Red Sox Playing Smart with JD Martinez; Yanks Team To Beat, but Sox Will Contend

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.  

Christmas Comes Early: Red Sox Acquire Chris Sale

Christmas comes early for Red Sox fans as the Old Towne Team acquires the best available pitcher for four prospects.  Never one to shy away from a blockbuster deal, Red Sox baseball cazr Dave Dombrowski has put the Red Sox in prime position to be  baseball’s best for the next several years.

WHAT DOES THE SALE TRADE MEAN TO THE RED SOX?

Chris Sale joins a rotation with Cy Young winners Rick Porcello (2016) and David Price (2012) not to mention 2016 All-Stars Steve Wright and Drew Pomeranz.  Clay Buchholz and Eduardo Rodriguez provide depth and possible trade chips for roster flexibility and future improvements.

If all goes according to plan, the triple-headed monster atop the rotation will account for 50 or so wins and more the 600 mostly-quality innings.  Improving the pitching rotation was not a top priority for the 2017 Red Sox, but Sale is a big-time difference maker.  With a vastly improved rotation combined with a rebuilt bullpen and a dynamic offense, the Red Sox are clearly the team to beat in the American League.

HOW GOOD IS CHRIS SALE?

Sale had yet to win a Cy Young Award, but his resume is quite impressive:

  • Finished in the top six of the AL Cy Young voting each of the past five years with a high of third place in 2014 when he compiled a 2.17 ERA.
  • Had a league-leading 274 strikeouts in 208.2 innings in 2015.
  • In the past five years, just one major league pitcher has a lower ERA than Sale’s 3.04 and more strikeouts than his 1,133.  His name is Clayton Kershaw.
  • Has struck out 27.9% of the batters he’s faced in his major league career, which is best among pitchers with at least 1,000 innings pitched.
  • Has produced more value by Wins Above Replacement than any other players from the 2010 draft class, ahead of Bryce Harper and Manny Machado.  Read that last bullet point again … slowly … Yes, it’s true, Chris Sale has been that productive.
  • Has finished in the top 10 among AL pitchers in WAR four times, strikeouts five times, and ERA five times in just five seasons as a starter. That is a gigantic WOW!  
  • Ranks first among all active AL pitchers in career WHIP (1.01).  Partner in crime and fellow southpaw David Price ranks second (1.14).
  • Is 4-1 with an anemic 1.17 ERA in 10 career games against the Yankees.

Always a good sign when your newly-acquired, yet-to-reach-his-prime, 27-year-old-pitcher has a more accomplished career than his two Cy Young Award winning teammates.

AT WHAT COST DID THE RED SOX ACQUIRE CHRIS SALE?

A pitcheryoanmoncada of Sale’s caliber does not come cheap.  With an aim towards the World Series, the Red Sox paid a steep price to acquire one of the game’s best pitchers.  

The deal would not have happened without 21-year-old Cuban import Yoan Moncada changing his red sox for white.  The No. 1 prospect in Baseball America’s “Midseason Top 100”,  Moncada has compiled a .875 OPS with 94 stolen bases in 187 minor league games.  The switch-hitting, fielding-challenged Moncada was also named Baseball America’s 2016 Minor League Player of the Year.  He’s projected to be the White Sox second baseman of the future.  

Comparisons to Harper, Machado, and Mike Trout are a bit premature as Moncada strikes out at an alarming rate and is suspect defensively, but his raw potential is staggering.  He has big-time speed and major power potential built into a 6’2”, 205-pound frame.  With second base his likely landing place, Moncada reminds many baseball people of Robinson Cano.

The White Sox also receive flamethrowing prospect Michael Kopech, a potential ace with with a checkered past.  One of the game’s top pitching prospects, Kopech’s fastball consistently clocks at 101 mph and has reportedly topped out at 105 mph.  He also throws a plus curveball and is developing a change up.  Missed time due to a PED suspension and broken hand resulting from an altercation with a teammate have slowed his growth and caused reason for concern.  But Kopech has a big-time arm and the White Sox believe he is worth the gamble.

