Welcome back to Read Sox. This week we consider the considerable uncertainty within the starting rotation, how Rusney Castillo fits on this team, the communication of pitching analytics to players, a potential trade for Pablo Sandoval, John Farrell’s new philosophy for managing, and more.
Heading into this past offseason, and then again ahead of Spring Training, the major concern about the Red Sox roster was the starting rotation. With Spring Training nearly complete that concern remains, and it could be argued is even more prominent than it previously was. The starters need to be better, as most of the blame for the 2015 disaster season falls at their feet. As new staff leader David Price aptly put it to Dan Shaughnessy of The Boston Globe, “The Red Sox scored the fifth-most runs in baseball last year. To score that many runs and to be in last place, that’s kind of shocking.” Right you are, Mr. Price. I looked into this comment and found that since 1995 only 20 teams (including the 2015 Red Sox) have finished in the top four in their league in runs scored and finished in fourth or fifth place in their division. Half of those 20 teams are versions of the Rockies, who play their home games on the moon. This is not good company to keep. Ian Browne of MLB.com writes about the obvious decision for Price to get the ball on Opening Day, but after Price, the roller coaster that is the rest of the starting rotation gets put in motion. Rick Porcello just finished the worst Spring Training of any Red Sox pitcher since 2012. Pitching coach Carl Willis told Jason Mastrodonato of the BostonHerald.com that Porcello just needs to relax a little bit, which sounds like a hand-wavy admission that they don’t know how to fix Porcello’s issues. It’s the “he’s pressing” cliché. Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Eduardo Rodriguez et al. offer additional cause for concern. As a group, Red Sox starters have posted a 4.65 ERA this spring, which is a mark that, if maintained, will have the Red Sox headed for a spot on that high run-scoring, poor division finish list once again.
Earlier this week it was announced that Brock Holt will be the Opening Day left fielder, which, among other things, is possible evidence of a Holt-Rusney Castillo platoon at that position this season; an idea that our Brett Cowett questioned yesterday. Opening Day is just one game and Cleveland has right-hander Corey Kluber on the mound – making Holt the better option from a matchup standpoint – so this does not necessarily mark the end of Rusney Castillo as an everyday player. While there is no doubt that Castillo has struggled offensively, while performing (mostly) well defensively, for me, the issue with putting him in a backup/platoon role is that he won’t get an adequate chance to get better. Rob Bradford reported that Rusney is not headed to the minors, so, for now, he will be part of the major league outfield in some capacity. Perhaps the Red Sox feel they have seen enough to know what he is as a player, and that the best way to get any value out of him is in a platoon. On another team Castillo could serve as a late-game defensive replacement, but with Jackie Bradley Jr., Mookie Betts and Chris Young already on the Red Sox roster that role is not available in Boston. Dave Cameron of FanGraphs suggests that, given the crowded outfield situation and up-and-coming players like Andrew Benintendi, a change of scenery may benefit Castillo. Cameron outlines a few potential trade-partners, but in all cases the Sox will likely need to eat a bunch of the money owed to Castillo, or take on a similarly bad contract.
Should the starting rotation continue to struggle as they have this spring, they can approach new member of the Red Sox front office, Brian Bannister, for advice. Bannister, who serves as the team’s director of pitching analytics, is working to provide pitching insights from a different perspective. Jen McCaffrey of MassLive reports that Clay Buchholz and Craig Kimbrel are on board with what Bannister has to offer. Hopefully other members of the staff follow suit.
Pablo Sandoval’s time in Boston has gone anything but smoothly and now he is involved in Spring Training trade rumours. Nick Cafardo of The Boston Globe reported that the San Diego Padres were scouting Pablo and suggested the possibility of a James Shields for Sandoval bad-contract swap. However, Rob Bradford of WEEI.com says we should not expect to see Shields in a Red Sox uniform any time soon, as nothing has changed in their assessment of him being a bad fit for Fenway Park. For what it’s worth, I think that if a trade is to happen with the Padres, the Sox should be targeting Tyson Ross, although that will likely require the Red Sox sending more than Pablo to the Padres.
Managing players who have histories of strong performance but are underperforming has got to be very difficult. That was John Farrell’s position in 2015. Tim Britton of the Providence Journal writes that that experience has adjusted Farrell’s managing philosophy for 2016. Rather than relying on players’ track records as much as he has in the past, this year he intends on going with the guys who are playing the best, assembling the lineup that provides the best chance to win on any given day.
Christian Vazquez’s goal of being on the Opening Day roster will not be met, as he will begin the season on the disabled list. His recovery from Tommy John Surgery has gone smoothly, but he is not quite ready for the strenuous demands that come with catching. However, Scott Lauber of ESPN.com writes that if Red Sox pitchers struggle in the early going, the team will activate Vazquez, who is an elite defender and highly respected by many pitchers on staff. This will require a decision regarding the status of Blake Swihart and Ryan Hanigan, or the rarity of carrying three catchers on the 25-man roster.
For the second time in his career, Jackie Bradley Jr. will be the Red Sox’s Opening Day centerfielder. This decision makes sense from a defensive perspective, but questions remain about his offensive game. His 1.053 OPS this spring may assuage some of the concerns surrounding his bat, and, as JBJ tells Rob Bradford of WEEI.com, presents evidence in support of his new, aggressive approach at the plate. Given JBJ’s defensive contribution, if he can manage just 65 percent of that spring OPS he will be a very productive major leaguer.
Over the next six-to-eight months, David Ortiz will complete roughly one million interviews asking him to look back on his career and to elaborate on just what it is that he will do with himself in retirement. Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe did just that in what, at season’s end, might be considered one of the best examples of this genre.
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