2013 Preview: Boston Red Sox

47 Comments

Between now and Opening Day, HardballTalk will take a look at each of baseball’s 30 teams, asking the key questions, the not-so-key questions, and generally breaking down their chances for the 2013 season. Up next: The Boston Red Sox.

The Big Question: will the offseason spending spree prove worth it?

Coming off a disastrous season in which they lost 90 games for the first time since 1966, the Red Sox were among the winter’s biggest spenders, signing five of the game’s top 25 or so free agents:

DH David Ortiz – two years, $26 million-$30 million
OF Shane Victorino – three years, $39 million
1B Mike Napoli – three years, $39 million (revised to one year, $5 million + incentives)
SP Ryan Dempster – two years, $26.5 million
SS Stephen Drew – one year, $9.5 million

They didn’t stop there, either:

OF Jonny Gomes – two years, $10 million
RP Koji Uehara – one year, $4.25 million
C David Ross – two years, $6.2 million

That they limited themselves to rather short-term deals was a form of restraint. Not sure whether the Dodgers would be willing to bail them out again, the Red Sox wanted to leave themselves the ability to retool on the fly should their latest plan fail as spectacularly as the previous one did.

That strategy prevented the Red Sox from competing for the best of the best (Zack Greinke, Josh Hamilton, B.J. Upton and others). And because the Red Sox wanted to protect their second-round draft pick (and, more importantly, the draft slot money that came with it), they limited themselves to pursuing free agents who failed to receive qualifying offers. Which makes one wonder if they really got the players they wanted or if there were compromises involved.

Because, really, it’s not hard to see how the Red Sox could have gotten more bang for their buck:

  • Victorino is coming off a down season in which he struggled to hit righties. He might be in decline at age 32. Upton, on the other hand, could still have his best days ahead of him.
  • Making his AL debut after being traded by the Cubs, Dempster posted a 5.09 ERA in 12 starts for Texas last year. Anibal Sanchez was better after his trade to the Tigers, and he’s far younger.
  • Napoli ended up receiving a much smaller deal after his physical revealed a hip condition. The Red Sox could have moved on from him and signed Adam LaRoche for three years instead, but he would have cost a pick.

For all of their signings, the Red Sox core remains unchanged since the Adrian Gonzalez megadeal: the team is centered around Dustin Pedroia, Ortiz, Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury and maybe Clay Buchholz. It also has an emerging regular at third in Will Middlebrooks and a very good prospect trio in shortstop Xander Bogaerts, right-hander Matt Barnes and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr.

What we’ll find out over the next six months was whether the Red Sox were right to add $60 million in non-superstars to that group. If the team contends and keeps fans interested to the point at which soon-to-be-snapped Fenway Park sellout streak proves to be nothing more than a minor dip, GM Ben Cherington will be praised. But this looks to be more of an 80-85 win team as presently constructed, and if that holds up, the Red Sox will kick themselves for thinking more about 2013 than 2014-15.

What else is going on?

  • Lester and Buchholz currently rank 1st and 2nd, respectively, in the Grapefruit League in ERA. It might be worth writing off under normal circumstances, but perhaps the return of ex-pitching coach John Farrell as Boston’s new manager shouldn’t be underestimated here. Farrell was instrumental in the development of both pitchers during his first stint with the Red Sox, and at least half of the reason the Red Sox wanted him back this winter was for his ability to work with the team’s pitchers.
  • Bradley has been the shining star of camp, hitting .444/.523/.667 with two homers, 11 RBI and as many walks (eight) as strikeouts in 54 at-bats. Ortiz’s Achilles’ tendon setback has opened the door for the 22-year-old to make the team as a left fielder, with Gomes moving to DH.
  • Since Bradley is a natural center fielder, Ellsbury’s status as a free agent to be will be a frequent topic of discussion all year. Regardless of whether he returns to his near-MVP form of 2012, Ellsbury might be too expensive to keep next year, particularly since he’d likely be facing a move to left field. He’ll be a candidate to be traded this summer.
  • New closer Joel Hanrahan appears to be finding his footing now after struggling mightily the first half of camp. The Red Sox also have Andrew Bailey throwing well after an injury-ruined campaign, giving them a fallback in case Hanrahan struggles and potential trade bait come June or July.

