Three Burning Questions for the Red Sox on First Official Day of Spring Training

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With most of us still flying high from the Pats’ big victory just a week and a half ago, it might be pretty easy to forget that our other reigning champion sports squad is set to begin work on their title defense this week.

On Wednesday morning, your world champion Boston Red Sox held their first official spring training practice down in Fort Meyers. (Even though a lot of players arrived last week and have already been practicing – including Chris Sale, who has been “cleared to have a normal spring training,” according to Dave Dombrowski [h/t ESPN Boston]. That’s big news for the lefty after last year’s late-season injury woes.)

After an offseason where the Sox literally made zero noteworthy moves besides resigning Nathan Eovaldi, we’re pretty much going to see the same team this year. Gone are Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel (who is still a free agent, however, and could potentially return at the right price, per The Boston Globe‘s Pete Abraham):

But other than that it’s going to be the same dudes you rooted for throughout all of last season. That’s certainly not a bad thing.

Still, that does not mean that this team comes without questions or concerns. Yes, we haven’t even passed Valentine’s Day yet, and the season is still over a month and a half away, but there are definitely some things that Cora & Co. need to figure out before the real action begins in Seattle on March 28:

(Who’s Going to Replace Kelly and Kimbrel?)

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To be honest, even though Joe Kelly had one of the most dominant posteason runs any Red Sox reliever has ever had (11.1 IP, 1 ER, 13 Ks), he’s actually been a pretty lackluster bullpen guy for most of his career otherwise. After he signed with the Dodgers in mid-December, I let you all know that I wasn’t really that worried, and there’s definitely enough already in tow to replace him and his 4.39 ERA from last season.

But Kimbrel? Sure, I laughed at the fact that he thought he was worth $100 million when he first hit free agency. And yes, he also had a horrible 2018 postseason and is prone to meltdowns every now and then. But besides an abnormal 3.40 ERA in 2017, the man has posted sub-2.75 ERAs in every other season in his nine-year career. Overall, his career ERA is actually 1.91, and he has lead the league in saves four times. So, not only do I think the Sox should try to resign him at what should now be a much more reasonable price, but if they don’t then they are going to be missing a pretty big piece at the end of games this year.

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The team’s got some decent bullpen depth from which to draw, especially after the emergence of guys like Ryan Brasier last year and the low-risk re-signing of Carson Smith (a move I made sure to highlight and highly endorse), with the former being my choice to replace Kimbrel if he doesn’t come back. And, there was also this from ESPN’s Dave Schoenfield earlier today:

“Red Sox president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski said the team’s plan to replace Craig Kimbrel as closer will be ‘somebody internal.’ He said — at the risk of sounding old-fashioned — that he does prefer one guy rather than a bullpen by committee approach and mentioned Matt Barnes, Ryan Brasier, Tyler Thornburg and Steven Wright as possibilities. As for the chance of still signing Kimbrel: ‘I can’t get into the conversations with free agents.'”

This will remain the biggest question throughout all of spring training, and we may not get an answer for quite a while.

(Can We Trust the Rotation?)

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Considering the Red Sox as a team led the league in pretty much every notable batting category last year, it should be no surprise that the second question featured here also has to do with pitching.

Chris Sale, David Price, and Nathan Eovaldi came up huge in the postseason last year. Rick Porcello, too, was very solid, allowing just two runs in 11.1 innings outside of a rough Game 4 in the ALCS. But each one of these guys did not come without their struggles during the regular season last year:

  • Sale suffered his late-season shoulder issues, which caused him to be shut down or severely limited over the last two months of the season. (He pitched a total of 14 innings from July 27 through the end of September.)
  • Price may have finally exorcised his big-game demons last October and has posted sub-4.00 ERAs in each of the past three years. But still, ya never know with this guy.
  • After winning the Cy Young Award in 2016, Porcello has two straight seasons of ERAs over 4.20.
  • Eovaldi is another unproven guy who really didn’t shine until September (and, of course, October). He had pretty much been a flame-throwing mid-4.00-ERA type of guy for most of his career before coming over from Tampa Bay last season.
  • And, even though he’s not mentioned above, this is also a huge year for lefty Eduardo Rodriguez. The 25-year-old pitched to a solid 13 wins and 3.82 ERA last year, but had been wildly inconsistent – both physically and emotionally – beforehand, so he’s no guarantee yet. However, apparently he’s now “in the best shape of his life,” so that’s a good start.

I don’t think there’s necessarily a ton to worry about as of right now, but things could take a turn for the worst pretty quickly here if things don’t go right. Adding a little more depth in this area would be a smart move if Dombrowski can make something happen this spring.

(What’s Up with Dustin Pedroia?)

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Remember this guy??!! Ya know, the diminutive little spark plug who used to be the heart and soul of the franchise? He’s also a four-time Gold Glove-winning second baseman who won Rookie of the Year AND a World Series in 2007. He then won the MVP award the following season, before also helping the team win another World Series with another All-Star season in 2013.

But after playing in just three games last season, and only 105 the year before that, it seems as though he’s almost been forgotten entirely. (Your team achieving a record-setting, championship season without you being involved whatsoever can do that to a guy, I guess.) In fact, many people I’ve talked to have just assumed he was “done.”

If you know anything about Pedroia, though, you know there was just no way he was going out like that. And if anyone can come back and prove all the haters wrong at 35 years old, it’s this dude.

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However, if we’re being honest, it’s not going to be easy. It’s not as though Pedroia is dealing with some freak knee injury he got sliding into second base; rather, it’s an issue with the cartilage that was originally only supposed to keep him out for just a few months last season. Let’s just say things didn’t work out according to plan. Dombrowski also added this little tidbit on the subject this week:

“We’re still not looking at a 150-game player. We’re hopeful that he’s a 125-game player at this point. We do feel we have some people who are solid and can fill in. To fill in if (Pedroia) plays 120, guys like (Brock) Holt, a guy like (Eduardo) Nunez coming over there. Even some depth with Tzu-Wei Lin in our organization we like a great deal. They are also capable of playing more games, that combination. But we’re hopeful that Pedey will be the guy. The main guy.”

Fortunately for him, the second base job still seems to be his for the taking, and he’ll get every chance to reclaim his rightful spot on the field with a solid spring. But as alluded to in the quote above, he’ll face some stiff competition. Yet if he can get the Laser Show going again, it’s going to be tough for anyone to stop him.

There are very few players in Red Sox history I love more than Pedey. Here’s to hoping he bounces back with some great spring ball down in the Sunshine State.

As far as the rest of the team goes, I’d say there are very little questions on offense with this loaded lineup, and I’ll save all the upcoming contract talk for another time. I’m sure some more questions will pop up along the way this spring, but for now let’s just enjoy the fact that the champs are back in action and good weather is just around the corner. Baseball is back, baby!

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About Mattes

Pronounced like the general. I'm all about the Celtics, Pats, Sox, and fantasy football...and dogs. Former editor who's back on that writing flow, chiming in on all of the above, with perhaps some comic book news and conspiracy-fueled personal manifestos along the way.
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