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.

Questions Surrounding Allen Webster Entering 2015

allen websterAlthough it is a different year, it is the same story for Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Allen Webster. His stuff is impressive, his velocity is impressive, he succeeds at the AAA level; then comes his time in the big leagues where his biggest flaw is put on display — command.

Despite spotty success at the big league level, for the most part he has not pitched well. On Friday September 12, he pitched a sharp outing— going six strong innings allowing two runs on four hits while walking a man and punching out a pair. His success came as a result of better-than-normal command. Throwing 83 pitches, 55 of which were strikes, a little more than 66% percent of his pitches were thrown for strikes.
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Improving to 4-3 on the year, Webster’s record is virtually a useless stat. His ERA stands at 6.02 on the year through nine starts thanks to a barely 60% strike rate on the mound. Walking 26 men while fanning just 28 in 46.1 innings is not exactly great command, especially when he has plunked six batters.

Last year, a year in which Webster really struggled in the big leagues, was not much different. Posting an ERA of 8.60 in seven starts and an outing in relief, Webster once again struggled with command barely tossing 60% for strikes. His walks-to-strikeouts was not impressive last year either, walking 18 men while punching out 23 in 30.1 innings of work.
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It was thought early this year, that Allen Webster may get a shot in the 2015 Red Sox rotation however, now this does not appear to be the case. This year, Webster has only reaffirmed what impression he left on manager John Farrell last year — he has great stuff but cannot throw strikes. Showing flashes of dominance is not enough to earn a spot in the rotation next year. Webster must be able to consistently string together successful outings before he gets a full-time gig in the Red Sox rotation.
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It seems certain he will land a job with the Boston Red Sox eventually, but he will not be handed one heading into 2015.

At this point, Rubby De La Rosa is the only youngster who has done enough to prove himself as a Major League starter, combining great stuff with sufficient command to be successful at the big league level.

Edwin Escobar Could Be a Welcome Addition in the Red Sox Rotation

Edwin EscobarThe left-handed Edwin Escobar was recalled on the morning of August 10th after the 19-inning affair, but did not see any game time due to the seven-inning effort of Rubby De La Rosa against the Los Angeles Angels on that Sunday afternoon. The bullpen was not taxed much thanks to the young starter, but we also did not get to see what Escobar could bring to the table.

So far, the 22-year-old has shown some great poise in the Boston Red Sox farm system with two six-inning starts, five strikeouts in each, while walking no more than two in an outing. He also has a 1.50 ERA with one run allowed in each no-decision.

The lefty had trouble this year in Tripe-A Fresno after posting three straight sub-3.00 ERA seasons in the San Francisco Giants, but he has shown why he was the No. 2 prospect in the Giants farm system in 2014.

The youngster does not have much of a fastball, but he does mix his four pitches well, according to scouts. A pitcher with four quality pitches would be a welcome bottom of the rotation starter who should be able to get the job done on a regular basis.

The Red Sox still have a long way to go in the rebuilding process to be a contender in 2015, but Escobar is an option they have for at least a spot start or two. He is still a couple seasons away from being the fifth starter in this rotation, but it will be interesting to see what management has in story for the lefty when the rosters expand in September.

Red Sox First Half Report Card By Position: Starting Pitchers

Red Sox First Half

The Red Sox first half has come and gone and seven pitchers have gotten starts so far. Jon Lester is proving that he is an ace and deserves ace money, while some of the other veterans have been shaky.

Lester is coming off a terrific postseason and could be headed for free agency next year, putting the Red Sox in a tough place. Some think the Sox won’t pay him and should trade him to a contender. The Red Sox have been on a run recently though and Lester is a big part of it. Coming into the year, his best season was probably 2010, when he went 19-9 with a 3.25 ERA. Going into the break this year, he’s 9-7 with a 2.65 ERA. While he probably won’t get a high win total, that’s not on him because he has been pitching great with only a few rough starts. Lester ranks in the top ten in virtually every category in the AL and has without a doubt been the team’s ace this year.

John Lackey is having a similar year to 2013, but has been shaky as of late. Following his nine inning scoreless outing against the Twins, Lackey’s ERA has gone up from 2.96 to 3.79 in four starts, despite getting the win in two of them. Lackey has only had an ERA below 3.5 twice in his career and was close to a third time last season when he finished at 3.52. So while it would have been nice if he continued to pitch sub-3.00, it is hard to expect a pitcher to have a career year at age 35.

Clay Buchholz could have really done anything this season and it wouldn’t be too surprising, but his first half was almost shockingly bad. Since returning from the DL, he has been much better, but he still has the tendency to leave some pitches over the middle of the plate, resulting in home runs. He finished the first half with a bang, shutting out the Astros while striking out 12. His ERA has gone down from 7.02 (yikes) to 5.42 since coming back from the DL four starts ago, but that should continue to go down if he continues to have the stuff he did against the Astros. Physically, he looks fine, so this may be a mental battle from now on for Buchholz.

