High expectations for the 2014 Red Sox

The 2013 Red Sox celebration after their World Series win last year.

The 2013 Red Sox celebration after their World Series win last year.

by Seth MacDonald

The Boston Red Sox are fresh off their third World Series title in the last ten years and are looking to become the first repeat champions in Major League Baseball since the 1999-2000 New York Yankees this upcoming 2014 campaign.

With that being said, what can we expect from them this year? What’s the same? What’s changed? Not only from a player and roster standpoint, but what about the competition that surrounds them?

The two biggest subtractions for the Red Sox this offseason were center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. Ellsbury, 30, led the majors with 52 stolen bases in 2013 as well as leading the American League two other seasons (’08-’09).  Boston will have to adjust to life without the proven speedster and table setter that is Ellsbury. This creates a void in center field and the two biggest options to fill that void are Jackie Bradley Jr. and Grady Sizemore. But what can we expect from either of them? Bradley Jr. hit just .195 in 95 at-bats last year in his first go-around in the majors, so his offensive ability is certainly in question. Is he ready to hit at the major league level on a consistent basis yet? Then there’s Sizemore, who signed a one year deal this offseason with performance incentives. Sizemore, 31, has been plagued by injuries the last several years, not seeing action in a major league game since 2011 and not completing a full a season in the bigs since 2008. Signing him is definitely a gamble, but if he can stay healthy, he could end up being a solid addition given his past track record as a star with Cleveland. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Red Sox go with a Bradley Jr.-Sizemore platoon in center field to begin the season.

There’s no hole to fill at catcher with Saltalamacchia’s departure, as veteran backstop A.J. Pierzynski signed a one year pact in December. Pierzynski, 37, is a .283 career hitter and despite never winning a Gold Glove, is very solid behind the plate with a .995 career fielding percentage. He’s had two of his best offensive seasons the last two campaigns and is certainly capable of handling the pitching staff and guiding them towards the necessary adjustments they need to make throughout the course of the season. Although he lacks the switch hitting ability and tape measure home run power that Saltalamacchia has, as well as being nearly 7.5 years older than his predecessor, his short term deal should end up proving to be a good move, backed up by his veteran and leadership presence, great clubhouse personality and solid offensive and defensive ability.

Additional minor subtractions include lefty reliever Matt Thornton (acquired last July 12; didn’t impress too much with a 1.76 WHIP in 20 games for Boston) who inked a two year deal with the Yankees and reliever Franklin Morales, also a lefty, who was traded to the Rockies for utility infielder Jonathan Herrera, who hit .292 last year in 195 at-bats.

Starter Ryan Dempster (8-9, 4.57 ERA in 2013), who was entering the final year of his two year deal, is another subtraction as he recently announced he will sit out in 2014 due to physical and family issues. Including Dempster, the Red Sox were looking at six potential starters, but now it’s five (Lester, Buchholz, Doubront, Lackey, Peavy). And those five make a pretty damn good rotation.

Aside from Pierzynski and Mike Napoli who returned on a two year contract, three key acquisitions this offseason were Edward Mujica, Burke Badenhop and Chris Capuano. Mujica, who turns 30 in May, saved 37 games for the Cardinals in 41 chances last year while posting a 2.78 ERA in his first full year as a closer. He’ll take over closing duties as Koji Uehara will be thrown into the set-up role (and can still close when necessary), where he should do just fine given how dominant he was as the closer last year. Over the last four seasons as a full time reliever, Mujica has posted a 3.10 ERA and 1.00 WHIP. As for Badenhop, 31, he’s another right handed reliever who has pitched the last two seasons with Tampa Bay and Milwaukee, respectively, tossing 62 1/3 innings each season and posting a 3.25 ERA in that time. And as for Capuano, he’s a nine year veteran with a career 4.27 ERA in 238 games (209 starts). In 24 games (20 starts) for the Dodgers last year, he went 4-7 with a 4.26 ERA. He will likely be a primary reliever this season and make spot starts when necessary.

Although there have been some key subtractions this offseason, there have been some key additions and the Red Sox still have a great team. Good lineup, good rotation, good bullpen, and good role players (Gomes, Ross, Carp) who accept their place on the team and perform when needed. On paper, their roster looks like one that can and should compete for another World Series title.

It’s worth noting that Xander Bogaerts, the young 21-year-old phenom the Red Sox kept off limits to other teams this offseason via trades, will be a rookie this season. It should be interesting to see how he performs over the course of a full season. He showed tremendous poise in the playoffs this past year, possibly a preview of good things to come from the gifted Aruban shortstop (only the fifth player from Aruba to ever play in MLB). Third baseman Will Middlebrooks is another guy. He’ll look to have a bounceback season after hitting just .227 in 348 at-bats last year due to injuries. If he can show the same type of potential he did during his 2012 rookie year, it makes Boston’s lineup and team overall even more dangerous. He’s still just 25 years old.

Despite their promising roster and high expectations, the Red Sox will have to adjust to new competition within their division. The Yankees had a down year last year, finishing 85-77 (their worst season record wise since 2000) in large part to season-long injuries to Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter. If the two of them can remain healthy this season, combined with a much fitter C.C. Sabathia (14-13, 4.78 ERA last year, far from his standards) and the big acquisitions of Ellsbury (7 yr/$153 mil), Carlos Beltran (3 yr/$48 mil), Brian McCann (5 yr/$80 mil) and prized Japanese prospect Masahiro Tanaka (7 yr/$155 mil), New York should be in the playoff hunt right until the end of the season with Boston and perform like the Yankees we are accustomed to seeing year in and year out. With the amount of money they spent this offseason, you know they will.

The Orioles are another team to watch out for. They’ve rejuvenated themselves the last two years and are once again a threat in the AL East to compete, and are looking even better heading into 2014. This offseason they signed flamethrower Ubaldo Jimenez to a four year deal and slugger Nelson Cruz to a one year deal. Jimenez has electric stuff and should be the ace of Baltimore’s rotation; as for Cruz, one of the most feared sluggers in the league, he should fit nicely in that lineup which is already packed with terrific young talent.

It should be a very exciting 2014 campaign for the Red Sox. There are many things to look forward to and keep a close eye on as the season progresses. The competition should be top notch, the playoff race should go right down to the wire and the players you would expect to perform at a high level should do so once again like they usually do.  Hopefully when it’s all said and done it will lead to another championship for the Red Sox and city of Boston.

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