Red Sox

Ranking the odds of three leading Red Sox managerial candidates

Ranking the odds of three leading Red Sox managerial candidates

Spring training may be looming, but the Red Sox don't seem in a rush to find their next manager. They'd like to wait until MLB completes its investigation into sign stealing during the 2018 season, because the nightmare scenario would be promoting an internal candidate to replace Alex Cora, only to have that coach implicated in the scandal.

WEEI.com reported that the league's findings should be released during the first week of February, and the Red Sox sound confident they will be exonerated.

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So where does that leave the managerial search? Team president Sam Kennedy said over the weekend that the initial focus is on internal candidates, which makes sense from a continuity standpoint. Importing a new manager this late in the offseason is basically asking for disruption.

So how would we rank the contenders? If the Red Sox hope to remain in-house, there are basically three candidates: bench coach Ron Roenicke, third base coach Carlos Febles, and special assistant Jason Varitek.

Here's how we'd rank them.

1. RON ROENICKE

The safe choice, as we laid out on Saturday. Roenicke represents a calming, steadying presence, and he'd be a reassuring face of contrition as the Red Sox begin the task of repairing their image.

Roenicke projected calm and composure during his comments to reporters on Saturday at the winter weekend in Springfield, and the 63-year-old baseball lifer has a reputation for doing things the right way.

"It's obviously a tough time," he said. "And I know things over the years, maybe some little things have happened before. But when something like this comes out, it obviously damages the game. I think you try to get past it. You try to do things the right way."

Roenicke isn't the perfect choice, especially from a sabermetric standpoint as the Red Sox look to incorporate more analytics into their game-day preparation. But they're not going to find a perfect manager at this stage of the winter, and at least he's experienced, after four years at the helm in Milwaukee that included 96 wins and an NLCS berth in 2011.

"Ron is a great candidate," said DH J.D. Martinez. "He knows our team. I wouldn't be surprised if it's Ron or something."

2. CARLOS FEBLES

The Red Sox valued the bilingual Cora's ability to communicate with both English- and Spanish-speakers. Febles would fill a similar role, with the added benefit that he managed a number of the team's young standouts in the lower minors, including Mookie Betts, Andrew Benintendi, Rafael Devers, and Michael Chavis.

While Roenicke wouldn't directly say he wants the job, Febles felt no such qualms.

"I mean, I would definitely welcome it," he said. "If you want to manage in the big leagues, this is the team that you want to do it, the Boston Red Sox, not just because of the talent we have, but the organization, the fanbase, and you putting all the perspective together, this is the perfect scenario for any manager to come into this organization. This is a real special organization and an organization that wants to win every year, year in and year out."

The 43-year-old Febles was particularly close to Cora and was one of his most trusted lieutenants. Whether he's ready to take on the task of helping rebuild the team's image is another matter, but he hopes the hire is internal.

"Definitely," he said. "It's their decision, but it will make it easier for all of us, coaches and players, because it's going to be hard if whoever comes in tries to build relationships at this point, this late. Spring training is only two weeks away. You guys know how long it takes for any manager to build relationships throughout the offseason. You can imagine how difficult it is going to be to do it in two weeks.

"I think internal will be a lot easier for all of us than having somebody come from the outside. But at the end, it's a front office decision."

3. JASON VARITEK

The X-factor. There's little doubt the Red Sox have been grooming the former All-Star and team captain for a larger role in the organization, but it's hard to see how throwing him into such a chaotic situation would aid his development.

It's also not even clear that he wants the job, at least right now.

But talk about intriguing. Renowned for his preparation as a player, Varitek may have only caught the very start of the advanced analytics era before retiring in 2011, but he certainly never shied away from information when game-planning.

The issue is timing. Even if Varitek represents the best long-term choice in the organization, it would be a shame to place the 47-year-old in a position to fail before he's ready. While the chance of him winning the job can't be completely dismissed, it makes more sense to get him some on-field experience before thrusting him into such a pressure-packed job.

One possible solution? Name Roenicke the (interim?) manager, and install Varitek as his bench coach, with an eye towards handing him the reins as soon as 2021.

MLB odds: Rafael Devers among favorites to lead league in hits

MLB odds: Rafael Devers among favorites to lead league in hits

The Boston Red Sox lost some important offensive production this offseason when they traded Mookie Betts to the Los Angeles Dodgers. But they should still have plenty of offense firepower in the upcoming year.

Between Xander Bogaerts, J.D. Martinez, Rafael Devers, and Andrew Benintendi, the team should be able to field a productive, high-scoring unit.

And it's no surprise that one of the Sox' young stars is among the favorites to lead MLB in hits this season. Per DraftKings Sportsbook, Devers (+1300) has the fourth-best odds and trails only Jose Altuve, Nolan Arenado, and Whit Merrifield (all at +1200).

Devers ranked second in the league in hits last season. His mark of 201 base knocks trailed only Merriweather (206). Devers started the season rather slowly, too, so the it's well within the realm of possibility that he could generate more base knocks if he doesn't start with a slump.

This is especially possible given that Devers, 23, is so young yet already has two-and-a-half seasons of MLB experience. He may continue to improve ahead of his third full major league season. David Ortiz and Derek Jeter are among the stars that have voiced their confidence in Devers' abilities, so that would seemingly be a good sign for his upward trajectory.

