Problems the Red Sox Will Face This Season

We’re weeks away from another baseball season. Spring training is up and running. The Red Sox made some impressive off-season moves, most notably in obtaining Chris Sale from Chicago. Along with David Price and Rick Porcello, Sale’s addition makes the team a strong contender. But let’s not forget about the problems the Red Sox will face as they prepare for the 2017 season.

John Farrell is entering his fifth season as the Red Sox skipper. Undoubtedly, calls to fireRed Sox Will Face him will rise again if the Red Sox hit the kind of slumps they faced last year. Farrell has to avoid a repeat of those issues or else he’ll finally get the ax. The fact that Farrell is still with the team reflects the level of confidence the Red Sox have in him but how long will that last, especially when their pitching staff will potentially carry them to the post season? The margin of error for Farrell is tighter than ever this year.

Farrell’s problem isn’t just that he’ll walk on thinner ice this season, but that ice will crack open if he doesn’t figure out how to rally the team when they fall behind.

Ghosts of Fenway’s Past Offer Solutions to Challenges the Red Sox Will Face

Recently I interviewed a few former Red Sox players from the 1967 and 1975 World Series teams. Jim Lonborg, Bill Lee, and Rico Petrocelli all agreed that focus and discipline made their teams successful. They stopped slumps before they gained momentum, and rallied each other to maintain morale. Talent and hard work took those teams all the way into the post-season, but what made those teams successful was how well they kept up their momentum.

A problem the Red Sox face time and time again is their inability to face dejection. That’s how they’ll make it to the post-season. It’s hard for them to rally when they fall behind. They can’t depend on David Ortiz anymore. The Red Sox don’t have an heir-apparent yet, but that player won’t reveal himself through talent alone. Ortiz’s heir will have to rise to the occasion to take the reins.

The Red Sox problem is not a lack of talent, it’s their inability to take advantage of the right opportunities.

The Obstruction of Potential: The Play That Derailed Two Careers

Even with unrivaled success this millennia, Boston fans do not often forget those times that did not go right for them. They never forget that which went horribly wrong, even if it was corrected in the end.

The 2013 World Series championship was unforgettable for Boston and the city’s baseballObstruction fans. When seemingly everything went right for the Red Sox that year, there was a moment in that World Series where it looked like it would all fall apart. There was one moment where Red Sox nation felt like Raiders fans after the Tuck Rule in 2001. That one moment did not necessarily damn the series, but it could have damned two once-promising MLB careers.

Late in Game Three, St. Louis’s Allen Craig came around third after an overthrow. After tripping over third baseman Will Middlebrooks, he came around to score the winning run via an obstruction call. If not for the call, Craig would have been out by five feet, but alas the Cardinals suddenly had a 2-1 series lead.  While the call had Bostonians up in arms, the Red Sox won the next three games to claim their eighth world championship. The obstruction could be seen; the downward spiral of the two players’ careers could not.

Allen Craig’s Downfall

At the 2014 trade deadline, these two teams were heading in opposite directions. With St. Louis making a playoff push, they traded Craig along with Joe Kelly to Boston in exchange for John Lackey. Craig was under team control for three and a half more years with a club option for 2018. He was definitely one of the hardest hitters in the Cardinals’ lineup. The only thing Craig hit in Boston (and Pawtucket) was a wall.

In 29 games with Boston in 2014, he hit a brutal .128 with a whopping two RBI, enough to send the biggest optimists into a fit of pure rage. 2015 was not much better. He hit .152 in 36 games, but surpassed his RBI total of 2014, churning out three. Since then, he’s gotten to know Pawtucket better than their own mayor. This past season, he appeared in 22 games for the Pawtucket Red Sox, raking to the tune of a .173 average and slugging .250 along with his one homer and six RBI.

In 2013, Craig had 97 RBI for the Cardinals. In the two and a half seasons since that he’s been with the Red Sox, he has 41 split between his time in Boston and Pawtucket. The Red Sox will undoubtedly not pick up his option after this year and will owe him 13 million dollars in 2018. To call Craig a disappointment would be an insult to all the disappointments who never got a hug from their dad. Craig was a catastrophic failure.

The Drop-Off of Will Middlebrooks

The road for Will Middlebrooks since earning a ring has not been much friendlier. He broke out in 2012 where he hit 15 homers in his first big league season. His average subsequently dipped from .288 to .227 in 2013. Middlebrooks made it through the 2014 season with Boston, hitting .191 with two homers in 63 games. In December of that year, he was traded to San Diego for Ryan Hanigan. As bad as Hanigan was the past two seasons, it is really tough to decipher who won that deal.

In 2015, Middlebrooks appeared in 83 games for the Padres when he hit .212 with a .224 OBP. That production on a last place team earned him a trip to Milwaukee in free agency. On a Brewers team that went 73-89, Middlebrooks only earned 27 at-bats in 10 games, hitting .111. This offseason, he signed a minor-league deal with the Texas Rangers, making him a member of four different organizations in the four years since the 2013 World Series title.

