By Terry Cushman – @cushmanMLB
Pretend today is not February 2nd. Pretend it’s October 1, 2017. The playoffs start in a couple days, and the Red Sox will not have Dustin Pedroia or Eduardo Nunez. Given the magnitude of those games, that would’ve been a major problem huh? Well at present, that exact same problem is looming large over Boston. They are weaker now than they were last fall. Have the New York Yankees, who came within one game of a World Series appearance gotten weaker? Definitely not. They added the reigning national league MVP to their roster to go along with their AL MVP runner up. All sobered up now?
My biggest concern with the current Red Sox roster is with their infield. It’s more precarious than most Red Sox fans would care to admit. So here’s a look one by one starting on the first base side:
I for one, was not pleased with this signing. However, I was dead set against signing Eric Hosmer, mostly due to the fact he lacks value from a pure power hitting perspective, and power hitting first baseman are a dime a dozen. So why pay $140M+? Jay Bruce or Carlos Santana would have suited me fine.
As for Mitch Moreland? We know what we are getting. He is a career .252 hitter (.246 in 2017), will likely hit at least 20 home runs, but strike out a little more than we like. Moreland is not Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, or Mike Lowell. Nor is he the upgrade we were hoping for. The upside is that Moreland is typically a durable player, and was probably the best defensive third baseman available.
He is perhaps one of the biggest question marks of all. We already know Pedroia will likely miss the first six or so weeks due to his post season knee surgery. He only played 105 games last year due to the fact his previous knee surgery failed to keep him on the field. In 2015 Pedroia was limited to just 93 games due to hamstring issues. Given the fact he will turn 35 next year, it would extremely naive of anyone to dismiss the very real likelihood a lengthy DL stint could occur. That being said, Pedroia huggers are pretty naive.
My other concern for Pedroia is the possibility he may try to play through injuries. He had virtually zero power last October in the ALDS. His OPS has only been above .800 once in the last six years. Even when healthy, Pedey is only a .233 playoff hitter.
Finally, who would replace him should a long term injury take place? Marco Hernandez? Brock Holt? Blake Swihart? There’s no obvious internal solution who would make a big impact. Best case scenario he plays 4.5 healthy months, and puts up respectable numbers. But that’s not a scenario I’m comfortable with.
We know Bogaerts will play a full season as he is generally a very durable player. Consistency and confidence tend to be at the heart of his struggles. With only two years remaining before free agency, I have given up on him as a power hitter. His numbers all across the board were down last year. However, with new leadership, coaching, and improved culture, it’s more than reasonable to expect an uptick from the short stop. His OBP remained fairly consistent, and Bogaerts is one of the better contact hitters in the game. All in all, I am the least concerned with short stop as I am the rest of the infield.
The success or failure of the 21 year old third baseman is what will make or break the Red Sox in 2018. On the positive side, he displayed raw power last season, and never withered in the moment. On the negative side, his defensive skills leave more to be desired, and his sample size was simply too short. Long term, I am a beaming optimist when it comes to Devers. Short term, there’s a lot of uncertainty. It’s not all that unreasonable that he struggles, and has to be optioned down to Pawtucket. Then what? The Red Sox have the same lack of depth at third base as we do at second base. Not to mention it’s hard to replace Devers’ bat from a power perspective.
So to recap: The Red Sox have one painfully average player, a highly injury prone player, a grossly inexperienced player, and a fairly decent short stop who tends to drop off in the second half.
Could the stars align, and the infield become offensively robust? I suppose. Though every season, a team projected to do well finishes last due to a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances. I never mentioned the rotation at all, but even their record of injuries also makes me nervous.
ICYMI: AVIDBOSTON PODCAST EPISODE 28: THE JD MARTINEZ/ROB MANFRED EDITION!
Also available on iTunes!