Hot Stove Shuffle

While things may have cooled down at the moment, the Red Sox certainly have had a busy offseason so far, busy enough at least to prompt an email chain between Greg and Pat. Here’s what we had to say about the Sox winter so far:

Greg: STUFF HAPPENED. Also, let me be the first to welcome you to the blog!

Pat: I KNOW (and thank you).  Well, sort of. I was working full time last semester, and apparently checking Twitter and doing research on baseball-reference is frowned upon in the corporate world. Wanna fill me in on the latest Sox moves?

Greg: Ah, the joys of Co-op, Anyways you’ve only missed a few major moves, and by a few I mean three. The Red Sox shored up their pitching staff by first shipping Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster off to Arizona for starter Wade Miley (a move I really liked) in mid-December before turning around around the next day and finally trading Yoenis Cespedes along with Alex Wilson and minor league right hander Gabe Speier for Rick Porcello (a move I REALLY liked). Oh and they picked up Justin Masterson by inking him to a one year, incentive laden deal. It was a busy few days to say the least.

Pat: Nooooooo Rubby! Loved that guy, thought he was going to be mini-Pedro. Solid pickups, though, so maybe it was worth it.
I was really worried about the rotation -never mind the bullpen, which is too frightening to think about- going into this offseason, especially after the losing out on Lester. But those moves were a huge step forward. Porcello can be dominant at times, Miley is a workhorse, and Masterson has had some sneaky good stretches over the past couple years.
Though the moves last month helped, I still don’t think the rotation is where it needs to be. You can’t win in October with just a solid rotation. You need at least one, preferably two, elite blue-chip starters on your staff. Is Clay Buchholz really going to be our elite guy? Can Porcello take a big leap? I doubt it. If only there was an ace lefty on the market who loved Boston, was loved by Boston, and publicly said he’d love to be here…

Greg: We’d offer him the same amount that we offered Josh Beckett four years ago!I agree that the bullpen could use some work. Koji looked tired at the end of last season and as he hits 40 he isn’t getting any younger or more effective. Tazawa is still here, but Breslow is gone (though he never recovered from his World Series meltdown anyway), Miller is gone, even Wilson gave some solid innings out of the ‘pen. I guess it’s going to be Burke Badenhop time! Get excited!

Seriously though, while Miley and Porcello  aren’t #1 starters, their peripheral stats indicate they could have success in Boston. Both guys are sinkerball, grounder inducing types who pitch to contact. Both were in the top 25 among qualifying starters last season for groundball to flyball ratio, with Miley (16) posting a 1.99 mark and Porcello (T-25) posting a 1.80 mark.
Although Miley’s ERA went up nearly a full run from 2013 to 2014, he duplicated his 3.98 FIP, meaning he might have just had some poor luck. He also posted a career best in K/9. Hell, Fangraphs pointed out that his stats since 2012 aren’t that far off from Jeff Samardzija. If nothing else, he’s a solid #3 starter who’s ability to keep the ball on the ground is going to be useful with Hanley Ramirez patrolling left field.
As for Porcello, he’s coming off a career year and is only 25, so needless to say I’m pretty psyched about that. But you’re right, unless Clay Buchholz decides to A) pitch 200 innings this year (if you believe that I have several bridges to sell you) and B) look like the guy from the first few months of 2013 and not whatever the heck that was that took the mound last season, the Sox seem like they might be a pitcher short.

Pat: No matter what happens with Buchholz, I still am pretty content with the current state of the rotation. For as long as I can remember, depth and consistency have been the Sox’ biggest issues when it comes to their starting five. This was more evident than ever last year. The Sox had nine pitchers start ten or more games. Now, trading away 3/5 of their starting rotation certainly had a lot to do with that, but the lack of reliable arms was frightening. Of those nine pitchers, all but Lester and Lackey had an ERA well above 4.00. Four of them had an ERA over 5.00. Yikes.

To put that putrid pitching into perspective, their AL East counterparts featured rotations such as the Orioles (six starters with over ten starts, only one with an ERA over 4.00), the Rays (six starters over ten starts, only three with an ERA above 4.00), and the Blue Jays (five starters over ten games, only two with an ERA above 4.00). The Yanks similarly had nine pitchers with 10 or more starts, but when looking at their top 7 pitchers in regards to amount of starts, only two had an ERA over 4.00, and three of them had a sub-3.00 mark. You just can’t compete in a division with that type of pitching when you’re counting on guys like Allen Webster and Brandon Workman to be pillars of your rotation.

