Springtime Storylines: Will the Red Sox score enough runs?

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Between now and Opening Day, HBT will take a look at each of the 30
teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally
breaking down their chances for the 2010 season.  Now the Red Sox: Good times never seemed so good.

The big question: Will the Red Sox score enough runs?

Just because it’s “the big question” — and it’s “big” because everyone in the Boston press corps and greater Red Sox Nation seems to want to ask it — doesn’t make it a great question. It’s worth asking simply because a team can never score too many runs, but what seems to be motivating the question this spring is not a concern about the Sox’ offense for its own sake, but a misguided belief that, simply because the team doubled down on defense this winter the offense will necessarily suffer. False dichotomies are fun and everything, but if I went through life asking myself whether I wanted chocolate or vanilla Frogurt I’d miss out on the fact that there’s a swirl option too.  Put more simply, a team can both improve run prevention and maintain a more than adequate offense, and I think the Red Sox have done that.

Projections are what they are, but the Red Sox project to have the second best lineup in the AL this year. More tangibly speaking, Jason Bay is gone, but Marco Sutaro and a full season of Victor Martinez represent significant improvements. Adrian Beltre is one of those gloves that was brought in, but with his health restored and a more friendly hitting environment I expect him to do quite well. Everyone hates on J.D. Drew, but he’s still an excellent hitter.  This team will score some runs. Not that anyone who wrote one of those hand-wringing “will the Sox score enough?” articles this spring will admit that they were grabbing for easy storylines instead of thinking about the Sox’ offense (query: is the fact that I used this as a “Springtime Storyline” hypocritical? Meta? A pun? I think it was a pun. Yes, that’s it.).

So what else is going on?

  • John Lackey was the big offseason pickup, of course, and with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester the Sox have a potent 1-2-3 in the rotation. If this team makes the playoffs, watch out, because those guys will be hard to beat;
  • The 4-5 is a bit less solid. After a rocky 2008 and a rocky beginning to his major league season last year, Clay Buchholz put up a nice run to close the season (just ignore the last two starts, please. Thanks). If he can maintain that, great, but he still has something to prove on the major league level. I think he will, but whether that comes after a few more speedbumps is up in the air. At this point Dice-K is a mystery wrapped in a riddle wrapped in a 3.5 hour game during which I fell asleep around the fourth inning. Tim Wakefield throws a knuckleball, though, and I remain convinced that one day a knuckleballer will go 35-0 with 400 strikeouts (and he’ll be limited to 35 starts only because The Man wants to keep knuckleballers down). Could be Wakefield this year. Then again, I could be letting my irrational love of the knuckleball get in the way. Hard to say;
  • I wonder about the bullpen. Papelbon is still good, but his playoff struggles worry me and overall he strikes me as a guy who could take a step back. Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez all fell off a bit last year. Maybe they all had uncharacteristic swoons, such as they were, and will roar back this year. Maybe it means that the bullpen will be a bigger problem than a lot of people think;
  • Overall run-scoring aside, David Ortiz is a big question mark. A lot of people will note that he picked things up nicely after his dismal start last year, but all 162 games count, and the Red Sox don’t need another swoon like they saw from Big Papi in 2009. If, as is totally possible, his bat just won’t play this year, the Red Sox will have a hole in the lineup that will nag.

So how are they gonna do?

Ultimately there aren’t as many questions about this team as there are about other teams because, let’s face it, every move the Red Sox make is analyzed to the nth degree.

Sometimes, however, that level of scrutiny can actually obscure the overall picture.  I can’t put my finger on it, but I just get this feeling that this team is somehow less than the sum of its parts. No, I’m not talking about chemistry or that kind of nonsense, just a feeling that a lot of guys could have less-than-stellar years. There’s less upside on this team than there is on the Rays. There’s less room of error here than there is in New York. If, say, Kevin Youkilis gets hurt and Josh Beckett stumbles, an otherwise excellent team could be merely good, and merely good isn’t going to cut it in the AL East.

Prediction: Third place in the AL East, just out of the postseason money.  This isn’t hate — The Sox will be good and I think it’s going to be a ridiculously close race all season long — but I just have less confidence in them and perhaps a touch too much confidence in the Rays. Buy hey, that’s why they play the games.

