First a little disclaimer: the headline might be somewhat misleading. The Red Sox’ signing of Cuban uber-prospect Yoan Moncada does seem to stabilize the team’s infield picture, but for the future, meaning two or three years down the line. There is no current opening in the Red Sox infield, but there should be by the time Moncada is ready to show the world why the Red Sox just paid $31.5 million to a 19 year-old who has never played baseball in the United States. The tools, talent, and projectability are allegedly off the charts, so once he is ready the Red Sox might more or less have to find a spot for him, but it might not be as hard as it sounds.
Consider the Red Sox infield picture beyond the 2015 season; Mike Napoli is headed for free agency, and while he says he would like to stay beyond this season, there probably won’t be much motivation for the Red Sox to get something done beyond a one-year deal. So that leaves Dustin Pedroia and Pablo Sandoval locked up long-term, plus Xander Bogaerts sticking around at shortstop. However, given Sandoval’s less-than-inspiring physique (plus his career 0 DRS and 2.2 UZR at third), it might be best to move him to first base in the long term. If injuries or weight really become an issue, he could even DH on a near full-time basis, thereby leaving first base open for Hanley Ramirez. Regardless, the first base/DH duties should go between Sandoval and Ramirez, in whatever order the Red Sox see fit.
The past several weeks have put the Red Sox through the free agent rumor mill like we have not seen for quite some time. There are multiple sources that reported how the Red Sox are positioned to spend significant money on the free agent market this offseason, and they appear to have made offers to several big names on the market. One of their early targets is said to be former Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval, who could provide good defense and help balance the Red Sox’ righty-heavy lineup. However, when one takes a step back from all of the hype and excitement, they can objectively ask themselves: do the Red Sox really NEED Pablo Sandoval? The Red Sox are definitely a team that can afford to pay top-of-the-market rates for free agents, but Sandoval might not really be a legitimate need for the Red Sox.
Sandoval might be more of a luxury than a necessity
The first question to ask is does Sandoval fit into the Red Sox’ culture and is he the kind of player that the organization values? The Red Sox are a team that openly values hitters who take a selective approach at the plate, take pitches, and work the count. This is significant because it is an area in which Sandoval struggles greatly. Over the course of his career, Sandoval has swung at 45.7% of the pitches he has seen outside of the strike zone, and at 58.3% of the pitches he saw overall. The top three Red Sox hitters, Dustin Pedroia (career 26.1 O-Swing%, 43.2 Swing%), David Ortiz (career 22.2 O-Swing%, 44.8 Swing%), and Mike Napoli (career 24.6 O-Swing%, 42 Swing%), swing far less often. These are the kinds of guys that the Red Sox want hitting in the middle of their lineup, and preferably over the rest of it too. While it is true that the Red Sox already have a similar player to Sandoval in Yoenis Cespedes (career 37.4 O-Swing%, 50.9 Swing%), his contract is up following the coming season and his stay in Boston is far from guaranteed. In addition, there are reports that Cespedes fell out of favor with Red Sox coaches due, at least in part, to his unwillingness to change his approach at the plate. The Red Sox do not value free-swinging players as much as advanced hitters who work the count, which is something that Sandoval absolutely does not do.
The infield should be a major strength for the 2015 Boston Red Sox, if for no reason other than there are options aplenty. There will be the usual locks, like Dustin Pedroia and Mike Napoli, but there should be competition in spots for playing time that will benefit the entire lineup. There are rumblings that the Red Sox could be looking to upgrade their infield in free agency, and if that happens it will likely be a singular, high-impact event. There is lots of returning stability in the infield, but there is also room for improvement.
Pedroia is the gold standard at the keystone
The Red Sox are fortunate enough to have their middle infield locked in for 2015. Pedroia is automatic to start virtually every game, and he is the best second baseman in the game when healthy (and sometimes when he isn’t). We are also operating under the assumption that Xander Bogaerts will not be impeded from starting at shortstop (we learned our lesson last season), because he flashed his considerable potential in September (.313/.317/.490). Brock Holt will likely be the Red Sox super utility guy in 2015, but he now has experience at every single infield position, which will be immensely valuable to the Red Sox. The best move here is to allow Bogaerts the time to continue his development at short, while Pedroia sets the tone for the entire infield. There is room for improvement for Bogaerts, but playing next to the Red Sox’ best defender will help make up for the learning curve.
