Red Sox

Red Sox Spring Training Mailbag: Bullpen concerns and trading a catcher

Red Sox Spring Training Mailbag: Bullpen concerns and trading a catcher

FORT MYERS, Fla. — It’s a new week with pretty much the same storylines down here at Fenway South.

Full-squad workouts began on Monday, so it was our first look this year at veteran second baseman Dustin Pedroia taking ground balls and pop-ups alongside his fellow Red Sox infielders. But does he look healthy?

How about the team’s plan to enter the 2019 season with two of their three catchers? Who would be the odd one out?

We get to that, and more, in this week’s spring training mailbag. . .

JL: Barring a sudden turn of events, Nathan Eovaldi will not be closing any games during the regular season for the Red Sox. Alex Cora told reporters last week Eovaldi is firmly in the starting rotation. Cora did mention that, as we saw last October, anything goes in the postseason.

JL: I said in last week’s mailbag that if I had to place a bet on it, I’d pick Blake Swihart as the odd man out. Swihart deserves to be a starting catcher elsewhere, and his agent requested a trade for him last year in an effort to give his client more playing time. The Red Sox signed Christian Vazquez to a three-year extension in 2018, so it’d be quite the surprise if he was moved. It’s between Swihart and Sandy Leon, but I’m still rolling with Swihart mostly because of everything that transpired last season and how much the pitching staff loves having Leon behind the plate.

⚾️ SPRING TRAINING 2019

JL: It’s far too early to describe how Pedroia is looking considering full-squad workouts have just begun, and the team is being extremely careful with him. I will say this, he still has the same Laser Show attitude as he works his way back from the knee injury that kept him out of all but three games last year.

As for whether Pedroia will play a significant role, it would be foolish to say he won’t as long as he stays healthy. Red Sox President of Baseball Operations Dave Dombrowski said he expects Pedroia to play in roughly 125 games this season. That seems like a significant enough role to me.

 As Chris Sale said last week, “I dare you to rule him out.”

JL: Well, Red Sox chairman Tom Werner said Monday that it’s “extremely unlikely” the team will bring back Kimbrel, so there won’t be any overpaying for him. Adam Ottavino is a phenomenal pickup for “your yanks,” and I expected Boston to make more of an effort to sign him as Kimbrel’s replacement. It’s baffling how much confidence the organization has in its internal bullpen options. Time will tell whether that confidence backfires.

⚾️ SPRING TRAINING 2019

How have some of the Red Sox prospects looked at the beginning of camp? Do you think any of these players will be in the big leagues this year?

--Salim D. 

JL: The standout prospects so far this spring have been right-handed pitcher Travis Lakins and left-hander Darwinzon Hernandez. Alex Cora said we can expect both to make an impact on the big-league squad at some point during the season. For a team with obvious bullpen concerns, Lakins and Hernandez could provide much-needed depth.

On the offensive side of things, infielder Michael Chavis is under the spotlight a year after being suspended for PEDs. The easiest place for the slugger to earn a role on the big-league club this season would be second base if Dustin Pedroia has another setback, but I expect him to crack the roster at some point one way or another.

Another bat making his presence felt so far this spring is third baseman Bobby Dalbec. The 23-year-old had 32 home runs in 2018 between Single-A Salem and Double-A Portland. Obviously, Rafael Devers has a firm grip on the starting third baseman job, but Dalbec is someone you’ll want to keep an eye on in the minors this year. If he continues to produce at the same level as last year, he could find himself a spot on the major league roster sooner rather than later.

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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

chaim_bloom_2020.jpg
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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?