With New Red Sox Veteran Core, Prospects May Excel

red sox veteran

During the public autopsy on the disastrous 2014 Red Sox, plenty of theories were offered as to why the team just totally fell apart. Persistent injuries, under-performing coaches and World Series hangovers were all cited, but one important factor was often overlooked: Boston’s lack of a star veteran core.

Previous Red Sox teams always had a nucleus of superstars on which to rely for Red Sox Veteranleadership. In 2004, it was Schilling and Martinez. In 2007, Ortiz and Ramirez took center stage. In 2013, how about Pedroia and Lester? Traditionally, these Red Sox veteran players provided a cornerstone around which the front office could build; a bedrock in which fans could believe; and a framework to which rookies could adhere. In essence, they were the heartbeat of the Boston Red Sox.

However, once Lester was traded and Pedroia got hurt last year, The Olde Towne Team found itself short of bona fide stars for the first time in living memory. Yes, Big Papi was still around, launching homer after homer, but even the most ardent sentimentalist must admit he is no longer among the elite. Thus, the Sox found themselves in a bind.

The lack of star power not only hurt the team commercially, but also in philosophical and leadership sense. After years of consistently developing homegrown Major League stars, the system spluttered somewhat in 2014, with Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Will Middlebrooks and Anthony Ranaudo all struggling to adjust to the big leagues. This, I believe, can be largely attributed to the lack of a robust veteran core in Boston for the first time since the 1990s.

Previously, raw rookies could venture to the Majors and blend into the background somewhat, growing acclimated while the established Red Sox veterans—stars—soaked up attention and carried the burden of production. For instance, when Pedroia was promoted, Josh Beckett, Manny Ramirez and David Ortiz were there to inform and advise, promote and protect. Similarly, Jacoby Ellsbury felt less pressure due to the presence of Jason Varitek, JD Drew and Kevin Youkilis. In both cases, the young guys weren’t expected to be immediate superstars, because the Sox already had that covered.

However, last year, who could Bogaerts learn from? Who could Bradley Jr. look to for advice and guidance? Aside from an increasingly surly Papi and an increasingly injured Pedroia, there was nobody to teach the neophytes, nobody to deflect the overbearing scrutiny, and nobody to lead a rudderless ship.

Thus, in 2014, the Sox had a galaxy of homegrown stars but, unlike years gone by, there was no sun about which it could orbit. Accordingly, the planet fizzled and died a horrid, 91-loss death.

Therefore, it was pleasing to see the Sox address their dire need for star power this winter, acquiring Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval to effectively re-grow the Red Sox veteran core and erect a new frame of reference for the team’s philosophy. Now, with genuine superstars attracting much of the attention and doing a majority of the heavy lifting, perhaps Bogaerts, Betts and Swihart will be afforded a little more breathing room. Liberated from the instant need to provide leadership and create drama, perhaps they’ll finally flourish as prospects, becoming stars in their own time and fashion, just like Ellsbury and Pedroia before them.

The Untouchable Mookie Betts

mookie betts

In recent months, we’ve heard a lot about the so-called contest between Mookie Betts and Rusney Castillo to be the Red Sox’ starting center fielder. I appreciate the talent of both players, and I respect the heavy stake placed in Castillo by the Boston front office. But, quite frankly, I don’t see a fair comparison between these guys. In my mind, Betts is clearly the better player at present and, moving forward, has a much brighter future. Accordingly, as the Red Sox embrace youth, Mookie Betts should be the poster boy, standing front and center. Ultimately, he should be untouchable.Mookie Betts

I love Betts’ energy and agility. Like all great ballplayers, he is always so alert and alive on the field, proactively pushing the envelope and making things happen. Betts has the kind of mercurial instinct and youthful exuberance that sets the tone on a ballclub, providing it with life and animation. He’s just a fun guy to have around.

At the plate, Betts reminds me of a young Dustin Pedroia; both players compensating for a lack of height and bulk by mastering a lyrical swing that emits one rasping line drive after another, hammering ball after ball into the gaps and off the walls. Betts has such good timing, and the ball jumps so aggressively off his bat, that he’s become something of an extra-base hit machine, firing doubles and triples into the outfield and igniting panic among opposing teams.

