Projected Division Finish
1. Boston Red Sox
2. Toronto Blue Jays
3. Baltimore Orioles
4. Tampa Bay Rays
5. New York Yankees
Boston Red Sox
2014 Finish: 71-91 (Last Place)
Projected Batting Order
CF Mookie Betts
2B Dustin Pedroia
LF Hanley Ramirez
DH David Ortiz
3B Pablo Sandoval
1B Mike Napoli
C Ryan Hannigan
SS Xander Bogaerts
RF Shane Victorino
Projected Starting Rotation/Closer
RHP Clay Buchholz
RHP Rick Porcello
LHP Wade Miley
RHP Justin Masterson
RHP Joe Kelly
CLOSER Koji Uehara
The Red Sox have developed a pattern in the AL East. They go from worst to first to worst. Following that pattern, the Red Sox should be first again and perhaps win another World Series. I don’t know if they’ll be that good, but they look to be significantly better now than they were last year. In addition, their division looks wide open. The Red Sox weren’t great last year, but they made a ton of moves including signing Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and a slew of mid-rotation level starters with the hopes that they can take this division in a year where no one looks to be great.
The Red Sox have generally been a good offensive team since 2000. But last year they ranked in the near the bottom of the league in every major offensive category: AVG, runs, hits, HRs and steals. If they can’t hit, generally the Sox have no chance. The good news in Boston is that their offense looks vastly different this year and they think they have the personnel to be an upper echelon team at the plate.
One of the new players brought in was Hanley Ramirez. Ramirez actually came up in the Red Sox system before he was traded to the Marlins a long time ago. Since then he’s become an excellent player. He played shortstop for the Dodgers last year, but the Red Sox are hoping to turn him into a left fielder. He agreed to play third base for the Marlins in 2012, but that didn’t work well as he was unhappy, played sloppy defense and his offense suffered. Unfortunately, he is getting bigger so his range at short is pretty bad. He is more than athletic enough to play left, but that’s not an easy position to play in Fenway with the Green Monster. What the Red Sox really care about is his offense. Last year he hit 283 with 13 HR, 71 RBI, 64 R and 14 SB in 128 games. He’s had trouble staying healthy the last few years and hasn’t played in 150 games since 2009. But if he can stay healthy he has a chance to be a 30 HR/100 RBI guy with an AVG around 300 and 15-20 SB. I love him this year and think he’ll reach all those plateaus, even if he only plays in 140 games.
The other major offensive addition was Pablo Sandoval. Kung Fu Panda signed a huge deal to move to Boston after winning his third World Series with the Giants. He’s another guy whose defense is questionable. But it’s really only the range scouts don’t like, and Xander Bogaerts has enough range at short to make up for any shortcomings Sandoval has at third. He’s become a pretty predictable player, which is something a lot of people highly value. Especially when he’s predictably good at a shallow position. He hit 279 last season with 16 HR and 73 RBI. He’s likely no longer a 300 hitter, but has hit around 280 the last three years. If he can stay healthy (a decent sized if) moving to Fenway could help up those power numbers and playing in a better lineup should give him more RBI opportunities. I like him this year to the tune of 290 with 30 HR and 95 RBI.
I have DH David Ortiz hitting between the two new arrivals in the cleanup spot. I’ve heard a lot of talk about having Ortiz hit third and Ramirez fourth but I don’t like it and think it won’t last. Ortiz can hit third, but he’s a better cleanup man because of his ability to hit with runners on. Ortiz hit 263 last year with 35 HR and 104 RBI. I think playing in a better lineup will get him better pitches to hit and he will rebound in AVG while continuing to put up strong power numbers. Even in his older age, I think he can have a huge year. Think 285 with 35 HR and 120 RBI.
Those three make up the heart of the lineup. The team leader will hit right in front of them in the 2 hole. Dustin Pedroia is hoping to have a bounce back year. He hit 278 last season, but only produced 7 HR and 6 SB in 12 attempts. He played through a lot of injuries and still only logged 135 games so part of his issues stemmed from health. Also, like Ortiz, there was little incentive to give him anything to hit when the rest of the lineup was so weak. I think he will have a better year, but I think he won’t bounce all the way back. Put him down for 285 with 12 HR, 70 RBI and 80 R. But his speed is on the downswing and I doubt he makes it to 10 SB this season.
