Seeing as spring is an inopportune time to make baseball conclusions, we’re merely left with the inherent need to deliver prognostications bound to be off the mark in some fashion.
So here’s one pertaining to the 2015 Boston Red Sox: This team isn’t very good.
Opening Day is Monday in Philadelphia, and there already seems to be an aura of doom circling the Red Sox. Catcher Christian Vazquez is slated to have Tommy John surgery on his throwing elbow. Forty-year-old closer Koji Uehara, awarded a two-year, $18 million contract in the offseason, is likely to start the season on the disabled list with a hamstring injury. Starter Joe Kelly (11.05 spring training ERA) may very likely meet him there with biceps soreness.
Outside of Junichi Tazawa, the bullpen has more question marks than a health form, something, incidentally, manager John Farrell is likely to be filling out with some frequency this season. Nobody realistically knows what to expect out of wild card shortstop Xander Bogaerts, Pablo Sandoval’s pertinacity is up for debate after February’s fat photo affair, and Shane Victorino opens the season as an everyday right fielder, a factor strictly based on tenure, certainly not merit.
And all those concerns are before we even get to the starting staff, which, to be kind, could surprise us all and turn out to be just below average.
Sorry. It’s normally easy to get caught up in preseason hype and hope. But this Red Sox team elicits little of either, only four days from its debut.
In many ways, this team reminds me of the 2000 Red Sox, sans, of course, one Pedro Martinez. That’s the team that Sports Illustrated picked to win the World Series in its annual baseball preview. “Reason No. 1: Pedro Martinez,” read the cover headline. Reason 2: Uh…..
So, just how in the name of Rico Brogna do the Red Sox sit at 12-1 odds to win the World Series? Those are the best odds among American League teams, and only trail the Washington Nationals (7-1), Los Angeles Dodgers (17-2), and…wait the Cubs are 10-1?
I rest my case.
For a team that has finished two of the last three seasons in last place, bookending a miracle of a World Series championship, this season is a pivotal season of enormity for many involved, including Farrell and general manager Ben Cherington, who may or may not have a long-term plan for the franchise to which he’s been given the keys.
Cherington’s farm system oozes with potential, but few have so far succeeded at the big league level. Bogaerts has come closest, but he’s only 22 and hit .240 last season, one he spent shifting between third base and shortstop to make accommodations for Mendoza Line Hall of Famer Stephen Drew. If Farrell and Cherington find themselves in last place yet again, the percolating accusations that the manager can’t handle the transfer of youth at the big league level will only get louder.
Cherington also isn’t likely to escape the fact that he failed miserably at rebuilding the pitching staff after jettisoning Jon Lester and John Lackey last summer.
The return on those two, ultimately, turned out to be Kelly, Allen Craig, and Rick Porcello, not exactly Randy Johnson for Mark Langston. Kelly is a nice No. 4 starter who throws hard. Craig is a pretty good hitter without a position, blocked by Victorino and Rusney Castillo in right, as well as Mike Napoli, and, when in National League ballparks, David Ortiz at first base.
Porcello, acquired from the Tigers in December for slugger Yoenis Cespedes, might be the closest thing the team has to a bona fide, No. 1 starter, but it could be a short stay for the 26-year-old, due to be a free agent at the end of the season. The Red Sox have already proven they won’t get into a free agent bidding war for starting pitchers, and even though Porcello will be only 27 years old next season, not 31 like $155 million man Lester, there may be a better chance he’s dealt at the trading deadline than there is him remaining in Boston for the long haul.
That is, after all, what these Red Sox have been over the last few seasons, a team in constant flux, with no real philosophy. They’re a year-to-year crapshoot, reactionary in construction, apologetic in result.
In reconstructing the lineup, Cherington spent big and landed free agents Hanley Ramirez and Sandoval to complement Ortiz, Napoli, and Dustin Pedroia. That should help to drastically turn around a team that was tied for 11th in the American League in runs scored. That, of course, warrants that Pedroia is healthy, Ramirez doesn’t quit at stretches, and Ortiz doesn’t suddenly fall off the cliff he teetered on in 2009. It was a keen theory by the front office, to load up on bats, which are at a premium in the post-steroid baseball era, and try to get by with less-than-stellar pitching.
But now that we are on the doorstep to welcoming this half-assed project to fruition, the fears simply outweigh the faith. Sure, if everything breaks the right way; Cherington is able to land a premier starter this summer, Ryan Hanigan and Sandy Leon are able to handle the catching duties, Mookie Betts is everything he’s cracked up to be, Bogaerts takes another step in his development, Wade Miley induces enough ground balls to the right infielders, and Uehara’s injury fears turn out to be little more than a bump in an aging man’s body, then sure, there might be a parade.
More likely, they are like their predecessors of 15 years ago, an 85-win team that is destined to prove a major letdown.
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