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1st-Quarter Grades for the Boston Red Sox

A 19-22 record was not the start fans envisioned after splashy offseason signings and front-office proclamations that the Boston Red Sox would return to contention in 2015. Yet here we are. It proves once again that a record-setting payroll (in this case one that exceeds $170 million) doesn’t guarantee success. 

The pitching has been much-maligned and rightfully so. A team ERA of 4.53 warrants criticism. A starting rotation that’s greatly responsible for the crooked number shoulders an even larger share of the blame. Three members of Boston’s staff have ERAs north of 5.00.

A fourth, Clay Buchholz, had an ERA of 6.03 just 18 days ago. Since then he’s strung together three quality starts in a row, including a pair of gems in his last two turns on the hill—three earned runs in 15.2 innings pitched. Unfortunately for him, the Red Sox lost both of those games because the offense could only muster a combined two runs.

It’s the way things have trended for much of May and shows how another common phrase became an old adage: When they hit, they can’t pitch. When they pitch, they don’t hit.

The vaunted offense that was expected to carry this team—and did for much of the first month of the season—has just 44 runs over the last 19 games. That’s an average of just 2.32 runs per game in May. The Sox have scored two runs or less in 13 of the 19 contests, compiling a 7-12 mark in the process. Luckily, the Red Sox are just 3.5 games behind the AL East-leading Tampa Bay Rays.

There is plenty of blame to go around. The season is a just tad over 25 percent completed, so there is time for a turnaround. But don’t expect many pretty grades based on what we’ve seen so far. Let’s get down to the nitty-gritty to further assess performance by position groupings. 

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3 Things We Learned About the Red Sox in Spring Training

Spring training declarations are a difficult beast to tackle. Putting too much weight in March statistics would be misguided, as Jake Fox and his 10 Grapefruit League home runs in 2011 remind us. “Jake Who?” you ask? Precisely. 

At the same time, this is the first extended look at the 30 MLB clubs, and in some cases managers are determining roster spots based on performance. So these games aren’t entirely meaningless; they just have to be viewed through the proper lens. 

Are Xander Bogaerts‘ struggles (.222 average) really cause for concern, or is he merely a slow starter the way David Ortiz has been throughout his career (.227 career spring training average)? For a player of Bogaerts‘ pedigree I’d advise stepping away from the ledge and waiting for real games before inciting panic. His on-base percentage is more encouraging (.333), and he’s slugged a pair of home runs. A better start would have been welcomed after his roller-coaster 2014, but it’s too early to say anything definitive about the 22-year-old at this point. 

That said, there are some takeaways we can glean from what we’ve seen in Fort Myers so far. 

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Boston Red Sox Players Turning Heads Early at Spring Training

Let’s preface this by stating the obvious: It’s really early. This isn’t going to be a piece making outlandish declarations from a handful of spring training games. Instead, we’ll simply look at which Boston Red Sox players are making notable impressions in the early stages of baseball’s return. 

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Boston Red Sox: 6 Potential Breakout Candidates to Watch in Spring Training

We’ve already touched on under-the-radar Boston Red Sox to watch this spring as well as hyped prospects to keep an eye on. The natural progression of things now leads us to breakout candidates. 

First, let’s define who is eligible to “break out” in spring training. If you were arguably Boston’s best player for one-third of last season, then you’re not a candidate. I don’t care that you’re only 22 years old, Mookie Betts. You’re crossed off. 

If you batted .296 in 12 playoff games with a .412 on-base percentage en route to a World Series title, then you already broke out. You can’t do it again, Xander Bogaerts. 

Part of me can see a post-hype Jackie Bradley Jr. emergence this March. Then again, is there anything he can really do in exhibition baseball to make fans buy in? He’s hit .196 in 164 MLB games since he batted .419 (.507 OBP) in 28 games during the spring of 2013.

To those who have made an MLB All-Star game in their career, their struggles a season ago are irrelevant. Justin Masterson, Clay Buchholz and Alexi Ogando are all worth watching, but they can’t burst onto the scene with proven track records already to their names. 

So who are we left with? The following six Boston players with legitimate breakout potential. 