Jacob deGrom open to extension with Mets

New York Mets starting pitcher Jacob deGrom talks during media day for the Major League Baseball World Series against the Kansas City Royals Monday, Oct. 26, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)
AP Photo/Charlie Riedel
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The Mets are currently enjoying the spoils of the best young rotation in the game, but the big question is whether this is just a brief window or the start of sustained success. Given the huge prices on the free agent market, it’s going to be next to impossible to keep the band together, but at least one member of the rotation is open to sticking around for the long-term.

While there haven’t been any talks yet, All-Star right-hander Jacob deGrom told Kevin Kernan of the New York Post that he could see himself discussing an extension with the Mets.

“I’m a little bit older, so I might be more willing to do something like that,’’ deGrom told The Post at Mets pre-camp. “You just have to look at what is fair so both sides get a decent deal. It’s something I’d have to look into and make sure I agree with it.’’

It makes sense from deGrom’s perspective. He broke into the majors later than most prospects, so he’ll be 28 this June. Depending on whether he qualifies as a Super Two, he’ll be arbitration-eligible for the first time after either 2016 or 2017. Either way, he’s under team control through 2020, which means that he’s currently on track to hit free agency after his age-32 season. The market might not be kind to him even if he manages to stay healthy, so it could behoove him to get as much guaranteed money as possible right now. The Mets could always decide to play things year-to-year, but perhaps deGrom would be willing to settle for a discount in order to get them to buy out a free agent year or two. It’s a really interesting situation to think about, but odds are the two sides will wait on contract talks until he’s arbitration-eligible for the first time.

DeGrom owns a 2.61 ERA in 52 starts over his first two seasons in the majors. Among starters, only Zack Greinke, Jake Arrieta, and Clayton Kershaw have a lower ERA since the start of 2014.

Royals, Mike Moustakas avoid arbitration with two-year deal

Kansas City Royals' Mike Moustakas celebrates after hitting an RBI single against the Toronto Blue Jays during the eighth inning in Game 2 of baseball's American League Championship Seriesagainst the Toronto Blue Jays  on Saturday, Oct. 17, 2015, in Kansas City, Mo. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP) MANDATORY CREDIT
Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP
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The Royals and third baseman Mike Moustakas have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a two-year, $14.3 million deal, reports Jon Heyman of MLB Network.

The deal, which was initially discussed last month, buys out Moustakas’ final two years of arbitration. Jeffrey Flanagan of MLB.com reports that it’s believed he’ll make $5.6 million in 2016 and $8.7 million in 2017.

The 27-year-old Moustakas posted an underwhelming .668 OPS over his first four seasons in the majors, but he enjoyed a big postseason in 2014 before breaking out last season by batting .284/.348/.470 with 22 home runs and 82 RBI.

Report: Rays having “advanced talks” with free agent reliever Tommy Hunter

Baltimore Orioles relief pitcher Tommy Hunter throws to the Miami Marlins during the seventh inning of a baseball game in Miami, Friday, May 22, 2015. (AP Photo/J Pat Carter)
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ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick reported this morning that free agent reliever Tommy Hunter required core muscle repair surgery earlier this offseason. Coming off a disappointing 2015, it’s understandable why he’s still on the market, but it sounds like he has at least one significant lead.

Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times hears that the Rays are having “advanced talks” with Hunter as they attempt to add an experienced arm to their bullpen. Nothing is considered close and Hunter is also talking to other clubs. Meanwhile, the Rays have been in touch with veteran reliever Ryan Webb while monitoring the trade market.

Hunter posted a 2.88 ERA as a late-inning arm from 2013-2014, but he compiled a mediocre 4.18 ERA over 58 appearances last season between the Orioles and Cubs. On the bright side, his velocity has held steady and his control is still very good. Despite the down year and core muscle surgery, Topkin writes that Hunter may be holding out for a multi-year deal.

Pirates sign left-hander Cory Luebke

Cory Luebke Getty
Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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Eric O'Flaherty wasn’t the only reclamation project added by the Pirates today, as the club also announced that they have signed left-hander Cory Luebke to a minor league contract with an invitation to spring training.

Luebke once looked like a solid rotation piece for the Padres, but he hasn’t thrown a pitch in the majors since April 27, 2012. He’s undergone a pair of Tommy John surgeries since. Now 30 years old, he logged seven innings in the minors last season before requiring a procedure to remove loose bodies around a nerve in his forearm. The Padres cut ties with him in November after declining a $7.5 million club option for 2016.

It’s hard to count on much from Luebke at this point, but he told Adam Berry of MLB.com that he feels healthy and hopes to compete for a bullpen job in the spring.