Here’s part two of my five reasons why the Sox will repeat in 2014:
Depth in the starting rotation: A significant number of the populous in RSN believe the club lacks a “true ace” and they may be right. But didn’t the Sox have a “true ace” in those prime Pedro seasons that didn’t produce a title?
It’s better to have a rotation full of reliable guys who deliver consistent quality starts and eat 180-200+ innings a season. It proved true last season as the Sox got past three staffs that boast “true aces”.
Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Felix Doubront, and Jake Peavy are all returning for 2014. The recent departure of Ryan Dempster has been addressed with the signing of Chris Capuano. Capuano and Brandon Workman are the top two choices to fill should any of the regulars miss time.
Behind them, the Sox have all of their top pitching prospects at the upper levels. Allen Webster and Anthony Ranaudo are in the Pawtucket rotation and on the 40 man roster. It’s yet to be determined if Rubby DeLaRosa begins the season as a starter or reliever. Matt Barnes is also in the Pawtucket rotation and Henry Owens is not far behind in Double A Portland. Neither is currently on the 40 man roster, but that could change should they be needed.
There aren’t many clubs which can boast the depth the Sox currently have. It’s a huge advantage to have and a big reason why the Sox should be favorites.
Depth in the bullpen: A quality bullpen is necessary to win in today’s game. But assembling one isn’t an exact science. Relievers are erratic by nature, hence the reason they’re relievers in the first place.
But the good news is: the Sox are returning everybody from last years bullpen (my apologies to any Franklin Morales and/or Matt Thornton sympathizers): Koji Uehara, Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, and Brandon Workman. Andrew Miller will also be back and fully recovered from last season’s foot injury which ended his season prematurely.
Bullpens constantly evolve over the course of a season. The best way to withstand that is to have as many options as possible. The Sox have that. Another big advantage going into 2014.
Depth at catcher: The Sox did get significantly older at the catching position this past offseason with the signing of AJ Pierzynski and the return of David Ross. But by doing that, they are not allowing a roadblock to the promising young backstops in the upper minors.
Ryan Lavarnway is a big question mark. His power has disappeared, his defense is subpar, and he’s yet to show anything to justify a spot on a big league roster. But I’m not referring to Lavarnway when I refer to promising young backstops.
Christian Vazquez is probably the best defensive catching prospect the Sox have seen in ages. He’s an excellent game caller and his throw to second is consistently clocked under 1.9 seconds (once again, something the Sox haven’t seen in ages). As a guy who’s been waiting for the Sox to have their own Yadier Molina, I may finally get my wish.
Dan Butler is another guy to keep an eye on. He’s made a steady climb through the system with solid offensive production and defensive skills. He came to the Sox as an undrafted free agent and is now at the cusp of a big league role.
It’s yet to be seen if either will hit at the big league level. But their defense will make up for any offensive setbacks.
Depth off the bench: David Ross will likely catch more than the average backup in 2014. In fact, he was the starting catcher after Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s debacle in Game Three of the World Series. He can call a good game behind the plate and has a very good throw to second base. Offensively, he’ll provide adequate production.
I’m really surprised the Sox didn’t get many calls on Mike Carp this offseason. He’s capable of playing adequate defense at first base or left field and providing solid offensive production. But I’m glad the Sox have retained him. They’re currently trying to expand his versatility, which could save his spot on the roster. Aside from seeing some time at first base and left field, Carp could see some time at third base and maybe even right field.
At the very least, Grady Sizemore should provide more value than Rocco Baldelli did back in 2009. At the very best, he could win an everyday job for the club and be something close to what he used to be. The Sox are taking a moderate gamble on Sizemore and the don’t necessarily need it to work out. But if it does, they’ll reap the benefits.
Youth lights a spark: Young players provide a certain intangible that help make everybody around them better. I’m not expecting Jackie Bradley to win a batting
title or to steal 30 bases. But if he hits .260 with a .340 OBP, hits 8-12 home runs, and steals 12-18 bases while playing excellent defense, that will be a very good contribution.
Middlebrooks can’t do any worse than he did last season. I have my doubts about if he’ll ever develop a little more patience. But the power’s legit. If he can hit 25-30 home runs, put up an .800 OPS, and play adequate defense, that will be a huge plus.
Bogaerts is already being pegged for instant stardom. If they’re right, that’s huge. But even if he puts up a modest .275 average with an .800 OPS with 15-18 home runs that’ll be very good too.
Expect to see Bryce Brentz and Garin Cecchini at some point as well. The former is capable of playing both corner outfield spots and has plus power from the right side. The latter is probably the best pure left-handed hitting prospect since Wade Boggs. He’s a third baseman by trade, but is also capable of playing first base and both corner outfield spots.
Final Thoughts: The Sox have a nice safety net with their depth that the other AL East teams can’t match. I expect them to repeat as AL East Champs.
The real challenge will be from AL pennant hopefuls outside the division. Detroit should be an excellent offensive club and improved defensively. The starting pitching is also very tough even with the subtraction of Doug Fister.
The Oakland A’s have a blossoming young club which is ready to take the next step.
I look for the Sox to make a big pickup at the deadline which will help them lock up the AL East and play a big role in a repeat as the AL Champs.
I’m predicting a yet another World Series rematch with the Cardinals. Who will win? I’ll take whoever has home field advantage.