This spring, Mookie has been fantastic, showing real growth and development before our eyes. Every day, he becomes more accustomed to the leadoff spot, showing an increased appreciation for his role as an on-base instigator, whilst his play in center field continues to improve handsomely. Through eight Grapefruit League games, Betts has 12 hits, including 4 doubles and 2 triples, good for a .462 average and a startling 1.231 OPS. Admittedly, this is a very small sample size, but the guy just has a tremendous feel for the game. He’s ready to take the Major Leagues by storm.

Of course, you’d like to see Betts draw a few more walks, and use his game-altering speed to more devastating effect on the bases, but those facets of his game will develop naturally with experience. Mookie has a precocious array of skills and, throughout his professional career, they have been honed with an abundance of game time. The more Betts plays, the better he becomes, which is why the Sox must give him the starting job he has earned, and allow him to continue building from his impressive opening salvo last year.

Aged 22 and cost-controlled until 2021, Mookie Betts is, in my opinion, the definitive nucleus around which this new-age Red Sox team should be built. In the next few years, he will grow into a brilliantly dynamic Major League player, before maturing into a perennial All-Star. Accordingly, for Boston, it makes zero sense to have him play the next season or so in Pawtucket; nor to trade him away and watch as he becomes an elite performer someplace else. Mookie Betts is the present and the future. He, surely, is untouchable.

Offseason Review: Did the Red Sox Do Enough?

red sox offseason

In signing two of the top free agent position players and revamping a depleted starting rotation, the Red Sox undoubtedly made progress this offseason. Yet, deep down, questions still remain as to whether they improved enough, and whether management could’ve done even more to upgrade a messy roster and steer Boston back to the postseason.

In analyzing the winter work of Ben Cherington, it’s important to remember the thorough incompetence of the baseline roster he sought to improve. As you are probably all too aware, the 2014 Red Sox were awful, ranking 18th in runs, 24th in slugging, 23rd in ERA and 22nd in WHIP. At 71-91, they finished dead last in the AL East, 25 games behind the runaway Orioles. Only three teams American League teams compiled a worse record.

Offseason Review

Accordingly, in seeking a swift rebuild, Cherington was at an immediate disadvantage, with the Red Sox basically trying to win a race after giving a head start to all their closest opponents. They would have to work incredibly hard just to get back in the conversation.

Thus, no time was wasted, as Boston committed a combined $192.5 million to Pablo Sandoval, Hanley Ramirez and Justin Masterson, before acquiring Rick Porcello and Wade Miley via trade, dealing from surplus to add quality.

The success of this approach, and, by extension, the degree to which the Sox will improve in 2015, rests largely on the ability of those five new arrivals to significantly outperform their predecessors. The probability of that happening is relatively high, with the collective 2014 WAR of the incoming players sitting at 11.5, compared to the awful 3 WAR accumulated by the forebears in the same position, namely Yoenis Cespedes, Will Middlebrooks, Brock Holt, Anthony Ranaudo, Rubby de La Rosa and Allen Webster.

Theoretically, the net increase of 8.5 WAR should help the Sox back above the .500 threshold, but, at this point, it’s difficult to foresee a quantum leap back into the 90-win range required to secure a wildcard, let alone the 95-win plateau typically needed to clinch the AL East.

Of course, we’ve seen this team march from worse starting points to loftier destinations, most recently in 2013, but, this time round, there seems to be far more uncertainty and far less magic surrounding the team. As Opening Day approaches, there are still so many landscape-altering factors to be determined, all with potentially major affects on the baseline win-loss record. Will the new superstars meet their expectations? At what point do the Sox abandon their no-ace strategy and pursue elite, frontline starting pitching? What impact will the new hitting coach have? Is the clubhouse culture compatible with another worst-to-first turnaround?

At this point, we just don’t know. This Sox team is harder to define and quantify than most in recent memory. In all likelihood, it’ll be better than the 2014 incarnation, but to what extent? Ultimately, that will only be discovered once this perplexing blend of players jogs onto the diamond in competitive action. Nobody knows what to expect, which, after all, is why 162 actual games are required to capture a definitive answer.