UnMuzzled: Red Sox Repeat Pits Heart Against Head
One of the single greatest days of the year is now only a mere week away. The Boston Red Sox begin their season next Monday in Baltimore as they take on the Orioles.
A year ago we hoped they’d at least regain some of the dignity they lost in the debacle of a season that was 2012. Instead they gave us one of the greatest seasons of baseball Boston has ever seen on route to their third World Series title in a century that hasn’t even made it out of those awkward teenage years.
Now they enter the 2014 season with a giant target on their back with three of the league's toughest teams right in their own division looking to knock them off their throne. As we get ready to watch the Red Sox hopefully defend their title here’re a couple things I’ll be thinking about.
Who’re these new guys?
It wasn’t a busy off season for the Red Sox, but they did make a few important moves.
With David Ross still on the roster, as well as a hoard of talented young catchers in the minors, the Red Sox decided against resigning Jarrod Saltalamacchia to a long term deal. Instead they hope to replace his production with veteran A.J. Pierzynski.
The Sox also brought in former Cardinal reliever Edward Mujica to sure up a strong but small returning bullpen. Upon Ryan Dempster announcing he’ll be taking the year off due to health reasons the Sox signed Chris Capuano, a lefty journeyman playing for his first American League team.
Lastly, perhaps the most intriguing sign was center fielder Grady Sizemore. A former All Star, Sizemore has had to take a few years off due to injuries and multiple surgeries. If he can recapture even some of the game he used to have, he could turn into a major signing.
They weren’t nearly as busy as many of their opponents, but they addressed specific needs without having to give up big bucks, now we’ll just have to wait and see how big of an impact these new guys have.
At the beginning of spring training Jackie Bradley Jr. was projected as the Sox starting center fielder. John Farrell would still say that’s true, but don’t be surprised if next Monday we see one of the newest Red Sox roaming center field.
In 48 at bats this spring Bradley is batting just .188 with 14 strikeouts. His competition, Grady Sizemore, is hitting .310 and has impressed everyone with what he’s been able to do. I’d love to see Farrell put Sizemore in the opening day lineup but my gut says Bradley will get the nod. Hopefully Sizemore nipping at his heals will get Bradley to play up to the level he’s expected to be at.
Keep Your Eye Out For:
Jonathan Herrera. When Xander Bogaerts, Will Middlebrooks or Dustin Pedroia are taking the day off, Herrera will more than likely be the man taking their place. He’s only played in 160 games since he debuted for Colorado in 2006 but he has hit .320 over that span and has only struck out in 34 of his 316 career at bats. What will be most important, however, is how he’ll handle things defensively, something on which Boston puts a strong focus. If Middlebrooks struggles or if the infield sees any injuries, Herrera could end up playing an important role.
The Youth Movement
More than likely the Red Sox opening day lineup will contain three players 25 years old or younger. Bradley, Bogaerts and Middlebrooks all have been given the opportunity to become big-time players on this team, and whether or not the Sox defend their title will be in large part because of these three men.
Over the course of the season expect to see a number of younger players get their chance to show what they've got. With David Ross and A.J. Pierzynski both being 37 years old, young catchers Ryan Lavarnway and Christian Vazquez will probably end up seeing playing time behind the plate this year.
When it comes to the infield Jonathan Herrera is not the only option. The Red Sox also have Brock Holt and promising youngster Garin Cecchini, about whom they are very excited.
If Boston lacks prospects anywhere it’d be the outfield, but so far one of the best spring training contributors has been Bryce Brentz who’s hitting .360 with three home runs. The point is: Boston has a bank of young talent champing at the bit to hit the big league level, and it shouldn’t come as a surprise if more than one of them sees solid playing time this year.
Age is just a number, hopefully
While the future looks incredibly bright, some of the biggest leaders on the team are nearing their final years. Over the weekend the Red Sox resigned David Ortiz, virtually guaranteeing he will end his career in Boston.
That was a move that absolutely had to happen, but Ortiz is 38. It’s only a matter of time before his numbers being to considerably drop.
The other player not getting any younger is last year’s phenom, Koji Uehera. You may not know this, but Uehara is 38 years old, the oldest pitcher on the staff by three years. Luckily for the Red Sox he’s not a pitcher who relies heavily on his velocity, but the coaching staff will have to be wary about overusing him.
Projected team MVP
The Red Sox proved last year that no one player is the key to victory. However, if there’s one position player I’d deem the most important to the success of the team this year, I’d say it comes down to Xander Bogaerts.
He proved in the World Series that he’s ready to play at the big league level. Now it’s time for him to show he can handle a full 162-game season while being an important contributor both offensively and defensively. The hope is that he’ll be making the full-time shift to short, his natural position. If he can produce at a high level and add a significant amount of pop to the middle of the order that would make a big impact on the season.
Back to Back Champs?
As much as my heart wants to say yes, my head says no.
The Sox seem dedicated on developing their young talent right now and while I personally believe that’s the right choice, I do think that will hurt their chances to win it all again. While I believe they made the right choice not resigning him, I also think they’ll miss Jacoby Ellsbury. His ability to get on board, steal bases and play top-notch defense in center will be very difficult to duplicate.
Lastly, the fact that they play 36 games against the Orioles and Yankees is going to make things difficult. But then again, if you had said they’d win the whole thing last year I would’ve laughed in your face.