Postlude

As bad as those two guys have been since then, there are still people involved in this infamous play who have been nearly as disappointing. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who threw the ball away to allow Craig to score, has been with three teams since then. His highest batting average since has been .225. Jim Joyce, the umpire who made the call, is most famous for that and blowing Armando Galarraga’s perfect game. He retired unceremoniously this offseason.

Times like these remind us there is nothing promised in this game. Craig was the x-factor of the 2013 World Series and now he’s struggling for playing time in Pawtucket. Middlebrooks was a budding slugger who has been in and out of the minors. While the obstruction call ended up not having a huge impact on the series, it drastically altered not just a runner’s path to home plate, but also two once-promising MLB careers.

Is Pablo Sandoval Ready to Start Over?

Seemingly every time I unlock my iPhone, I see Pablo Sandoval. I’m not sure if that excites me, or merely worries me.

It’s all over social media. I’ll simply be scrolling through my Snapchat feed  when a story will popPablo Sandoval up and he will be working out with Miguel Cabrera. The next time I check my phone, Sandoval is live streaming his batting-practice on Instagram. There is reason to be enthusiastic, but I’m not sold yet.

Sandoval has hit a mere .242 in the American league thus far, and his on-base-percentage is under .300. He has not been spectacular defensively either, with 16 errors made in the field in just 129 games. The Red Sox should not be having issues at third-base, and Sandoval has under produced. He has been a disappointment so far, especially for a player who is still guaranteed some $40 million dollars.

Travis Shaw had potential in Boston. In his first full season in the big leagues, he showed promise in his somewhat limited role in Boston’s rotation of infielders. He hit 16 homers, 34 doubles and drove in 43 runs. Shaw only hit .242 last year, but what he did show was the capability to improve a clean swing that can drive balls to the pull side and gaps. Also, his ripe age of 26 made him even more appealing to me, personally.

Pablo Sandoval’s Role Moving Forward

Trading for Tyler Thornburg makes sense. We picked up a guy who has established himself as a dominant reliever in baseball for a player who may or may not have fit our system. Travis Shaw will now have a chance to flourish in Milwaukee, while Thornburg sets up Kimbrel in our bullpen. The Red Sox will now be forced to go ‘all-in’ on Pablo Sandoval because Shaw and Moncada are gone.

The numbers have not lied about Pablo Sandoval yet, as analysts have not projected him to be heavily productive at third base for this roster. Who knows what could happen? This is a guy who carried San Francisco on his back to a World Series title back in 2012. Watching him crush home-runs out of AT&T Park and seeing the pandamonium (yes, I went there) take place was an unbelievable experience for me, as a young baseball fan. Pablo Sandoval was the driving force of a World-Series-winning team just five years ago. It doesn’t sound like a risk at all when you put it that way, right?

John Farrell’s Next Move

Bill Belichick is the greatest professional football coach of all time. Hands down. There isn’t much of a debate anymore since the man has won five Super Bowls. He has created a dynasty that not many organizations will be able to top. Meanwhile, the Bruins relieved Claude Julien of his coaching duties on the day of the Patriots’ championship parade. They have actually played quite well since the move, winning four straight games. Brad Stevens is paving a path for a young Celtics team towards a top seed in the Eastern Conference come playoff time; Stevens coached the East in the NBA All-Star Game. With John FarrellSpring Training officially underway, Boston sports fans look toward John Farrell and wonder what his impact will be this year on the Red Sox.

The Red Sox exercised John Farrell’s 2017 option following their first round defeat to the Cleveland Indians. Dave Dombrowski, President of Baseball Operations, told the media he is not sure of a 2018 extension yet. Dombrowski said he would have to sit down with the front-office if there were a long-term decision to be made.

John Farrell’s Resume

John Farrell can get the job done—that has already been proven. The man has two World Series rings with Boston, (one as a head coach in 2013 and one as a pitching coach in 2007) and Boston sports fans know better than anyone else that rings talk. 

On the other hand, the Red Sox finished 25 games back of the Baltimore Orioles in 2014, and 15 games out in 2015 behind the Toronto Blue Jays. Just this past year, the Red Sox won the AL East, but were swept out of the first round. A lot can come from analyzing Farrell’s first four seasons as our head coach. 2013 was a magical year for the organization, and it was one of redemption for the city of Boston. Is the manager capable of getting his team back to the promised land?

Farrell has the talent on his roster to do it. The addition of Chris Sale gives the Red Sox one of the deepest starting rotations in baseball. Trading for Tyler Thornburg will give Craig Kimbrel a consistent set-up man to work behind. Since the Sox sent Travis Shaw to Milwaukee, Mitch Moreland has the opportunity to play first-base. This leaves Hanley Ramirez the DH job he has been waiting for. Red Sox fans have plenty to be excited about, and John Farrell also has plenty to look forward to. 

Personally, I think John Farrell is a legit manager in this league. He fits in nicely in Boston, given his experience. Don’t forget though, a disappointing finish could mean the end of the road for any manager in the MLB. This is especially possible in the City of Champions.

