2014 Boston Red Sox - Team Preview
For the first time in what seems like decades, the Red Sox have managed to stay away from offseason headlines almost entirely. Such is a luxury afforded by a team that wins the world series and has been granted a temporary reprieve from the pressures of a PR conscious ownership and an obsessive fan base. While one might have noticed a shift in organizational philosophy last winter when the Sox opted to pursue 2nd tier free agents for shorter contract durations (Victorino, Napoli, Dempster), the off-season of 2013/2014 marked an even more impressive display of discipline and restraint (some might say inactivity). From a fantasy perspective, the Red Sox have yet to add a single impact player from outside the organization. However, it’s the offseason departures that will provide for some interesting opportunities for the team’s young talent and make the Red Sox an intriguing team to watch as we move closer to opening day.
2014 Boston Red Sox - Key Departures
In what came as a surprise to almost no one that follows the team even casually, the Red Sox front office let their All Star Centerfielder (Jacoby Ellsbury) walk. Contingency plan #1 involves prospect Jackie Bradley stepping into an everyday role in Ellsbury’s now vacated Center Field. Bradley tore the cover off the ball in Fort Myers last spring and forced his way onto the major league roster and into the opening day starting lineup. Bradley struggled mightily out of the gates and was eventually sent back down to Pawtucket once David Ortiz returned from Injury in late April. Bradley made a few more brief cameos with the big club over the course of the next 5 months, but never looked all that comfortable at the plate as evidenced by his unassuming major league stats (.189/.280/.337 in just over 100 plate appearances). Despite his 2013 MLB struggles, Bradley will get every opportunity to play every day in 2014. He profiles as a plus-plus fielder in center with a disciplined approach at the plate capable of hitting .300 and getting on base at a high clip. However, given his moderate power potential (10-15 hrs), the fact that he doesn't project as a high volume base stealer (7 SB in 80 AAA games in 2013), and the likelihood that he’ll begin the year hitting at the bottom of the lineup, his fantasy appeal is limited off the bat. As a highly rated prospect on one of the best offenses in baseball, he’s certainly worth a flier (and even more so in keeper leagues), but he should not be counted on as a fantasy starter out of the gates in 2014.
2014 Boston Red Sox - Position Battles
As of the 20th of January, shortstop Stephen Drew remains unemployed. What we know is that he turned down the Red Sox’ one year qualifying offer of 14.5 million in hopes of securing a multi year deal. While one would think his Sox days are over, his market appears to be limited and the Red Sox have maintained they’d bring him back at the right price. From a fantasy perspective, the Drew situation is likely to have a meaningful effect on the fantasy values of youngsters Xander Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks. Drew’s presence would potentially create a complicated 3 way left side of the infield time share, with Bogaerts earning the majority of starts at 3rd, and Middlebrooks getting relegated to the bench. For the sake of fantasy owners, let’s hope Stephen Drew moves on.
Xander Bogaerts is a consensus top 5 MLB prospect who was last seen accumulating a near .900 OPS playing everyday on baseball’s biggest stage in October at the tender age of 21. In his prime, Bogaerts profiles as one of the top hitting shortstops in baseball, capable of 30 home runs with a .300 average and the ability to get on base. Expectations need to be tempered as he is only 21 and is unlikely to reach his power potential for several years (15 in 2013 in 116 games across double and triple A), but given the polished approach and lightning quick bat he displayed against some the majors’ best pitchers in the ALCS and World Series, I wouldn't be surprised by much from Bogaerts in 2014 and beyond. Without Drew in the mix, I’d be absolutely comfortable targeting Xander as a high upside shortstop after the Tulowitzki’s, Reyes’, and Hanley’s of the world are off the board.
For 3rd Baseman Will Middlebrooks, what a difference a year makes. After getting the call in early 2012 and displaying the power that earned him a top prospect billing (15 Hr in 75 games), Middlebrooks regressed significantly in 2013. While the power was still there (17 Hr in 94 games), the rest of his game was not. He hit for just a .227 average, managed to reach base at a sub replacement level .271 clip and was even relegated back to triple AAA for a 45 game stint. As he is just 25 years old and should have an everyday job in 2014 (pending Drew). he’s certainly capable of a bounce back year in 2014. That said, one can’t help but wonder whether that production will come in a Red Sox uniform or not, I wouldn't be surprised to see the Red Sox field trade offers for Middlebrooks given their impatience with his impatience and the fact that highly rated 3rd base prospect Garin Cecchini isn't too far away from being big league ready. A trade might be crushing news for Pink Hats and Red Sox sideline reporter and girlfriend Jenny Dell, but it probably wouldn’t be the worst thing for Will to move to a team that’s more tolerant of his free swinging ways. Either way, Middlebrooks is a difficult player to assess. At his best he’s a cheap source of power that will hit for a respectable average and drive in runs. At his worst, he’s not even playing. He’s worth drafting, but you’d be wise not to count on him as a starter.
2014 Boston Red Sox - Other Notable Moves
The Red Sox replaced catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia with Veteran A.J. Pierzynski. While A.J. experienced a bit of a resurgence in 2013, I can’t see him playing enough (John Farrell favorite David Ross remains in the mix) or hitting enough to warrant a top 15 ranking at his position.
Additionally, the Red Sox have made only minor changes to their pitching staff as all 6 of their starters and their top 2 relievers from 2013 will be back to defend the World Series Title. They also did add former cardinals closer Edward Mujica to their pen, who may be in line for saves if some combination of injuries and ineffectiveness combat Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa.