The Red Sox begin their defense of their unexpected championship in 2013. The 2014 version of the Red Sox offers few changes. Jacoby Ellsbury has moved on to the Yankees. Jarrod Saltalamacchia wanted to stay in Boston, but the Red Sox didn't reciprocate the love. Now he is in Miami. Stephen Drew is still unemployed.
I did a decent job projecting the Red Sox offense in 2013. I was spot on on a few players (Ellsbury, Gomes, Napoli, Victorino) and was way off on only Will Middlebrooks and David Ortiz (but, hey, he was coming off an Achilles injury).
The Red Sox like testing Boston sports writers by signing catchers with tough last names to spell. Pierzynski replaces Saltalamacchia behind the dish. A.J. is certainly an upgrade defensively. He might be an upgrade, offensively, although Saltalamacchia has far more power. A.J. will make far more contact and won't strike out once every three at-bats like Salty. In fact, A.J. strikes out only once every eight at-bats in his long career. Pierzynski is 37 years old. He did hit 27 home runs in 2012, but that was an aberration. His batting average has also dropped off each of the last three years. Oh yeah, and there's that "most hated player in baseball" thing. Will that affect the Red Sox clubhouse? I think it is over-hyped.
Mike Napoli (492 AB, 22 HR, 78 RBI, .251 avg.)
So how is that degenerative hip? Napoli put to rest all of that talk last season by setting career highs in at-bats (498) and RBI (92). He became a folk hero for various reasons, both on and off the field. After flirting with free agency, Napoli signed a two-year deal to stay in Boston. If anyone is susceptible to a post-World Series hangover, it'll be Napoli. I give it until June when fans will be complaining about how Napoli sucks and he strikes out too much. There is no player in the Red Sox lineup who is streakier than Napoli, But when he gets hot, he can carry a team for weeks at a time.
Pedroia is the heart and soul of the Red Sox. It is hard to believe that he turned 30 this offseason. He plays the game with a youthful exuberance rarely seen today in pro sports. Pedroia has seen his power slip (9 HR in 641 AB in 2013) and he is stealing fewer bases. I thought he would steal more bases under Farrell. I was wrong. Maybe it's age. Maybe it's an accumulation of injuries catching up to him. Pedroia is still a .300 hitter and is good for 40 doubles. He is better suited as a number-two hitter, not in the three-hole, but this team seems stacked with number-two hitters.
Bogaerts is viewed as a can't-miss prospect. While Farrell still longs for veteran Stephen Drew, Bogaerts is the new Red Sox starting shortstop. We'll see if Farrell knows something that we don't. If Middlebrooks struggles at third base, and the still unsigned Drew is brought back, Bogaerts will move to third. The point is-- Bogaerts will play, and play a lot. Unlike fellow youngster Jackie Bradley Jr., this is unquestionably Bogaerts' time. The Red Sox hope the 21-year-old will become what Manny Machado has become in Baltimore. Offensively, I don't see why Bogaerts can't be better than Machado. The ball just makes a different sound coming off his bat. Bogaerts can hit. Defensive is another matter (and a real concern).
Will Middlebrooks (342 AB, 17 HR, 55 RBI, .252 avg.)
Will those above numbers be good enough for the Red Sox? Probably not. It's pretty simple with Middlebrooks. If he is using all fields, he is a legitimate middle-of-the-order hitter. If he becomes pull-happy, he may wind up back at Pawtucket or traded. Prospect Garin Cecchini is waiting in the wings. Middlebrooks will struggle at times with the bat and I am more worried about his glove. The combination, defensively, of Middlebrooks and Bogaerts on the left side of the infield should be a major concern. I would expect Middlebrooks to be dealt before August. He seems the perfect candidate for a player who needs a fresh start somewhere else.
Daniel Nava (414 AB, 9 HR, 64 RBI, .288 avg.)
OK. OK. Daniel Nava, you have won me over. I join the long, long list of doubters who didn't think Nava would succeed. I may have written (OK, I admit, I have) prior to last year that the Red Sox will never win a World Series with Nava as their starting left fielder. In my defense, I wasn't completely wrong, as Farrell chose, inexplicably, to play Jonny Gomes more than Nava in the postseason. Nava is a professional hitter and the type of player every championship team needs. His humility is refreshing.
Jonny Gomes (294 AB, 17 HR, 51 RBI, .243 avg.)
Gomes, a career platoon-hitter, may have thought when he signed with the Red Sox that he would be their full-time starting left fielder. As with his various other teams, he found himself splitting time. The end result was only 312 at-bats. It didn't seem to bother Gomes. He was a positive presence in the clubhouse. Let's see if it stays that way as the logjam in the outfield seems thicker this year than last year.
For a majority of the winter, it looked like Jackie Bradley Jr. would be the starting center fielder on Opening Day for the Red Sox. Jacoby Ellsbury had signed with the Yankees and Boston never made any other moves to secure another outfielder... until late January. That's when the Red Sox made, what appeared to be, a harmless signing of oft-injured Grady Sizemore. Now it appears Sizemore may have taken Bradley's job. It is up in the air how much playing time Bradley will get. No one is doubting Bradley's defense. He may be an upgrade over Ellsbury, who has always been very good. The question will be the bat and if Bradley can evolve into the leadoff hitter this team lacks.
It's anybody's guess how well, or how long, Sizemore will play in 2014. He hasn't played a game since 2011 and hasn't played a full season since the days when George W. Bush was President. If Sizemore is healthy, he is the Red Sox starting center fielder. Before his assortment of serious injuries, Sizemore was one of the five best outfielders in baseball. That Grady Sizemore, like Bush, is a distant memory. I'd, happily, settle for 85-90% of that Sizemore, though. But even that may be unrealistic.
Victorino is 33 years old, but walks around like he is 40. His body is, seemingly, breaking down before our eyes. No Red Sox player plays the game harder than Victorino (well, with the exception of Pedroia). Unfortunately, it looks like the nagging injuries are landing the Flyin' Hawaiian. I have serious concerns about how many games Victorino plays this year. I am also curious if Victorino has abandoned switch-hitting all together. He sure did pretty good, exclusively, hitting right-handed at the end of last season. I think we will be talking about right field as a position of need around the trade deadline.
David Ortiz (506 AB, 27 HR, 96 RBI, .294 avg.)
Ortiz surprised many by playing as many games as he did last year coming off a crippling Achilles injury. I thought the Red Sox would be fortunate to get 120 games out of him last year. He played 137.
Beyond that, he has surprised me for several years now. Players aren't supposed to get better after the age of 35 unless... well, that'll be a story for another day. I keep expecting his demise and one of these years I have to be right.