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Scouting the Red Sox: New faces highlight new season

The Red Sox won the World Series in 2013, a remarkable accomplishment. But as time passes, that title looks more like an outlier.

The Sox have made the playoffs once in the last five years and are a pedestrian 22 games over .500 since the start of the 2010 season despite a payroll that annually ranks among the highest in the game.

The Yankees are 102 games over .500 in that same period and the Rays 81 games over.

The Sox have been a team in constant transition, changing players, managers and executives at a rapid rate since 2011. Twice in the last three years they gave up in mid-season, traded away star players and finished in last place.


The four most tenured players on the roster are David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz, and Junichi Tazawa. Of the 25 players on the 2013 postseason roster, only 11 remain on the 40-man roster.

Ownership reacted to the latest failure by approving a dizzying series of moves that started in July and led to the Sox having the highest payroll in team history.

The Sox traded lefthanders Jon Lester and Andrew Miller, two healthy and productive pitchers who were open to signing contract extensions.

Then a few months later, they tried to sign them back as free agents only to fall short because their prices had predictably gone up.

To improve a weak-hitting outfield, the Sox obtained what seemed like every outfielder available. Starting in July, they traded for Yoenis Cespedes and Allen Craig. Then the Sox signed Cuban star Rusney Castillo for seven years and $72.5 million in August.

In November, they awarded Hanley Ramirez an $88 million deal for agreeing to play left field.

Cespedes was traded but not Craig, at least not yet. Castillo also may not have an everyday spot if Shane Victorino proves ready to play. The overcrowding has put manager John Farrell in a difficult position.


Third baseman Pablo Sandoval, whose OPS has declined for three consecutive years, was signed for $95 million. But at least he has a place to play.

The Sox gave their 40-year-old closer, Koji Uehara, a two-year deal worth $18 million. Yet they went with bargains elsewhere on the pitching staff, obtaining an assortment of mid-rotation starters and low-priced relievers.

Uehara was injured for much of spring training. Meanwhile, the Yankees rave about Miller.

The Red Sox have many of the parts a contending team needs. The lineup is powerful, the bench deep and the defense should be trustworthy. Farrell and his coaches prepare the team well. There is leadership in the clubhouse and talented young players being worked in. One of them, Mookie Betts, could be a star.

It’s not unreasonable to expect the Sox to win at least 85 games and return to the postseason. Their offense is that stacked. But the loss of gifted catcher Christian Vazquez to an elbow injury was a blow to the rotation.

The question is whether the pitching is sound enough and, if not, can general manager Ben Cherington improve it in time.

That will determine if the Sox can contend or whether they have another of their semi-annual garage sales. If this season leads to another rebuild, the players might not be the only ones sent out of town.


Rotation (5)

RHP Clay Buchholz

Scouting report: Is the little brother ready to be the man of the house? Buchholz is the staff leader by default after the Sox traded John Lackey, Jon Lester, and Jake Peavy. At 30, Buchholz could still fulfill what is immense talent and become an ace. But he has missed 45 starts because of injury over the last four seasons. His pitching 200 innings is crucial to the team’s chances.

Fast fact: Buchholz was a supplemental first-round pick in 2005. He was compensation for the loss of Pedro Martinez to free agency.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Cooperstown.”

RHP Rick Porcello

Scouting report: Porcello could be one and done. His earned run average has dropped four consecutive years and all signs point to continued improvement. Entering free agency a few months before turning 27 would make him a good candidate for the kind of long-term deal the Red Sox fear.

Fast fact: Since at least 1900, Porcello is the first pitcher to make at least 25 starts in his first six big league seasons before turning 26. He also joins Hall of Famers Bert Blyleven and Dennis Eckersley as the only pitchers with at least 10 wins in six seasons before turning 26.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Presence.”

RHP Justin Masterson

Scouting report: Once Masterson entered free agency, it was a good bet the Red Sox would sign him. He was an organizational favorite before being traded to Cleveland in 2009 and John Farrell was his first pitching coach in the majors. If he can stay healthy, Masterson could be a bargain at one year and $9.5 million. He was an All-Star in 2013 before a series of injuries derailed his career in ’14.


Fast fact: Righthanded hitters have a .607 OPS against Masterson over his career. Lefthanded hitters have a .794.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Awesome.”