The Red Sox also feature a glut of outfield talent, even after trading Yoenis Cespedes to Detroit. Hanley Ramirez was brought in to play left and joins a group that includes Shane Victorino, Allen Craig, Jackie Bradley Jr., Daniel Nava, Cuban prospect Rusney Castillo and last year’s rookie phenom Mookie Betts. Betts played some second last season, but with Pedroia healthy he competed in the outfield in the spring and won the starting center field job over the more experienced Victorino and Craig and over Castillo, who is being paid like a starter. But the Red Sox love Betts’ potential and who can blame them. In 52 games last year, Betts hit 291 with a phenomenal 368 OBP and 21 BBs to 31 Ks, great splits for a rookie. He also added 5 HR and 7 SB in 10 attempts. He is a real sparkplug with plate discipline beyond his years. After his great spring, he was given the leadoff job and I think he will run with it. Put him down for 275 with a 340 OBP. Add to that 10 HR, 30 SB and 100 R in a great rookie season.
Beyond the top 5 in the order, there is a lot of depth and experience. Mike Napoli mans first and will hit 6th. Napoli hit 248 with 17 HR in 119 games last year. It was a step back from what he’s done in recent years, but part of that was due to injury. With all the talent in front of him, I think Napoli will have less pressure to perform and he will play better. Think 260 with 23 HR and 75 RBI.
I put catcher Ryan Hannigan in the 7th spot. He’s more of a defensive catcher with experience than an offensive threat, but with a career 256 AVG and 334 OBP, he can give some quality ABs. Xander Bogaerts hits 8th and is in the starting lineup for his defense. That being said, he’s shown some good pop in his career thus far with 12 HR last season. They’d love for him to pull that AVG up some, but really anything he does at the plate is a bonus. I also have Shane Victorino getting the most playing time in right and hitting 9th. He’s not the All Star he once was, but he’s got plenty left in the tank. He only played in 30 games last year, but in 2013 he hit 294 with 21 SB and 15 HR. While I’d be surprised to see him return to those levels, I think he can hit 270 with 10-15 SB and maybe 10 HR. If he struggles, Alan Craig and Daniel Nava are waiting to take over.
This offense is talented and deep. I think they are among the best in the league. They have a good balance of power and speed and several potentially great hitters who can hit over 300. I don’t think the Red Sox will have any issues scoring runs. And with their glut of talent, I think they can weather injuries better than any other club in the league.
Their defense won’t rank as highly. Mike Napoli is subpar at first. Dustin Pedroia and Xander Bogaerts are very good up the middle and Sandoval is pretty decent at third, despite terrible range. Mookie Betts can handle center field, but could use more experience and I’ve heard some questions about his arm. Hanley Ramirez will probably struggle in left. Victorino is pretty good in right and Hannigan is solid behind the plate. There are really only two above average players at their positions, with the potential for two more. There are lots of options on the bench, but they aren’t much better. Allen Craig is fine at first, but not great in right. Daniel Nava is good in left and fine in right. Brock Holt is talented with the leather and can cover second, third and short. And David Ortiz may play some first during interleague games. He’s probably the worst fielding DH in the game. This defense is not nearly as deep, and the starters aren’t great. Hopefully their offense is potent enough to overcome any defensive deficiencies.
While the Boston offense was a below average group across the board, the pitching staff wasn’t much better. The Red Sox were average or worse in every major pitching category. They saw a lot of turnover and hope their new group of starters can help right the ship. But they will be attempting to do it without a true ace. The hope in Beantown is that they have more depth than any other team and that will help them in the long run.
The Red Sox are hoping Clay Buchholz can step up to be their ace. He’s showed flashes before, but has been unable to sustain it due to injury and ineffectiveness for periods of time. Last year is a perfect example: After going 12-1 in 16 starts with a 1.74 ERA in an injury-shortened 2013 season, Buchholz came out in 2014 and went 8-11 in 28 starts with a hideous 5.34 ERA. You truly don’t know what pitcher you are getting in Buchholz. He’s got a 3.89 career ERA, so when you look at it as a whole, he’s been average. Pitching in that league, that park and that division can be tough. The safe bet is to say he gets double digit wins with an ERA around 4. But chances are he’ll either win 15 games with an ERA under 3, or lose 15 games with an ERA over 5. I truly have no idea what to expect from him.
