Welcome back to Read Sox. This week we check in on the development of a couple of international players and the process involved in signing them, evaluate considerations for the trade deadline, look at the ups-and-downs of the starting rotation, hope for evolution in Mike Napoli’s struggles with the strike zone and stare longingly at the standings in search of some late-game heroics.
In the last two years the Red Sox have spent a lot of money in the International player market, signing Rusney Castillo to a 7-year, $72.5 million contract and then giving Yoan Moncada a contract with a $31.5 million signing bonus. Castillo, almost 28 years old, is still a raw talent and has struggled mightily in his limited time in the major leagues (26 games, 77 plate appearances), contributing negatively in all phases of the game. He needs to spend more time learning the game and getting regular playing time, but Boston is not the best place for that, which is why he was recently sent back to Pawtucket. Castillo’s struggles led Rob Bradford of WEEI.com to look into how the Red Sox evaluated the Cuban player, and question if they made a mistake in their process, perhaps relying too heavily on workouts rather than live game experience. Allard Baird, Red Sox vice president for player personnel, was the primary person responsible for determining Castillo’s potential value and is quoted in the article as being confident that Rusney will get things sorted out and be a strong player for the Red Sox. But the early returns on Castillo and Moncada, who currently sports a 90 wRC+ in low-A ball and did not impress Keith Law when he scouted him, are troubling for the organization. There is a lot of money tied up in these players, and beyond that, their failures could signal a considerable issue with the team’s process of identifying international talent. With that said, it is way, way too early to panic or go anywhere near labelling these players as busts – in fact, doing so would be madness – but their development from raw talent to productive major league players is important and worth following.
For the better part of the month the Red Sox have hovered around being 10 games under .500, and eightish games back of first place in the American League East. At Baseball Prospectus, the Sox’s playoff odds have dipped below 10%. The reality of all of this is that any hope of the season being a success is likely over, and the front office has some critical decisions to make at the trade deadline. There are many pieces that the Red Sox could trade but many of them will not bring much back (e.g., Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino), are unrealistic (e.g., David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia), or involve overreactions to difficult starts and big contracts (e.g., Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez). One player who could be available and should be intriguing to other teams is Clay Buchholz. Buchholz has been the Red Sox’s best starter this season, which might not be saying much given the comparison group, but stacking him up against the rest of the league shows his value: he has posted the eighth-best FIP among qualified starters in the game. To go with the solid performance, he has a team-friendly contract that includes cheap options for 2016 and 2017. All of this undoubtedly makes him attractive to other teams, but as Alex Speier of The Boston Globe writes, it also makes him a valuable piece for the Red Sox going forward. While things have gone terribly for the team this season, a lot of it has involved players underperforming their projections. The team, as currently constituted, is projected by BP to have the best winning percentage in the division the rest of the way. It is not too much of a stretch to take this as foretelling a much better outcome for a similar group in 2016. Obviously next year’s team will be different from the current group so that is perhaps not the best evidence to support things getting better next year, but the prospect of having Buchholz paired with Eduardo Rodriguez at the front end of the rotation is among the more compelling reasons to think things will improve.
With the Red Sox demoting Joe Kelly to Triple-A Pawtucket, a spot at the back-end of the rotation was made available. Justin Masterson and Brian Johnson were the most likely candidates to get the role, and the Sox selected Masterson to take the spot the first time it came up on Sunday. Masterson performed well, but CSNNE.com’s Sean McAdam thinks that Brian Johnson was the better choice then and for the future.
Speaking of Joe Kelly, he pitched well on Sunday for the PawSox, going seven innings, allowing two runs, five hits, striking out four and only walking one. As Tim Britton of the Providence Journal notes, Kelly showed improved command of his fastball and better use of his secondary pitches in the start, which are the primary goals the Red Sox have for him during this important developmental period.
Last week, Mike Napoli struck out in six consecutive plate appearances during the series with the Orioles, and looked bad doing it, glaring at umpires after a number of calls. He has struggled to adapt to the way the strike zone is being called and it is destroying his productivity (.256 TAv is down 38 points from his career norm), but Scott Lauber of the BostonHerald.com writes that despite this fact Napoli has no intention to change his approach.
Rallying to win a game when entering the 9th inning behind can be part of what makes a team fun to watch; it helps create a sense that the game is never over until the last out is record. It has happened 30 times this year across baseball, but never for the Red Sox, who are 0-38 through the weekend’s games. John Tomase of WEEI.com elaborates on the Red Sox’s stark lack of late game rallies this season.
Three Good Game Stories
Although the Red Sox lost last Thursday’s game to the Orioles thanks to Rodriguez’s struggles, there is still a lot to like in Rodriguez and, as Ryan Hannable of WEEI.com notes in his story, Buchholz reminded the rookie that he has the stuff necessary to succeed at the big league level.
Jason Mastrodonato of the BostonHerald.com writes that Brock Holt, who will be playing second base in Pedroia’s absence, was a huge part of the Red Sox’s extra-inning win on Friday against the Rays.
With questions looming about his place in the rotation, Masterson pitched well in Sunday’s win over the Rays. Julian Benbow of The Boston Globe highlights how Masterson’s time on the disabled list helped him improve his arm strength and re-align his mental approach to the game.
Photo by Gregory Fisher/USA Today Sports Images