Will Boston Love or Loathe Chris Sale?

I am thrilled that Boston acquired Chris Sale, but not too thrilled. While he has excellent numbers, his alleged prima-donna attitude worries me. Some might think it’s petty to focus on his behavior. There’s the infamous uniform incident from last season when Sale destroyed the White Sox throwback jerseys. He’s also clashed with White Sox managers and front office people alike. For some it’s not a big deal. But will Boston loathe Chris Sale if his attitude keeps the Red Sox from winning?

Red Sox fans have a history of not tolerating a player’s bad attitude, no matter how great they are.loathe chris sale Ted Williams, despite being the last player to hit .400, received his fair share of boos at Fenway Park (purposely lining balls into the stands probably didn’t help). Mo Vaughn, despite being an All-Star and 1995 MVP, constantly clashed with Red Sox management. In fact, Vaughn’s animosity factored into the team’s decision not to resign him after becoming a free agent in 1998. Most fans might say, “Who cares?” Personally, I don’t care too much either. In Sale’s case, however, his history of sticking his nose where it doesn’t belong, and deciding what uniform the team will wear suggests he may not want to put the team before himself.

Camaraderie among teammates is important. If players don’t support each other then the team won’t win. It also affects morale. Fans in recent years have seen its fair share of fights between teammates. The heated dugout argument between Red Sox pitcher Wade Miley and John Farrell in June of 2015 caught people’s attention and made many question Miley’s ability to keep his cool. It reminds me of last season’s incident where Sale stuck up for teammate Adam LaRoche. LaRoche was asked not to bring his son to the clubhouse anymore, which led Sale to criticize the White Sox front office. To many, it made Sale look like a hero for standing up to authority. Personally though, I think Sale used it as an opportunity to make himself look bigger than he is.

Loathe Chris Sale? Not So Fast, But…

I don’t loathe Chris Sale myself. He’s a dominant pitcher and I’m looking forward to seeing what he’ll bring to Boston. But I hope he’s aware of what he’s getting himself into. Badmouthing the White Sox front office might fly in Chicago, but I doubt Dave Dombrowski will tolerate that. Arguing with manager Robin Ventura and getting involved in another player’s business might also fly in Chicago, but Boston fans won’t be so forgiving if he flashes that attitude at them. Red Sox fans will love Sale if he can help deliver another World Series title for Boston. But if he wants to be the defiant player he acted like in Chicago, he’d better prepare for an onslaught of verbal abuse from Red Sox fans, especially if he doesn’t deliver.

Red Sox Looking At Carlos Beltran

A week after the Chicago Cubs finally ended their 108-year World Series drought, the other 29 teams are back to work. For the Red Sox, it is time to fill some holes in their lineup. With the departure of David Ortiz, the designated hitter position is finally back on their radar. While Edwin Encarnacion has been the hot name, Carlos Beltran is the newest player rumored to come to Boston.

This is not the first time the Red Sox have shown interest in Beltran. They were in theBeltran discussions for the 39-year old as recently as this year’s trade deadline. As a Yankee however, the asking price to trade within the division was too high. After an up-and-down second half with Texas, Beltran is again tied to Red Sox rumors. With Ortiz leaving a huge hole in the lineup, Beltran may be a cheap, short-term answer.

Even as a 39-year old, Beltran made his ninth All-Star game. Along the way, he hit .295 with 29 homers and 93 RBI with an .850 OPS. In the three seasons from 2013-2015, Beltran also hit .352 at Fenway Park. For his career, he has hit .281 with 421 home runs and 1,532 RBI. Although quietly, Beltran’s bat is certainly paving him a path towards Cooperstown based purely on his numbers.

Over his 19 major league seasons, Beltran has solidified himself as one of the all-time great switch hitters. Last year’s splits were consistently good from both sides of the plate. He hit a serviceable .279 against righties and a terrific .338 against lefties in 2016. Even with a lower average, most of his power comes batting left-handed with 20 of his 29 homers last year coming against righties. Beltran can also still play some outfield, where he had 242 at-bats last year.

His age, however, is still an issue. He will turn 40 in April, so a one-year deal with a second year option seems the most likely route. If the Red Sox have to overpay for a “rental” player like Beltran, that would take Encarnacion off the table. With the Yankees courting Encarnacion too, it could be 5-6 more years of playing against him in the division. A one-year deal could be the best thing for Beltran and the Red Sox. In the last full month with both of his teams last year, Beltran raked. In June with the Yankees, he hit .366, slugged .659 with a 1.081 OPS with seven home runs and 22 RBI. In the September stretch drive with the Rangers, he hit .304 with four homers and 18 RBI.

What I’m trying to say is, it seems there’s still something left in Carlos Beltran. If the Red Sox don’t want to offer five or six years for Edwin Encarnacion, this could be a short-term solution. A one-year deal where he DH’s and plays a little left field if need be could be a good fit for both sides. Whatever ounce this future Hall-of-Famer has left can really help the Red Sox next year.