2013 Record: 97-65 (First in AL East, World Series champions)
Key additions: Signed C A.J. Pierzynski, OF Grady Sizemore, RHP Edward Mujica; Traded for SS Jonathan Herrera, RHP Burke Badenhop
Key losses: Jacoby Ellsbury (signed with New York Yankees), RHP Andrew Bailey (free agent), LHP Franklin Morales (traded to Colorado Rockies), LHP Matt Thornton (signed with New York Yankees), OF Ryan Kalish (signed with Chicago Cubs)
Quick winter recap: It wasn’t a blockbuster winter in Boston, but the Red Sox still did well for themselves by adding complementary pieces and bullpen arms. Sizemore is a low-risk revitalization project, but Pierzynski will add some value behind the plate. Mujica is potentially one of the best signings after a fantastic 2013 with the St. Louis Cardinals.
Farm system outlook: Among the best farm systems in baseball once again, the Red Sox look as if they will graduate top-5 overall prospect Xander Bogaerts right of spring to start at shortstop. Jackie Bradley Jr. was brought up too early last season, but he could be a replacement for Ellsbury if the Sizemore project fails. Allen Webster could see some time up this season, and Henry Owens is lurking in Double-A, but he’ll have to really impress to see Boston in 2014. Garin Cecchini is a dark horse to grab the starting job at third base later in the season.
Most intriguing player: Bogaerts. He hit pretty well at the top level last year and played some third base. There’s no reason he won’t stick at shortstop for most to all of the season. If Bogaerts taps into his raw power potential he’ll be a fantastic player moving forward because he already makes contact and knocks the ball to all fields. If he doesn’t get the job right of spring it won’t be long for him because he fills Boston’s biggest offensive need whether he’s at third or shortstop.
Due for a better year: Dustin Pedroia. Seasons don’t get much better than Pedroia’s 2013. He’s due for an uptick in his power numbers that, assuming Robinson Cano’s power decreases in Seattle, will allow Pedroia to possibly supplant Cano as the game’s best offensive second baseman. All his numbers lined up to career averages and trends last year except his home run and fly ball ratio, which ranged from above average to below average throughout his career but was considered quite poor at 5.6 percent, a drop of almost three percent from 2012.
Due for a worse year: John Lackey. Even I’m not totally convinced a worse year will be that bad for Lackey. His HR/FB rate was a downright awful 13.3 percent in 2013. Meanwhile his biggest problem in his decline from 2007, walks, were turned into the lowest BB/9 rate of his career (1.90). He turned in a low line drive, a fly ball rate lower than his career average and a career-high ground ball rate.
2014 outlook: There’s no reason Boston can’t repeat in 2014. The rotation isn’t perfect with questions marks on Lackey, Clay Bucholz’s health and the overall effectiveness of Ryan Dempster. On offense, Bogaerts provides the bat the Red Sox need and should be better than Stephen Drew and Will Middlebrooks. This team is as about as solid as a team can be coming off a loss an Ellsbury-caliber player. Even with improvements made in the division, this is the team to beat.
Prediction: 95-67 (First in AL East)