Adrian Gonzalez

Springtime Storylines: Are the Boston Red Sox the best team in baseball?

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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 2011 season. For in-depth previews of all 30 teams, check out the HBT Preview. In this edition: the Boston Red Sox.

The Big Question: Are the Red Sox the best team in baseball?

Man, it’s hard to pick a better one. Offensively they’ve traded Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre for Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford. I think 2011 wins that battle, and I think Gonzalez might be a nice MVP candidate in his new ballpark.  Add a healthy Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia to the mix and you’re talking about a better overall offense this year than last, and last year the Sox finished behind only the Yankees in runs scored in the American League.

The rotation is less formidable though. Like the Yankees’ rotation, it certainly looks nice at the top with Jon Lester figuring to, once again, be among the elite in the league and with Clay Buchholz poised to build on an impressive 2010. Beyond that are three guys looking to regain past form in Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka. I’m less optimistic about Dice-K than I am Lackey and Beckett, but it seems silly to me to assume that all three of these guys are toast. Figure at least one and probably two of them bouncing back. Also figure that if the back end of the Red Sox’s rotation does come through, its upside is considerably higher than the potential upside of the back end of the Yankees’ rotation.

Finally, the bullpen, where the addition of Bobby Jenks and the maturation of Daniel Bard will complement the maligned yet still highly effective Jonathan Papelbon to make the final three innings of any game fairly miserable for Red Sox opponents most nights. And don’t sleep on Dan Wheeler who — at least judging by superficial bullpen depth charts — is one of the better fourth options out of the pen in all of baseball.

Where does that leave us? I’ll get a little more reflective about their chances below in the “So how are the going to do” section, but for now I’m going to give a guarded “yes” in response to that question. I think the Red Sox are the best team in baseball in 2011.

So what else is going on?

  • Jacoby Ellsbury has been raking this spring. I don’t spend too much time mucking about the Boston press, but the fact that he could add something major to the Red Sox lineup seems like one of the more underreported stories of the spring. If Ellsbury shines this year, that guarded “yes” above turns much more emphatic. Same goes for J.D. Drew who, unlike the vast majority of baseball fans, I am not inclined to sleep on. He’s good. He’s always been good and at times he’s been great. He could still turn in an All-Star caliber season, even if no one is all too eager to acknowledge it as such when it goes down.
  • How much rope does Marco Scutaro have? He toughed his way through injuries and ineffectiveness last year to play in 150 games, but how much of Terry Francona’s loyalty was based on true confidence in Scutaro’s skills and how much was based on the fact that, with Dustin Pedroia gone, he could use both Scutaro and Jed Lowrie in the lineup? If Scutaro struggles again out of the gate, will Lowrie get a chance to build on a promising 2010?
  • I have yet to talk to anyone — not a single person — who knows a thing about about baseball who believes that Jarrod Saltalamacchia is going to last the whole year as the Red Sox’ starting catcher. It’s his age-26 season now, and no, he hasn’t managed to put it together anywhere he’s been. At least not compared to his promise as a Braves’ farm hand. Of course, that promise was based mostly on one great year in high-A ball in 2005 and his second go-around at AA in 2007. If Saltalamacchia fails he won’t be the first former Braves prospect to bite the dust once he reached the majors. I’m kind of rooting for him because of where he came from, but this is probably his last shot at being a starting catcher in the majors, wouldn’t you agree?
  • I have no personal interest in David Ortiz’ performance, but I really would like to see him hit well in April and May just so we can avoid a third straight year of questions about the guy and testy responses from Ortiz himself. There’s nothing more tiring than “Is Big Papi done?” talk.

So how are they going to do?

It’s easy to look at Gonzalez and Crawford, add in the Fenway Park effect that people tend to overstate when a big new bat comes to town and to crown the Red Sox AL East champs right now, But let’s not get too crazy. I think that yes, on paper, the Red Sox are the best team in the division. Which, by definition, makes them the best team in baseball. But they’re not invincible. They face a substantially similar rotation problem as the Yankees do and their offenses profile pretty similarly as well.  The Red Sox are not kings only temporarily lacking a crown. They are not an inevitability.

But I do think they’re a bit better as we kick off the season. That may mean diddly squat once the games actually start, but for now I’m tasked with picking the winners. And in the AL East I pick Boston.

Giants sign catcher Nick Hundley

DENVER, CO - JUNE 07:  Nick Hundley #4 of the Colorado Rockies takes an at bat against the Miami Marlins at Coors Field on June 7, 2015 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
Getty Images
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Andrew Baggarly of the Mercury News reports that the Giants have signed catcher Nick Hundley. It’s a major league deal worth $2 million.

Hundley, who is 33, but who seems like he’s been in the bigs for about 27 years, hit .260/.320/.439 with 10 homers in 83 games for the Rockies last season. Obviously he will be the backup given the presence of Buster Posey.

MLB reorganizes its diversity and social responsibility leadership structure

Billy Bean
Associated Press
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Major League Baseball has experienced inconsistent progress in its efforts at promoting diversity and social responsibility in recent years despite making it a league priority.  Today it has announced several changes in its leadership structure in these areas, with Commissioner Manfred saying, “As the sport of Jackie Robinson and Roberto Clemente, we have a responsibility to uphold and honor their legacies, especially in ensuring that our sport and business practices are as inclusive, diverse and socially-conscious as possible.”

To that end:

  • Billy Bean has been promoted to Vice President and Special Assistant to the Commissioner. This is a newly-created and elevated position in which Bean will continue his efforts at promoting human rights issues important to Major League Baseball, with a particular focus on LGBT and anti-bullying efforts. He has done such work since 2014 as its Ambassador for Inclusion, but putting him at the vice presidential level and having him answer directly to Commissioner Manfred increases his profile and that of his mission;
  • Renée Tirado, has been promoted to Vice President of Talent Acquisition and Diversity & Inclusion. Tirado had previously served as Senior Director of Recruitment. She will direct the implementation of recruitment plans and procedures to support MLB’s staffing objectives and will oversee MLB’s Diversity Pipeline Program. As you may recall, Major League Baseball has struggled mightily in these effort in recent years, and has admitted as much; and
  • Melanie LeGrande has been promoted to Vice President of Social Responsibility. She previously served as MLB’s Director of Community Affairs. Her job will be to develop and enhance the initiatives that support MLB’s position in the community and oversee MLB’s community investments, nonprofit/non-governmental organization partnerships, large-scale disaster relief efforts and employee volunteer engagement.

Manfred said, “the promotions of Billy, Renée and Melanie reflect our commitment to have strong, innovative leadership in place that aligns our industry objectives with a desire to be effective corporate citizens.”

While all of these are current employees who have served in roughly similar roles. A business’ organizational chart says much about how much that business values various functions and initiatives. In keeping with Manfred’s comments, that all three of these people have been promoted to the vice presidential level is a strong signal from MLB about what it wants.

Now all it has to do is follow through and get what it wants.