By Tony Massarotti, 98.5 The Sports Hub
Five things I wonder about the Red Sox as pitchers and catchers report for spring training...
1. Are we ready to move on to 2019 yet?
If there’s any problem with a championship – and maybe this is a sign of how spoiled we are – it’s this: people don’t want to let it go. The 2018 season was a truly special one for the Red Sox, who won 108 regular season games and then stampeded through the playoffs, going 11-3. Their .785 postseason winning percentage was better than their insane regular season number of .667.
But no matter the circumstances, we all have to show for work the next day and get right back to the grind. So it is with the 2019 Red Sox.
Said manager Alex Cora to the Boston Globe: “To do this thing, we have to turn the page, and when your big boys — David [Price] and Chris and Nate [Eovaldi] and Rick [Porcello] and Mookie [Betts], J.D. [Martinez] — that’s all they talk about, looking forward to 2019. That makes it easier for me to sit down with these guys and send a message.”
We’ll deliver the same one.
Time to move on.
2. What’s the status of Chris Sale?
Oh, right. Sale was injured to end the year, not that it mattered. After July 27, he pitched just 32.2 innings and posted a 3.11 ERA; in the postseason, he pitched just 15.1 innings in five appearances and had a 4.11 ERA. Was he gutsy? Yes. And while Sale is already up on a mound and the Red Sox are telling us he’s healthy and heavier – with Sale, that is a reltive term – we all know the reality.
His contract is up after this year and he has a history of fading.
Those are facts.
3. Does anybody really believe in this bullpen?
C’mon. Let’s get real. The Sox bullpen was terrific in October of last year, but the performance included major contributions from Nathan Eovaldi, Rick Porcello and Sale, not to mention David Price. And that’s fine. But baseball is the one sport where you can’t just assume a playoff spot for lots of reasons.
Will the Sox make the playoffs this year? Probably. But the division remains in doubt. Whether you want to admit it or not, the New York Yankees have improved. And the Red Sox bullpen certainly appears to have gotten worse. Is that enough to shave four games off each end of the Red Sox’ eight-game win in the division last year? Maybe and maybe not. But please don’t downplay the bullpen by saying they figured it out in October last year.
The regular season is different.
4. Are the Sox even done making moves?
Obviously, this relates to question No. 3 – and the answer is probably not. Spring training is needlessly long and the free-agent season – once again – never really began. Last year, after all, the Red Sox signed J.D. Martinez after the start of camp and he should have been the Most Valuable Player of the American League. Anything we ask about the Sox today could change in a day because there are still lots of players out there.
Again, any relief help is welcome. But would it kill the Sox to bring in a second baseman (other than Dustin Pedroia) with a history of playing the position well for any length of time? Also, time to trade a catcher, preferably Sandy Leon. Blake Swihart got better last year and needs a chance.
Or deal him instead.
5. Where is this all going?
For now, at least, this is really the biggest issue with the team. The Sox finally got over the hump last year, so the question now becomes the following: how does president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski keep this together? At the moment, Xander Bogaerts, Sale and Rick Porcello will be free agents at the end of the season. Martinez could opt out. Mookie Betts is up next year and the Sox have a barren minor league system.
Between now and the start of the season, we’re willing to bet that the Sox sign someone to a new, long-term contract. The question is who, why and at what price. Is Sale really a smart choice? Is Betts or Bogaerts willing to sacrifice free agency? What would it take on Porcello to make it worthwhile?
Questions, questions, questions.
Spring training, after all, would be nothing without them.