Luis Alexander Basabe, a speedy centerfielder with many tools, and Victor Diaz, a strong-armed reliever with command issues complete the deal.  Both have significant upside, but are several years away from cracking the majors.

Yes, the  bounty was high, but opportunities to acquire the Chris Sales of the world are few and far between.

IS THERE ANY RISK INVOLVED FOR THE RED SOX?

There is always some risk involved with blockbuster deals.  Sale’s low-slot, high-elbow pitching motion accounts for deceptive movement to his pitches, but also puts him at risk for declining velocity or potential injury.  Some scouts believe Sale’s pitching motion will cause acce2015-topps-chris-sale-213x300lerated wear and tear to his elbow.  The Red Sox are  using the past to project the future.  In his five year career, Sale has never made fewer than 26 starts and has qualified for an ERA title every year.  With the Red Sox pitching depth, an occasional skipped start to rest the arm should not be an issue.

The Red Sox are taking minimal risk financially as they control Sale for three years for $38 million — an absolute steal for an ace in today’s pitching market.  He will count just $6 million against the luxury tax next season.  The likely shedding of  Buchholz’s $13.5 million contract before the start of the season will keep the  Red Sox under the $195 million luxury tax threshold.

DID THE RED SOX MAKE A WISE DECISION IN TRADING FOR SALE?

Absolutely, positively yes.  Red Sox ownership brought Dombrowski to Boston to win a World Series, not to have the most players in Baseball America’s Top 100 Prospects list.  Sale in the starting rotation brings the Red Sox closer to the ultimate goal than Moncada, Kopech, et al developing in the minors.  The future is now.

Merry Christmas, Red Sox fans!

Red Sox Introduce Ace David Price To Rotation

Preaching the need for a true ace to build a contending team, new Red Sox baseball czar Dave Dombrowski responded quickly by signing David Price to a long-term deal during the off season. Price is a genuine, front of the rotation ace — clearly one of the game’s top five pitchers. His resume includes a Cy Young Award and two runner-up finishes to go along with two ERA titles.

The first Price baseball card in a Red Sox uniform is from the 2016 Topps Heritage series, which features the design from the classic 1967 Topps set. The design combines a large player image with a minimal design, making the players the main focus of the set. The design concept made 1967 Topps one of the most popular sets from the ‘60s.

Responding to consecutive last place finishes, the Red Sox get left-handed Price at the peak of his career and durability has never been an issue. He has had only one minor injury in his career, sitting out six weeks in 2013 because of a sore triceps muscle. Price has also been transitioning from a power thrower to a more complete pitcher over the last few seasons. While maintaining a mid-90s fastball, Price has become more reliant on curveballs and changeups, which should limit the wear and tear on his arm.

Price, a standout pitcher at Vanderbilt, first landed on the hobby radar in 2005 when he won two games for the United States National Team while tallying 39 strikeouts in just over 28 games. The following summer, Price led the United States to a gold medal in the World University Baseball Championship held in Cuba. In eight starts for the US, Price was 5-1 with a miniscule 0.20 ERA. Price’s 2005 Topps Team USA card is a popular pre-rookie card readily available for $2. Certified Autographed versions limited to a production run of 475 are selling for $50.

PriceUSA

If there is any knock on Price it’s that his amateur championship success has not translated to playoff success at the major league level. Price is 2-7 — with both wins coming in relief — with a 5.12 ERA in 14 playoff games. At $31 million annually, the man signing the checks and the win-at-all-costs fan base will have much higher expectations over the next seven years.

 

Given the overall talent in the Red Sox organization, Price will likely have opportunities to improve his postseason record during the length of his contract. The Red Sox are hopeful Price will anchor an unsteady pitching staff, taking pressure off the inconsistent Clay Buchholz, rising star Eduardo Rodriguez and enigmatic veterans Joe Kelly and Rick Porcello.

