This has been one of the craziest off seasons in my lifetime of watching baseball. Somewhere in those last couple days of the Winter Meetings, I completely gave up on knowing who was going where, when, and why.
I figure that with the off season winding down a little bit, there’s some value in taking a look at what the heck the Sox have done and where it leaves them.
We’ll start with the infield, just because it’s the easiest. The Sox had a black hole at third base in 2014, and it hasn’t been a strength for a long time. It should be no surprise, then, that one of the first major acquisitions of the off season was Pablo Sandoval who has been significantly better than average offensively every year since 2010. Defensive metrics are a tad ambivalent about him, but overall, he has a reputation as a solid fielder.
He’s getting a lot of money and he’s older than you’d want in a player you’re paying that much, but at least for the short term, he’s got to be better than what the Sox have had.
The move to Sandoval at third means Xander Bogaerts gets to settle in at short and make the position his for as long as he can hold on to it. It might be a bit generous to say that Xander Bogaerts had an up and down year in 2014—his .595 OPS in July wasn’t even his second worst month (June .426, August .360)—his ups were pretty damn high. He had an .897 OPS in May and looked like he was going to storm into the league and make it his bitch. Of course, that was his best month of the season by far. Encouragingly, though, his second best month came at the end of the season with an OPS of .806 for September and October.
This is the thing to remember about Xander Bogaerts. He’s still 22 and is only a year away from being the second best prospect in baseball. He struggled mightily, and might well struggle more, but chances are, he’s going to be a lot better in 2015 overall.
Dustin Pedroia had his worst season since he became a regular in 2007 and chances are that his peak is behind him, but while he’s not young, he’s not quite old, either. He’s got more above average seasons in him and hopefully he’s manage to play 2015 without having a significant hand or wrist injury early in the season.
Mike Napoli hasn’t really had a bad season in his career. I’m sure he will, at some point, but there’s no particular reason to think it will be 2015. Sure, his hip could explode at any moment, but it hasn’t exploded yet.
Bottom Line: The Red Sox should be getting league average or better seasons from all the infielders.
The infield bench is probably going to include Brock Holt, who is likely to be the primary backup at three positions, and Allen Craig, who is likely to back up first.
Craig is actually a bit of a thing. When he was good, he was very good. Easily starting material. When he was bad, holy crap was he bad. 2015 should represent a chance for him to put all questions of his injury behind him and demonstrate once again that he is an offensive threat.
The problem for him is going to be playing time. The Sox can’t afford to run someone out there every day who is hitting like Craig hit in 2014, and perhaps more to the point, they don’t have to, having better options pretty much everywhere.
Clearly the Sox want him to be what he was before, but the only way to demonstrate that he’s back—not to mention the only way to get back—is for him to play and I don’t see where those ABs are going to come from.
Nothing really to say here. David Ortiz get old and fall off at some point, but he hasn’t yet and it’s a gamble I’m willing to continue to take until it bites me in the ass.
Christian Vazquez is the starter. His offense was well, pretty bad in 2014, but that’s not terribly surprising for any rookie breaking in, and especially so with one who has a history of taking a while to adjust to each higher level. He does adjust, though, and that bodes well for his chances of being not terrible. There are a lot of things that impact a team throughout a season that you can’t foresee. One of the things we can foresee is Vazquez. How well and how quickly he makes those adjustments is going to have a pretty big impact on what the Sox do in 2015.
Should Vazquez struggle at the plate, Ryan Hanigan can help, but only so much. He hasn’t had an OPS+ above 95 since 2010 and his last two years he was at 59 and 86. It’s the 59 that looks like the outlier, however, as most of his career has been spent as a slightly less than average hitter.
No, if Vazquez crashes and burns, the real help is going to have to come in the form of Blake Swihart who has had all of 18 games of AAA experience. I don’t think there is anyone who thinks he is going to be ready before mid season at the earliest so, well, I think we all need to hope that Vazquez gets the job done.
Next week I’ll take a look at the outfield, then the rotation, and finally the bullpen, and at that point, truck day won’t be far away.