Since the streets of Boston cleared and the Red Sox World Series Championship parade concluded, the conversation and excitement for the 2019 season instantaneously began. Although there were a lack of storylines over the offseason, especially as it progressed, the anticipation for what this team could look like the following season became palpable.
What would the Red Sox do at the back end of their bullpen? Should they pay Craig Kimbrel? You need to bring back Joe Kelly if you’re Dave Dombrowski, right?
Well, as the offseason rolled on and some of these questions gained answers, it became quite clear what the Red Sox plan was as they entered 2019. They’ve returned with virtually the same team, just one lacking some defined roles. They’ll see the grand return of their veteran infielder, Dustin Pedroia. Among other storylines, the Red Sox season certainly won’t be one lacking discussion and debate as it usually does. Because come on, are we really talking Boston sports if we don’t constantly look for something to criticize or debate?
Here are five storylines we need to look out for as the 2019 season commences in Seattle Washington.
The Closer Role:
One of the most heavily watched storylines of the Red Sox offseason. The closer position currently hangs a vacant sign on the window and the position is open for the taking. That is if you believe the Red Sox will eventually “officially” hand someone that role at some point during this upcoming season.
The consensus seems to be that if someone does fill the void, it will be the hard-throwing righty, Matt Barnes, who posted an ERA of 3.65 with a WHIP of 1.265, or the surprise of 2018, Ryan Brasier, who saw some great success last season posting an ERA of 1.60 with a WHIP of 0.70.
However, if you like to go down the more intriguing route as I do in this speculation, don’t be surprised if you see Durbin Feltman make his way up to the major league club in 2019. I wrote about this possibility back in February and the more I think about it, the more I think that there is a strong chance that this happens. Feltman was a Red Sox 2018 draft pick out of TCU who dazzled during his short time with the Red Sox lower level farm system teams.
Feltman consistently touches 97 MPH and occasionally hits 99 MPH. He was well known as one of college’s best relief pitchers and mixes in what is described as a devastating slider. One of the knocks on the soon to be 22-year-old is his shaky command. But being so young and developing now in the Red Sox farm system, look for that to potentially improve along with an increase in velocity. The mere fact that he’s throwing 97 MPH consistently at this young age tells me that he will be touching 100 MPH in no time. With no evidence to back this up, I have the feeling that one of the reasons as to why the Red Sox were so comfortable in allowing Craig Kimbrel to go elsewhere, is due to the fact that they know this prospect is making his way up the pipeline–quick.
However, with that being said, Cora told the media that he will not be naming a closer.
Cora: ‘I’m not going to name a closer. … I don’t think there’s a structure or a script you have to follow (for naming one).’ He says he’s known what he’s wanted to do ‘since November.’ His plan will be revealed tomorrow.
— Alex Speier (@alexspeier) March 27, 2019
Regardless of what he says now, this is something to keep an eye out for as the season progresses.
Chris Sale’s Shoulder:
Perhaps not all of their chips were placed in the Chris Sale basket, but the Red Sox certainly proved that they believe that his ailing left shoulder in 2018 is just a thing of the past as they just inked the dominating lefty to a 5-year extension worth $145 million.
In 2018, Sale was putting together another unbelievable campaign which placed him as the then front runner for the Cy Young award. An award that has been elusive to the lefty since the start of his career. And part of that is due to his continued pattern of not finishing off seasons strong. Unfortunately, 2018 was no different. But instead of his lack of consistency being due to his workload just simply being too much, it was hindered by an ailing left shoulder after he was diagnosed with left shoulder inflammation.
The injury prevented Sale from continuing his reign of terror on opposing hitters following the All-Star break as it allowed him to pitch in just seven games from mid-July to the postseason.
As a rumor of a contract extension began to arise, I thought that it would have been smart for the Red Sox to allow what would have been his final season on his current deal with the Red Sox to play out in 2019, and see how his shoulder held up. But the team clearly saw things differently and got the deal done prior to 2019’s first pitch. Is it because they still regret how they handled the Jon Lester situation? I would say so. Despite the ailing shoulder and potential disaster that could ensue if it turns out to be a reoccurring injury, Sale is a perfect member of the Boston Red Sox. He loves the city, and he loves to win.
