I have already had my rants about players not prepared for the Red Sox season. Now I want to credit some role players, who are always prepared.
Ryan Hannigan: Hannigan hit a home run in the final Exhibition game in 2016, threw out a baserunner and almost threw out another one. He really looks like a plumber playing for Local 1721, but he handles pitchers expertly and he makes the perfect battery-mate for a guy named O’Sullivan. Makes glad the Irish heart from South Boston.
Brock Holt: Is there a better name for a baseball player than “Brock Holt”? Holt is less obscure, but who would have picked him as a starting left fielder at the beginning of Spring Training? He does all the little things: bunts, moves the runner along, takes the walks, hustles in the field from seven different positions. Small wonder he was an All-Star utility infielder last year. Now he’s platooning with Michael Young in the most famous left field in baseball.
Steven Wright: Son of Tim Wakefield. I would love to know what makes knuckle-ballers so resilient. If the knuckler forgets to dip out of the hitting zone, the knuckle-baller philosophically watches it arc into space and land in the parking lot, then sighs, and turns to the next batter, who flails helplessly at the next pitch. Live by the butterfly, die by the butterfly. The best part of Wakefield and Wright is the total lack of ego, which says, start me, close me, give me the mop, send me for coffee, I’m just here to do my job. My job is to release pitches from my finger tips and hope for the best.
Ruben Amaro: Jaws dropped when he left an administrative job in the front office to be a first-base coach for the Red Sox. This is like the school superintendent deciding to return to the classroom. I wish more would follow Amaro’s example. He loves baseball more than power, and he wants to work where he can have the most impact. He may be a throwback from the halcyon days of baseball, when managers played and executives left them alone. I like to think he is true to baseball’s eternal spirit.
Opening Day Fans: We start every year thinking our team will make the playoffs and who knows what can happen from there? Is there any other game with the potential for dreams like that? There are five teams in every pro sport who plan at the beginning of the year to sell playoff seats and always do. There are a dozen more who are chronic re-builders. Not so in baseball. The Chicago Cubs and the Kansas City Royals are favored to go to the World Series. If anyone had predicted that five years ago we would have been glad to take their money. Baseball is the land of dreams.
Dream on, fans, we are all headed for the playoffs.
We’re all wondering if the Red Sox have again succumbed to the temptation to sign the biggest names possible and thrown team chemistry into the disposal. Pablo Sandoval was a likely target for a team without a run-producing third baseman, but Hanley Ramirez has not distinguished himself as a clubhouse guy or a durable every-day player. Could his signing signal the abandonment of Jon Lester in free agent negotiations?
And Sandoval is known as a free-swinger. Bringing him in along with Yoenis Cespedis suggests a change in hitting philosophy. Both of them like to swing outside the strike zone, and neither has an impressive on-base percentage. Does this signal the end of the patient hitting philosophy that has governed the Red Sox for a decade or more? With Sandoval, Cespedes and Mike Napoli in the line-up every day, there is going to be a steady breeze generated in Fenway Park.
So here’s a proposal that would preserve the approach that has won the Red Sox two World Series. Trade Mike Napoli and Yoenis Cespedes for some strong starting pitching. Keep the hustling and versatile Brock Holt and Shane Victorino to conserve the energy they bring to the line-up, wherever they play. Sign Jon Lester and Andrew Miller to preserve what has been great in Red Sox pitching. Count on one young pitcher to fill out the rotation and make sure you have four veterans to anchor it. Which of the many young talents can fill the fifth position is anybody’s guess.
It is heartening to see the Red Sox making bold moves, showing they want to be competitive immediately, but no one wants to see the follies of the past repeated. And certainly no one wants to be compared to the N.Y. Yankees’ revolving door, which has failed to form a successful team for half a decade. We want to see home-grown athletes like Xander Bogaerts and Jon Lester succeed in a Sox uniform. We want to believe that the team has a soul, not inter-changeable parts.
So keep building this team, Ben Cherrington (and John Henry and Larry Lucchino), but build on the foundation. Don’t trade it away.
Looking over ESPN.com’s report on the third base prospects for the Red Sox, I have to agree this is their most vulnerable position. Third base usually brings power or batting consistency to the line-up, and the Red Sox have lacked that since the departure of Adrian Beltre, in retrospect a regrettable loss.
Beltre’s successor was Kevin Youkilis, the “Greek God of Walks,” a title that practically made him a poster boy for the offensive strategy of the team. But Youkilis was chronically injured and a young pretender named Will Middlebrooks was ripe for the Majors. They shared the job for a year, but Youkilis ended up with the Yankees and, with continued physical handicaps, has drifted to oblivion. Now his successor faces the same fate.
Middlebrooks has been afforded more opportunity to rehabilitate than Youkilis ever had. He has been the youth of eternal promise for three years. Except for a healthy month or two when he first took over third base in Boston, he has been a chronic disappointment. He has never found a way to lay off the low outside pitch or take the outside pitch to the opposite field. He is a gaping hole in the lower third of the line-up.
I think the time has come to cross the Middlebrooks and choose his successor. It could be Brock Holt, who is versatile enough to play anywhere, or it could be a free agent with some pop. Holt’s value as a replacement everywhere except pitching and catching suggests a need for a full-time third baseman.
