Today is the day, folks. While it isn’t the official day pitchers and catchers report for the Red Sox specifically, a lot of the team has already shown up to Spring Training to get loose and of course, provide us with Twitter video that will only make you upset that it’s still cold here in Massachusetts and not warm weathered baseball season yet.
Chris Sale’s Health:
Chris Sale is throwing off of the bullpen rubber already and as we remember from last season, he’s coming back from left shoulder inflammation. While he was able to return late in the season and pitch the final out of the World Series in 2018, watching his health is something that Red Sox fans need to keep a wary eye over.
Prior to his arrival in Boston, Sale was a workhorse who had a limited injury history. However, one of the few negatives that surrounded the dominant lefty was his performances to end the respective season. His body would appear to wear down and we saw that for ourselves during his first campaign with the team in 2017. In 2018, it was a bit of a different story as Sale dealt with the aforementioned shoulder inflammation that limited him to just seven starts following the MLB All-Star break on July 17th.
Monitoring his health early and his drop in velocity that we witnessed in the second half of 2018 is something to watch as we roll into 2019.
Who Will Be the Defacto Closer?:
This one has to be the most interesting storyline of them all solely because all of the answers that we thought we might have by Spring Training still haven’t been answered. While President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski, has stuck to his word of not overpaying to fill this role, is that the smart move? As a personal preference, I was in on David Robertson but he, of course, decided to sign a deal with the Philadelphia Phillies for two-years, $11.5M average annual salary with a third-year club option.
This is a deal the Red Sox could have swung easily and I think they should have. That’s a cheap contract on the short-term which is everything that they could have dreamed of being that their–I assume–soon to be closer, prospect Durbin Feltman is coming through the ranks.
We’ve heard the rumors that the plan could go to Matt Barnes or Ryan Brasier. They could even share the role. But is that really what you want if you’re looking to make another run at the World Series title? I’ve said it all along, I wholeheartedly believe that the team will eventually re-sign Craig Kimbrel at a much cheaper rate than his originally rumored asking price, but honestly, at this point who knows. The free agent market is in limbo at the moment and as of right now, I’m sitting on the idea that anything can happen.
Dustin Pedroia’s Return:
Dustin Pedroia has been a focal point around the Boston Red Sox organization since he took home the American League Rookie of the Year award in 2007.
He’s battled knee injuries over the prior two seasons but looks to bounce back in 2019. The question is though, how productive will he be with such a lack of playing time in 2018?
The second baseman had attempted a return last season but was only able to play in three games before the plug was pulled on the year. It was clear that he wasn’t ready to return after re-aggravating the injury but this season will hopefully be a different story. His last appearance in 2018 came on May 29th where he grabbed his one and only base hit of the year.
If Pedroia can climb back to at least a semblance of what he once was, his veteran presence on the field will be vital to a Red Sox attempt at a repeat run in 2019.
Xander Bogaerts Enters Contract Year:
This is something that I’m keeping a close eye on because out of the young core that the club had bred through the farm system, Xander Bogaerts will be the first major domino to fall into free agency. And of course, I’m speaking of Bogaerts, Betts, Benintendi and Bradley Jr.
Unless he has a completely deplorable season, Bogaerts will command a pretty penny next offseason. Now as I mention a hypothetical down season for the shortstop, I don’t believe that it’ll happen by any means. Bogaerts is one of the most talented shortstops in major league baseball today and because of his first looming mega-deal that he could swing right in the thick of his prime, look for him to have a big-time season.
Bogaerts entering his contract year is something that I think will help the Red Sox short term, but long term, he could be as good as gone by the start of the 2020 season due to his probable high demand. You know, unless the league decides to freeze free agents again next offseason.
Rafael Devers Bounce Back Year:
Devers is somebody that I’ve been high on since he had a strong rookie season in 2017. In 58 games in his first year at the big league level, Devers produced a .285 BA coupled with an .819 OPS. His defense might not be completely developed to this point but we need to remember that this kid is just that, a kid.
Being only 22 years old, I’m on the optimistic side of things that he will develop into an adequate fielder. There were times last season where he was a complete liability with the glove but things did improve and he didn’t seem as incapable by the end of the season.
Now his bat is the aspect of his game that most people should key in on because if he’ll be impressive anywhere, it’ll be at the plate. Devers didn’t quite show up last year in regards to what people thought he could/would be initially. I see the left-handed hitter seeing a relatively strong improvement. In 2018 he hit just .240 over a 121 game span, but I think there’s more there to his offensive abilities than what we saw. He also has shown spurts of power, hitting 21 home runs which excites me because I see that number being closer to 30 when things are all said and done.
These are the five storylines that I think people should hone in on as we start the 2019 season and as we venture to the mid-point of the year. As I said, the closer role may be the most intriguing one to me because if the Red Sox do decide to roll with what they have currently, it could go decently well, or it could be an absolute trainwreck. The 2019 season is getting underway as we speak so let’s prepare for what I expect to be, another strong showing for the Boston Red Sox.