The road to the repeat begins now, in Fort Myers, Florida, the spring training site of the 2018 World Series Champion Boston Red Sox. With no major acquisitions this offseason, unlike the 5+ years, the Sox head into camp with 23 out of the 25 players from last year’s team. While we don’t have big storylines like teams in the Harper race or teams who did make bigtime acquisitions there are still some questions that need to be answered.
Too many bullpen pieces? – I believe that this bullpen dilemma is being blown way out of proportion. Yes, the Yankees signed Ottavino, who wasn’t extremely better than David Robertson, and resigned Britton but these moves are not an extreme upgrade over what they had last year. Also due to the recognition of the names the Red Sox lost, Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly, people are calling this bullpen potentially worst in the league. Yeah, not so fast. After what has been a lot of recovery time, both Steven Wright and Tyler Thornburg are healthy and ready to prove their worth. Wright pitched extremely well last year and has been confirmed to be a full-time reliever. Matt Barnes had a career year, carried that success into the postseason and has continued to get better in recent years. Ryan Brasier was a break out for the Red Sox with his big fastball and wicked slider. Brandon Workman had a bad spring but was effective in limited major league appearances, but he’s looked good early with his curve seeming more effective. Then Colton Brewer and my sleeper Erasmo Ramirez, Brewer has some great stuff but never clicked with the Padres, but the Red Sox think they’ve cracked the code by changing his mound positioning, something they had great success with, in respect to David Price and Eduardo Rodriguez last year. Ramirez was a bullpen/swing starter for the Mariners and brings a somewhat different look for the Red Sox. Cora has stated he wants to have a sixth starter to start the season because of the 11 games in 11 days the Red Sox have to start the season, on the west coast. He will have to compete with Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez, but he’ll have plenty of opportunities to prove himself. Not to mention some guys I left out so this isn’t even more of a giant section
How does the roster shape out? – Assuming Dustin Pedroia and the aforementioned Wright and Thornburg are set for opening day, which seems to be the belief around the team, there aren’t too many spots up for grabs. The Red Sox only plan on keeping 2 catchers, so there’s a race there between Vazquez, Leon and Swihart (more on him later). The infield is on lock for now, Moreland and Pearce split time at first, Pedroia, and Bogaerts up the middle and Devers at the hot corner, with utility men Holt and Nunez. The best outfield in the majors returns with Benintendi, Bradley Jr and Betts and Martinez as the primary DH and part time outfielder (Holt and Nunez also both have corner outfield experience while Betts and Benintendi can both play centerfield). That’s 13 out of 25. Then the 5 starting pitchers are also locked down; Sale, Price, Eovaldi, Porcello and Rodriguez. That’s 18 out of 25. My bullpen projection is Wright, Workman, Barnes, Brasier, Thornburg, Brewer, Ramirez/Velazquez/Johnson. That would be 25. But there is one more possibility that I believe is on the horizon.
Trades? – I am firmly in the camp of believing Swihart will be traded, probably among others like a Johnson or Velazquez, for a quality reliever. Swihart is young, cheap, controllable, has offensive potential and is athletic enough to play many positions. He could be a dream for a rebuilding team, whether that be starting a rebuild or trying to finish it. Dombrowski has made it known that he doesn’t want to carry 3 catchers on opening day, why not trade Swihart while we have some young catchers developing and Vazquez signed his extension last offseason. One more quality bullpen arm wouldn’t hurt.
Prospect season – Another misconception, the Red Sox farm system is depleted. Maybe a bit at the top but not really no. They have young promising arms in Darwinzon Hernandez, Bryan Mata, and Durbin Feltman among others. Promising position players like Bobby Dalbec, Triston Casas and the only Red Sox prospect ranked in the MLB top 100 prospect list: Michael Chavis. These young players have the chance to prove themselves and get placed higher in the farm system, the double AA or triple AAA level. The thing I don’t understand is this Red Sox scouting and development team found all these prospects they had when they were a highly ranked farm system, some guys went in trades for Chris Sale for example, and some are impacting the major league club, Benintendi and Devers most recently. If they had a top farm system as recently as a few years ago why can’t they do it again? It’s not like they got lucky on a dozen or so prospects. If the players the Sox have can continue to impress and rise through the ranks, they could have an impact on the major league club this year and/or for years to come. With some free agents on the horizon.
Free agency looming: The Sox have decisions to make in the coming years, Bogaerts and Sale among others become free agents this offseason. Mookie has free agency on the horizon. Despite getting out from some bad pre Dombrowski contracts after this season they can’t afford everyone. There are discussions going one between Sale and the Sox on an extension and hopefully they can retain Bogaerts as well. JD Martinez can opt out next offseason, but it is very possible he doesn’t if he feels comfortable with his deal and doesn’t want to go back into this terribly slow free agent market.