After another cold, dark, and suspiciously long winter, this afternoon we get The Masters, game day dogs on the grill, and most importantly, Red Sox Opening Day. I wasn’t sure we’d get here after an extensive lockout, constant news of failed negotiations between the players and the owners, and rainouts delaying games further, but we made it guys. It’s baseball season.
After finishing the season 92-70 last year and making a surprise run to the ALCS expectations are high for this Red Sox team. With one of the best lineups in the game expectations should be high as the Sox look to build on last year’s deep postseason run. This season already has a melancholy vibe to it though because there could be some big changes after the season with JD Martinez, Kike Hernandez, and potentially Xander Bogaerts all hitting free agency. The farm system is back in the Top 10 and the Sox finally opened their wallets with the Trevor Story signing so the franchise is in a good position for the long haul, but it’s definitely win now time down on Jersey Street.
The Duct Tape Rotation
The 2022 pitching staff is a mixed bag that should get better
when if everyone can get healthy at the same time, but as it currently sits the rotation has some question marks. The staff includes one legit starter in Nathan Eovaldi (11-9, 3.75 in 2021) but he comes with a long history of injuries, one potential hidden gem in Nick Pivetta (9-8, 4.53) who’s looking to build off an eye opening postseason run (2.63 ERA, 14 K’s in 13.2 IP), a 25-year-old in Tanner Houck (1-5, 3.52) that the Sox kept the training wheels on a bit last year but shows a ton of potential, and then two old and possibly washed up vets in Michael Wacha, yes that Wacha from the 2013 World Series, (5.05, 6.62, 4.76 ERAs the last 3 seasons) and Rich Hill (7-8, 3.86) at 42-years-young is back in Boston to see how long he can survive throwing 88 mph fastballs. Gone is rotation mainstay Eduardo Rodriguez after the Red Sox deemed him expendable and to be honest E-Rod seemed like he was gone the minute Alex Cora publicly scolded him for celebrating too hard in the middle of an ALCS game. A rare miss for Cora.
If it sounds like I’m missing someone, you’re right, I haven’t mentioned Chris Sale who somehow cracked a rib last month throwing a baseball. So I hate to pin my hopes on Chris Sale because while has the stuff to be the best pitcher in the game, he he has struggled mightily to stay healthy the last few years. I still blame the Sox for delaying Sale’s March 2020 Tommy John surgery by several months for no particular reason, which ended up costing Sale nearly two full years. After recently being placed on the 60 day IL, Sale is projected to return the first week of June so I’m cautiously optimistic, but when healthy the lefty has the stuff to carry the Sox down the stretch and into the playoffs.
Welcome to Boston, Trevor Story
I love this signing IF Story is indeed slated to be the second baseman of the future. I don’t however love the optics of the Red Sox signing a career shortstop the same exact year that their own franchise shortstop can opt out of his contract and become a free agent. At best it feels like hedging, at worst it feels like the Sox are preemptively moving on from their team’s de facto leader, homegrown All-Star, and 2x World Series champion.
Garrett Whitlock Will Be Key
For those who don’t know, the Red Sox essentially got Garrett Whitlock off the scrap heap, selecting him in the 2020 Rule 5 Draft off the Yankees roster. Coming off Tommy John surgery, Whitlock was nothing less than a revelation for the Sox last year going 8-4 with a 1.96 ERA and racking up 81 strikeouts in 73.1 IP. Like a child of divorce, Whitlock seems to be stuck between what his dad (Alex Cora) and his mom (Chaim Bloom) want him to be as he gets yo-yo’d back and forth from the rotation to the bullpen. It has a striking similarity to the Jonathan Papelbon situation way back in 2006 when Paps came into the league as a starter before getting shifted to the pen for the postseason and ultimately taking the closer reigns from Keith Foulke. Now, I think Whitlock should be a starter because he has all the tools and multiple legit pitches to become a top of the rotation guy. However, baseball as a whole has really devalued top tier starters as analytics have taken over the game and managers routinely pull starters after a couple of times through the batting order. “Openers” used to be something we all laughed at the Rays for sending out relievers to pitch a few innings to start a game instead of a traditional starter. Now you see it all the time. The workhorse ace of a pitching staff is an endangered species. There were only THREE players with more than 200 innings pitched last year in all of baseball!
