his year leading up to free agency and dazzle his suitors. We have hope that Mike Napoli will earn the contract incentives he signed up for during the winter. And we believe that at least one unproven rookie, a Jackie Bradley, a Jose Iglesias or an Allen Webster will surprise his critics and reach Major League maturity early. And even if Luck goes three for seven on my wish list, that would be .428 and enough to get the Red Sox to second place.
Because, for the first time in five years, the Red Sox have an established pitching rotation, not one built on “Spahn, Sain and two days of rain.” Every pitcher in the five-man rotation is a proven starter. In the bullpen, there are three bonafide closers. In the middle innings there is a reliable right-hander and left-hander. And, of course, the usual number of works-in-progress named Bard, Breslow, and Morales. But what if just one of them fully recovered?
Luck’s greatest mystery is John Farrell, who has yet to prove he can manage a winner. Farrell brings the experience of past success with the Red Sox and especially the knowledge of handling pitchers. If he can motivate a team through long road trips and hardship, that will seal the season. The X-factors of injury, batting slumps, and lost confidence are frequently dispelled by good managing. My expectation is that John Farrell is the man for the job.
Luck is always on deck. I have seen Luck swinging and stretching and nodding as he looks over the Red Sox. With all the bad things that could happen this year, only a few will transpire. With all the miscues of a first-year manager only a few will set back the team. Under the pressure of September only one hitter will fold. Luck says we’re a cinch for second, and his sister “Good Luck” says “No Limit to the Possibilities.”