5. What happens to the Red Sox middle infield prospects?
With Bogaerts and Pedroia locking down the middle infield positions for several years to come, the Sox two-top middle infield prospects Devon Marrero and Mookie Betts appear to be blocked. Marrero was rated by Baseball America as the best defensive Infielder in The Red Sox’s minor league system. I saw a lot of Marrero during his first professional season in the New York Penn-League, and was very impressed by his balanced, line drive swing, and defensive quickness at shortstop. Betts is coming off of a breakout year in which the second basemen hit .341/.414/.551 after being promoted to high-A Salem last summer. I’m guessing at least one of these two prospects will be used as a trade chip in the next year or two (much like Jose Iglesias was last season). Even if Stephen Drew does not return, these prospects will most likely be blocked as the Sox added Jonathan Herrera to serve as an up-the-middle back-up. Since these prospects are blocked at their positions, they have greater value as trade chips. If the Red Sox were to move Betts and Marrero to the outfield or corner-infield, they would lose much of their premium positional value that would be coveted by other teams. If the Sox do go after David Price next winter, I would highly anticipate on of these two prospects being included in the package. Aside from Hak-Ju Lee (who missed all of last season following a devastating knee-ligament injury), the Rays lack long-term prospects up the middle. This spring, the Sox have the opportunity to showcase Betts and Marrero at Jet Blue Park, before they are sent back to the minors.
4. Will John Lester sign an extension?
This off-season Jon Lester has made it very clear that he would like to remain a Red Sox for the rest of his career. He has expressed a willingness to turn down a massive free-agent payday and sign a team-friendly contract a ’la Dustin Pedroia. Lester’s future with the Red Sox has a great impact on Boston’s current surplus of starting pitching prospects. With Lackey, Bucholz, and Doubront already under contract for the 2015 season, there isn’t a lot of room to transition young arms into the Sox rotation. Whether Lester stays with the team or not, will open or close a spot for a Henry Owens/Anthony Ranaudo/Allen Webster type. A Lester extension could give the Sox more incentive to use a few of their pitching-prospects as trade pieces to pursue other areas of need at the major-league level.
3. What will The 2015 Red Sox Lineup look like?
With the free-agent departures of Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarod Saltalamacchia, and possibly Stephen Drew, The Red Sox lineup has some newfound holes that need to be plugged. John Farrell has indicated this spring that Victorino and Johnny Gomes/Daniel Nava (in favorable platoon situations) will split time in the leadoff spot. Ellsbury’s speed will be greatly missed, but Johnny Gomes’ career .377 OBP versus left-handed pitching and Nava’s career .390 OBP versus right-handed pitchers, could give the left field platoon combo added value at the top of the order. Dustin Pedroia and his career .370 OBP will move to the two-spot optimizing his value in a position that studies(including those by renowned-Sabermatricians Nate Silver and Mitchel Lichtman) have shown is the most valuable position in the lineup (here’s a Link to a USA Today article on the subject). You may have noticed last season that some of the more progressive thinking teams have begun batting their best hitter second. Jose Bautista, Robinson Cano, Carlos Beltran, and Mike Trout all spent significant time in the 2-hole for their respective teams. This year it appears Farrell is jumping on board with the long-standing Sabermetric theory that the No. 2 hitter comes to bat in situations about as important as the No. 3 hitter, but more often. It’s easier to drive in runs than create them, which is why you want a high-OBP hitter in the two spot. The days of speedy, sac-bunting middle-infielders, hitting second appear to be drawing to a close. Farrell has been less clear about how the back-end of the lineup will shape out, but players like Bradley Jr., Pierzynski/Ross, and Middlebrooks will most likely see time at the bottom of the order.
2. Stephen, Stephen, Drew; where are you?!
Like Nelson Cruz and Kendrys Morales, Stephen Drew may be lamenting turning down his one- year $14.1 million dollar qualifying offer. The Mets and Yankees have been rumored landing spots. The Defensive upgrade from Jeter to Drew would greatly benefit the Yankee’s injury-prone, defensively challenged infield. Fortunately for Red Sox fans, the impending nostalgia-infused Jeter farewell tour doesn’t seem to be compromised by anyone other than Brendan Ryan. Blocking Drew from going to a division rival would be incentive enough for the Sox to take him back on a one-year deal. The depth and insurance Drew offers especially over back-up Herrera (0.3 WAR in 2013), would also be a welcomed upgrade to the Boston infield. Despite injuries in 2013, Drew produced a 3.1 WAR for Boston, which is well worth the $8-14 million it would most likely take to re-sign him.
1. Will John Farrell improve his strategic managerial skills after several 2013 Post-Season blunders?
At times in the 2013 post-season it seemed John Farrell was winning in spite of himself. Being a Strat-O-Matic loving tactical geek, I often found myself yelling at the television during last year’s postseason. Farrell made several managerial mistakes that had the Red Sox not won the World Series, could have easily joined him with Bill Buckner, and Grady Little as Boston’s newest goat. Farrell’s World Series game 3 failure to execute a double switch and reluctance to pinch hit Mike Napoli for Brandon Workman against Trevor Rosenthal, raised several eyebrows amongst fans and media alike. Farrell owned up to his mistakes in the post-game press conference; however, it caused me to pull out some more hair in Game 5 when he opted not to pinch hit for Lester (0-34 lifetime) with a runner in scoring position and a chance to break the game wide-open. Luckily everything worked out, and I hate to be lumped in with the fan who infamously called WEEI-radio to complain about Farrell’s managerial skills the morning after the Sox clinched. Yet had the Sox lost, these strategic missteps would be front-page headlines. We will soon see if Farrell can learn from his triumphs and mistakes and become a better tactical manager in 2014.