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Under-the-Radar Red Sox Players to Watch in Spring Training

Look alive, people, look alive! The Boston Red Sox have pitchers and catchers reporting on February 20, a mere week away. 

The spring training intrigue starts with pivotal players like Xander Bogaerts, Justin Masterson and Clay Buchholz trying to rebound from disappointing campaigns. It continues on with the unknown of Rusney Castillo and the shiny gleam of new toys Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez.

Then we get to Davis Ortiz, dissecting if there is any hint of decreased bat speed as he enters his age-39 season. We’d reach Dustin Pedroia next, keeping a keen eye on if he shows the renewed pop to match his offseason bluster. 

That’s when our gaze wanders to the critical injury question marks of Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara and Mike Napoli. Bypass Mookie Betts and Rick Porcello, because barring truly horrific performances I’m not sure much can be gleaned from their pre-April play, and we finally get to our under-the-radar bunch. 

They may not be the biggest brand-name entities, but they’re in the well-respected Little Caesars division compared to the Papa John’s, Pizza Hut and Domino’s groups that the aforementioned players fall under. 

So with the successful pizza integration check mark complete, let’s delve into lower-profile Red Sox with a lot to prove this spring. 

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3 Hyped Red Sox Prospects to Watch in Spring Training

I’ve cautioned in the past about the perils of overvaluing prospects. Because of that, there’s a nasty misnomer out there that I’m anti-farm system.

On the contrary, I completely recognize the worth of having a young stable of up-and-comers. It’s paramount to develop that talent for the future of any franchise. My quibble is that when you’re a team with the payroll ceiling of the Boston Red Sox, you’re not always nurturing the skills of those prospects for yourself.

Small-market clubs like the Houston Astros and Miami Marlins have to stockpile as many promising players from the most recent generation that they can. Strapped with a lack of funds and being in non-destination cities for free agents, that’s their best chance to construct a contender.

However, for general manager Ben Cherington and company, cashing in on the seductive potential of youngsters is equally as important as building up the farm system in the first place. 

There will always be the Mike Trouts and Bryce Harpers who are untouchable. But peruse the archives of Baseball America’s rankings and it becomes apparent that evaluating prospects is still a crapshoot. If a contending club has the ability to take on salary to address a need and can turn a dice roll into a proven, high-caliber entity, then that’s a no-brainer. 

Don’t interpret that as an endorsement to rush a trade, as playing hardball when trying to acquire someone is commonplace. USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports Boston isn’t the only team waiting out Philadelphia Phillies general manager Ruben Amaro Jr. in the Cole Hamels sweepstakes. To those who still doubt the validity of the three-time All-Star, here’s a nice stat from‘s Daren Willman. 

Even after dealing away young pieces in multiple trades this offseason, the Red Sox still have a strong group of prospects at their disposal. ESPN’s Keith Law ranked Boston’s farm system the fifth-best in baseball entering 2015.

There are two late-bloomer candidates to keep an eye on this spring in Garin Cecchini and Matt Barnes. Cecchini is an on-base machine transitioning to a new position in 2015. With Pablo Sandoval now entrenched at third base, the soon-to-be 24-year-old will work to learn how to play the outfield. 

Barnes, on the other hand, will try to regain some of his value after a lackluster 2014 season in Triple-A. The right-handed pitcher is still ranked among Boston’s top 10 prospects, but he’s approaching 25 years old with only nine innings of MLB experience and a big league rotation spot looking highly unlikely. 

While those two have promise, three exciting youngsters on the cusp of big things warrant greater attention. Whether it’s auditioning for Boston’s 25-man roster or showing well for a potential trade partner, spring training will be crucial for the following three players.

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Top Offseason Options for the Boston Red Sox to Finish Off Winter Plans

After starting the offseason with a bang and following it up with some active winter meetings, the Red Sox transaction wire has been practically dormant for over a month. The team is in solid shape but could use a few more moves to transition into a genuine title contender.