Prediction: Fourth place, American League East.

Yoenis Cespedes plans to run more, lift less this offseason

Getty Images
2 Comments

Yoenis Cespedes plans to be in The Best Shape of His Life next season.

He didn’t really say that, but this article in the New York Post features Cespedes doing more or less what those Best Shape of His Life stories are aimed at doing: changing perceptions and/or trying to take the heat off of a poor or injury-impacted season.

In Cespedes’ case it was two hamstring injuries this year which limited him to 81 games. He hit the disabled list with a leg injury last year too. So what’s he gonna do? Less emphasis on bulk, more on running:

“I think in the past I have gone into the season where I have spent a lot of time in the gym doing a lot of lifting, so I come in feeling very strong,” Cespedes said through an interpreter before the Mets’ 5-4, 10-inning loss to the Marlins. “But I definitely wasn’t dedicating the time I need to be running, to really give resistance to my muscles.

Of course the bulk was, at the time, supposed to be to what was responsible for his resurgence after he fell off while playing with the A’s and Red Sox. Get strong, hit bombs. He did that, it worked and then the injuries came and now, apparently, that’s not supposed to be a good thing for him.

I get that bodies change and that exercise science is often an inexact science. And, where it is more exact, it’s outside of the total understanding of outsiders like us. But it often seems that guys in baseball do a thing, then do the opposite thing, then go back to doing a thing based on gut feeling. And that injuries are going to come to certain players no matter what they do.

Sandy Alderson: It’s “highly unlikely” the Mets will non-tender Matt Harvey

Getty Images
1 Comment

As we noted the other day, Matt Harvey has been terrible since coming off the disabled list. In his last four starts he’s allowed 21 runs, all earned, on 32 hits in 14.2 innings, for an ERA of 13.19. In that time he’s struck out only eight batters while walking seven. It’s fair to ask whether his accumulation of injuries — Tommy John surgery, thoracic outlet syndrome and a stress injury to his shoulder — has rendered him ineffective for more than just the short term.

In light of that, many have speculated that the Mets may not tender the arbitration-eligible Harvey a contract for 2018, making him a free agent. The thinking being that, as he makes $5.125 million right now, he’s going to make at least that and likely a bit more next year via arbitration, even in his diminished state. While many times may accept that for a chance to see if Harvey could rebound, the Mets are not in the habit of spending money they aren’t obligated to spend.

Yesterday Mets Sandy Alderson called b.s. on that, however, telling the New York Post that “it’s highly unlikely that we’re not going to bring him back next year.” The Post story adds this, though it’s unclear if it’s the reporter’s sentiment or that of the Mets:

A significant factor for the Mets, not to be underestimated, is avoiding the potential embarrassment that would come if Harvey were non-tendered by the team and then regained his form pitching elsewhere next season.

The Mets have, in the past, cut off their nose to spite their face in similar fashion. Just this summer they reportedly declined to trade Jay Bruce to the Yankees, sending him to Cleveland instead, despite was claimed to be a substantially better offer from the Yankees. The suggestion was that Mets brass did not want to see their former player helping their cross-town rival, even if the trade would be better for the Mets.

If the Mets, as Sandy Alderson says, legitimately believe that Harvey will rebound, cool: take a $6-7 million chance on him for 2018. It’d be pretty pathetic, though, if they don’t think he’ll be effective again but are simply going to keep him around to keep anyone else from lucking out on an unlikely Harvey rebound.

Either way: I hope Harvey does rebound. When he was dominant he was a special pitcher to watch. Having him return to dominance would be a good thing. No matter who he’d do it for.