But the fragility of Middlebrooks darkens his future and his ability to mature as a Major League hitter. His fielding has even been erratic this year, although injuries could be blamed for that, too. If the Red Sox wanted to spend another year re-building and not contending, he might still be worth the risk, but the Red Sox are not taking that road next year.
I cheered the arrival of Middlebrooks and accepted his replacement of the icon Youkilis. Now I think his promise has expired, and he should rehab with another team. I hope to see an established slugger at third base next year, bringing a reliable 20-25 homers to the offense.
Utterly shocked to find my call for the youth movement answered in the month leading up to the All-Star break, but this is how the Red Sox now respond to talent surging up from Triple A. They did the same last year, giving Brandon Workman, Allen Webster, Rubby DeLaRosa and Xander Bogarts a shot at making the team. Workman and Bogarts made a difference down the stretch, justifying the faith of the parent club.
Now come the killer B’s: Bogarts (again), Bradley, Betts and Brock (Holt), bringing some bravado to the flagging Red Sox. With the exception of Bogarts, they are all risks. The club can afford them, because it have nothing else on the bench. I’m really hoping most of them prove themselves before Shane Victorino and Will Middlebrooks come along to take their place. They are, after all, the future of a team that reached its prime in 2013. Victorino is a winner, but a very fragile one, and Middlebrooks has almost used up his “Get Out of Jail Free” cards.
While they were at it, they decided to bring on Christian Vasquez and ditch A. J. Pierczinski, thinking this would at least be a defensive upgrade. Vasquez is a bigger risk because he also has to gain the confidence of a pitching staff used to veterans calling their games. So far he has looked up to the task, and how could he have a better mentor than David Ross?
Think of the future if Vasquez, Bogarts and Bradley fulfill heir potential: the Red Sox solid up the middle for another decade. Traditionally this has not been the strength of the team. Their catchers and shortstops have always been known for hitting more than fielding. Those positions have been a revolving door for a decade. A strong presence up the middle would transform this team.
The final “B” is Brock Holt. What a great name for a baseball player or maybe a quarterback or a decathalon champion! He may not be the second coming of Jacoby Ellsbury, but he fills the lead-off spot with flair. He looks like trouble at the plate and he is. He is patient and aggressive, shows some speed and can bunt. He has played every position except pitcher and catcher since coming up to stay, and those positions don’t seem out of reach. He brings what the Red Sox have so badly lacked in the first half of the season: confidence and energy.
And this is what we see in the newest Red Sox recruits: confidence and energy. Yes, Bogarts is looking a little shell-shocked lately, but no one doubts what he can do. John Farrell treats them all like they belong here, and soon most of them will know that. Maybe Victorino will send someone packing, but time is on the side of the Killer “B” ‘s (and “V”). Whatever happens to the Red Sox this year, the next generation has arrived.
Jackie Bradley, Xander Bogarts, Brock Holt, Brandon Workman, Rubby DeLaRosa: the future. Jake Peavy, Chris Capuano, Edward Mujica, Felix Dubront, David Ross, A.J, Pierczinski: the past. With the right combination of youth and experience, the Red Sox were World Champions in 2013. With the past overtaking the future, they are in an agonizing tailspin.
At this point we can say the Red Sox are in transition, and it is time to bring on the future. Whether it is too late to contend in the American League East is still open to conjecture, but the retreads the Sox have brought in to make the transition are thin with wear. Bring on the future.
The Red Sox began courting the future in 2013 when they brought up Brandon Workman and Xander Bogarts for the stretch run. Actually Workman was a sub in the pitching rotation earlier, but he pitched with confidence and aggression from the start. He came up attacking the strike zone and has proven himself as a Major Leaguer since then. Bogarts took no one by surprise, but he showed amazing poise in the post-season. The Red Sox did not shy from using both of these young talents in the World Series.
This year they committed to Jackie Bradley, despite his weak hitting, and when the hitting began to gel, sent Grady Sizemore packing. Brock Holt is going to displace either Daniel Nava or Will Middlebrooks, because he is the answer to the lead-off question. Holt has improved every time he came up from Pawtucket and finally proved he was indispensable. Rubby DeLaRosa finally proved he could control his awesome stuff and looks like he might stay with parent club this time. Every one of these players might be languishing in Pawtucket, if the Red Sox were dazzling the American League East, but they have been utterly beatable in the first half of the season.
So 2014 has become the transition year both for the Sox and their young talent. They might even consider bringing up one of their young catchers and let one of the old guys prepare them for the big time. Both Ross and Pierczinsky are liabilities at the plate, but could mentor a young catcher to take over in 2015.
To make room for Workman and DelaRosa, the Sox could send Dubront to the bullpen, release Peavy and give Bucholz one more chance at the rotation. Bucholz deserves a chance to pitch healthy to see if he can return to his 2013 form. Peavy’s skills are in decline. The chances of his rebounding from his dismal start are slim to none.
So bring on the future. Let’s give the new Red Sox a chance to develop and see what happens. How much worse could it be?