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Tyler Maher | Beantown Beat

Red Sox Offseason Review

Published: Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Updated: Wednesday, February 19, 2014 09:02

Red Sox pitchers and catchers reported to Fort Meyers for spring training Saturday, signaling an end to baseball’s offseason. The World Series champions had a relatively quiet winter, especially compared to last year’s massive overhaul that put the pieces in place for their title run. They refrained from pursuing big-name free agents and stayed true to their wise spending strategy, even at the cost of losing several key contributors.

The most notable departure was center fielder and leadoff man Jacoby Ellsbury, who defected to the New York Yankees for a seven year, $153 million contract. With his solid hitting, elite base-running and Gold Glove-caliber defense, Ellsbury was Boston’s most valuable player in 2013. The Red Sox need Jackie Bradley Jr. to step up in his absence, but they may be expecting too much from someone who looked completely overmatched in his big league debut last year. Recent addition Grady Sizemore offers another option, though not a realistic one, as he hasn’t played since 2011.

Boston let free agent catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia walk as well, but found a capable replacement in A.J. Pierzynski. Based on his track record, Pierzynski should hit well enough to replace Saltalamacchia, but it’s far from guaranteed that the 37-year old veteran can stay healthy and productive in his 17th season behind the plate. The Red Sox would have been better off with Salty, who is still in his prime at 28 and a switch-hitter to boot.

Also unlikely to return is shortstop Stephen Drew, who is still a free agent, but will probably land elsewhere. Drew was a pleasant surprise in 2013, providing terrific defense and above average offense in his lone season with the Sox. Boston is counting on 21-year-old rookie phenom Xander Bogaerts to break out, or at least hold his own, as their everyday shortstop. 

One player Boston did bring back was slugging first baseman Mike Napoli, whose 23 home runs and 92 RBIs ranked second on the club only to David Ortiz last year. Napoli’s middle-of-the-order power would have been difficult to replace, so re-signing him was definitely a smart move. He also has catching experience, which could come in handy if Pierzynski and his backup, David Ross, only one year his junior, miss time. 

The Red Sox were in the fortunate position of not needing starting pitching help. Their rotation is staffed with four All-Stars, all of whom pitched effectively last year, and a quality number five in Felix Doubront. Their depth did take a hit when Ryan Dempster decided to take a year off, leaving Boston without a sixth starter, but their farm system is well-stocked should they need to tap into the minors for help.

GM Ben Cherington was also wise to add Edward Mujica, an All-Star closer with the Cardinals last year, to bolster a bullpen that was too reliant on the trio of Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara during the postseason. Mujica doubles as an insurance policy for Uehara, who’s been dogged by injuries in the past and has never completed 60 innings in consecutive seasons. 

So while the Red Sox failed to improve this winter, they were able to keep most of last year’s championship squad intact. Getting worse at several key positions will make it difficult for them to win 97 games and the World Series again, especially since several of their top competitors got stronger this winter. Nevertheless, Boston still has the depth and talent to contend in 2014. 

 

Tyler is a junior who is majoring in economics. He can be reached at Tyler.Maher@tufts.edu.

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