Jake Peavy has been mediocre at best and may be at the end of his run in Boston. With trade rumors swirling around the former Cy Young winner, he may be gone by the deadline. With a 4.59 ERA and 1.41 WHIP, he doesn’t seem to be fooling batters very often. The Sox have lost nine of the last ten games he’s started and with a few youngsters ready to get a chance, it just doesn’t make sense to keep Peavy around.

Felix Doubront began the year in the rotation, but worked his way out of it with poor pitching and injuries. In ten starts, he posted a 5.19 ERA and had trouble with accuracy. He has only came out of the bullpen three times since his last start on June 20th, so it is unclear what the team wants to do with him moving forward.

Brandon Workman has seen eight starts and has had varying results. In his last three starts, he’s allowed five home runs and has seen his ERA go from 2.88 to 4.13. He still has been able to maintain a low WHIP of 1.18, so if he is able to cut down on the long ball, his ERA should lower quite a bit. If Peavy is dealt, Workman is sure to see some more starts in the second half.

Rubby De La Rosa has pitched very well so far and has had a couple of lights-out starts. With a WHIP hovering around 1.00 and a sub-3.00 ERA, De La Rosa is finally showing why he was such a big factor in the blockbuster trade with the Dodgers in 2012. He has still made some mistakes here and there, but should be able to stay in the rotation unless he works his way out of it.

Jon Lester- Grade: A

John Lackey- Grade: B-

Clay Buchholz- Grade: F

Jake Peavy- Grade: D

Felix Doubront- Grade: F

Brandon Workman- Grade: C

Rubby De La Rosa- Grade: A

Is It Time To Trade Edward Mujica?

Edward MujicaIn his tenure with the Boston Red Sox, Edward Mujica is not pitching like himself. In 31 games for the Red Sox totaling 29 2/3 innings of work, Mujica is posting 5.76 ERA while allowing six homers. He is definitely having a down year after being the primary closer for the St. Louis Cardinals last year. During the 2013 season, Mujica was a lights out closer racking up 37 saves for the NL champions while keeping his ERA low at just 2.78. Perhaps a change in scenery would do Mujica some good at this point and if not, Boston should still make an attempt to cut ties with the 30-year-old reliever.
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As a proven closer in the National League, it is clear that Edward Mujica has some trade value. On a down year, expect teams to pounce on the opportunity to bring in Mujica for their team, especially since Boston likely would not look for much in return. Sure it would be nice if whatever team that acquired Mujica payed his salary in full, but Boston would not get much more than that in return. A top 20 organizational prospect could be a return, which is definitely beneficial, as a player such as that could help the big league club in the future. For this type of player, think of players like Teddy Stankiewicz and Joe Gunkel as the quality of players that Boston could receive in return: solid prospects without a ton of hype.
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Overall, Boston would be smart to make this move. Sitting in last place, they will need to clean the house in the off season if they want to compete in 2015; this is why trading arguably the weakest link in the bullpen as of right now is a smart idea. With or without Edward Mujica, the Boston Red Sox are still not the best team in the league and  they might as well give the bullpen spot to a younger player who is putting up good numbers in Pawtucket. There are a number of players who fit this category including top pitching prospects, fireballer Rubby De La Rosa, lefty specialist Tommy Layne, and knuckleballer Steven Wright who could pitch in long relief.

Why Optioning Rubby De La Rosa To Pawtucket Is A Mistake

rubby de la rosaOn Saturday, the Boston Red Sox called up phenom Mookie Betts from AAA Pawtucket. This was a smart move by the organization, but the corresponding move was not. In response, the club optioned flamethrower Rubby De La Rosa down to AAA Pawtucket.Out of anyone Boston could have given the boot, they could not have picked a worse player at a worse time.
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De La Rosa, 25, pitched well in five starts this year totaling 32 1/3 boasting a 2.51 ERA while striking out 30 batters and walking just eight. Of those five starts, three of them were great. The other two were not terrible, but just were not as good. The Dominican pitcher had a pair of outings where he allowed four runs in 5 2/3 innings of work which are the two he struggled in. Despite struggling a bit, he managed to fan twelve batters in total during those 11 1/3 innings of work. In the other three outings, De La Rosa shined. Letting up just one run in 21 innings of work on nine hits while fanning 18, De La Rosa showed Red Sox nation that he was here to stay and that he was a legitimate option as a big league starter.

Right now, Mookie Betts makes a nice addition to the Red Sox outfield and did not really need to be called up.The fourth place club could have easily picked someone else other than Rubby De La Rosa to give the boot. Pitching is a weak part of the Red Sox team, so it is odd to see them send down arguably their best pitcher. Even if they went ahead and sent down Brandon Workman, who is pitching well this year, that would have been understandable, but this move is baffling.
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The front office made a bad move on Saturday by sending down the hottest performing pitcher on the roster when there were plenty of other guys deserving of the boot. Not to name any names, but Rubby De La Rosa was probably the least deserving out of anyone to get sent down to the Minor Leagues. Now, if Boston wants to call Rubby De La Rosa back up to the big leagues, they cannot do so for ten days after the roster move was made.

Definitely not a smart move by Boston.