FORT MYERS, Fla. — Nine items to chew on as we get closer to the official report date for pitchers and catchers:
1. The Common Sense Test. You lose Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel, and common sense says your bullpen isn’t as good, particularly because you haven’t signed suitable replacements. The Red Sox are trying to find the next Ryan Brasier among a group of lesser-known relievers. Is this like finding a needle in a haystack or is Kimbrel returning to the fold on a one-year deal? Now, we understand that Kimbrel was a bit shaky in tougher situations against the Yankees in particular, and in the postseason, but he’s still one of the best.
The Red Sox even brought in three-time PED offender Jenrry Mejia, who has a great arm but a long rap sheet, on a minor league deal. Mejia actually was banned for life for his third offense, but commissioner Rob Manfred let him back in the game. Mejia, 29, is a former closer with the Mets. He was suspended for the first 80 games of the 2015 season, and actually had two more positive tests, resulting in the lifetime ban in February 2016. Manfred reinstated Mejia in July of last year after meeting with him personally. The Mets then released him in November.
The Red Sox also are touting former Padre Colten Brewer, and have signed a few other hard throwers. They’re also hoping some of their young pitchers, such as lefthander Darwinzon Hernandez (who is still being groomed as a starter) and righthander Travis Lakins, can come up to the big club at some point and offer assistance. They’re also hoping for bigger contributions from Heath Hembree and Brandon Workman.
And, of course, there’s always hope that Tyler Thornburg and Carson Smith (who won’t be ready right away) will emerge after injuries and surgeries, to be the relievers they were when they pitched for Milwaukee and Seattle, respectively. If they can be, then replacing Kelly, at least, will be easier. It seems that a lot has to align to properly replace both Kelly and Kimbrel.
2. Has anyone noticed that Rick Porcello is in the final season of his contract? It seems like all the focus is on Chris Sale, but here’s why the Red Sox should re-sign Porcello — durability and consistency. No, Porcello isn’t the dart thrower that Sale or Nathan Eovaldi are. But he’s only 30 years old, gives you consistent innings, has been good enough to win a Cy Young, and there’s no more dedicated pitcher in terms of work ethic. Now, are the Red Sox going to offer him a five-year deal? In this free agent climate, probably not. But Porcello has made his fortune — $97.6 million (including this season) over his career — and perhaps, just perhaps, he might take fewer years to stay put.
As we’ve pointed out, the Red Sox will likely have to make a tough call on one of their starting pitchers given their future payroll obligations. Sale will have to show good health and success. And we also wonder how close to a David Price contract the lefthander will demand.
3. Who goes in this catcher troika “problem?” The pitchers love Sandy Leon. Christian Vazquez’s defense is very good and he showed signs of coming around with the bat. Blake Swihart is the most athletic and can play other positions, and his catching has surprised manager Alex Cora. He’s also a switch-hitter and he has unlimited offensive ability.
Catching is hard to come by, so president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski will have to figure out what he can get for one of them. A deal for a reliever is possible. If the Red Sox are looking to shed payroll, Vazquez makes the most money at $2.85 million, and his contract escalates over the next three seasons to $4.2 million, $6.25 million, and a team option for $7 million in 2022.
4. It’ll be interesting to watch the two players who had the restorative cartilage procedures on their knees. Dustin Pedroia and Steven Wright have struggled mightily trying to recover. They had slightly different procedures, and Pedroia had microfracture surgery on his left leg in addition. Pedroia has told Dombrowski and Cora that he will be ready to go and there’s no need for the Red Sox to explore acquiring another second baseman. Wright hasn’t been heard from this offseason, but Cora and Dombrowski have talked about Wright being an important piece out of the bullpen. Wright had an additional minor knee procedure in the offseason and showed up in Fort Myers on Sunday.
5. J.D. Martinez is entering the first of the three seasons after which he can opt out of his contract. He’s scheduled to earn $23.75 million in 2019. The free agent climate hasn’t been the greatest for hitters. In fact, Martinez had a problem garnering a new deal from the Red Sox, who didn’t sign Martinez until February of 2018. The numbers he put up were off the charts, and we’ll obviously find out what Bryce Harper and Manny Machado receive, and that could dictate Martinez’s worth. But again, given the financial avalanche the Red Sox face, I find it hard to imagine the team would sweeten the pot significantly, or even at all.
6. I was asked an interesting question recently on the MLB Network: Why doesn’t Xander Bogaerts get the recognition that other shortstops do? Bogaerts makes all the plays in the field, and has significantly reduced the number of “stupid errors,” as he put it, he committed as a younger player. He’s also become a dangerous hitter, especially with men on base, and has started to show the power that Cora knew he had. So, the answer to the question is a big, “I don’t know.” Bogaerts isn’t flashy, just steady, and perhaps that isn’t exciting enough for those who make those judgments on shortstops. But Bogaerts, 26, who drove in 103 runs last season to go along with an .883 OPS, will be a free agent after this season. He’s almost become a must-sign for the Sox, who don’t have a suitable replacement in their system.
7. I can’t wait to watch Michael Chavis and Bobby Dalbec in big league camp to see their power potential. It appears Dalbec is the better defensive third baseman, while Chavis might be moved around (likely to first base). With Steve Pearce and Mitch Moreland on one-year deals, Chavis has the opportunity to show enough to possibly take the first base job in the near future. Of course, the “problem” with having two third base prospects is that the major league starter — Rafael Devers — is only 22 years old and showing signs he’s going to be really good.
8. As Andrew Benintendi keeps improving in the outfield, as witnessed by his great catches in left field in the postseason, is it possible that the Red Sox could have the outfield hat trick with Gold Gloves by next offseason?
9. Cora was No. 1 in my recent managerial rankings, and with good reason given what he accomplished. But I’ve always said that the true test of a manager is how he handles adversity. Maybe Cora won’t have to handle any this season, as well. But at some point he will, and then we’ll see the complete manager, one who can handle any situation, good or bad.