Welcome back to Read Sox. This week we consider early extensions for Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts, reflect on the job John Farrell has done, look at the work the non-David Price starters are putting in to be ready for the season, hope for Rusney Castillo’s development at the plate and get an update on the safety upgrade that is being installed at Fenway.
A story that has gained steam this offseason – and will likely gain more as the season progresses – is the lack of contract extension talks between the Red Sox and young stars Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts. In their age-22 seasons these two put up 5.52 and 3.52 WARP, respectively; the top marks on the team. So it seems obvious that the Red Sox should be trying to lock up their (potential) franchise players for the foreseeable future. Alex Speier of The Boston Globe examines the recent changes in the landscape of early contract extensions, noting that they are in sharp decline. Why this change is happening remains somewhat unclear. From a team perspective waiting to lock up young players can make sense, in that making the decision to extend the player based on limited information (e.g., only one season of major league performance) can lead to investments that do not pan out. Furthermore, the fact that young players are typically still at least a few years away from arbitration and/or free agency means they are still relatively cheap, and therefore a bargain. Matt Collins, writing at OvertheMonster.com, examines the contract extension situation from the player perspective, specifically looking at Betts and Bogaerts. Collins notes that, given the status of the current collective bargaining agreement (CBA) between the league and player’s union, the incentive for a player to sign an extension before getting to arbitration is lower than it may have been in recent years. Changes in the next CBA to things like the luxury tax threshold, the proportion of the league’s revenue that is allocated to players, and the amount of service time required before reaching free agency, could all impact players’ salaries positively. These reasons, coupled with the likelihood of increasing value with another excellent season, make waiting to sign a long-term extension in Betts’ and Bogaerts’ best interests. It will be interesting to see how this dynamic plays out.
John Farrell’s tenure as the manager of the Red Sox started the way every manager must hope they start: leading the squad to a championship. Since then his time in the Boston dugout has been far more tumultuous. After the 2013 championship season in which the Sox were 97-65, Farrell guided the ships of two last place teams, posting a 121-155 record (.438 winning percentage) while at the helm. Sadly, at the end of 2015 Farrell had to take a leave of absence from the team to battle Non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. The Red Sox went 28-20 in his absence. Farrell successfully fought the cancer that took him from his duties and he is back, strong and ready to resume leadership of the Red Sox. But, as Sean McAdam writes for CSNNE.com, Farrell’s job security is not exactly certain heading into the coming season. The reasons for this include the team’s poor performance in 2014 and most of 2015, the outstanding job Torey Lovullo did while Farrell was away from the team battling cancer and the fact that Farrell was not selected by President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski. Deriving the impact of a manager on a team’s winning percentage is very difficult, if not impossible. Sure, there are ways in which Farrell can manage this team effectively, but managerial moves are multifaceted. They are relevant in ways beyond the in-game moments. For example, if David Ortiz suddenly shows his age this season, a decision to reduce his playing time by Farrell, while maybe correct on-the-field, will become a nightmare off the field. Just ask Terry Francona. Regardless, if the team starts slowly, or play .500ish ball for the first half of the season there will be calls for Farrell to be fired. They might be justified, but the manager often takes an unfair share of the blame when teams are losing and Farrell did not suddenly forget how to be a competent manager on November 1, 2013. The reasons for the poor play over the last two seasons cannot be entirely attributed to him. Simply put, the players need to perform. There are things he can do to help, but only so much. If the players bounce back, Farrell is likely to be back in everyone’s good graces.
Over the last few months the major outlets for prospect scouting released player rankings to the public. The Red Sox organization has fared well on these lists, typically having five guys in the Top-100. While the rankings are primarily based on rating players’ on-field skills, Brian MacPherson of the Providence Journal reminds us that mental makeup often plays a prominent role in determining who makes it and who does not.
It would not be an offseason Read Sox without an update on a player’s workout plan. This week we check in with Clay Buchholz. Buchholz told Rob Bradford of WEEI.com that he has implemented a different workout plan this offseason. Following advice from old teammate John Lackey, Buchholz has significantly reduced his throwing program. Additionally, he’s followed guidelines from the front office to get stronger, specifically in his legs, so that he can pitch deep into games and remain healthy throughout the season.
Rick Porcello decided to make a change to his approach prior to the 2015 season. He would throw more four-seamers up in the zone, and move away from his sinker-first attack. After struggling for most of the first half, Porcello reverted back to his previous ways and saw positive results, which is great news for 2016. More good news comes from Jeff Sullivan’s analysis at FanGraphs of Porcello’s curveball. According to the numbers, Porcello developed an Adam Wainwright-like hook in the second half of last season. Pairing this nasty, elite-level curveball with his usual sinker-first attack should bode well for a bounce-back season.
After his impressive rookie season, Eduardo Rodriguez will slot in as the third/fourth starter in the rotation for his second big league season. Tim Britton of the Providence Journal talks about how Rodriguez is looking to build on his success last year, and is changing his daily focus from making the big leagues to staying in the big leagues. To ensure he remains successful in the bigs Rodriguez will need to avoid tipping his pitches, as it appeared he was in a number of his negative outings last year. Rodriguez told Rob Bradford of WEEI.com that his pitch-tipping problem is fixed and will not be a problem in 2016.
As it stands now the last man in the rotation will be Joe Kelly. Kelly was not consistently effective in 2015, but did finish the season strong, which he told Jason Mastrodonato of the BostonHerald.com was a result of tinkering with his pitch selection during his mid-season Triple-A demotion. I have been vocal about wanting to see Kelly be used as a reliever, but Marc Normandin at OvertheMonster.com makes a good case for Kelly getting another shot to start, especially when he is compared to free agent alternatives like Mike Leake and Ian Kennedy.
One thing that may help all of these starting pitchers is the improved outfield defense that will be behind them in 2016. Rusney Castillo is sure to be a big part of this. We have covered Rusney’s 2015 season, and considered what he needs to do to right the ship in 2016. Last week, August Fagerstrom at FanGraphs examined Rusney’s alarmingly high ground ball rate, and considered changes that he has made to his swing to get more loft and offensive production.
The work to get the MLB-mandated protective netting along the infield wall, ranging from dugout to dugout, continues at Fenway Park. At BostonHerald.com, Michael Silverman writes that the netting is currently undergoing testing, and no final decisions have been made about the setup that will be in place for Opening Day. Red Sox officials are working to ensure safety while also minimizing the obstruction of fans’ views of the field.
Photo by Bill Streicher/USA Today Sports Images