Signing a high-upside pitcher like Alexi Ogando, who is available at a steep discount because of shoulder concerns, would be a nice dice roll.’s Peter Gammons reports the Red Sox have been “aggressive” in their pursuit of the 31-year-old. It’d also be wise to strengthen the bullpen by bringing back Burke Badenhop, who tells WEEI the teams interested in him are in the midst of a staring contest. 

But while those additions would be luxuries, it’s no secret that the Red Sox need an ace to anchor their rotation.

I’ve touched on Cole Hamels and Johnny Cueto ad nauseam. Both would be great additions as long as Boston can lock the Dominican product up long term. I also won’t rehash my James Shields criticism, but thankfully Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal reports the Red Sox are “highly unlikely” to sign him. 

Boston fans’ ears perked up when Fox Sports’ Jon Morosi reported the Nationals “are willing to trade Stephen Strasburg” if they land Max Scherzer. After bringing the ex-Tigers ace aboard, those same ears burned more furiously when USA Today‘s John Perrotto passed along the buzz that Strasburg and the Nationals “both believe it is time to move on.”

While I hate to be a wet blanket, Strasburg is a pipe dream.

Nationals de facto co-owner Scott Boras (who the The Washington Post‘s Barry Svrluga notes represents Strasburg, Scherzer, Bryce Harper, Anthony Rendon and Jayson Werth) isn’t going to let the addition of one of his clients force out another prominent name he represents.

General manager Mike Rizzo didn’t shut down Strasburg in 2012, when the Nationals had legitimate World Series aspirations, in an attempt to protect his long-term investment only to trade the phenom before his 27th birthday.

Then there’s the fact that Boras adamantly refuted the USA Today report on Wednesday, saying, “Strasburg wants to play [in D.C.] and wants to be with Max Scherzer and grow.” I’m sorry, people, but a Strasburg who is under team control for another two seasons is not for sale. 

However, the Scherzer acquisition did make two other notable Nationals starting pitchers very much expendable: Jordan Zimmermann and Doug Fister. Those are the top names Boston should try and poach to bolster their uninspiring staff. 

If I were running the team from South Capitol Street Southeast, I wouldn’t entertain the idea of dealing Zimmermann. But Fox Sports’ Morosi is all over the story, reporting Washington has been in trade talks with “multiple” teams about the man who finished fifth in the 2014 NL Cy Young voting.

While I’d go all-in for the World Series this season with possibly one of the 10 best starting rotations ever, it’s worth reiterating that this franchise is still run by the same people who looked big picture and shut down Strasburg in 2012.

After shelling out $210 million for Scherzer, and with Strasburg and Harper megadeals looming, it appears highly likely that Zimmermann will be pitching elsewhere in 2016.

If the 28-year-old departs in free agency, the Nationals will receive a compensation draft pick. However, considering the return Zimmermann could generate on the trade market and what we know about Washington’s decision-makers, I truly believe he’s available. 

If Zimmermann is dealt, Washington plugs Tanner Roark (2.85 ERA in 198.2 innings in 2014) back into the rotation, stocks the farm system with talent and remains the team to beat in 2015. Scherzer, Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez, Fister and Roark would still be the preeminent starting staff in baseball.

Nobody has a better heart of the order than the Nationals. Theirs is headlined by the ascending Harper (.289 average, 14 home runs after the 2014 All-Star break, including postseason) and features Rendon, Werth, a healthy Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond in a contract year.

Couple that roster construction sans Zimmermann with a forward-thinking organization looking to set itself up for the next decade rather than next season, and I’d actually be surprised if the two-time All-Star remains in D.C.

So what would it take to pry Zimmermann away from Ted Lerner’s ballclub? Start with Boston’s No. 1 prospect, Blake Swihart, throw in second baseman Sean Coyle for the middle-infield needy Nationals (.295 average, 16 home runs in 97 Games at Double-A in 2014) and cap it off with a potential leadoff hitter in speedy outfielder Manuel Margot (Boston’s No. 7 prospect) or pitcher Brian Johnson (Beantown’s No. 5 prospect). 

That may sound too costly to those who make the common mistake of overvaluing prospects, but Zimmermann is surely worth that kind of haul if Boston signs him to an extension. He’s pitched 770 innings over the past four seasons, going 53-33 with a 3.00 ERA, a 3.18 fielding independent pitching (FIP) mark and a 1.117 WHIP.

