Welcome back to Read Sox. This week we take another look at what the team can do to improve the pitching, consider a couple of areas on offense that were deficient, explore depth at catcher and in the outfield and check-in with some old friends.
The Red Sox front office has a lot of work to do this offseason to mould the roster into a collection of talent that will win more often than it loses. According to Sean McAdam of CSNNE.com (and really anyone else who attended last week’s press conference), Dave Dombrowski is focused on improving the pitching staff. The best way to go about doing so remains unclear. Sign free agents? Trade prospects/younger players? While the Red Sox tend to have one of the highest payrolls in the game, it seems clear that not all of the changes to the roster are going to come through free-agency. Signing a free agent like David Price will keep all those precious, budding prospects in the system, but it does not come without other risks. Alex Speier reminds us that big spending does not always correspond to winning; in fact the correlation between payroll and winning is at a low point. Trading a package of prospects/younger players (e.g., Rafael Devers, Anderson Espinoza, Jackie Bradley Jr., Blake Swihart) to get a frontline starter like Sonny Gray seems like a reasonable approach. But, as you know, starting pitching is not the only thing that needs considering, Tim Britton, of the Providence Journal, explores free agent and trade options for fixing the bullpen. In the end, the way to best improve the club’s pitching staff is not likely to be to go all-in on path A (free agents) or path B (trades). Taking a measured approach and integrating the two sounds like the right path.
Seven of the ten playoff teams this year finished in the top-12 for home run totals this season. The Pirates, Royals, and Cardinals are the only three teams that finished lower (23rd, 24th, and 25th, respectively). The phrase Joe Sheehan has been championing this postseason appears to be correct: “ball go far, team go far.” The Red Sox finished 15th in home runs last season with 161, ten behind the 12th place Cubs. To some extent the Sox were a team that had difficulty hitting for power; their isolated slugging of .149 was a tick below league average (.150), ranking 17th in the game. These numbers prompted Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe to wonder who will generate power for the Red Sox in 2016. Better seasons from Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval will ameliorate some of the power problem, but might the front office need to acquire someone who can hit some bombs? Someone like free agent first baseman Chris Davis? Maybe, but that move necessitates trading Hanley Ramirez, or pressing reset on the left field experiment, which seems less than ideal. For what it is worth Dombrowski has said that he is comfortable with the team’s power, and likes that they did not strike out a lot (18.4 K% was fourth lowest in baseball). Power is not the only issue the offense had last season, though. Another concern, pointed out by Alex Speier in his 108 Stitches newsletter, is that the offense was only good at Fenway:
Home: .290/.349/.451 (.160 ISO; 80 HR)
Away: .241/.302/.382 (.139 ISO; 81 HR)
It is true that overall Fenway is a hitter’s park, but not as dramatically as those numbers suggest. Perhaps assuming the offense is a clear strength is not entirely correct. While they did score a lot of runs last year, there are deficiencies to consider. Regardless, given Dombrowski’s comments in Cafardo’s article and his stated priority of improving the pitching, it seems doubtful that the team will make a major acquisition on the offensive side of the ball.
The catcher position was a bit of an on-the-fly adventure for the Red Sox in 2015. Peter Abraham writes that the Red Sox will benefit from the depth they have at the position, as Christian Vazquez will resume his place as the starter, and Blake Swihart, Ryan Hanigan and Sandy Leon can fill in as backups. Alternatively, Swihart can be used as a trade chip to improve other areas of the team, like the rotation. Ian Browne of MLB.com had similar thoughts on the Red Sox’s options at catcher.
One of the fun parts of the 2015 season was watching the Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts, Rusney Castillo outfield. But, as good as they looked, Jason Mastrodonato of BostonHerald.com reminds us that starting jobs are not yet guaranteed for two of these three players, and that the Red Sox will look to add outfield depth to their roster. It will be difficult but Mastrodonato suggests that trading the suddenly inept Allen Craig could be part of this venture, or as part of a move aimed at repairing another aspect of the team, like, say, the bullpen.
Dustin Pedroia is revered in Boston for his scrappy, always-play-hard, can-do attitude. But in recent seasons this approach has contributed to injury and the desire to rush rehab efforts in order to get back on the field. Ironically, doing so can lead to more time on the disabled list, or diminished performance upon return. Pedroia talked to Rob Bradford of WEEI.com about the hamstring injury he suffered this past season, how his returning to play too early was costly and his regret for not allowing himself more time to heal.
I think that any time Pedro Martinez reflects on his time in Boston it is a must-read (or listen, or watch). The latest is Pedro talking with Chad Finn of Boston.com about his six-inning, no-hit relief performance in Game 5 of the 1999 American League Division Series (ALDS) against the vaunted offense of the Cleveland Indians. Pedro was pitching hurt that day. Last year, he told Jonah Keri of Grantland that his relief-outing in the 1999 ALDS permanently damaged his arm.
How about another article about a former-Red Sox great? Jim Litke of the Associated Press writes about Manny Ramirez’s current role as a coach (of some sort) with the Chicago Cubs. Manny is being Manny, primarily helping the younger, hispanic players on the club, but is also around to talk hitting with anyone who will listen.
Photo by Mark L. Baer/USA Today Sports Images