I spoke with an old friend today and he asked about the Red Sox. He was not jabbing me, he doesn’t follow other teams very closely. This has been a very bad season for the Red Sox. It was a team built on a lengthy series of “ifs”. Most of these things had to turn out positively if the the Red Sox were to have a good season. Here are some of them.
If Dustin Pedroia regains his stroke and stays healthy, they can be a good team. Dustin did regain his stroke. He was not up to his usual standards defensively, but still better than most second basemen. But he didn’t stay healthy, pulling a hammy he has been on the DL twice. He is close to returning but it won’t really matter.
If Hanley Ramirez can learn to play in left field, they can be a good team. This clearly didn’t happen. His frequent miscues have extended innings and cost them runs, and therefore games. This has been one of their BIG problems.
If Pablo Sandoval can keep his weight down, they can be a good team. This hasn’t happened. He has had conditioning issues running the bases. His defense has been very bad (not quite Hanley Ramirez bad) costing them runs and games. His offense has been fairly pathetic.
If Clay can pitch like early 2013, and stay healthy, they can be a good team. While he struggled early, he returned to dominant form. Until he got hurt, that is. He was the one pitcher who consistently went deep into the games, giving the bullpen a rest. His injury doomed a bullpen that was already in trouble.
If Jackie Bradley Jr. can figure out MLB pitching, they can be a good team. JBJ is an elite defender. Some say he is the best centerfielder they have ever seen. But so far he’s hit well under .200. It has only been in the last 8 days that JBJ has given us any hope that he can hit big League pitching. Too little, too late for this season. but maybe it will pay dividends in the future.
If Xander Bogaerts can improve his defense and hit better, then they can be a good team. These both happened. Xander has been one of the bright spots in this line up. His defense is much improved over last year. His time working out with Pedroia has paid off. After a slump to start the season, Xander has been their best hitter. He still doesn’t exhibit the power we think is there. Perhaps that will come next year, but he is still driving in runs.
If Mike Napoli can sleep his offense may improve and they can be a good team. He’s been getting sleep, but his offense seemed to fall asleep too, except for one weekend that got him offensive player of the week. The abysmal production from first base was a key factor in this lineup not fulfilling its predicted potential. He was hard to hate, but this was an ugly season for Napoli.
If Rusney Castillo can fulfill the promise and stay healthy we saw at the end of last year, they can be a good team. He didn’t, and he didn’t. Part of that, I think, is on Farrell. If guys don’t get consistent playing time the can’t get in a good rhythm. With increased playing time recently, he has begun to produce at the plate. Just when you think he’s going to break out, he fouls a ball off his foot and misses games. He doesn’t need to be the second coming of Mickey Mantle but Dwight Evans will do. We’ll see how he does the rest of the season.
If the new pitchers develop their evident skills, they can be a good team. Miley was an innings eater. Until this year. Though he his much improved and has lowered his ERA, there have been too many short starts which have put the bullpen in disarray. As the season wore on Porcello got worse and worse. He would give up a big inning or two, which resulted in short outings which taxed the bullpen. Joe Kelly couldn’t seem to put any movement on his pitches and was hit hard leading to short outings thereby taxing the bullpen (have you picked up on the theme????).
Eduardo Rodriquez was called up and did well initially. He has struggled lately and needs to make adjustments. Henry Owens has not really impressed in his two starts, but we’ll have to see. Steven Wright, the knuckleballer not the comedian, was just starting to put it together when he was hit in the head during batting practice and went on the concussion list.
The bullpen has chewed up and spit out pitchers. I’ve lost track of the “if they can put it together” guys who didn’t and got DFA’d.
You really can’t build a roster of “ifs”. A few are understandable, but they can’t encompass nearly every player. This is the lesson for Ben Cherington and the gang. Just like you want cost certainty, there needs to be some level of performance certainty. You can’t have too many guys who regularly end up on the DL. You can’t have too many guys at the beginning or end of their careers when production level will be a big mystery. He needs to limit those “ifs” next season. That probably means undoing some of what he did this past offseason. It may mean eating lots of salary so Pablo and Hanley aren’t killing the team. An outfield of JBJ (if his increased production lasts beyond a week or so), Betts and Castillo would be young, talented, strong defensively and better than average production-wise. Brock Holt can have you solid defense at third and hit about .280. He won’t have that corner power bat, but neither does the Panda. Shaw looks like he may be a good fit at first, flashing some power.
All is not lost. There are some good pieces moving forward. But they need to eliminate the liabilities that are killing them. I’m still not sure how to fix the rotation and bullpen.