Predicting The 2014 Red Sox All-Stars
Unfortunately this season’s All-Star game will not be an enjoyable experience for Red Sox fans, as the team’s performance (or lack thereof) has left very few players deserving a spot on the American League squad. However, Major League rules dictate that every single team must be represented by at least one player at the Midsummer Classic, so there will at least be a lone representative for the Red Sox in Minnesota. In addition, Red Sox manager John Farrell is also the skipper of this years AL team and therefore has the final say on who makes the roster and who does not, which could lead to a few extra Red Sox being added at the last minute. The following three players are the most deserving to represent Boston at the All-Star Game.
Lester has has proven himself as one of the best starters in the AL
Lester has been a model of consistency at the top of the Red Sox rotation in 2014. He is also putting up the best numbers of his career in his walk year, setting himself up for a huge score on the free agent market in the fall. His 9-7 record is a poor reflection of Lester’s dominance this season. Lester has posted 9 K/9 and a .239 average against to go along with career-bests in BB/9 (2.14), HR/Fly Ball (6.5%), ERA (2.73), and FIP (2.75). Lester has taken his role as the staff ace and run with it, proving himself to once again be one of the premier left-handers in the game. Lester has also been very close with Farrell for quite some time, so it would be surprising to not see Lester pitching for the American League in Minnesota.
It’s Been A Long Season For The Red Sox
The time has finally come. After months of keeping up hope, defending the reigning world champs despite public ridicule, the time has finally come to blow up the whole thing and scrap the roster. While this may seem like jumping to conclusions, it is now July and the Red Sox currently sit 8.5 games back in the AL East, and a full 9 games out in the Wild Card race. Getting swept at home by the Chicago Cubs (the CUBS!!!!!) is all we need to see to know that this team needs to be broken up. This roster has not come together in the same way as it did last season, and there has been nothing to suggest that things are about to change anytime soon. Ben Cherington recently revealed that the team is currently “trying to figure out the next right move;” that right move is to start working the phones and hit the trade market with full force.
The good news, if it really is good, is that the Red Sox are in a good position to hit the trade market as one of the very few teams fully willing to sell. The extra Wild Card and the parity around baseball leaves many teams looking for upgrades, with few teams willing to provide those potential additions. This greatly favors the Red Sox, because if they act quickly they will be able to command a slightly better return than they could right before the non-waiver deadline. Fringe players who will likely provide marginal value (which the Red Sox seem to have plenty of) might be able to bring back a decent prospect in the right deal. There is a chance here to make the best of an undesirable situation by turning underperformance into potential future production.
Red Sox Should Part Ways With Jake Peavy….
Since his arrival at last season’s trade deadline, Jake Peavy has been a fan favorite for his passion, competitiveness, and for “giving the Red Sox a chance to win.” This is a guy that wears his heart on his sleeve, much like Dustin Pedroia, and seriously cares about winning. However, there has been a serious problem with Peavy this season: his pitching. Peavy has become no more than a fifth starter for the Red Sox, and an argument could be made that he should not be in the starting rotation at all in Boston. The Red Sox are in a good position with Peavy because they can move him and not suffer any kind of drop-off in performance as a result of his departure.
Peavy has been saying mostly the right things this season to add to his “gamer” perception. He battled through a start in Oakland even though he didn’t feel well, and managed to be average, which is becoming the nicest thing to say about Peavy’s performance these days. While it is true that only one pitcher in the American League gets less run support than Peavy, he has set himself up for failure by being terrible this season. His strikeouts are down (6.82 K/9 this season, 8.56 career), his walks are up (3.46 BB/9 this season, 2.74 career), and he is allowing more homeruns (1.35 HR/9 this season, 0.97 career). This mostly explains why Peavy’s 2014 ERA (4.52) sits almost a full run above his career mark (3.56). In addition, FIP (4.73) and xFip (4.36) do not expect Peavy to be any better over the remainder of the season, suggesting that Peavy has been as bad as his numbers make him seem. Couple that lackluster performance with a general lack of run support, and looks like Peavy is not doing such a great job of giving the Red Sox a chance to win after all.