So perhaps Whitlock has a higher objective value coming out of the pen as the team’s Rover, but I still would rather seem him as a starter. Then again, Papelbon went on to become the greatest closer in team history so what do I know. Let’s not forget that the team did jerk around guys like Daniel Bard who eventually fell apart and the Yankees did the same thing with Joba Chamberlain. I once saw Chamberlain start a game at Fenway where he struck out 11 guys before the Yankees move him back to the pen. Then again he was a dominant reliever and was the heir apparent to Mariano Rivera before also falling apart. So I guess my main point is let’s just make a decision and stick with it rather than hem and haw to the point that the team screws up another young pitcher.
Rafael Devers Poised for Another MVP Season
Contract extension talks have stalled between the Sox and Bogaerts and Devers so that’s been a bit of a downer heading into the season. Devers just turned 25 in October and posted a season of 38 HR, 113 RBI while hitting .279/.352/.538 last year. He led the Red Sox in HR, RBI, Runs, Hits, Total Bases, Slugging and OPS en route to his first All-Star selection and finishing 11th in MVP voting. No player has more extra base hits than Rafael Devers over the last three seasons. Get. The. Deal. Done.
“We are talking cheapies here. The big boys came through.” – Eck— The 300s (@The300sBoston) October 3, 2021
This is a legitimately defining moment for Rafael Devers. Don’t tell me this guy doesn’t care. #Boston #RedSox #MLB pic.twitter.com/ITss1wPG4y
Matt Barnes was an All-Star last season lest anyone forget after his second half ERA of 6.48 and ya know being left off the ALCS roster. It didn’t help that Barnes seemingly fell apart right around the time the Spider Tack story broke and was suddenly explicitly banned. Maybe it was just a mental thing and he needed a full winter away from the ballpark to reset, but I’m not exactly penciling Barnes in for 40 saves this year. Whitlock could step in and handle the role, but again with baseball overindexing in middle relief guys, the Sox may not want to pigeonhole Whitlock to 1-inning outings. Cora has gone out of his way to not name a closer, which is fine, but I don’t love a revolving door at the end of games.
“They don’t want to call it closer by committee so they’re not gonna use that term is because they know theres a negative connotation. The reason Cora hasn’t named a closer is because they’re not going to use one.” – Tony Mazz on 98.5
It seems like the Sox are just throwing arms against the wall to see what sticks and that could be a problem, but then again relievers are notoriously fickle. So the team will need to define some roles in the pen, but expect the Sox to be active in the reliever market if Barnes and co. don’t bounce back.
This is a Flawed But Dangerous Team
Vegas has the over/under set for the 2022 Red Sox at 85.5 after winning 92 last year. With a loaded lineup that will mash its way to a ton of wins on its own and a potentially sneaky good bullpen, the Sox should be a lock to hit the over. The rotation could be a disaster if there are any more injuries, but with Sale due back in June they should be good enough at the front end. The only thing that could hinder them is how the AL East has seemingly become the best division in baseball. Vegas has the Yankees, Rays, and Blue Jays all projected to win more games than the Sox this season, which Boston is intimately aware of after all-time classic playoff battles against the Yankees and Rays just last fall. With all that being said, I like my chances with a lineup featuring Kike Hernandez, Rafael Devers, Xander Boagaerts, JD Martinez, Alex Verdugo, Trevor Story, and even Bobby Dalbec if he keeps up his second half surge from last season. I think this team will definitely need to add an outfield bat if they’re going to reach the World Series because I love former ALCS MVP Jackie Bradley’s defense, but the man did hit .163 in his lone season with the Brewers last year. Maybe that bat off the bench comes in the form of top prospect Triston Casas, but even then, the kid plays first base. So Chaim will likely need to find an OF bat at the deadline in the same vein as Steve Pearce if the Sox are to go the distance.
Media predictions are all over the place too so nobody knows what to expect from this team. The Ringer has the Sox as the 12th ranked team in baseball behind the Jays, Rays and Yankees, Felger has the Sox winning 95 games, and Chris Gasper has called the upcoming season a bridge year. Then again media predictions are just that, fugazi attempts at defining a team before the first pitch of Opening Day. A lot of people picked the Sox to finish a distant 4th in the division last year, but the team clicked and ended up winning 92 games en route to the ALCS.
With the addition of a healthy Chris Sale I have this team winning 95 games this year, which should be enough to get them into the new 12-team playoff format. Is this a World Series winning team? I’m not sold on that without some additions, but this should be a team that is threatening for the pennant.