Random thoughts as the Red Sox settle into spring training …
- Kudos to the Red Sox for not bidding against themselves to sign J.D. Martinez. With the Red Sox being the only viable bidder, Martinez seems to need the Red Sox more than the Red Sox need Martinez, whose opposite-field swing may not play well in Fenway Park. The Red Sox finished in the bottom of the league in homers and slugging last season, but nearly every position player underperformed for one reason or another. A fresh, more upbeat approach from Alex Cora and his staff will benefit young core players such as Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley, and Andrew Benintendi. I’m not saying Cora alone will turn the Red Sox line up into Murderer’s Row, but a fresh approach, good health, and a less-expensive bat (a Logan Morrison type) could bolster the Red Sox to the middle of the pack in terms of slugging. Remember they scored the sixth most runs in the league last year despite the power drout. Increased slugging combined with continued upper echelon pitching, strong defensive play, and aggressive but more careful base running make the Red Sox contenders.
- The road to the AL East Division Title clearly goes through Yankee Stadium, but the Bronx Bombers are far from unbeatable. Yes, the combination of of Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, and Gary Sanchez poses baseball’s most dangerous power threat. Yes, the deep, fire-breathing bullpen will shorten games and limit exposure of the not-so-deep Yankees starting rotation. And yes, the roster in comprised to take full advantage of the cozy confines of Yankee Stadium. But the Yankees — like every other major league team — are not without their share of problems. The holes are not gaping, but reason for concern. As of today, the the Yanks are relying on a pair untested 22-year-olds second (Gleyber Torres) and third (Miguel Andujar) basemen — a tall task for a team with World Series aspirations. The pitching rotation lacks depth. Luis Servino is electric, but has not proved to be a legitimate ace — at least not yet. With decrepit knees supporting his bulky frame, 37-year-old C.C. Sabathia cannot be expected to match last year’s performance and Masahiro Tanaka has experienced elbow issues. The line-up, despite its explosiveness, features a ton of strikeouts and sluggers are prone to long slumps. The Red Sox have the pitching staff to expose the Yankees flaws and stay competitive.
- If Chris Sale, David Price, and Rick Porcello perform up to expectations, the Red Sox will have one of the game’s more formidable pitching staffs, making the AL East a two-team race. Chris Sale is an annual Cy Young candidate, but, the success of the 2018 Red Sox may hinge on the condition of Price’s left elbow and ability to stay focused between the lines. Cora will have his hands full managing Price’s innings and limiting his distractions. When healthy and in the proper frame of mind, Price eats innings, wins games, and saves bullpens. Porcello’s 2016 Cy Young campaign poses evidence that he can be an elite pitcher, but his 2017 season indicates that he may be just a bottom of the rotation starter. I suspect the real Porcello lies somewhere in between, which would be a major boast behind Sale and Price. Drew Pomeranz, who seems to have found the proper balance between his big-breaking curveball and deceiving fastball, would be a No. 2 starter on most teams. Eduardo Rodriguez enters the season as the team’s fifth starter, but has the potential to be much more. With two healthy knees, the 24 year-old Rodriguez is ready to emerge.
- Rafael Devers is talented and powerful, but extremely raw. Don’t be surprised if the 21-year-old third baseman hits the “second-year” wall as pitchers find holes in his swing. How he adjusts will determine his success. In the meantime, Eduardo Nunez provides depth and insurance.
- Cora has not etched the starting line up in stone, but has discussed Betts batting first. At first glance, Betts’ swing and approach seems more suited for the middle of the batting order, but the All-Star right fielder seems most comfortable and productive leading off. After watching George Springer set the tone for the Astros, Cora likes the idea of aggression and power setting the tone.
- One of the top priorities for new hitting coach Tim Hyers is restoring Xander Bogaerts’ confidence. After hurting his hand last year, Bogaerts lost confidence and fell into many bad habits. Hyers will be charged with finding a way for Bogaerts to drive the ball consistently rather than being content as a contact hitter. Nunez will also play a role in keeping Bogaerts fresh throughout the season.