Blake Swihart’s Performance After Making the Roster:
The Red Sox pulled the trigger and did something that I originally thought they wouldn’t/couldn’t do. They placed veteran catcher and pitcher favorite Sandy Leon on waivers and put Blake Swihart on their Opening Day roster. That means, unlike last season, the team will only be carrying two catchers as opposed to three.
Sandy Leon’s most important value was the rapport that he held with some of the more vital pitchers on the Boston staff. It was no secret that Chris Sale endeared him and preferred he be behind the dish on his start day. But Leon being in the lineup typically meant a relatively easy out for the opposing pitcher.
Leon was and is an outstanding game manager and defensive catcher and there’s no denying that. He’s a veteran who’s total control over what’s happening in the field is felt and again, you can sense the trust that the pitchers have in him. Despite these qualities, he was a liability when he would step into the batter’s box.
There wasn’t a question that Christian Vazquez was making the roster. Prior to the 2018 season, the Red Sox and the catcher came to an agreement for an extension worth three-years. He’s a farm system, homegrown product who has been solid during his time with the team.
So it essentially came down to Swihart vs Leon and this spring, Swihart earned his keep. In 14 games and 32 plate appearances through the spring, Swihart posted a .406 BA.
With numbers like that, it’s tough to justify keeping him off of the Opening Day roster. It makes it even more difficult when the 27-year-old has no options remaining.
We need to keep an eye on his production though. While he’s not a negative defensively, Leon’s presence behind the plate will be missed. But if Swihart can remain average to slightly above average in the field while keeping his offensive production levels to anything about, I would say, .250, he won’t be in jeopardy of losing his well-deserved roster spot.
Dustin Pedroia’s Nagging Injuries:
It appears as though that the Red Sox veteran second baseman and former MVP, Dustin Pedroia, is ready to make his return in 2019 after missing all but three games in 2018.
After successful knee surgery, the Red Sox addition of Pedroia back into their championship lineup can only be beneficial. In 2017–again battling injury–the small righty with the huge swing proved that he’s still got it with a .293 batting average.
A determined Dustin Pedroia making his way back into this lineup will be a pivotal factor in this team’s success this season. While they do have some very solid backup plans in Eduardo Nunez and Brock Holt, there just isn’t a substitute for Dustin Pedroia who provides a Gold Glove defensive skillset coupled with strong offensive production year after year.
None of this matters though if he can’t stay healthy. That’s what we’re going to have to look out for. Can Pedroia stay on the field? Will his knees hold up? The injury that he suffered isn’t something many guys come back from. So if you’re skeptical about Pedroia in 2019 healthwise, you have every reason to be.
Rafael Devers Moved Up In the Lineup:
Now, I’m not sure if I missed any previous comments on this possibility but Rafael Devers being named the number three hitter in the Opening Day lineup caught me off guard–but I kind of like it.
Since Devers’ debut in 2017, expectations soared as he put together a surprisingly powerful rookie campaign with a .284 BA and 10 home runs over the course of 58 games. While he did have a down year in 2018, the expectation is still there that this kid will become a dangerous hitter.
Devers came into camp in visibly better shape, which at least shows dedication and the will to improve.
Moving Devers to the three spot does one major thing. Being 22-years-old, confidence is key at the major league level. At this point, I’m sure he’s plenty adapted to the level of play and it’s not like 2018 was such a disappointment that anybody is calling for him to be removed from the starting lineup (.240 BA and .731 OPS). But confidence is key in the idea that moving him to that vital spot in the lineup shows the young kid that his manager has faith that he can be successful in a pivotal role for a championship caliber team. If he can take that confidence and transfer that energy into his offensive production, look for Devers to have a breakout year in 2019.
The Red Sox 2019 roster is filled with solidified veterans who are entering the season with one common mindset. Winning. But there sure are plenty of storylines to follow as the Repeat Campaign unfolds. If this team is built for one thing, it is the potential to have another immensely successful season.