Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz

2014 Preview: Boston Red Sox

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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 2014 season. Next up: The Boston Red Sox.

The Big Question: Have the Red Sox taken the steps necessary to avoid a post-championship decline?

No team has repeated as World Series champions since the Yankees won three straight from 1998-2000. The Red Sox, though, didn’t suffer from any championship hangovers their last two times around, winning 95 games and returning to the postseason in both 2005 and 2008.

The Red Sox didn’t desire to partake in any sort of shakeup over the winter; they just weren’t willing to outbid the Yankees for Jacoby Ellsbury or commit to substantial multiyear deals for fellow free agents Stephen Drew and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Replacing the trio will be either rookie Jackie Bradley Jr. or former superstar Grady Sizemore in center field, phenom Xander Bogaerts at shortstop and the much beloved A.J. Pierzynski behind the plate. Interestingly, the team’s only newcomer to get a multiyear deal was new setup man Edward Mujica (two years, $9.5 million).

The pitching staff has survived almost entirely intact, with the rotation set to include Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront. The surprising exit of Ryan Dempster turned heads — he gave up $13 million to spend the year with his family — but he was being viewed as a middle reliever or swingman. Replacing him in that role is left-hander Chris Capuano.

So, the Red Sox are counting on their returning stars and a gradual infusion of young talent to stave off any decline. Boasting one of the game’s very best farm systems makes that an easier choice, and if it turns out that they do need help as the season goes along, they’ll have about as much artillery to pull off a trade as any team in the league.

What else is going on?

  • The Bradley-Sizemore battle in center remains unsettled, and complicating matters is that there’s only room for one on the roster. Sizemore has shown surprising speed as he comes back from multiple knee surgeries and he’s also been making decent contact at the plate, but a month in the minors might not be a bad idea for him as he tries to shake two years of rust.
  • Working in Sizemore’s favor is that the Red Sox see him as a possibility to replace Ellsbury in the leadoff spot, whereas Bradley would hit at the bottom of the order if he wins the job. There was some thought over the winter of simply moving everyone up a spot and going with a Shane Victorino-Dustin Pedroia-David Ortiz top three with Ellsbury gone. However, that idea seems dead now, and it looks like Daniel Nava will lead off against righties if Bradley makes the team.
  • Victorino hasn’t ruled out switch-hitting entirely, but it appears he’ll focus on batting right-handed for now. It made him more of a threat against righties last year when an injury forced him to give up batting left-handed for a time, and he’s always been weaker left-handed anyway. Batting right-handed exclusively could lead to bigger numbers this year. On the other hand, it could also lead to more injuries, since he stands directly over the plate hitting right-handed and gets hit by pitches with ridiculous frequency.
  • So far, however, the injury bug that has racked fellow contenders in Texas and Detroit, as well as left Oakland minus a couple of starters, has avoided Boston. Those losses the Rangers, Tigers and A’s have suffered may not affect the AL East race, but they will help the Red Sox’s postseason chances by increasing the odds that one or both wild cards will come from their division.

Prediction: If spring training numbers are any indication, it’s going to take some time for the Red Sox lineup to start clicking. Still, the bats are there to make the team a top-three offense in the AL, and the pitching staff has both top-level talent and excellent depth. The Red Sox’s decision to largely stand pat could cost them a few wins and perhaps the AL East, but the team should return to the postseason in some form.

Second place, American League East.

Giants acquire Gordon Beckham from the Braves

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - JULY 27: Gordon Beckham #7 of the Atlanta Braves hits an RBI double against the Minnesota Twins during the first inning of the game on July 27, 2016 at Target Field in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images)
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The Giants have acquired infielder Gordon Beckham from the Braves in exchange for cash considerations, David O’Brien of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports.

Eduardo Nunez injured his hamstring on Sunday, leaving the Giants with another hole to fill at third base. Beckham isn’t eligible for inclusion on the Giants’ postseason roster.

Beckham, 30, hit .217/.300/.354 with five home runs and 30 RBI in 273 plate appearances with the Braves. He spent most of his time at second base but also spent some time at third base and shortstop. Beckham has nearly 1,500 career innings at third base, so moving back to the hot corner shouldn’t be a big deal.

Steven Matz to undergo “imminent” elbow surgery

NEW YORK, NY - AUGUST 14:  Steven Matz #32 of the New York Mets pitches in the first inning against the San Diego Padres at Citi Field on August 14, 2016 in the Flushing neighborhood of the Queens borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
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Mets GM Sandy Alderson addressed the media about the status of starter Steven Matz on Tuesday afternoon. Alderson said that Matz will undergo “imminent” elbow surgery to address a bone spur in the lefty’s elbow, Marc Carig of Newsday reports. That will end Matz’s season.

Matz was expected to return this past Friday, but was scratched due to shoulder soreness. According to Carig, the shoulder doesn’t appear to be a major issue.

Matz, 25, finishes the season with a 9-8 record, a 3.40 ERA, and a 129/31 K/BB ratio in 132 1/3 innings. It was a pretty good showing for his first full season in the majors.

The Mets enter Tuesday’s action a half-game up on the Giants for the first of two National League Wild Card slots. If the Mets can secure one of those slots and then advance to the NLDS, they will likely use a rotation that includes Noah Syndergaard, Bartolo Colon, Seth Lugo, and Robert Gsellman.