A true workhorse, Price ranks fourth in the majors in innings and strikeouts, and third in wins since his first full season in 2010. He was arguably the AL’s best starter in 2015, posting an 18-5 record with a 2.45 ERA with 235 strikeouts in 32 starts for the Tigers and Blue Jays last season. Price finished second in 2015 AL Cy Young voting and has placed in the top six four times in his career, including winning it with Tampa Bay in 2012. His 2013 Topps “Chasing Cy Young” game worn jersey card is a nice pickup for $5.

Price, the top overall pick in the 2007 MLB Amateur Draft, has also had tremendous success against stacked AL East lineups of recent years past and is 6-1 with a 1.95 ERA at Fenway Park over his eight-year career. With the best defensive outfield in the league covering his back, Price has positioned himself well for continued success.

Now that Price is standing center stage in a big city baseball market for the first time in his career, expect increased demand in his autograph and game used memorabilia cards. Price’s 2009 Topps Finest “Letter Patch” autograph card (the patch was taken from his actual Vanderbilt baseball uniform) is selling for $325 and is on the rise. His first Red Sox memorabilia and autographed cards will be issued later this spring.

Red Sox Leaning Away From Analytics, Emphasizing Scouting?

John Henry’s declaration that the Red Sox have relied too much on analytics in recent years has made for interesting sports radio fodder, but does the Red Sox owner really mean what he says? After all, his team employs Bill James, the father of sabermetrics, and spends more money on statistical analysis than most major league teams. Henry made his fortune analyzing the commodities and stock markets, so crunching numbers is in his blood.sabr

I don’t mean to put words in Henry’s billion-dollar mouth, but I believe he intended to say, “We will continue to use analytics — You remember our 2004, 2007 and 2013 teams, don’t you? — but analytics will no longer trump the obvious.”

The Red Sox projected big numbers from Pablo Sandoval when they inked him to a five-year, $95 million contract over a year ago. But they ignored the obvious, most basic statistics: Sandoval’s batting average and OPS had dropped in three consecutive seasons. Last year, Sandoval’s first in a Red Sox uniform, made four.

The Red Sox also seemed to ignore Sandoval’s ever-expanding waistline. Sandoval has battled weight issues his entire career. His extra pounds likely contributed to his troubles at the plate and clearly limited his range at third base. Statistically, you could argue that Sandoval was one of baseball’s least productive players — offensively and defensively — last season.

The Red Sox also had high expectations for Hanley Ramirez, but again overlooked the obvious. Ramirez’s career has been mired with injuries, peaks, valleys, and overall indifference. Last season was no different. He was one of baseball’s top sluggers for month or so before a shoulder injury limited his play for the remainder of the season. Never much of an infielder, Ramirez played Fenway’s left field like it was covered with landmines.

His work ethic and ability to bounce back from injuries were questioned by previous coaching staffs in Florida and Los Angeles, but the still Red Sox emptied the vault (four years, $88 million) for the unreliable Ramirez to be the focal point of their offense while learning a new position.

The Red Sox also swung and missed with Rick Porcello. Last off-season, the Sox traded a valuable commodity (Yoenis Cespedes) for Porcello and promptly signed the right-handed pitcher to a four-year, $82.5 million contract extension. Paid like an ace, Porcello performed like a pitcher struggling to stay in the majors. The Red Sox clearly saw something in Porcello that others did not. He may emerge as a solid mid-rotation pitcher, but nothing more.

New baseball chief Dave Dombrowski brings different methods and skills to the table. Regarded as a top baseball executive, Dombroski developed his craft in the scouting and developmental departments of the White Sox and Expos before running the shows in Florida and Detroit. Metrics mean something, but his eyes tell him more.

Upon arrival in Boston, he quickly identified the team’s biggest needs and quickly attacked, signing David Price and trading for Craig Kimbrel. Price is the ace every contending team needs and Kimbrel, a bonafide, card-carrying closer that solidifies the entire bullpen. As the Kansas City Royals have proven, the road to the World Series goes through the bullpen these days.

The Red Sox spend significant time and money on scouting and analytics. Dombrowski is charged with merging the two components. He’s old school, so count on the eye test to be the deciding factor. And don’t count on the new Red Sox missing the obvious anytime soon.