Barring any injuries, they now have a solid core of pitchers with proven track records to build around. Yes, they are in desperate need of an ace, but at least we won’t have to flip to NESN at 7:00 each night without having the slightest clue whose turn it is to give up 4 runs and 7 hits in 5 innings. They still have some work to do, but there are plenty of big names available on the free agent/trade market (see: Hamels, Cole or Shields, James “Big Game”). Even if they strike out in free agency, the Sox have a surplus of offense to trade away this offseason or sometime before the trade deadline. With a stable of both young and veteran position players, the Sox should have a few viable options to find their head of the rotation and shore up their pitching staff.
Greg: I’m glad you brought up the Orioles, because that’s a rotation that I actually point to with regards to the way this Red Sox staff could potentially perform next season. Who was the “ace” of that staff last season? Chris Tillman? Wei Yin-Chen? Bud Norris? Kevin Gausman was great in his 20 starts, but he didn’t exactly carry the staff. Generally speaking,Orioles starters outperformed their peripherals by a wide margin, and that solid performance coupled with an offense that led the American League in runs scored despite injuries to Machado and Wieters and a no show year from Chris Davis was enough to push them to the ALCS.

I know I might be being a little bit pessimistic here, but even with the acquisitions of Ramirez and Sandoval I’m worried about the offensive side of things. Ortiz is pushing 40, Pedroia’s OPS has been steadily declining since 2011, Ramirez has struggled to stay healthy (and isn’t exactly the best guy to have around in the clubhouse),  Castillo is a huge question mark…it feels like a lot is riding on Mookie Betts to improve on what we saw from him last year (which, granted, was impressive) and Xander Bogaerts to improve on a disappointing rookie season.

Pat: The Sox offense has A LOT of variables, but plenty of upside. Given Ortiz’s age, the only hitter we can safely say for sure will produce is newly acquired Sandoval. Even if Papi does what he usually does, that leaves 7 big question marks in their lineup. Not great.
Good news is, though, just like the rotation, the Sox have plenty of options in their lineup. Just take the outfield for example. Hanley, Castillo, Craig, Nava, Betts, Bradley Jr., Victorino. That’s six, SIX, major league capable players. The veterans have injury issues and the young guys are unproven, but that’s a really solid mix of veteran and young talent that I’m hopeful Farrell can figure out how to use. I’m thinking the opening day lineup will be Hanley-Castillo-Victorino, but given age and performance, I think all 3 positions are up for grabs throughout the year.
I’ll let you tackle the infield and catchers, but one quick word about Pedroia. I’m terrified. He looked straight up below average last year, and the sad thing is, it doesn’t appear to be an anomaly. As you pointed out, he’s been trending steadily in that direction. If this was Mike Napoli, I’d say whatever, replace him with Nava or someone and we’ll be fine. But this is our de facto captain and the heart and soul of our club. Our Jeter. With Betts waiting in the wings and not much room for him in the outfield, how much time does Pedey have left? Does he make through this season as an everyday starter? I honestly don’t know.

Greg: I’d be shocked if Pedroia isn’t the starting second baseman by season’s end as long as he’s not injured. I think what Betts gives the Sox is flexibility, because he can not only play the outfield (and I believe he should start over Victorino, who’s coming off back surgery), but he can also sub in for Pedey when the latter is feeling banged up, which is especially useful considering Pedroia’s tendency to play through injuries whether doing so is actually helping the team or not.

Other than that, the infield will likely look similar to last year except for third where Sandoval’s slightly above average production and solid glove will be a massive upgrade over what the Sox got from that position last year. Holtmania is looking like an odd man out, Bogaerts will hopefully be manning shortstop full time after being inexplicably usurped by Stephen Drew in the middle of last season, and Middlebrooks has been exiled to San Diego for veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan (playing the David Ross role this year) after another lost season at the plate.
Losing Middlebrooks for nothing hurts, not only because of the potential he flashed in 2012 before suffering a wrist injury or because of the constant butting heads with Red Sox coaching, but because now this means we lost Jenny Dell for nothing.

Pat: At this point, all we can do is speculate how this team is going to piece together. Are guys like Pedroia and Ortiz going to start REALLY showing their age? Can young studs Mookie and Xander take a leap forward? Can you compete in October with just a “solid” rotation? Or are the Sox still looking to land an ace? Who knows.

We’ll obviously tackle these questions and much more as the offseason progresses, but for now, I think it’s safe to say we’re a lot better off than we were in September after a disastrous title defense. I’m excited to see where this team can go. We certainly have the major league talent and minor league trade bait to field a legit contender. And if the baseball gods conspire against us once again, at least it can’t be as bad as last year, right? Right?
Greg: Right. And even with Scherzer off the market as of yesterday, there are still a plethora of pitching options to be had, either on Scherzer’s new team or elsewhere. Like you said, the pieces are in place for a solid foundation, and if nothing else it’s good to see that the team is at least being proactive this offseason. We’ll have to wait and see, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there’s one more move to come before pitchers and catchers report.