Devers, 23, posted a .311 average, 32 homers, and 115 RBI for the Red Sox last season. He also played in 156 games, so he'll likely have to stay on the field often if he wants a chance to be the hits leader in 2020.

MLB thinks Michael Chavis can't hit high fastballs, but here's how he plans to prove them wrong

MLB thinks Michael Chavis can't hit high fastballs, but here's how he plans to prove them wrong

Michael Chavis can hit fastballs. His first swing of consequence, after all, launched a 99 mph Jose Alvarado offering to the deepest reaches of Tropicana Field for a pinch double last April.

That pitch was just above the knees, however, just where Chavis likes it, and the result helped mislead the rest of baseball for the first month of his career. "He can hit 99," the thinking went, "so let's see how he handles the soft stuff."

Ten home runs and twice as many pulverized sliders later, it was time for Plan B.

Enter the Astros.

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On May 24, the Red Sox opened a three-game series in Houston. Chavis was hitting .270 with 10 homers and a .911 OPS in 29 games, making a serious case for Rookie of the Year. He had struck out 32 times, an acceptable number for someone on pace for 40 tape-measure bombs.

Chavis led off the series against Wade Miley and struck out swinging on an elevated 92 mph fastball. He faced eventual Cy Young winner Justin Verlander three times in the finale and saw 14 pitches, all fastballs, 11 of them above the belt. He didn't put a single one in play, striking out three times and finishing with six K's in 10 at-bats. Gerrit Cole had already blown him away a couple of times earlier.

From that point forward, Chavis hit just .242 with a .681 OPS and 93 strikeouts in 236 at-bats. The book on him was translated into every one of baseball's couple dozen languages, and it consisted of just four words: can't hit high fastballs.

"I would take a shot in the dark and say I'm not the first person to struggle against them," Chavis said recently. "It was the first time I felt exposed. It's a combination, they're phenomenal pitchers, but also I'm still trying to learn how to be a big leaguer. A lot of it was just in my own head, getting in my own way."

As Chavis embarks on his second season, he's well aware of this presumed deficiency in his game. And he has learned some important lessons that he believes will make a difference in 2020 as he looks to stick as a utility infielder or maybe even the starting second baseman if he can outplay Jose Peraza.

"You can't hit the ones that aren't a strike," Chavis said. "Essentially what I was trying to do was cover everything. I tried to cover the fastball middle in, the fastball up and in, the fastball up and away, I tried to cover everything and I started expanding up. So then I started getting worried about expanding down, and it snowballed.

"It's not that I can't hit a high fastball. You can find plenty of videos of me hitting high fastballs. My best talent is probably my fast hands, which goes very well with hitting high fastballs. A lot of it was just an approach of trying to do too much and getting in my own way."

Part of what made Chavis so impressive last April and May was his ability to lay off the high hard ones. But once he started swinging, he couldn't stop. Per Brooks Baseball, Chavis hit just .113 (6 for 53) on four-seam fastballs above the belt. In the upper third of the strike zone alone, he swung and missed at a staggering 39 percent of four-seamers. As a means of comparison, teammate Xander Bogaerts -- a tremendous high fastball hitter -- swung and missed there less than 10 percent of the time.

Manager Ron Roenicke believes the key for Chavis in 2020 isn't so much catching up to those pitches, but ignoring them.

"Nobody hits the fastball at the top of the zone, maybe Bogey, but there aren't many, and so if you're not really good at this pitch, which hardly anybody is, you really have to lay off it," Roenicke said. "So it's more the discipline part of it."

Chavis admits the struggles wormed their way into his head and took root.

"When I started expanding the zone, that's just timidness, trying to be too protective, and it was compounded by the results I was having -- striking out more, having tough ABs, falling into two-strike counts really early," he said. "That's something that was frustrating. I told myself I was really tired of falling behind 0-2, 1-2. Even when you're going good, that's a tough AB. One thing I remember telling myself is to be aggressive early, so I started being too aggressive chasing pitches out of the zone, and next thing I know, he hasn't thrown a strike and I'm sitting there 0-2."

While Chavis was no stranger to struggles -- he hit just .223 in his full-season debut after being taken in the first round of the 2014 draft -- he had never struggled with such high stakes, and he admits that it affected him.

In the minors, after all, wins and losses don't matter. Development does. In the big leagues, that equation inverts.

"We're not working on progression, we're working on winning ballgames," he said. "I have to find a way where even though I don't feel good and I don't really know what's going on with my swing, I still have to find a way to compete, and that was something I still had to learn.

"Then when it gets exposed, that's when I don't want to get sent down. I felt like I was fighting for my life. Realistically, that's what it was every single day, that's what I was thinking about. And that more than anything is what got in my way, where I'm so worried about being sent down. I started making up scenarios in my head that aren't even real."

And so as Chavis prepares for 2020, he enters with a clear mind. The fastball above the belt that's so tempting must become a take so pitchers attack him where he can do damage.

"I'd say that's the normal me," he said. "It's not like I need to bring that guy back, but just allow myself to play. When I'm smiling on the field, when I'm relaxed, I'm not getting in my own way. I'm not getting the high fastball and trying to hammer it for a home run and getting all muscly. I just let it flow and make contact. It's frustrating, because you can say it's just me getting in my own way, but it's not as easy as saying don't think that way. It's like asking someone not to think about a pink elephant."

Call it the pink elephant in the room, then. Chavis knows how pitchers will attack him, and they're not going to change until he makes them.