Red Sox

Red Sox Spring Training Mailbag: Biggest questions as camp begins

Red Sox Spring Training Mailbag: Biggest questions as camp begins

2019 Red Sox spring training won’t be anything like 2018.

Uncertainty was the theme of last year’s camp. The Red Sox needed a big bat to replace David Ortiz, Alex Cora was thrown into the fire as a first-year manager, no one knew what to expect from David Price, and the list goes on.

A year later, J.D. Martinez has fit into that “big bat” role as well as anyone could have hoped for, Cora led his team to a World Series title, and you could make the argument that Price deserved World Series MVP honors.

The theme this time? Cora would tell you it’s “turning the page.” The 2019 team looks to avoid being compared to the '14 group, which followed a championship campaign with a 71-91 season and a last-place finish in the American League East.

So, while there’s less uncertainty heading into the new season, there still are some questions that need to be addressed as the Red Sox begin their quest for a repeat. In this edition of the mailbag, some of those questions were asked and answered. . .

JL: It’s fitting that this is the first question I was asked, because it’s the No. 1 question regarding this year’s roster as spring training gets underway.

Dave Dombrowski has made it clear there likely will not be a large expenditure for bullpen help (a.k.a. Craig Kimbrel), so it’s looking like either a closer-by-committee situation or Matt Barnes or Ryan Brasier will be forced to step up. Barnes seems ready to give it a shot if called upon, and to answer your question about Brasier, yes he should be considered a legitimate option after proving his ability to pitch in high-leverage situations during the postseason.

Are expectations for Nathan Eovaldi too high after his postseason performance? 

— Curtis H.

JL: If you’re expecting the majority of Eovaldi’s outings to be reminiscent of his heroic World Series Game 3 outing, then yes. 

I’m also not sure what his workload will be like this year considering he’s had two Tommy John surgeries. It’s an interesting situation given the fact Eovaldi was handed a four-year, $68 million contract this offseason, which obviously indicates the team is supremely confident having him as a key contributor in the rotation for the long haul.

The reality is Eovaldi’s career numbers are 44-53, 4.16 ERA, and 1.35 WHIP. To expect him to be anything close to as dominant as he was in the postseason would be unfair. I think he’ll be better this season than what those career numbers show, but we should all head into 2019 expecting some regression toward the mean.

What are your thoughts on the catching situation? Are they really going to carry three catchers again, or do you think someone like Swihart will be moved?

— Brady S.

JL: The Red Sox made a long-term commitment to Christian Vazquez as their starting catcher, the pitching staff raves about Sandy Leon, and Alex Cora greatly values Blake Swihart’s versatility. That makes this an extremely tough question to answer until Cora gives us some sort of idea of what he has in mind.

But if I had to place a bet on it, I’d have Swihart being the odd man out and possibly a trade chip for bullpen help. Dombrowski suggested earlier in the offseason that a trade involving one of the three catchers is probable, due to the difficulty of keeping all three on the roster with no minor league options. It’ll come down to what’s valued more between Swihart’s versatility and Leon’s rapport with the pitching staff.

Do you see Dustin Pedroia making an impact on this year’s club? If so, he can’t possibly be a full-time player, correct?

— Sean M.

JL: Impossible to predict anything Pedroia-related until he shows he’s 100 percent healthy. That will be one of the main storylines to keep an eye on throughout camp.

Will he be a full-time player from the moment the Red Sox take the field for Opening Day? I wouldn’t count on it. But to rule out a healthy Pedroia earning back his spot as Boston’s primary second baseman would be foolish.

How different will the 2019 Red Sox team look come Opening Day from 2018?

— Anthony V.

JL: Not very different. Outside of the aforementioned question marks in the bullpen, plus the Pedroia situation, there really isn’t much competition for starting roles. Barring any surprises, the Opening Day roster already looks close to set.

That’s all for now. We’ll have another mailbag later on in spring training, so send over your questions on Twitter (@justinjleger) or via e-mail (justinjleger4@gmail.com).

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Jeter Downs comes out on top in latest Red Sox prospect rankings

Jeter Downs comes out on top in latest Red Sox prospect rankings

When it comes to Red Sox prospects, there's a new No. 1 in town, and considering how he was acquired, that's probably a good thing.

Middle infielder Jeter Downs is now Boston's No. 1 prospect, according to rankings released by MLB.com on Tuesday. He displaces former No. 1 pick Triston Casas, a power-hitting first baseman who dropped to second.

