Sox offense should remain potent
First things first: The Red Sox know they won’t replace Jacoby Ellsbury.
Not with only one player, at least.
In time, yes, Jackie Bradley Jr. may be an All-Star at a fraction of the $153 million that the Yankees are paying Ellsbury. For now, though, the 23-year-old rookie will cope with all the growing pains of becoming a full-time big leaguer. And even if he’s beaten out in spring training by Grady Sizemore — a huge “if,” given Sizemore’s injury history — the Sox expect a drop-off in production from their center fielder.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean the offense will be weaker.
The Sox were the only team in the majors to score more than 800 runs last season, and they did so despite a .683 OPS from their third basemen that ranked below the league average and a wrist injury that compromised most of second baseman Dustin Pedroia’s power.
Pedroia is healthy again after offseason surgery, and third baseman Will Middlebrooks is hoping to get noticed for a resurgence at the plate rather than his dating exploits. Add in the potential for phenom Xander Bogaerts to put up big numbers and the Sox believe they will be stronger in other areas to compensate for losing Ellsbury.
Publicly, the Sox have treated free-agent shortstop Stephen Drew like a luxury item. They say they don’t absolutely need him, not with Bogaerts and Middlebrooks in the mix, but they sure would value his stability on the inexperienced left side of the infield.
Yet Drew remains unsigned, putting the onus on Middlebrooks to rebound from last season’s disappointment and fulfill his promise as a Troy Glaus clone.
There are fewer questions on the right side, where Mike Napoli is the Sox’ right-handed power source and Pedroia is their heartbeat.
1B Mike Napoli
2013 Key stats: .259, 23 HR, 92 RBI, .842 OPS
Bill James Handbook 2014 projections: .246, 26 HR, 72 RBI, .818 OPS
Contract status: Signed two-year, $32 million deal this winter.
The skinny: His sinister hip condition seemingly under control, Napoli let his beard run wild instead. He also led the majors in pitches per plate appearance, perfect for the Sox’ offensive philosophy.
2B Dustin Pedroia
2013 key stats: .301, 9 HR, 84 RBI, .787 OPS
Bill James Handbook 2014 projection: .298, 14 HR, 77 RBI, .814 OPS
Contract status: Due $12.5 million in first season of eight-year, $110 million extension.
The skinny: A torn ligament in his wrist taught Pedroia to stop sliding headfirst into first base. But the de facto captain and former MVP still led by example, playing through pain all season.
SS Xander Bogaerts
2013 key stats: .297, 15 HR, 67 RBI, .865 OPS (minors)
Bill James Handbook 2014 projection: .283, 19 HR, 84 RBI, .807 OPS
Contract status: Under team control; eligible for arbitration in 2017.
The skinny: Move over, Manny Machado. You too, Yasiel Puig. Make way for the next big thing. Bogaerts’ impressive postseason was only the beginning — and proof that he can handle the pressure.
3B Will Middlebrooks
2013 key stats: .227, 17 HR, 49 RBI, .696 OPS
Bill James Handbook 2014 projection: .266, 32 HR, 104 RBI, .800 OPS
Contract status: Under team control; eligible for arbitration in 2016.
The skinny: A year ago, nobody in the Sox’ lineup had more upside. Now, nobody raises more questions. But with 32 homers in 615 career at-bats, there’s still too much potential to sell low.
1B/OF Mike Carp
2013 key stats: .296, 9 HR, 43 RBI, .885 OPS
Bill James Handbook 2014 projection: .257, 13 HR, 49 RBI, .765 OPS
Contract status: One year, $1.4 million; eligible for free agency after 2016 season.
The skinny: If everyone stays healthy, the super-sub won’t get more playing time, which is too bad after he batted .293 in 56 starts last year. Nice to have his bat off the bench, though.
INF Jonathan Herrera
2013 key stats: .292, 1 HR, 16 RBI, .701 OPS
Bill James Handbook 2014 projection: .258, 2 HR, 23 RBI, .635 OPS
Contract status: Under team control; eligible for free agency after 2015 season.
The skinny: There’s value in Herrera’s versatility. But although he can play second, third and shortstop, it’s probably best if he doesn’t play too often.
Not since the 2009 shortstop duel between Julio Lugo and Jed Lowrie have the Sox had an honest-to-goodness spring training fight for a starting job. So, maybe they should bring in Don King to promote Bradley vs. Sizemore.
