Dustin Pedroia (Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports)
Last season it took a total team effort from the Boston Red Sox to emerge as World Series champions. Their victory was surprising to some as they turned around their fortunes following an embarrassing end to 2011 and a disastrous 2012. Things will not get any easier for Boston in 2014, but they do look primed to continue their success.
Prediction: 2nd place American League East (Wild Card)
Additions & Subtractions:
Of course what stands out here is Jacoby Ellsbury’s departure to the division rival New York Yankees. It is understandable that Boston would not want to commit $138 million to Ellsbury who has had some health issues in the past. But what was surprising, is that Boston didn’t really allocate that money elsewhere. At first I thought that the Red Sox would allocate the funds, or at least a portion, that they would have spent on Ellsbury towards either directly replacing him or improving the team in general.
It looks like the Red Sox are set to enter 2014 taking a flier on Grady Sizemore in center field to replace Ellsbury with competition from top prospect Jackie Bradley. It will likely take Sizemore some time to find his legs, so a lot hinges on whether or not Bradley proves worthy of replacing Ellsbury early in the season.
This could change very quickly, but it also looks like Boston will be beginning the season without last year’s shortstop, Stephen Drew. Drew is still a free agent, in large part because the team that signs him will lose a draft choice, and it does not look like the Red Sox have any urgency to re-sign him. However, that could change quickly depending on how Xander Bogaerts looks in Spring Training.
Jared Saltalamacchia departed for Miami this winter, but replacing him with A.J. Pierzynski helps to mitigate that loss. The improved batting average will help to make up for the loss in power production.
Ryan Dempster did the Red Sox a favor by retiring which saves the team $13 million for this year. There is also no downside to this, as Dempster did not appear to have a role in the starting rotation entering the season. If the effort to replace Ellsbury and/or Drew proves to be futile, or another need arises, then this money could prove to be quite useful.
Boston also enters this season with a healthy Dustin Pedroia. He played through ligament problems in his thumb last year which hindered his performance. Having their second baseman at 100% (at least for now) will help to boost the Red Sox’s offensive production.
Not to discount the production and skill level of the core that led Boston to a championship last year, but you have to recognize the role intangibles played. The Red Sox are returning the same leadership core from last year, and this will help to reduce the chance of a regression. This is a veteran core who knows what they need to do, but more importantly will not rest on their laurels.
Koji Uehara was the third choice to serve as closer last year. Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan are both gone, and the job officially belongs to Uehara. There is nothing to directly suggest he will falter, but if he does the depth, Edward Mujica and Junichi Tazawa, is not as strong as it was last season. This could be a situation to watch for the Red Sox in 2014.
This rings even more true if Boston does not bring Drew back, but 33% of Boston’s lineup will be filled by talented, but unproven young players. Will Middlebrooks, Bogaerts, and Bradley will go a long way towards determining the Red Sox fate and success in 2014. All three are unknown entities to some degree, and Middlebrooks is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2013.