LHP Wade Miley

Scouting report: The Red Sox targeted Miley in trade talks shortly after the season ended and once they obtained him, signed him to a three-year, $19.25 million extension. At first glance, a 38-35 record and 3.79 ERA is nothing too exciting. But Miley is dependable, throws strikes and keeps the ball on the ground. With a better team around him, he could prove to be a great pickup.

Fast fact: Miley will be glad to leave Arizona’s Chase Field. He had a 4.33 ERA at home with the Diamondbacks and a 3.31 on the road.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Icon.”

RHP Joe Kelly

Scouting report: The hardest throwing of the Red Sox starters — his fastball averaged 95.1 miles per hour last season — Kelly also is the least experienced. He has yet to make more than 17 starts in a major league season or throw more than 124 innings. A strained biceps midway through spring training was worrisome. If he can stay healthy, Kelly has all the tools to be a major contributor, but he does start the season on the disabled list.


Fast fact: Kelly’s four postseason starts are the second on the staff to Buchholz, who has five. Porcello has two.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Energetic.”

Bullpen (7)

RHP Koji Uehara

Scouting report: The Red Sox signed Uehara to a two-year, $18 million deal in October despite a late-season slump in which he lost the closer’s job. He then gave up seven hits in his first three innings of spring training before going to the sideline — and eventually the disabled list — with a strained left hamstring. He’s trending the wrong way.

Fast fact: Uehara turned 40 Saturday. He is one of seven active big leaguers to hit that mark and six are pitchers. The oldest player in the game is 42-year-old Rockies reliever LaTroy Hawkins.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Big.”

RHP Junichi Tazawa

Scouting report: Tazawa has one career save and that came in 2012. But he has the stuff to become a closer. Tazawa averaged 94 miles per hour with his fastball last season and he throws an effective cutter. For now, he’s one of the best setup men in the American League

Fast fact: Tazawa has a 2.94 ERA and 188 strikeouts in 183⅔ career innings as a reliever. He has not given up on the idea of starting but the Red Sox aren’t giving that any thought.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Rock.”

LHP Craig Breslow

Scouting report: Breslow is coming off the worst season of his long career. A shoulder injury left him largely unable to train during the winter and that was reflected in his 5.96 ERA, 1.86 WHIP and 22 extra-base hits allowed in 260 batters faced. Now healthy and strong after a productive offseason, Breslow has seen his velocity tick up. Look for a bounce-back year.

Fast fact: Breslow has appeared in 479 games, the second most for any pitcher from Connecticut. Ricky Bottalico has the record of 562.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Iconic.”

LHP Tommy Layne

Scouting report: Layne was released by the Padres and signed to a minor league contract with the Red Sox before the 2014 season. He has pitched well ever since, whether in spring training, Triple A Pawtucket, or in 30 major league games last season. Lefthanders have a .487 OPS against Layne and he’ll be the specialist against them.

Fast fact: Layne is a tough guy to go deep against. He has allowed 50 home runs in 796⅓ professional innings, one in 44⅓ major league innings.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Superior.”

RHP Anthony Varvaro

Scouting report: The Braves designated Varvaro for assignment in December, then traded him to the Sox. It was a strange move. Varvaro will not be arbitration eligible until next year and has pitched well in the majors for parts of five seasons. He has a 2.74 ERA and a 1.19 WHIP the last two seasons and mows down lefthanded hitters. He’s out of options and will get a long look.

Fast fact: Varvaro is the first Red Sox player out of St. John’s University since Craig Hansen. A first-round pick in 2005, the 31-year-old Hansen has been out of pro ball since 2012.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Special.”

RHP Edward Mujica

Scouting report: If Uehara is not ready, Mujica will get the first shot at closing based on his experience. He had a strong second half of last season after a terrible first half, finishing the season as a closer and handling the job ably. Mujica didn’t pitch especially well in spring training but that doesn’t mean much for a veteran.

Fast fact: He’s going to throw strikes. Mujica’s 4.8 strikeout-to-walk ratio is the best in modern history among pitchers with at least 400 career innings.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Amazing.”

RHP Alexi Ogando

Scouting report: The Red Sox took a $1.5 million chance on Ogando, hoping the injuries that wrecked his 2014 season have healed. Some scouts believe Ogando will eventually need surgery but his velocity rebounded in spring training and he showed good command of the strike zone. John Farrell believes he could be a key component of the bullpen.

