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.

Your 2016 Winter Meetings Wrapup

national-harbor
Gaylord National Resort
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OXON HILL, MD — The 2016 Winter Meetings are over.  As usual, there was still no shortage of excitement this year. More trades than we’ve seen in the past even if there are still a lot of free agents on the market. Whatever the case, it should make the rest of December a bit less sleepy than it normally is.

Let’s look back at what went down here at National Harbor this week:

Well, that certainly was a lot! I hope our coverage was useful for you as baseball buzzed through its most frantic week of the offseason. And I hope you continue coming back here to keep abreast of everything happening in Major League Baseball.

Now, get me to an airport and back home.

Eighteen players selected in the Rule 5 Draft

rule-5
MLB
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OXON HILL, MD — The Rule 5 Draft just went down here at National Harbor. As always, it was the last event of the Winter Meetings. As usual, you likely don’t know most of the players selected in the Draft, even if a couple may make a splash one day in the future.

In all, 18 players were taken in the Major League phase of the Rule 5. Here they are, with the name of the team which selected them:

Round 1
1. Twins:  Miguel Diaz, RHP, Brewers
2. Reds: Luis Torrens, C, Yankees
3. Padres: Allen Cordoba, SS, Cardinals
4. Rays: Kevin Gadea, Mariners
5. Braves: Armando Rivero, RHP, Cubs
6. D-backs: Tyler Jones, RHP, Yankees
7. Brewers: Caleb Smith, LHP, Yankees
8. Angels  Justin Haley,RHP, Red Sox
9. White Sox:  Dylan Covey, RHP, A’s
10. Pirates: Tyler Webb, LHP, Yankees
11. Tigers: Daniel Stumpf, LHP, Royals
12. Orioles: Aneury Tavarez, 2B, Red Sox
13. Blue Jays: Glenn Sparkman, RHP, Royals
14. Red Sox: Josh Rutledge, INF, Rockies
15. Indians: Holby Miller, LHP, Phillies
16. Rangers: Michael Hauschild, RHP, Astros

Round 2
17. Reds:  Stuart Turner, C, Twins
18. Orioles:  Anthony Santander, OF, Indians

For a breakdown of most of these guys and their big league prospects, check this story out at Baseball America. Like I said, you don’t know most of these guys. And, while there have been some notable exceptions in Rule 5 Draft history, most won’t make a splash in the big leagues.

Each player cost their selecting team $100,000. Each player must remain on the 25-man roster of his new club for the entire season or, at the very least, on the disabled list. If he is removed from the 25-man, the team which selected him has to offer him back to his old team for a nominal fee. Sort of like a stocking fee when you return a mattress or something. Many of these guys, of course, will not be returned and, instead, will be stashed on the DL with phantom injuries.

Aren’t transactions grand?