As we near the end of the year 2014, during which the Red Sox finished a sad last in the American League with a record of 71-91, 25 games behind the front running Baltimore Orioles, I thought it would be a good time to look at the Red Sox immediate future. The 2013 version of the Red Sox, as I am sure you all know, had finished the regular season with a 97-65 record, led the Eastern Division by 5 ½ games over the Yankees and swept through the Playoffs and World Series to win their third World Championship of the century.
After blowing a seemingly insurmountable lead in 2011 and having an embarrassing fourth place finish in 2012, the Sox were on top of the baseball world at the end of 2013 and went into the 2014 season with high hopes. They came out the other end of 2014 looking like a train wreck.
They were so bad that, at the trading deadline, they did the unthinkable, they traded Jon Lester, their ace starter, and probably their most popular player with the fans, after David Ortiz, with another popular player Jonny Gomes, to the Oakland Athletics. If that wasn’t enough, they also unloaded John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront, leaving them with just Clay Buccholz from their original starting rotation. Granted, they did pick up Joe Kelly, an established starter, in the trade blitz. In exchange, they also got Yoenis Cespedes a power hitting outfielder with a rifle arm who, in less that three seasons at Oakland had hit .263 with 66 homers and 229 RBI’s and Allen Craig, an outfielder/first baseman who, after hitting .315 in 2013 at St. Louis was hitting .237 in 90 games and didn’t hit his weight the rest of the year with the Sox.
After the 2014 season, Lester was available on the Free Agent Market and Red Sox fans were hoping they would get him back. Having traded away their pitching staff, everyone knew that replacing it, hopefully with Lester and some other pitchers, had to be the Red Sox priority.
The first thing the Sox did was to acquire a third baseman, Pablo Sandoval, and a shortstop, Hanley Ramirez, who they almost immediately announced would be an outfielder even though he had never played a major league game in the outfield. Both were proven hitters, Sandoval had a .294 average in seven years and Ramirez an even
.300 in ten years. With David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Cespedes, Mike Napoli, Brock Holt and others, the Sox had put together an offense capable of putting runs on the board.
But, how about the pitching? The bidding for Jon Lester was the hot topic for weeks. While position players were bought and sold right and left, the big names among the starting pitchers were not moving. The Red Sox were apparently in the running for Lester right up until the last day when he announced he was signing with the Cubs.
It appeared that the Sox management team had anticipated that they would not get Lester back because, before the smoke had cleared from the Lester deal, they set about acquiring pitchers.
On December 11, they signed Free Agent right handed pitcher Justin Masterson, a former Red Sox player and traded Cespedes with Alex Wilson to the Tigers for right handed starter Rick Porcello. The next day, they traded Rubby DeLaRosa and Allen Webster to the Arizona Diamondbacks for left handed starter Wade Miley.
Masterson was 7-9 between Cleveland and St. Louis in 2014 after winning 14 and losing 10 with Cleveland in 2013. Miley was 8-12 in 2014 with a 4.34 ERA in 33 starts with the D’Backs while Porcello was 15-13 with a 3.43 ERA in 31 starts with the Tigers.
These acquisitions gave the Sox a potentially competitive staring rotation. Much has been said about them not having a true Ace, like Lester. People forget that the Orioles won the American League East last year without a real Ace. In my opinion, Rick Porcello, who pitched in the shadow of Justin Verlander, Max Scherzer and David Price at Detroit, has the ability to be that Ace. In addition, the Sox have two of the best young prospects in baseball in 22 year old Henry Owens, 17-5, between Portland and Pawtucket last year and 6”7”, 25 year old Anthony Ranaudo who performed well in 7 starts with the Sox last year.
Then, on December 20, they put what I feel is the last piece of the puzzle in place by acquiring veteran catcher Ryan Hanigan, a career .256 hitter, from the San Diego Padres. Christian Vasquez performed well behind the plate last year but the Sox needed another catcher, preferably a veteran, to work with Vasquez.
The infield, with Napoli at first, spelled by Daniel Nava or Craig, Pedroia at second, Xander Bogaerts at short and Sandoval at third and the outfield, made up of some combination of Ramirez, Rumsey Castillo, Craig, Holt, Shane Victorino, Nava or Jackie Bradley, with Vasquez and Hanigan behind the plate compares with most teams defensively.
The Red Sox may not win the pennant or the World Series next year but, with the hitting that they have and the more than adequate starting pitching they will definitely be competitive. Don’t count them out, or in, yet. It’s entirely possible that this could be another worst to first ride for Sox fans. Of course, it’s also entirely possible that it could be another lost year. My guess is that the Sox will be in the race in what I think will be a very interesting year.