The number 2 man is Rick Porcello, who they acquired in a trade with Detroit by jettisoning Yoenis Cespedes. Porcello, a long time number 4 starter with the Tigers, has always been better than people realize. He went 15-13 last season with a 3.43 ERA. It was his best year yet, but he still had a fairly average WHIP (1.23) and bad BAA (268). He did reach 200 IP for the first time, but saw his K-rate drop, which is alarming because it was never that good to begin with. He’s a groundball pitcher playing in a great hitting league. I don’t think he’s a number 4 starter but I don’t think he’s a number 2 either. With the defense the Sox have, he could be in trouble. Luckily he rarely walks guys and won’t beat himself. I think he can win 12 games on this team, but perhaps see his ERA climb over 4 again, though probably not to 4.25.
Lefty Wade Miley was added in a trade with the Diamondbacks. Miley is more of a number 4 starter, but is the number 3 man here. Miley is a dependable innings eater who struggled last season in a lost year in Arizona. While Arizona is a tough place to pitch, Fenway is probably tougher, especially when you consider the AL’s offensive prowess. He went 8-12 with a 4.34 ERA. His ERA has climbed for three straight years and his WHIP and BAA totals also climbed to highs not seen since his first appearance in the bigs. He walks too many guys and gives up too many hits. However, he did strikeout more hitters than ever last season (183) while throwing 201 innings, one less than he did in 2013. He may struggle in Boston, but if he can keep his team in games he should be a lock for 8 Wins with an ERA around 4.50.
Justin Masterson was signed as a free agent on a one-year deal. For Masterson, it’s about staying healthy. He was returning from injury and made 25 starts with the Indians and Cardinals. But he was not as good as he was in 2013 (14-10 with a 3.45 ERA and career high 195 Ks that year). In fact, he was bad in 19 starts with Cleveland (5.51 ERA) and worse with St. Louis (7.04 ERA in 6 starts and 3 relief appearances). If he’s fully healthy he may be able to return to being a quality innings eater. But the Sox are taking a risk here. If it was more than health issues plaguing Masterson last year, they are in trouble. The goal is 200 IP of sub 4.50 ERA baseball. But I think he falls short on both counts, turning in a losing record as well.
The 5th spot goes to Joe Kelly, a former Cardinals prospect. He was added in a deadline deal with the Cards last season. He was decent, especially for a young pitcher, going 6-4 in 17 starts overall with a 4.37 ERA in St. Louis and 4.11 ERA in Boston. He’s better than most other 5th starters and has potential to be more. What I like is the improvement he showed with Boston after the deal lowering his WHIP and BAA substantially. He was very good with the Cards in 2013 and the Sox hope he can pitch that way for them. Experience always helps young pitchers and I think he rises to the occasion and becomes the number 3 or 4 starter with a winning record (10 Wins) and ERA around 3.80. Not an All Star or anything, but someone they can build with.
That is the starting rotation and it’s not great. But the good news is Boston has a great bullpen, especially now with Koji Uehara returning from the DL.
Uehara is the closer and he is very good. He’s been one of the top closers in the league since he came to Beantown. But there is come slight concern that he is starting to regress, and at 40 that can happen fast. He went 26 for 31 in his Save opportunities last year but saw his ERA rise to 2.52 and his Ks drop to 80. Now, that still puts him in the quality closer discussion, but it’s a far cry from what he did in 2013. I still think he can be very good, but likely no longer one of the best. I’m thinking 25 Saves and an ERA around 2.25.
Edward Mujica is around to setup and provide closer insurance. Mujica is one of many veteran arms in the Boston pen and has some closing experience. He has 49 career Saves and 37 came in 2013. He is better as a set up man and that is why he was signed. He gave up more hits last season than many expected, but I think he can still be a quality setup man and help build the bridge to Uehara.
The rest of the pen features a good mix of veterans (Tazawa, Ogando, Breslow) and young arms with promise (Varvaro, Workman). While this starting staff may not be great, this bullpen is more than capable of picking up the slack.
This pitching staff is not ranked near the top of the league. But within their division, they are probably third behind the Rays and Baltimore. With their offense they won’t have to win a lot of low scoring games. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if this starting rotation gets upgraded mid season. So while this staff overall is subpar, it’s not bad compared to the rest of the division.
It’s funny. I don’t think this team, as its constituted right now, is representative of a playoff caliber team. But, they play in a weak division in a year where the whole AL is wide open. Here’s what I like: the offense looks phenomenal. They are easily in the top 2 of their division, maybe even the best. They also have the pieces to make a move for a top starter. And I just don’t believe this team will ride the pitching staff as it’s currently constructed to the playoffs. They should score more than enough runs to stay competitive with a lot of starters who can eat innings and a bullpen that looks strong. While no team in this division is great, the Red Sox look to be one of the best in the East.
I’ll put them down for 94 Wins and the division crown.