FORT MYERS, Fla. — The Red Sox were the best team on paper entering camp, but are they still?
There are concerns. John Farrell outlined some of them Sunday.
“Your concerns are when your guys aren’t on the field regularly,” the manager said. “We’ve got to obtain some answers to those questions. And we are getting Hanley [Ramirez] on the field at first base defensively. It’s getting Tyler Thornburg to the mound, and it’s the unknown timetable for David Price.
“So while you feel good in some ways, you’re always left wanting more. You always want your team to be as complete as possible. In the absence of those individuals, then you always go to Plan B. As of today, Joe Kelly steps into the eighth inning. How does everyone take on additional responsibility in that bullpen. We love their abilities, love the track record that some of them have given us. That’s part of putting the pieces of that jigsaw puzzle together.”
So let’s look at the concerns, one by one:
1. Thornburg — He was, in essence, a backup plan. Plan A was to re-sign Koji Uehara, but at much less than the $9 million he made each of the last two seasons. He threw no harder than 88 miles per hour on a good day, yet he got batters out.
The Red Sox may miss Uehara more than they’ll ever know. Yes, he turns 42 in a few weeks, and his career won’t go on much longer, but Uehara was Boston-tested. He knows how to pitch here. Nothing bothered him.
The Cubs offered him a one-year $6 million deal, and he took it, which indicates the Red Sox’ offer was much lower. We’ll see how this plays out.
Dave Dombrowski unloaded some pretty good prospects for Thornburg, who was really impressive for the 73-win Brewers last season. But Thornburg didn’t take well to the Red Sox’ shoulder strengthening program; apparently, Milwaukee’s shoulder program isn’t as extensive. Thornburg misinterpreted the offseason training requirements and has suffered from soreness this spring. It’s likely that he’ll have to start the season on the disabled list.
Thornburg had what looked to be a strong bullpen session Saturday. Pitching coach Carl Willis was encouraged by what he saw.
“He felt much improved [Saturday],” Farrell said. “After he goes through his throwing today we’ll decide what’s next for him. It could be a minor league game or it could be another bullpen. I don’t have a deadline. If he’s able to get into a minor league game and you count all the games between now and Opening Day, he has the ability to get four games in and we’ll evaluate it as we get closer to Opening Day.”
Dombrowski gave up corner infielder Travis Shaw, shortstop prospect Mauricio Dubon, righthander Josh Pennington, and a player to be named. That’s quite a haul for a setup man, but that’s the price of pitching these days.
The Red Sox have had real issues with relievers they’ve acquired the last few years. Prior to last season, Dombrowski traded for righty setup man Carson Smith and lefthander Roenis Elias from Seattle, and neither has made an impact in Boston.
Before Dombrowski arrived, the Red Sox picked up Joel Hanrahan (along with Brock Holt) from the Pirates to be their closer for the 2013 season, and Hanrahan was shut down in May, had Tommy John surgery, and hasn’t pitched in the majors since. The Sox gave up Mark Melancon as part of the deal and Melancon has become one of the most efficient closers in baseball.
And don’t forget Andrew Bailey, whom the Red Sox traded for prior to the 2012 season, sending Josh Reddick to Oakland. At the time, Bailey was one of the best young closers in the game. But he quickly came up lame and also underwent Tommy John surgery.
The Red Sox survived the loss of Smith last season, but as Farrell pointed out, if Thornburg misses more time, Kelly, Matt Barnes, Heath Hembree, and Robbie Ross Jr. have to take on bigger roles.
2. Ramirez — The situation is getting a little worrisome, because the Red Sox really thought he would be back in the field by now. Ramirez has said his shoulder is getting better and he’s sticking with the throwing program, but progress has been slow.
The Red Sox need Ramirez to play 40 or so games at first base (with the remainder at DH) because they need the Mitch Moreland platoon to work. Even though Moreland hit lefties better than righties last season, the Sox believe he’s best served by sitting against tough lefties. In those games, Ramirez can play first and give Farrell the chance to use others at DH.
3. Price — The lefthander will not be ready for the start of the season after feeling discomfort in his pitching elbow/forearm in late February. He only recently started throwing again, but not off a mound. He has said he doesn’t feel the discomfort anymore. So now it’s a matter of building back up gradually.
It’s prudent to let Price take his time getting back. The Red Sox have decent options to round out the rotation. It’s always difficult not to have your $31 million pitcher on the mound from the get-go. He’s one of Boston’s Big Three. So the Red Sox want him to feel right, no matter how long it takes. Even if it takes all of April.
So the best team on paper has suffered a few paper cuts in camp.