We are starting to get a decent look at how the Boston Red Sox are going to look when Spring Training starts in about nine weeks at sunny Fort Myers.
The Sox say good-bye to Jacoby Ellsbury and his blazing speed, and, to Jarrod Saltalamacchia and his stability on offense. A.J. Pierzynski replaces Saltalamacchia behind the plate and is a good offensive catcher in his own right. When you add Pierzynski being a slight defensive upgrade, really, you can say the swap was an even one.
Before getting into Ellsbury, you must remember that the 2013 Red Sox offense was historically good. If OPS+ means anything to you, the 117 recorded was the second best in Red Sox history—topped by 2003. The chances of any team building on being 17 percent above league average is too incredible to be realistic.
John Farrell would need ALL his position players to top their 2013 to do that, a tall order. Will Middlebrooks, by the way, was the lone Sox hitter to play more than 90 games with an OPS+ of under 100—88 to be exact. Everyone else topped 110. Think about that, 10 hitters were so productive that they beat the American League average by a whopping 10 percent. David Ortiz had an OPS+ of 160!
If you want to dig deeper into those numbers, Saltamacchia’s 118 is a bigger loss than Ellsbury’s 114. You surprised? Us too.
Losing Ellsbury does hurt.
His 92 runs and 52 stolen bases are out of the lineup without an obvious replacement. Whoever Farrell uses to leadoff is going to score their fair share of runs, but those 52 swipes are likely gone, making it that much harder for Dustin Pedroia, Ortiz or Mike Napoli to drive him home—either Jackie Bradley Jr. or someone via trade.
Now that we know Napoli will be wearing Red Sox next year, we know eight of the nine position players starting on Opening Day. If Stephen Drew re-signs, bet on Xander Bogaerts beating out Middlebrooks at third and Bradley Jr. being the center fielder.
Since the 2012 season ended, the new plan used by the Red Sox front office was to gap the bridge until the kids on the farm were ready to go. We know Bogaerts looks ready and Bradley Jr., should feel less pressure this year than he did last April after a hot spring.
From the short-term deals signed by Pierzynski and Napoli to the lack of effort to even negotiate with Ellsbury, Ben Cherington must feel that plan is still working. The major additions this offseason have been with bolstering the bullpen, adding Burke Badenhop and Edward Mujica to the mix, and not chasing down Carlos Beltran or Brian McCann.
If there is a centerfielder they can swing in a trade—they have veteran pitchers Ryan Dempster and Jake Peavy to dangle with Middlebrooks if they want—they could bring in a veteran in, provided the price is right, but you get the sense they are perfectly happy to go with Bradley Jr.
The AL East is in flux. The New York Yankees spent like drunken sailors. The Baltimore Orioles cut salary. You know the Toronto Blue Jays have the talent and you never bet against Joe Maddon and the Tampa Bay Rays.
As for Boston? They remain a fundamentally sound team that easily can win 90 games or more if they stay healthy. Better yet, they have not mortgaged the future to repeat in 2014.
Perhaps, that is the best news of all.
*All statistics courtesy of Baseball Reference.
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