Fast fact: Ogando was an outfielder known as “Argenis Benitez” when he played in the Oakland organization from 2002-05. He started pitching with the Rangers in 2006.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Warrior.”

LHP Robbie Ross Jr.

Scouting report: Ross had a 2.62 ERA and 1.26 WHIP in 123 relief appearances for the Rangers from 2012-13. Texas tried him as a starter last season with poor results and Ross didn’t recover when he returned to the bullpen, finishing the year with a 6.20 ERA. The Sox obtained the 25-year-old in January, trading righthander Anthony Ranaudo to Texas.

Fast fact: Ross’s father, Chuck, was the 29th selection of the 1975 draft, going in the second round to the Milwaukee Brewers. A catcher, he spent five seasons in the minors, including all of 1978 with Double A Holyoke.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Strong.”

Lineup (9)

CF Mookie Betts

Scouting report: Betts came up as a second baseman and finished last season at that position after Dustin Pedroia went on the disabled list. Betts played exclusively outfield in spring training and showed great improvement from last season, especially the efficiency of his routes to the ball. At the plate, Betts could be one of the team’s best hitters. He’ll get on base and hit for more power than was once expected.

Fast fact: Betts reached base safely in 71 consecutive minor league games from Aug. 2, 2013 to May 16, 2014.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Awesome.”

2B Dustin Pedroia

Scouting report: Pedroia’s slugging percentage has dropped four years in a row, from .493 in 2010 to .376 last season. As assortment of hand injuries have contributed to that. But opponents also pitch him lower in the strike zone, keeping Pedroia from extending his arms. He remains immensely valuable, however.

Fast fact: Pedroia’s four Gold Gloves are the most by a Red Sox infielder. Based on his work in spring training, it’ll soon be five. His stellar defense is one reason the Sox targeted groundball pitchers for the rotation.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Best.”

DH David Ortiz

Scouting report: At 39, Ortiz is in the final guaranteed year of his contract but has vesting options for 2016 and ’17. How this season goes physically will determine his plans. The lefthanded hitter is a linchpin for the largely righthanded Red Sox. They need his production to balance the lineup. Having Hanley Ramirez, Pablo Sandoval and Mike Napoli behind him makes for a formidable group.

Fast fact: Big Papi is 34 home runs away from 500 and 67 RBIs short of 1,600. Only 20 players in history have hit those marks.

One word to describe himself: “Humble.”

LF Hanley Ramirez

Scouting report: At 31, Ramirez should have some prime years left. He arrived in spring training at 225 pounds and looks strong. Ramirez’s health is a concern given his history, but the Sox see him as their cleanup hitter behind a trio of high on-base players in Betts, Pedroia and Ortiz.

Fast fact: Ramirez has worked hard at learning left field. But the faux Green Monster at JetBlue Park with the netting in the middle doesn’t play like the old and dented tin Monster in Boston. He could have some adventures on defense.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Big heart. I have to use two words.”

3B Pablo Sandoval

Scouting report: The Sox needed a third baseman and went out and got the best one available in Sandoval. The switch-hitter adds power to the lineup along with a career .346 on-base percentage. At 255 pounds, Sandoval is surprisingly deft at third base, but more on the plays coming in than those to his left.

Fast fact: Sandoval has reached safely in 36 of 39 career postseason games. He is a career .344 hitter in the postseason, the best in history for players with at least 150 plate appearances.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Friend.”

1B Mike Napoli

Scouting report: Napoli played nearly all of last season with a crooked left ring finger, the result of a dislocation in April. He also rarely had a full night of sleep because od debilitating sleep apnea that resulted in facial reconstruction surgery in November. In the final year of his contract, a healthy Napoli could be an offensive force. His defense at first base has been strong for two seasons.

Fast fact: Napoli has played in the postseason in six of the last eight years. Only eight active players have done that, one being teammate Shane Victorino.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Consistency.”

SS Xander Bogaerts

Scouting report: He came up from the minors as a shortstop. Then he was moved to third base. Then back to shortstop. Then back to third base. Then back to shortstop. The Red Sox seemed determined to make it difficult for Bogaerts and they succeeded. At 22, his best is still to come and staying at one position should help. Being lower in the lineup will, too.

Fast fact: Bogaerts’ 144 games were the most for any major leaguer 21 or younger last season.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Legend.”