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Downs and Casas are the only two Red Sox prospects who cracked MLB Pipeline's overall top 100, checking in at 48th and 83rd, respectively.

Downs wasn't even a member of the organization until February, when he arrived from the Dodgers in the reworked Mookie Betts trade. While outfielder Alex Verdugo was considered the centerpiece of that deal from a big league readiness perspective, Downs is exactly the kind of player the Red Sox hope to stock their farm system with in the coming years.

He broke out during his age-20 season in 2019, smashing 24 homers, stealing 24 bases, and ending the year in Double A. He just turned 22 and is considered a future big league second baseman, though he has played nearly 200 games in the minors at short.

Casas, meanwhile, possesses impressive power of his own, with 20 homers in the minors as a teenager. Still only 20, the 6-foot-4, 240-pounder may not even be done growing, which makes him a potential power-hitting behemoth.

The rest of the top 10 shows a farm system in transition, and one that MLB ranked 26th in baseball. First baseman Bobby Dalbec is the No. 3 prospect, followed by right-hander Bryan Mata, outfielder Gilberto Jimenez, right-hander and Navy airman Noah Song, returning left-hander Jay Groome, outfielder Jarren Duran, and righthanders Thad Ward and Tanner Houck.

Before he blows it up, Chaim Bloom should give Red Sox a chance

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Before he blows it up, Chaim Bloom should give Red Sox a chance

Here at NBC Sports Boston, we like to run a segment on "Early Edition" and "Boston Sports Tonight" called "Buy or Sell," and from Chaim Bloom's perspective, the answer seems obvious — sell anything that isn't nailed down.

Except it's not that simple. Bloom's last-place Red Sox happen to reside in a flawed American League. If the season ended today, the Baltimore Orioles would claim the eighth and final playoff spot. The Orioles, in case you've forgotten, are terrible.

That's the sign of a garbage playoff system, but this is a garbage season. And before the Red Sox start filling any dumpsters, perhaps they should explore one.

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Huh? Hear me out.

The obvious course of action would be to strip the roster, and by the Aug. 31 deadline, that may be the only path available. But even after Monday night's 8-7 loss to the Rays, the 6-10 Red Sox are belatedly showing signs of life, and here's what I'd like to see before depressing the plunger: just one more stinking starter.

Maybe it's a prospect like Bryan Mata, even though the Red Sox have shown no inclination to promote one of their unproven minor leaguers. Maybe it's fireballing left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez, who's being stretched out to open as he returns from a bout with COVID-19. Maybe it's another organization's castoff, though the Red Sox recently passed on former Braves All-Star Mike Foltynewicz.

With three weeks until the Aug. 31 trade deadline, the Red Sox trail the second-place Rays by 2.5 games. They're not going to pass anybody in the standings if they keep trotting out two openers every five days, three if you count right-hander Ryan Weber. Their bullpen simply can't handle it. They've used at least five pitchers 10 times in 16 games, and they've burned through 24 arms in their last four games alone.

That's how someone like Jeffrey Springs ends up pitching an inning that matters despite an ERA north of 13.00, as was the case on Monday, when he allowed the go-ahead runs in the seventh inning of a game he had no business being near, except manager Ron Roenicke couldn't risk running Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes into the ground.

If Bloom could find just one arm, we'd have a couple of weeks to see if the Red Sox can escape the basement. Thanks to an expanded playoff field, the top two teams in each division will advance, and when you're chasing the Orioles, let's just say you should like your chances.

As it is, it's not like a fire sale would net much in return. While the market for prospective free agent Jackie Bradley Jr. or struggling outfielder Andrew Benintendi is negligible, the Red Sox should be able at least to drum up interest in DH J.D. Martinez and closer Brandon Workman.

Martinez is a legitimate opt-out candidate this fall, provided he builds on Monday's three-hit performance, which included his first home run of 2020. Workman is a pending free agent, and a rebuilding club like the Red Sox has more pressing needs than a 32-year-old closer.

The problem is reading the market. While this season will technically end with someone hoisting a trophy, teams may not be willing to part with pieces of their future when contenders like the Cardinals have only played five games in three weeks because of outbreaks. There also may be hesitation to take on future salary when the economic landscape of 2021 remains so uncertain.

And so if you're Bloom and the return is going to be depressed, why not give this team a chance? Maybe Martinez finds his swing. Maybe Rafael Devers overcomes a foot injury and does the same. Maybe another pitcher eliminates an opener from the weekly probables.

There's value in fighting to make the playoffs, and as long as it doesn't harm the future, why not try?