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.
After weeks of speculation, debate, and anticipation, the Red Sox finally moved Jon Lester in a trade that will reshape the current major league roster. On the morning of the 2014 non-waiver trade deadline, the Sox shipped Lester (along with Jonny Gomes and cash) to Oakland in exchange for two-time reigning Home Run Derby Champion (and outfield cannon holder) Yoenis Cespedes and a 2015 Competitive Balance Round B draft pick. While it is sad to see a player such as Jon Lester go, the return for him is substantial, as is the chance that the Red Sox could make a run at bringing Lester back in free agency following the season.
Cespedes could be a difference-maker in Boston
This trade represents a slight surprise to most fans due to the fact that all trade talk involving Lester up to this point suggested that the Red Sox were seeking several high-level prospects for Lester, as opposed to established major leaguers. In hindsight, a return such as this should have been expected, since it would be hard for any opposing general manager to justify trading multiple high-impact prospects for two months of Lester’s services. But in getting Cespedes, Ben Cherington filled one of the Red Sox’ most glaring needs: an outfield bat that can hit in the middle of the lineup. The Red Sox’ offensive struggles have been well documented in 2014, and the outfield has been a key contributor (or non-contributor). To this point in 2014, Cespedes brings a .256/.303/.464 triple-slash, good for a .332 wOBA and 113 wRC+. While these numbers on their surface may make Cespedes seem like a relatively unimpressive player, other stats such as his .208 ISO and .278 BABIP suggest that there is room for improvement in his game. This is all to say nothing of the effect playing all of your home games at the O.co Coliseum can have on one’s offensive numbers. When taking into context Cespedes’s career numbers (in addition to the fact that he will not turn 29 until October), it is not unreasonable to think that he could put up a line closer to his rookie season in 2012 (.292/.356/.505) with a full season’s worth of home games at Fenway Park.
Holt has been the Red Sox’ unsung hero in 2014
Until recently, one of the major issues facing the Red Sox’ lineup was getting production out of the leadoff spot following Jacoby Ellsbury’s defection to the Bronx. Several players have been thrown into the mix throughout the course of the 2104 season, including Daniel Nava, Grady Sizemore, and Dustin Pedroia. None of those players provided much of a spark at the top of the order, and it was becoming clear that an upgrade was necessary if the offense hoped to gain any kind of potency for the rest of the season. Enter injury replacement call-up Brock Holt. Holt has been one of the hottest hitters in the game since he was called back to Boston on April 18th, and he deserves a permanent spot on the Red Sox roster.
Holt has so far provided a spark that the top of the Red Sox lineup had been lacking before his placement there. He has only been hitting out of the leadoff spot for about a week, but Holt has put up a very respectable .305/.352/.427 triple-slash, with a couple stolen bases mixed in. The Red Sox feature several hitters that have good on-base ability and can set the table for the rest of the lineup, but so far none of them have been able to consistently do it from atop the lineup as Holt has done this season. Holt has been the prototypical leadoff type of hitter this season: one that hits for a high average, can get on base, and is athletic enough to at least put pressure on the defense from the basepaths. The Red Sox need to make every effort to keep Holt atop the lineup as much as possible.
After the Red Sox lost ten games in a row, a winning streak was in order right? Well tonight the Sox have a chance to sweep a home and home interleague series with the Atlanta Braves. Losing ten games in a row has to deflate a team and the Sunday afternoon happenings in Tampa Bay seemed to be an example. The benches cleared after Yunel Escobar stole third base up 5 runs in the 7th inning. Escobar began yelling into the Red Sox dugout, even taking off his helmet and walking towards the dugout. Jonny Gomes came in from left field and shoved Escobar, both were ejected. The Red Sox needed something to take their losing streak out on; maybe Escobar stealing third sparked the team.
Clay Buchholz might be missing an extended period of time.
Monday’s afternoon game in Atlanta, Clay Buchholz had no command of the strike zone. He walked 8 in just 3 innings of work and rumors began to swirl that he was injured during the game. Manager John Farrell even went as far to say that Buchholz lost seven pounds during the start. Yesterday afternoon Buchholz was played on the disabled list with a hyperextended knee. If Red Sox fans know Buchholz expect him to miss more than 15 days, as every June Buchholz seems to spend an extended time on the disabled list. The team might do better without him as he has a 7.02 ERA. The offense came back from a five run deficit, behind David Ortiz’s 4 RBI and went onto win the game 8-6.
Tuesday’s game was something Jon Lester did not enjoy on the mound, but ended up coming out on top. Lester was seen barking at the home plate umpire on multiple occasions yet not getting tossed or even reprimanded. Lester, who has had many problems with home plate umpires strike zones, fought through a strike zone to which he thought he was getting squeezed and the Sox prevailed yet again 6-3. Jackie Bradley Jr. had a huge two run single in the top of the 7th that put the Sox up by 3. Bradley had been really struggling at the plate as of late, so him contributing in a big spot will do wonders for his confidence.
Manny Ramirez emerged again from the Green Monster prior to last night’s game.
Before last night’s game the Sox welcomed back the 2004 World Series team for a 10 year reunion and all the familiar faces were there. Pedro, Varitek, Wakefield, Damon, even Manny Ramirez made the return to Fenway. The current day team won yet again behind great pitching from John Lackey who went 6 and 1/3 shutout innings striking out 9. Young players Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley lead the offense with 3 and 2 hits respectively. Bogaerts has really come on offensively of late and is now batting in the two hole ahead of Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz. The Sox need those three to carry the lineup Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli are out.
Last night was the first time the Sox won three in a row all year. They were the last team to accomplish that feat. They jumped over the Rays into fourth place in the division but they still have a lot of work to do. Losing ten games in a row puts you in a real rut. They are still 6 games under .500 which seems like they just do not want to go over this year. The Blue Jays lead the division and are ten games over .500, 8 games up on the Sox. If the Sox want to really catch up quickly they will need to avenge last weekend’s sweep in Tampa and return the favor at Fenway starting tomorrow night. Three in a row is nice, but this team still has a long way to go.