RF Shane Victorino

Scouting report: The 34-year-old right fielder is entering the final year of his contract in choppy waters. He is coming off back surgery and faces stiff competition for playing time. Farrell has given Victorino public support but the Sox can’t be patient deep into the season if he doesn’t perform. There’s a chance this ends badly, which would be a shame given his crucial contributions in 2013.

Fast fact: Victorino was on the disabled list four times in the last two seasons and missed 172 games.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Teddy-bear.”

C Ryan Hanigan

Scouting report: The 34-year-old is a good defensive catcher who has thrown out 34 percent of base stealers in his career. He has a career .353 on-base percentage but over the last two seasons has hit .208 with a .605 OPS. The Massachusetts native could get ample playing time early in the season as Christian Vazquez deals with an elbow injury.

Fast fact: Hanigan was traded twice on Dec. 19. After officially being sent from the Rays to the Padres, he was then flipped to the Red Sox for Will Middlebrooks.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Superstar.”

Bench (4)

INF Brock Holt

Scouting report: Holt was a fan favorite as a rookie in 2014, starting at every position but pitcher, catcher, and DH. No Red Sox player had ever done that before. Holt hit .327 with an .834 OPS in the first half of the season then fell off to .219 with a .548 OPS in the second half. Holt starts the season as the primary backup at second base, third base, and shortstop. He also could see some time in the outfield.

Fast fact: The last rookie to start at those seven positions was Possum Whitted of the Cardinals in 1913.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Leader.”

OF-1B Allen Craig

Scouting report: In Craig, the Sox traded for a player they don’t really need. He played only 29 of 67 games after being acquired from the Cardinals last season and starts this year on the bench, a $5.5 million spare part whose salary goes up to $9 million next season, then $11 million in 2017.

Fast fact: Craig hit .312 with an .863 OPS for the Cardinals from 2011-13. In the event of an injury, he’ll be a good player to have around assuming he’s over the foot fracture that led to a .215 batting average last season.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Great.”

OF-1B Daniel Nava

Scouting report: Because he hits lefthanded, Nava could see ample playing time at first base, left field and right field, especially against tough righthanded pitchers. A switch-hitter, he is focusing on the left side this season. The former college walk-on and independent league survivor will make $1.85 million this year as his inspirational climb continues.

Fast fact: That Nava has led all Red Sox outfielders in starts (264) the last three seasons speaks to how unsettled the roster has been.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Impressive.”

C Sandy Leon

Scouting report: The Sox purchased Leon from the Nationals on March 30. The 26-year-old has only 34 games of major league experience but is considered a strong defensive catcher. He could get significant playing time depending on how Ryan Hanigan holds up over the course of the season.

Fast fact: Leon has thrown out 45 percent of base stealers in his career. That should help make up for a weak bat. He has a .653 OPS in the minors and .533 in his limited major league experience.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Helpful”

In reserve (2)

OF Rusney Castillo

Scouting report: The Sox invested heavily in Castillo and he could well end up the primary right fielder in the coming months. The 27-year-old has power and speed and needs only experience against major league pitchers. Injuries interrupted his winter plans and held him back during the early stages of spring training, but the Sox presumably didn’t spend that much to have him sit around.

Fast fact: Castillo, his father, and his grandfather all played in Serie Nacional, Cuba’s major league. Castillo played for Ciego de Ávila from 2008-13.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Idol.”

RHP Steven Wright

Scouting report: The 30-year-old knuckleballer was praised throughout camp by John Farrell and is first in line as rotation depth. Wright throws strikes, changes speeds, and has learned how and when to mix in a fastball. The Sox, based on their experience with Tim Wakefield, like the idea of a knuckleballer in the rotation.

Fast fact: Steven Wright the Red Sox pitcher has never met Steven Wright the deadpan comedian from Cambridge who is a Red Sox fan. “I’d love to meet him. I think he’s hilarious,” the righthander said.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Legacy.”


John Farrell

Scouting report: Farrell has a strong belief in himself and how he thinks a major league team should be run. He trusts that process will produce results. It worked in ’13 but fell apart last season once losing became accepted. Farrell can’t let that happen again, even against a tough early schedule.

Fast fact: Farrell is one of four members of the 1988 Indians who went on to manage in the majors. The others are Bud Black, Terry Francona, and Ron Washington. Hitting coach Charlie Manuel did, too.

One word to describe David Ortiz: “Dynamic.”

Peter Abraham can be reached at pabraham@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @PeteAbe.