The Red Sox announced the expected this afternoon with Grady Sizemore being named to the Opening Day roster and Jackie Bradley being sent to AAA Pawtucket. When Jacoby Ellsbury left for the Yankees this winter it was expected that Bradley was going to man centerfield. Sizemore was brought it on a now risk contract, with no one really knowing if he would make any impact at all. This spring he has showed maybe he can still be part of what he once was, after missing over two years.
Craig Breslow and Steven Wright were placed on the disabled list last night after both did not appear in a game this spring. Wright had sports hernia surgery and will likely be out until May. Wright, was not expected to make the roster but would provide depth in the AAA rotation that will feature the likes of Matt Barnes and Allen Webster. Breslow, appeared in a minor league game this week and like last spring will start the year on the disabled list. The workload of last season has forced the Sox to be careful with Breslow this spring and will likely not be out too long. He can come off the disabled list April 5th at the earliest, meaning he could only miss four games to start the year.
Last season the Red Sox got contributions from the most unlikely of characters. Daniel Nava was an on base machine. Koji Uehara was nearly untouchable during the second half and the run to the World Series. John Lackey was a pleasant surprise and was more of the pitcher during his days with the Angels, after missing the entire 2012 season. This year those three will likely not perform as well as last season, but anything close to last season and this team will be in it in October. What players will need to perform at a high level for the Red Sox to succeed this season? I have three players to expect to step up this season and pick up their games.
Middlebrooks is an interesting case as he burst onto the scene during the horrible 2012 season and was really the only bright spot that year. Last season he was given the third base job from the start and besides a three homer game early in the season brought not much to the table. He started the season hitting fifth and was quickly moved down as far as ninth in the lineup. The Sox had Jose Iglesias grasp third base and then replaced Middlebrooks at third with Middlebrooks being sent down to Pawtucket. Middlebrooks came back up after Iglesias was traded to the Tigers and looked better in the second half but then was replaced by another shortstop learning third, Xander Bogaerts.
Will Middlebrooks is in a make or break year.
Middlebrooks came to Spring Training looking like a man on a mission, looking stronger and seeming like he did not want to lose his job again this year. The Sox did not resign Stephen Drew which I feel is a testament to how they believe in Middlebrooks. Third base depth in the organization is relatively small besides Garin Cecchini, who will start the year in Pawtucket. Middlebrooks will probably hit eighth or ninth in the Red Sox lineup to start the year with the hope he will move up to as high as fifth behind Napoli. No question he has power and has worked on his defense, but cutting down on the strikeouts and being able to go the other way should be a main focus this season. He is in a make or break year and I expect him to prove his worth.
Peavy came over from the White Sox in a late July trade and provided the Sox with rotation depth with Clay Buchholz on the shelf. Thankfully for the Sox he wasn’t just a rental and had another year left on his contract. With Ryan Dempster sitting out the year Peavy got his spot in the rotation guaranteed as one of those two likely would have been dealt as they were battling for the fifth spot in the rotation. After a few so-so years with the White Sox where he suffered from an array of injuries, Peavy has said this spring that he is as healthy as he was in his San Diego days where he won a Cy Young Award.
Jake Peavy brings the bulldog mentality the Sox rotation needs.
I expect Peavy to be a key cog in the Sox rotation, and provide the Sox with what John Lackey provided last season. A healthy Peavy, who is still just 32 years old, will put less pressure on Clay Buchholz as Sox fans cannot expect him to make 30 starts in a season. Peavy does not have to be Cy Young material but the Sox won last year because of their rotation depth and Peavy was part of the reason.
Koji Uehara was the Sox fourth closer last season. Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey were both out for the season by May, and Junichi Tazawa did not take on the role like the team wished. Uehara worked an unprecedented pace and mowed down hitters through July and August. The workload continued into October where he was counted on to get some four and five out saves and did so. Mujica, was the Cardinals closer for most of the last season until late in the season where he wore down and was rarely used in the postseason. The Sox signed him to a two year deal this offseason, addressing a need in the bullpen, as depth is something every team needs going into the season.
Edward Mujica will likely get many save opportunities this season.
Mujica will likely be the arm John Farrell uses in the ninth inning when Uehara needs a day off. Look for Mujica to get a lot of save opportunities in April and May as the Sox try to keep Uehara fresh for opportunities late in the season. Mujica might not have the strikeouts that Uehara has but he did have 37 saves last year in 41 opportunities. In order for Uehara to be successful I feel Mujica will have to a key cog in the Sox bullpen. Andrew Miller and Junichi Tazawa will also be counted on but we know what they are capable of, Mujica will need to burst onto the scene and Sox fans will embrace him like Koji’s high fives.
Middlebrooks, Peavy, and Mujica will all be counted on this season but I feel they can all perform better than anticipated. Nava, Uehara and Lackey were not expected to perform the way they did and everybody was in love with them last summer. With the season starting Monday Sox fans have many expectations coming off a World Series Championship. Don’t be surprised if these three make an impact in April and Peavy seems beyond excited to start the home opener on Friday. Are you excited Sox fans?