BY ZACK BECKER
2013 Record: 97-65 (1st Place AL East, – GB)
Well, this is it. We’ve made it 30 days, now here’s your look at the reigning World Champion Boston Red Sox.
Last season, the Sox surprised everyone, coming back from a last-place finish in 2012 to win the World Series over the Cardinals in six games. I hate to pick on ESPN for a second straight post, especially their baseball guys whom I love dearly, but they tweeted this the other day, so they earned it.
How many of their 43 “experts” chose the Red Sox to win the East? Zero. Only three had the BoSox sneaking in with a Wild Card berth. Twenty of those same experts had the lowly Blue Jays winning the division.
But I digress.
Boston’s rotation was the weaker part of the team for much of the year, with staff ace Jon Lester carrying a bloated 4.60 ERA late into the season. Then, Lester and the rest of the rotation, caught fire. The lefty went 5-1 over his last eight starts with a 2.22 ERA in that span. He carried that momentum into the postseason, where he pitched to a 1.56 ERA in five starts including two World Series wins.
The real strength of this team was its offense. They plated 57 more runs than the next closest club. They also finished among the top of the league in in batting average (2nd), hits (2nd), doubles (1st), home runs (6th), walks (3rd), stolen bases (4th) and OPS (1st).
The leader of this power surge was none other than Big Papi. David Ortiz missed the team’s first 19 games, but when he returned, he didn’t miss a beat, hitting .309 and going 30/100 for the first time since 2010.
Unfortunately, times have changed and a championship team often breaks up before the next season begins. The Red Sox were no exception to this trend; although they head into the 2014 season with some new faces, the goal remains the same: Repeat.
CF Grady Sizemore (1yr/$750,000)
C A.J. Pierzynski (1yr/$8.25 mil)
RP Edward Mujica (2yr/$9.5 mil)
The biggest low risk/high reward signing of the offseason award goes to the Sox for Gradius Sizemore III. His contract is barely a blip on the radar of the enormous $162,817,411 Boston payroll. Incentives can increase the value of the deal to $6 million. He’s already earned an extra $250,000 by being placed on the Opening Day roster, where he’ll be penciled into the starting centerfield role. He hasn’t played in a major league game since 2011 and his last full season was way back in 2008. Sizemore is only 31, so it’s not out of the question to believe he can play well in the Bigs again. His Spring Training audition (more on that later) went well enough for the team to demote hot prospect Jackie Bradley, Jr. in favor of his oft-injured self. Everyone (well, at least the girls) from Ryan and Corey’s neck of the woods is rooting for her future husband Grady.
Pierzynski fills the void left at catcher by Jarrod Saltalamacchia. He’s a 16-year veteran of the league, so I doubt he’ll have much trouble handling the Red Sox rotation, much of which is comprised of veteran pitchers. He rejoins Jake Peavy, whom he caught with the White Sox. That familiarity should provide for a good season for the former Cy Young winner. His .722 OPS looks just alright on paper, but it’s masking a career-worst .297 on-base percentage that came as a result of the backstop drawing a career-low 11 walks — his career high is 28, so it’s not likely he’d get on base that way anyway, but an increase in plate discipline can’t hurt. Luckily, this offense is good enough that he can hit low in the lineup, where a low OBP won’t hurt the team too much.
Mujica comes to a great bullpen and will likely see some time in a setup role. He’s been a bit of a journeyman, but he’s pitched well regardless. Over the last two seasons, he’s appeared in 135 games and kept his ERA to a low 2.91 across 130 innings. In those two years, he’s gathered another intangible that the Sox desire — postseason experience. He appeared in 10 playoff games with the Cardinals in 2012 and 2013. If the Red Sox play in October, look for John Farrell to call on Mujica in crunch time.
CF Jacoby Ellsbury — this one hurts. Well, at least it hurts Boston fans. Ellsbury, fresh off his second World Series with the Red Sox, took a massive contract from his former rival Yankees that his old team refused to match. Injuries sidelined him for most of 2010 and 2012, but when he’s healthy, he is a major presence on the basepaths. He still stole an average of 55 bases per 162 games with the Sox, leading the league three times. If Sizemore can recapture the skill of his glory days in Cleveland, Sox fans won’t mourn the loss of Ellsbury too long.
C Jarrod Saltalamacchia — that name sure is fun to type. He leaves the team for the Marlins, where he’ll be in a pressure-free environment. Pierzynski is virtually the same player offensively, except he actually hits for a much better average. He, like Ellsbury, will be forgotten quickly if his replacement plays well.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Grady Sizemore and Clay Buchholz. After Sizemore won the starting job in center over Jackie Bradley, he’s expected to play well in a potent lineup. He was three times an All-Star and twice a Gold Glover with Cleveland, so we know he has the potential to be great. This spring, he hit .333 in 39 at bats. It’ll take a bit for him to readjust to game conditions, but I’m looking for Sizemore to have a good season in Boston. AL Comeback Player of the Year isn’t out of the question for him.
Clay Buchholz was fantastic last season for the Sox, going 9-0 before injury kept him off the field for over three months. He returned and finished the season 3-1 to give him an overall 12-1 record with a sparkling 1.74 ERA. However, his regular-season excellence didn’t translate to October, where he made four starts without a decision and a 4.35 ERA. It’ll be interesting to see which Buchholz we see in 2014.
Projected Opening Day Lineup
Boston lost a leader of the team in Ellsbury, but the real heart of the team remains intact with Ortiz signing an extension this offseason and Pedroia on contract until 2021. The Sox are my pick to repeat as AL East champs, but their domination will be tested all season long by some much improved AL clubs.