One thought on “Hot Stove Shuffle

  1. Boys, I meant to write a response to this a long time ago but I wanted to wait a little to see how offseason was going to finish up. With Shields coming off the market and the Phillies asking for the moon in Hamels. I want to tackle the pitching staff first, but from a different angle. While the starting 5 has been talked about all offseason, it’s the bullpen that worries me. To me, I felt that Cherington was trying to emulate what the Royals did this past year. They were able to hide an average rotation by having an amazing bullpen. Unfortunately, Cherington quickly realized that he couldn’t find three 100mph throwing pitchers to put in his bullpen. That being said, they do have some interesting pieces. Mujica is someone who can be one of those “flame-throwers” as he has some zip on his fastball. What worries me is how bad he was last year. I don’t think people really noticed the bullpen unless it was Koji because of how bad the starting pitching was in 2014. A 3.90 ERA isn’t the worst I’ve ever seen, but when paired with a .294 average against it starts to look shaky. Taking out his rookie year, they were career highs and I’m still not at the alarming part. His 4.99 home ERA is borderline embarrassing. As its shaping up, he is going to be a 7th or 8th inning guy to get to Koji, but what can we really expect from him. Anthony Varvaro is a sort of wildcard, as his stats are decent, but only has about 2 years of full seasons under his belt. Like his upside and Sox obviously feel he can contribute so let’s see what we got. The last piece that is overlooked is the man with the smoothest name, Robbie Ross Jr. Texas used him out of the bullpen, but he has some promise in being a starter. Now I know the Red Sox just want him to be in the bullpen, but does he want to be a left-handed specialist? From what I can see, he profiles to be a set-up man. I could see him eventually being an Andrew Miller-type, almost a lefty that can be a force against lefties and righties. His 2013 stats are hopefully more of a showing of what we will see here, as 2014 was nothing to smile about. This bullpen has even more question marks with Koji, Ogando, and Breslow hoping to bounce back. One thing to keep an eye on is Justin Masterson. Is either Barnes or Owens ready to take that number 5 spot yet? Or Eduardo Rodriguez (who I think needs more time than the other 2)? Something to keep an eye on as Masterson could be more valuable out of the bullpen than as a starter.
    On to the lineup. As you two pointed out, we got a ton of question marks. At the top of that list, I agree, is what can we expect from Dustin Pedroia? He says he is fully healthy for the first time in a couple years and he’ll hit .400. Surprisingly, it wouldn’t surprise me if he hit .400 cause laser show. On a serious note, Pat hit the nail on the head here by saying Pedroia is the heart and soul of this team. To paraphrase Mikey Felger, Pedroia is a player you need to win championships. He is a Julian Edelman type, a player who can thrive when the team is sputtering for a period of time (I still have my Patriots hard-on). Every team needs that pulse and with Lasershow and maybe the Panda, we have two. Say what you want about Sandoval, he was the heart of the Giants for those three rings. They do not win even one ring without him. His smooth attitude (as shown by the overplaying of him winking at the FOX camera in game 7) and experience will help Pedroia capture what he once was; the driving force being the Red Sox. I expect a bounce back year for Dusty.
    I don’t think I’ve been more excited/nervous/confused for a signing than I was when Hanley Ramirez committed to the Sox. Everything the media threw at us after the Beckett/Lowell deal was that Hanley was a black mark in the locker room, almost a type of Mini-Manny. So to think that the Sox would want to experience that again, with much less production, was shocking.(Small tangent here: I think the most underrated person in Boston is Ben Cherington. It’s not even the fact that he’ good at his job, because frankly he got lucky one year. But the BALLS on this guy is unreal. The first major move he makes is trading Gonzalez/Crawford/Beckett for payroll flexibility. No one even questioned it and there is no freakin’ cap in baseball! That offseason, he hard-balled Napoli and that worked. Then, after Lester says he would take less to stay, he ships his ass out. The STONES to do that is unreal. The most beloved pitcher since Pedro, and Cherington says get the hell out. But wait, it gets better. Ownership begs him to sign Stephen Drew when you know Benny didn’t want him at all. After that failed miserably, he trades him to the YANKEES. Don’t tell me that meeting when over well with Lucchino and Henry trading with the Yankees. That’s a no-no. He’s got a giant nutsack and not afraid to show them off. LOVE HIM. Back to Hanley). So The Return of Hanley goes one of two ways, right? Either he performs great for three years before tailing off on the last two, but not enough where you regret the deal. Or this thing blows up before Spring Training ends and Cherington trades him to the Magic Johnson for Joc. Well, a man can dream right? Let’s hope we get three years of 30 plus homers with 100 plus RBIs. For 22 million a year, we shouldn’t expect anything less.
    Excellent article by you guys, but I just wanted to throw my input in for the few areas not touched. I’m extremely excited for Spring Training this year with literally every position having a good storyline. Be good, and pump out more articles (screw college work/real life).


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