Sizemore is the challenger, having not played since 2011 because of microfracture surgery on both knees. Once a dynamic center fielder, he must prove he’s healthy before pushing Bradley, a touted prospect who struggled in his first exposure to the big leagues.
Shane Victorino returns to right field, while Jonny Gomes and Daniel Nava will reprise their platoon in left.
LF Jonny Gomes
2013 key stats: .247, 13 HR, 52 RBI, .771 OPS
Bill James Handbook 2014 Projection: .237, 16 HR, 53 RBI, .769 OPS
Contract status: Due $5 million in the final season of two-year, $10 million contract.
The skinny: Anyone who doesn’t believe in intangibles hasn’t watched Gomes, whose value can’t be measured by numbers alone. His beard may be gone, but his hold on the clubhouse remains.
CF Jackie Bradley Jr.
2013 key stats: .189, 3 HR, 10 RBI, .617 OPS
Bill James Handbook 2014 Projection: .248, 15 HR, 55 RBI, .749 OPS
Contract status: Under team control; eligible for arbitration in 2017.
The skinny: Defensively, he’s already at least as good as Ellsbury. Known for his plate discipline and on-base ability, he had trouble with inside fastballs last season. It will be up to him to adjust.
RF Shane Victorino
2013 Key stats: .294, 15 HR, 61 RBI, .801 OPS
Bill James Handbook 2014 projection: .270, 14 HR, 58 RBI, .751 OPS
Contract status: Due $13 million in second season of three-year, $39 million deal.
The skinny: A high-energy sparkplug, Victorino plays at warp speed and talks even faster. He has never seen a catch he can’t make or a wall he isn’t willing to crash into, and his Gold Glove defense is invaluable.
OF Daniel Nava
2013 key stats: .303, 12 HR, 66 RBI, .831 OPS
Bill James Handbook 2014 projection: .285, 11 HR, 59 RBI, .812 OPS
Contract status: Under team control; eligible for arbitration in 2015.
The skinny: After posting the third-best OPS among AL outfielders (behind Mike Trout and Jose Bautista), Nava’s place in the majors is no longer questioned. His on-base skills make him a candidate to bat leadoff.
OF Grady Sizemore
2013 key stats: Did not play
Bill James Handbook 2014 projection: N/A
Contract status: One year, $750,000, with up to $5.25 million in bonuses.
The skinny: Once upon a time, Sizemore was everything the Red Sox dreamed Ellsbury would be. Now, they hope he can help replace Ellsbury, one of the spring’s most intriguing plot lines.
Of all the things that attracted the Red Sox to A.J. Pierzynski — from his durability to his experience behind the plate — this may have been the most important: He agreed to a one-year contract.
Indeed, Pierzynski is as much a place-holder for rising prospects Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart as a capable replacement for Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who got a three-year deal from the Marlins. Pierzynski will be backed up by postseason hero David Ross, who figures to play more than the average No. 2 catcher.
2013 key stats: .272, 17 HR, 70 RBI, .722 OPS
Bill James Handbook 2014 projection: .266, 14 HR, 56 RBI, .710 OPS
Contract status: One year, $8.5 million.
The skinny: Over the last 50 years, only 13 catchers have started more games and none have equaled Pierzynski’s 13 consecutive seasons of at least 100 starts. Wish manager John Farrell luck trying to rest him.
2013 key stats: .216, 4 HR, 10 RBI, .681 OPS
Bill James Handbook 2014 projection: .221, 8 HR, 28 RBI, .691 OPS
Contract status: Due $3.1 million in final season of two-year, $6.2 million deal.
The skinny: Ross’ head is still spinning, but at least it’s from catching the final out of the World Series, not the two concussions he suffered last year. Hard to find a better backup.
It’s true that David Ortiz’ whining about his contract has grown as tiresome as that overplayed Robin Thicke song. But can we also agree that he’s worth the money?
Over the past three seasons, Big Papi ranks 11th in the AL in homers (82), seventh in doubles (104), ninth in RBI (259) and second to only Miguel Cabrera in both on-base percentage (.401) and slugging percentage (.571).
Good luck replacing that production.
2013 key stats: .309, 30 HR, 103 RBI, .959 OPS
Bill James Handbook 2014 projection: .287, 30 HR, 98 RBI, .914 OPS
Contract status: Due $15 million in final season of two-year, $29 million deal.
The skinny: Ortiz will do his usual contract waltz with the Sox, but neither side wants this relationship to end.