Mazz: Three observations from a weekend watching the Red Sox
Mar 21, 2022; Fort Myers, Florida, USA; Boston Red Sox manager Alex Cora (13) writes on a scorecard during the game against the Atlanta Braves during spring training at JetBlue Park at Fenway South. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
Opening Day is now slightly more than a week away, though one could hardly blame you if baseball hasn’t been on your mind. But after a weekend watching the Red Sox, here are three observations:
Michael Wacha’s stuff is there
Mar 21, 2022; Fort Myers, Florida, USA; Boston Red Sox starting pitcher Michael Wacha (52) delivers a pitch in the first inning of the game against the Atlants Braves during spring training at JetBlue Park at Fenway South. Mandatory Credit: Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports
If you don’t remember Wacha, you should. He broke in with the Cardinals in 2013 and was the MVP of the 2013 National League Championship Series. A little more than five years into his career, he was 53-32 with a 3.77 ERA and seemingly on his way to a very good major league career. Since that time, he has gone 10-16 with a 5.11 ERA and hasn’t been the same guy, at least partly due to injury, something that has followed him for much of his career.
Here’s what I’d watch for from Wacha in the early going: the slope – or “tilt” of his fastball. When he was at his best, he routinely threw fastballs that traveled to home plate as if traveling down a ski jump, like this:
Obviously, that pitch is still there – at least some of the time – and Wacha seems far more capable of throwing it to the third-base side of the plate. This particular pitch was a ball, but it was an excellent pitch, with great “tilt” and good movement. But then he also threw fastballs like this – focus on the location, not the result, which was a flyout – which were far more hittable:
So what gives? Good question: Wacha also has had reverse splits for his entire career, which is to say that he has been better against left-handed batters than righties, at least partly because of a changeup that historically has been a good pitch for him. But in a shortened 2020, right-handers hit .346 against him with an OPS of 1.076. Last year, the numbers were .287 and .826. For whatever reason, Wacha has thrown fewer fastballs in recent years and more cutters, which feels like a mistake. And it was something he changed at the end of last year.
The bottom line: there’s still plenty left in that arm. Wacha hasn’t been using his arsenal to his best advantage and maybe the Sox can tap into at least some of that. He’s basically a flier on a one-year, $7-million deal, but there’s a chance for some productivity here.
Meet Zack Kelly, one of this year’s viable dark horses
WORCESTER – Zack Kelly gifts his jersey to 6-year-old Hayden Cole following the final home game of the WooSox inaugural season at Polar Park on Sunday, September 26, 2021.
OK, he isn’t Garrett Whitlock, who will be 26 in June. Kelly turned 27 earlier this month and he’s never been in the big leagues – but there are some odd circumstances that may have derailed him. He’s had a good minor league career and suffered an elbow injury that required at least a partial Tommy John procedure that forced him to miss the 2020 season.
Last year, in 45.1 innings at Double-A Portland and Triple-A Worcester, Kelly quietly posted a 2.18 ERA while averaging 13.7 strikeout against just 3.6 walks per nine innings. He only pitched one short inning on Saturday and there were no radar readings on the television broadcast, but he looks like he has good fastball velocity. His ball does look to be on the straighter side, be he also induced a double-play with what looked like a functional two-seamer.
Kelly is not on the 40-man roster but he has a career 3.16 ERA in 196.1 minor league innings. He throws pretty hard and generally throws strikes, which means there may be a place for him in the bullpen. The Sox will start the season with a 28-man roster and 15 pitchers. Kelly was just sent out of camp on Sunday, but he could be an early-season option.
At first glance, Christian Arroyo can handle the outfield
Mar 25, 2022; North Port, Florida, USA; Boston Red Sox second baseman Christian Arroyo (39) singles during the fifth inning against the Atlanta Braves during spring training at CoolToday Park. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
Admittedly, it’s a small thing – but the Red Sox are short a right-handed-hitting outfielder off the bench, to the point where Alex Cora has indicated he is preparing to use J.D. Martinez in right field at Fenway Park. With all due respect to Martinez, who generally catches what he gets to, this feels like an accident waiting to happen – and it feels curious, to say the least. Historically, the Red Sox have placed such emphasis on defense in right field that they have used people like Mookie Betts and, now, Jackie Bradley out there. And now they’re going to go with Martinez? That doesn’t make sense.
Over the weekend, Arroyo – who has never played outfield in the big leagues – played right field and handled two chances rather smoothly. The first was a routine fly on which he barely had to move. The other was more of a liner toward the corner that sent him drifting to his left and on which he looked entirely natural. Rob Refsnyder is in camp and homered over the weekend, but he’s a career .224 hitter with little power. Arroyo is worth a shot out there.
Mazz: How the Red Sox may (should?) try to sell Xander Bogaerts, Rafael Devers and Trevor Story on remaining together
Pay Bogaerts and entice him to move to third
Oct 5, 2021; Boston, Massachusetts, USA; Boston Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts (2) hits a two run home run against the New York Yankees during the first inning of the American League Wildcard game at Fenway Park. Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports
Will this be easy? No. Would Bogaerts do it? Unclear. His idol was Derek Jeter, who played his entire career with one team at one position. Presumably, Bogaerts covets something similar, but he might not be able to get both. The highest-paid shortstops and third basemen both make in the range of $30-$35 million per season and Bogaerts qualifies as one of those players. How the sides negotiate the ultimate value and length of the deal is open to debate, but something in the range of six years and $190 million (give or take) seems fair. That would bring Bogaerts[ earnings to $250 million over a nine-year period and at least help rectify the fact that he has been underpaid over the last two seasons.
Move Rafael Devers to DH and pay him at a premium
Oct 3, 2021; Washington, District of Columbia, USA; Boston Red Sox third baseman Rafael Devers (11) hits a go-ahead two run home run against the Washington Nationals during the ninth inning at Nationals Park. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports
If Story and Bogaerts are both on the left side of the infield, well, guess what? Devers won’t be. Part of the reason the Sox haven’t approached Devers about a long-term deal is probably because they don’t want to commit to (and pay) him as a third baseman, where he has ranked near the bottom of qualifying players in many advanced defensive metrics over the last four years. (In the aggregate, he is last among 15 qualifiers over the last four seasons.) The point? Devers’ future is probably as a DH and J.D. Martinez is a free agent at the end of this season. The top designated hitters really make somewhere in the range of $20-$25 million per season. Devers adores Bogaerts – and with good reason. So pay him like a top-of-the-market DH and maybe extend the contract on the longer side. Unlike Story and Bogaerts, Devers bats left-handed. That is critical for the balance of the Boston offense.
Move Story to shortstop, where he has more value
Sep 28, 2021; Denver, Colorado, USA; Colorado Rockies shortstop Trevor Story (27) fields the ball in the third inning against the Washington Nationals at Coors Field. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports
Despite much of what you read and hear, Bogaerts is hardly a problem at shortstop. But Story is better. As long as Story is reasonably productive away from Coors Field – and this is always a concern with any former member of the Rockies – his contract with the Red Sox is completely in line with his value. Right now, he is one of the higher-paid second basemen in the game. If he moves to short, the Red Sox will get better value on the deal (which Story signed up for). By moving Story and Devers to shortstop and DH, respectively, the Red Sox can get much better value on those contracts and justify paying Bogaerts at the top of the market as the face and leader of the team.