Welcome back to Read Sox. This week we evaluate free agent starting pitching options, Hanley Ramirez making another position change, improvements from Rick Porcello and Joe Kelly, squash concerns about Xander Bogaerts’ lack of power, and laud Torey Lovullo for his deft managerial approach during a difficult time.
The Red Sox’s 2015 pitching staff has been a disaster. They rank 27th, 23rd, and 14th by ERA, FIP, and DRA, respectively. It is clear that Dave Dombrowski has work to do this offseason to fix this significant flaw. While an established way to build a bullpen remains elusive, having a strong starting rotation can have positive effects on the group that relieves them. Last Friday, Matthew Kory examined options for improving the rotation that could come via trade, while John Tomase of WEEI.com assessed players that will be available to the Sox through free agency. The big names that will be available are Johnny Cueto, Zack Greinke, David Price and Jordan Zimmerman. To me, Greinke and Price are the most attractive of this group, but will likely come with the highest price tag, making them that much more difficult to lock down. If one of those marquee players is not signed, Dombrowski could aim to get someone (or a couple of someones) from the second tier, which includes Scott Kazmir, Jeff Samardzija, Doug Fister and Matt Latos. Ben Cherington not signing a true ace for the 2015 team was a focus for much of this season, and certainly in some circles is considered a primary reason for why the team failed this year, but that is not an accurate assessment and as such is not really a valid reason to avoid targeting second- or third-tier guys again. Adding an arm or two to the starting rotation would allow some players who are being considered for a rotation spot to be moved to the bullpen (e.g., Joe Kelly, Matt Barnes, Brian Johnson, Steven Wright), which should improve that aspect of the team without additional financial commitment. It is evident that there are many, many interesting decisions to be made by the Red Sox’s front office – whoever that may include – this offseason to piece together the 2016 roster.
One decision regarding the 2016 roster that appears to already be progressing is moving Hanley Ramirez out of left field. As you may have heard, Hanley has been an unmitigated disaster in left field this season. Moving him off the position allows the team to play Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Rusney Castillo in the outfield full time, providing a huge upgrade defensively. Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe documented how Brian Butterfield and David Ortiz have been working with Hanley at first base. Thus, it appears clear that Hanley will continue his descent down the defensive spectrum for at least another season, before likely taking the designated hitter spot when Ortiz is done. There is considerable risk that comes with playing Hanley at first base, as he now has a defensive impact on more parts of the game than he did while out in left field. I recognize the risk, but I think it is the right decision. I do not mean to suggest that it will be an easy transition, but it should be easier. Having a healthy Hanley – he has reportedly been playing through injury for much of the season – in the lineup everyday is important for the Sox’s success, so hopefully this new move works better than the last one. An interesting part of the decision to move Hanley to first is that it leaves Travis Shaw in limbo for (at least) another season. Since being called up to the big leagues Shaw has done nothing but perform well: .301 TAv in 112 plate appearances (PA), and 1.3 fielding runs above average (FRAA) at first base. Hanley moving to first keeps Shaw without a clear everyday role on the 2016 major league team, but Jason Mastrodonato of BostonHerald.com suggests that Shaw is also an option at third base. However, having Shaw at third requires trading one of Hanley or Pablo Sandoval, which is another can of worms. For next year, Shaw will end up as a bench option on the major league club or spend the season at Pawtucket, and his role will be re-evaluated as part of the plan for the 2017 Red Sox.
Transitioning to a new team, city, fanbase, and manager can take different periods of time for different players. Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe writes that Rick Porcello is a player for whom the acclimation process took longer than expected, and that may have contributed to his early season performance woes.
Through Monday’s game Xander Bogaerts has a .405 slugging and a .090 isolated power, which are both considerably lower than was expected of him, but Red Sox hitting coach Chili Davis does not care. Tim Britton of the Providence Journal describes how the team is happy with Xander’s approach at the plate, in which he consistently makes contact and shows a willingness to drive the ball the other way.
Joe Kelly had a really nice month of August, earning a win in each of his six starts, which has Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com comparing Kelly to Pedro Martinez. While Kelly has been better of late, we should probably pump the brakes on him now being an elite starter. In his August starts, Kelly struck out fewer batters than is typical, walked more, induced fewer ground balls, and stranded a really high percentage of baserunners.
As mentioned, it has been a tumultuous month for the Red Sox organization, placing many people in difficult and likely temporary positions. Acting manager Torey Lovullo is one such person. But as Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe notes in his excellent feature of Lovullo, he has handled the change admirably and should be considered this offseason for any available managerial positions.
Three Good Game Stories
The Sox earned a victory over the Mets and Matt Harvey on Friday night, a win that Rob Bradford of WEEI.com notes provided one of the few positive memorable moments of the season.
Eduardo Rodriguez and the Red Sox squeaked out a win over the Yankees on Monday night. Rodriguez, given extra rest coming into the start, was not at his best, but Michael Silverman of the BostonHerald.com reminds us that Rodriguez has pitched well against the difficult Yankees’ lineup three times in his young career.
Photo by Jason Getz/USA Today Sports Images