Friday Update: Dombrowski Chooses Today Over Tomorrow

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When Dave Dombrowski was named Red Sox President of Baseball Operations last August, the prevailing notion was that the administrative change was a step in the right direction. Dombrowski has had a long history of building contending teams as a baseball executive, and there was no reason why he wouldn’t be able to replicate his Florida and Detroit success with a team that had more resources than many, if not all, of its competitors. Yet beneath the surface layer of cheers, there were dissenting whispers bringing up the dark side of a Dombrowski reign. “Oh, you like your prospects and organizational depth?”those whisperers said. “Well don’t get used to them. They don’t call him Dealin’ Dave for nothing”. We were warned. This is what Dombrowski does; he cashes in minor league assets for major league talent (leaving the farm system cupboard completely bare), crafts a playoff team full of All-Stars, forgets about the bullpen, and condemns the team to a cycle of near-misses in October. Continue reading

Red Sox Acquire Craig Kimbrel, Dombrowski Era is Officially Underway

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It was only a matter of time.

The Dave Dombrowski Brain Trust made its first strike of the offseason tonight, addressing the Red Sox biggest need by trading away four prospects to San Diego for closer/bullpen monster/freak of nature Craig Kimbrel. Some quick thoughts:

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What To Watch For: Fort Myers Edition

After a long snowy winter, spring is in the air. Pitchers and catchers went through their first official workouts on Saturday, and players of all positions have been participating in baseball activities as spring training gets underway. With all of the stuff that went down this offseason, all eyes are on the Red Sox in Fort Myers. There are plenty of storylines around the team this time of year. Here are some things that Sox fans should be paying attention to and/or keeping in mind as baseball season starts to get rolling:

Welcome To Boston Kung Fu Panda!

If you had the under on the “Over/Under 6.5 days before someone somewhere freaked out about Pablo Sandoval’s weight”, congratulations, you win! Sandoval showed up to camp looking less than slim, prompting a mini media firestorm (and thinkpieces about his diet) in which everyone was forced to decide whether the Panda was actually fat or if he always just happens to look like that. Sandoval responded to his critics in a not-so-jovial way, meaning that it took less than a week for our new third baseman to be at odds with the notoriously needling local media. Personally, I think it’s no big deal, but if Sandoval did indeed blow up in the offseason (honestly, it’s tough to tell if he actually gained much weight. It’s not like he was a skinny guy to begin with) and he struggles out of the gate, I can promise you that things will get ugly between him and the Boston reporters. It will be interesting to see how Sandoval looks once the actual games begin. He’s not necessarily the most athletic looking guy, but he’s known for his deceptively quick feet and soft hands at the hot corner. If Sandoval isn’t in shape, it should be apparent early. Again, it’s only spring training and he has a month and a half to get himself to where he needs to be physically.

Whatever The Heck is Going On with the Outfield

We knew that the outfield was going to be, for lack of a better term, a clusterf*** coming into the season. As of right now, the Sox have eight players competing for what is realistically only five spots between Rusney Castillo, Hanley Ramirez, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Daniel Nava, Allen Craig, Shane Victorino, and Brock Holt. Ramirez and Castillo seem to be locks to start the season out there coming into spring training, though the former is learning a new position and the latter has only had the smallest of sample sizes to work from as far as Major League experience goes. John Farrell tried to bring more clarity to the situation by naming Victorino the starting right fielder assuming he’s healthy in a move I wasn’t happy about, though that only managed to raise more questions about the status of Mookie Betts. I understand the choice on a basic level: Victorino was an integral part of 2013’s championship team and if he’s healthy enough to replicate his performance that season he is an excellent player to have in the everyday lineup both at the plate in the field. Farrell is showing loyalty to a veteran player who helped him win a World Series. But on the other hand Victorino missed all but 30 games last season with back issues, and even though he was “healthy” in 2013 he still only missed 40 games. 2013 was one of the best seasons (and luckiest, as he batted a tough to sustain .321 average on balls in play) of Victorino’s career, and at age 34 and coming off of back surgery, I seriously doubt that he will be able to be that player again.

