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Tinkering and Planning Are All That's Left

The Red Sox are in pretty amazing shape to pursue a repeat this year.  They brought back Napoli to play first, replaced Salty with AJ Pierzynski, and prepared themselves to hand over two starting jobs to their top two position prospects (Bogaerts at short and Bradley in center).  Meanwhile, Peddy, Victorino, Gomes/Nava, Papi and probably Middlebrooks return to fill out the lineup.

As for pitching, the Sox have the perfect set up: six quality, healthy, veteran starters and a bunch of rookies. In the pen, they have a bullpen they have the same thing: six quality veterans and the same bunch of rookies.  Unless they are simultaneously blown away during spring training with both a great trade offer for a veteran starter and the absolute belief that a rookie starter is ready (presumably Brandon Workman, Allen Webster or Rubby De La Rosa), the Sox have their pitching staff set.

The starters will be Lester, Buchholz, Lackey, Doubront, and Peavy.  The pen will be Uehara, Tazawa, Breslow, Andrew Miller, former Cardinals closer Edward Mujica, sinkerballer Burke Badenhop, and sixth starter Ryan Dempster (though I'd personally argue for switching he and Peavy).  When one of these folks falters or breaks down, lefty Drake Britton, wildcard righty Brayan Villarreal, and righties Workman, De La Rosa, Webster, Alex Wilson, Anthony Ranaudo, Steven Wright, and Cuban ex-pat Dalier Hinojosa.

That is a fantastic situation for the Sox to be in.  Rookies will get their shots but you are not relying on them.  There are lefties, power guys, a groundball guy, an experienced sixth starter, and two lefties in the rotation.  The only nit picks are whether or not there is a true ace and what if Uehara breaks down.

This leave the Sox with three, relatively minor questions to answer:
  • What about Stephen Drew? - It looks likely that Stephen Drew will come back to the Sox for a year or two at probably less money than he was offered by them for one year.  If that happens, great.  As ProJo's Brian MacPherson notes, Middlebrooks would be upset but the depth of having Middlebrooks to backup Drew and Bogaerts is a luxury few teams can have.  If Middlebrooks starts laying off of some balls and laying into some strikes, he'll find his way into the lineup.

    If Drew finds another team willing to sign him and pay the draft pick ransom, the Sox not only get a pick out of the deal, but they get to play Middlebooks and Bogaerts together.  They picked up Jonathan Herrera from the Rockies to fill the role of experienced backup to the kids.  He gives the Sox one more line of major league talent before having to go with Brock Holt or I-Can't-Remember-His-First-Name Snyder.

    Either way, the Sox will not commit long term to Drew as they have two young starters now and two prospects, Garin Cecchini (3B) and Deven Marrero (SS), hot on their heals.

  • How about depth in centerfield? - The Sox seem content to hand the starting job over to Jackie Bradley Jr.  He's no Ellsbury, but by all accounts he's ready and we'll love his defense, his approach, and he'll hit and run plenty.  Behind Bradley is Shane Victorino who'll man rightfield but could move to center as needed.  That would require Daniel Nava or minor leaguers Bryce Brentz or Alex Hassan to fill in.  After Victorino, the backup, arguably, might be my mother.  She's a fantastic person but has limited range in center.

    At this point, the Sox have three left fielders (Gomes, Nava, and Carp) but no one behind JBJ and Victorino who can concievably play major league center field with any regularity.  Veteran minor league utility guy Justin Henry was just resigned and could play center in a pinch, but that would be a hell of a pinch (if you are wondering why, please remember that I started that sentence with "veteran minor league utility guy")

    The Sox should explore a trade of one of their left fielders for someone who can place center.  Gomes seems like such a team leader - and a good hitter - that he'd be hard to lose.  Carp seems like a young power hitter who could potentially replace Big Papi someday (as much as that's possible) and/or platoon with Middlebrooks at first should something happen to Napoli.  It seems to me that Daniel Nava would have decent value given his great year last year but would be the most likely to regress going forward.  That said, the Sox might value him more than other people who see him as just a flash in the pan.

    It is entirely conceivable that Bradley is a bust - or at least struggles mightily - and that Victorino breaks down physically.  In which case, the Sox need someone else who can play center for more than a game or two.
  • How do you integrate young pitchers into the rotation? - This was covered very nicely by the Herald's Scott Lauber, but I'll summarize as I do think this is one of the most interesting organizational questions facing the Sox.  The Sox have seven rookie starters who might appear in the majors this year.  Only a few of them - at best - will end up as regular starters for the Sox (or anyone).  But how do you integrate even one into the rotation while competing for the world championship.  The two primary models have been the Rays who integrate rookies into their rotation every year after plenty of minor league seasoning, and the Cardinals who bring kids up faster but let them get their feet wet in the pen first.

    It appears that the Sox may lean more toward the Cardinal model while using double headers, rest, and short-term injuries of starters to give rookies experience.  I could se

    e the older rookies who have started major league games pitching out of the pen quite a bit this year.  That includes Webster, Workman and De La Rosa.  If a long term injury sidelines a starter for more than a game, I would expect Dempster to be the first option, Workman to be number 2, and Webster to be number three.

    Meanwhile, Barnes and Ranuado will get used to Triple A ball and make a spot start or two in the majors this year with the idea that they might join the pen in September (Ranuado is on the 40 man, Barnes would need to bump someone).  Meanwhile, top pitching prospect Henry Owens seems unlikely to make the jump this year as he's new to Double A.  I would also be more cautious introducing very tall pitchers (6'7") like Owens and Ranuado to the pen without getting used to it in the minors first as they are more likely to get their mechanics messed up that way (see Daniel Bard).  If Owens dominates the minors again, I could see making a single spot start later in the season and maybe time in the pen mostly to get used to the environment.

    This is one of the most interesting challenges facing the Sox.  That said, that this is considered a notable "challenge" speaks to how stacked the Sox are at this point. 

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