FanGraphs shows how the righty attacks hitters with a steady diet of fastballs, where he consistently sits a hair under 94 mph and can reach back to get 97 when he needs it. He mixes in a slider and a curveball and will occasionally throw in a changeup to keep hitters off-balance.

Coming off of a career-year and with only 905 innings on his arm (including postseason), Zimmermann’s the best long-term investment option of any starting pitcher who is actually attainable. 

If the Nationals refuse to move the 2007 second-round pick or their asking price is too astronomical, Doug Fister is a pretty good Plan B. He’ll turn 31 in a couple of weeks and is also an unrestricted free agent in 2016, making him movable from the Nationals’ perspective, given their rotation depth.

Over the course of his six-year career, the ground-ball pitcher sports a 3.34 ERA and a 3.53 FIP, and he has shown impeccable control (1.7 walks per nine innings in 982.2 career innings). Because of his age and lack of power stuff (his average fastball velocity is in the 88 to 89 mph range), the package it would take to fetch Fister is probably significantly cheaper than what Washington would want for Zimmermann.

Acquiring a strong starter who borders on being a weak ace when it’s unlikely to cost upper-echelon prospects is intriguing. Pairing the aforementioned Johnson (10-2, 1.75 ERA, 0.932 WHIP in 118 Double-A innings last season) with slick-fielding shortstop Deven Marrero (Red Sox’s No. 9 prospect) could entice the Nationals to pull the trigger. 

So don’t be fooled by Ben Cherington telling The Boston Globe he doesn’t envision a “headline-grabbing” move before spring training. The GM isn’t going to hurt his bargaining position by freely admitting he’s hunting big fish.

You don’t undergo a drastic roster overhaul with high-priced signings and multiple trades to not finish the job by getting a No. 1 starter. He’s surely making calls to the nation’s capital, and the Red Sox would be fortunate to land either of the rotation options D.C. has to offer.


Notes: Stats courtesy of or FanGraphs unless otherwise noted. Prospect rankings via

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Projecting the Boston Red Sox’s 5-Man Rotation for 2015

The biggest questions surrounding the Boston Red Sox in 2015 concern the starting rotation.

Is pitching coach Juan Nieves’ staff good enough as presently constructed to contend for a World Series?

Can top prospect and left-handed pitcher Henry Owens be an impact midseason call-up?

Will general manager Ben Cherington acquire an ace to anchor the five-man unit? 

Given the curiosity, let’s project the rotation for the coming season with a rundown of each starter. 

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New Year’s Resolutions for the Boston Red Sox in 2015

Welcome to 2015, comrades. Just as all of us are setting goals to better ourselves in the new year, the Boston Red Sox organization should be no different. Not all resolutions are new, as some of our goals include staying the course with past accomplishments. For example, if you quit smoking in 2014, then striving to continue to stay away from cigarettes this year is a fine thing to aim for. 

With that in mind, here are four New Year’s resolutions the Red Sox should attempt to maintain through 2015.

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A Fan’s Christmas Wish List for the Boston Red Sox in 2015

Ahhh, the holidays. Eggnog, carols, the fresh smell of sap and distracting oneself from thy family with NBA action. But with the 10-16 Boston Celtics having just traded away Rajon Rondo and the New England Patriots already clinching the AFC’s No. 1 seed, the conversation for many New Englanders may quickly transition to the Boston Red Sox this Christmas. 

Writing “A Fan’s Christmas Wish List” could very easily venture to the absurd: “David Ortiz Breaks the Single-Season HR Record” or “The Red Sox Go a Perfect 173-0 (Including Postseason) to Win Their 4th World Series in 12 Years.”

Just to be clear, we won’t be going that route. Get your mind in a more realistic place. Think more along the lines of what you actually asked your parents for this Christmas. I’m guessing it wasn’t a Maserati. It was probably more like an Xbox One. 

The list could go on forever, so I’ll limit it to the five things I covet most for Boston in 2015 to put it in the best position to contend. 

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