As someone who is firmly planted on #TeamMookie, this news is concerning if only because of the potential looming Cole Hamels trade which the Red Sox may or may not make. Betts was excellent in his limited time last season, slashing .291/.368/.444 in 211 plate appearances at age 21. As one of the few recent Red Sox prospects that have actually produced at the major league level, it pains me to think about a world where he’s shipped off to Philadelphia and proceeds to be awesome for the next 12 years. While I don’t think it would have been prudent to have given him the starting job right away either, I was hoping that there would have been a positional battle this spring where Victorino and Betts would have had to win the job based on merit rather than seniority. It’s early to tell, but hopefully there is a meaningful spot for Betts on the Opening Day roster where he can contribute to the team. That leaves (likely) two more spots for 5 other players. Holt, Betts, and Craig provide positional versatility, Nava is a switch hitter and specifically crushes right-handed pitching, and while Bradley Jr. has yet to prove he has even the smallest semblance of an offensive game, he does things like this on a regular basis. It’s going to be a tough call for Farrell, and it will be interesting to see who makes the cut out there.

Henry Owens Watch 2k15

Top Red Sox pitching prospect Henry Owens was invited to spring training for the second straight year, meaning that if you follow the team you should probably take note of how he does. There’s been a lot of buzz surrounding the 22-year-old, who dominated Double A Portland before a more up and down stint at Triple A Pawtucket. Owens is the best hope for the Red Sox to develop a star pitcher from within, something they have really struggled to do in recent years. Clay Buchholz is the only homegrown pitcher in the starting rotation and while he hasn’t been as reliable as, say, recently departed Jon Lester, he’s still had some moments when healthy. Owens doesn’t project to have the same upside as Buchholz did coming up through the system, but at 6-6  205 lbs he does have the frame of a workhorse. His fastball usually sits around the low 90’s and though it isn’t an elite-level pitch Owens has benefited from increasing command. Over three levels between 2013 and 2014, Owens has seen his BB/9 drop from 4.56 in 20 starts at High A Salem at the beginning of 2013 to 2.84 in last season’s small Pawtucket sample size. Back in October Fangraphs’ Marc Hulet projected Owens as a #3 starter with potential for better if his command and secondary pitches continue to improve.That may not set the world on fire, but it would be  a victory for a Red Sox farm system looking to end a developmental drought of starting pitching.

The Chase for Yoan Moncada

Having already traded for (and subsequently trading away) Yoenis Cespedes and signing Castillo late last summer, the Red Sox are looking to dip into the Cuban talent pipeline once again with their pursuit of 19-year-old second base phenom Yoan Moncada. CBS Sports’ Jon Heyman reported late last night that the three lead candidates are the Red Sox, Yankees, and the suddenly profligate Padres, with the bidding supposedly moving north of $20 million. Moncada is highly rated by scouts due largely in part to his youth and upside. In two seasons (101 games) in the Cuban National Series, Moncada has posted a slash line of .277/.388/.380 in 367 plate appearances to go along with 21 steals despite being nearly 11 years younger than his competition. While Moncada likely wouldn’t really factor into this season’s plans and isn’t even necessarily going to be part of the team, this is absolutely a situation worth watching given that Dustin Pedroia and Pablo Sandoval are locked up for the next half decade, Xander Bogaerts is still highly regarded by the front office and manning shortstop, and Betts is already waiting in the wings in that 2B/OF spot that Moncada would likely fit into. Still, the Red Sox have never been afraid to make a splash in the international market as we learned with the Daisuke Matsuzaka and Castillo signings, so even though Moncada might not be a perfect match that the Sox have gotten this deep into the negotiating process shows that they are willing to create room for him. Regardless, this is something Sox fans should be keeping an eye on, especially if the Yankees decide to unload a pile of cash and bring Moncada to the AL East.

EDIT: MLB.com’s Jesse Sanchez tweeted out a half hour after I posted this that the Red Sox and Moncada have agreed to terms in the $30 million range. Huge investment for the Sox and one that throws Mookie Betts’ future with the team into greater uncertainty. I don’t have much to add to what I wrote here other than that it will be interesting to see where he fits into the team’s plans and that the signing gives even more depth to an already impressive farm system. This move could be a game changer.

Spring training is a time for wild speculation, shameless optimism, and is a sign that warmer weather is around the corner. There will likely be a lot more narratives that emerge over the next month plus and it’s important not to overreact to anything. That said, keep an eye on these situations for the rest of the spring. They could be telling for how the rest of the season (and in the case of Owens and Moncada, future seasons) will play out.

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.