Sunday, February 7, 2016

Ten Days 'Til Pitchers and Catchers

On February 18 the Red Sox camp will begin when pitchers and catchers officially report.  Despite coming off back to back last place AL East finishes, this Red Sox team will come to camp with a nearly set roster.  Very unusual for a franchise coming off those poor finishes.

But if someone offered you a hundred bucks if you could name the Opening Day roster for Boston right now, you could have a really good shot at the cash by naming this 25 man roster:

Pitchers (12)

David Price
Clay Buchholz
Eduardo Rodriguez
Rick Porcello
Joe Kelly

Craig Kimbrel
Koji Uehara
Junichi Tazawa
Carson Smith
Robbie Ross
Tommy Layne
Steven Wright

Starting Nine

C Blake Swihart
1B Hanley Ramirez
2B Dustin Pedroia
SS Xander Bogaerts
3B Pablo Sandoval
LF Rusney Castillo
CF Jackie Bradley Jr.
RF Mookie Betts
DH David Ortiz

Bench

Brock Holt
Travis Shaw
Chris Young
Ryan Hanigan

Despite the entire roster seemingly being set (barring a spring training injury), that does not mean there are not questions. surrounding this squad.  Let's take a look around the diamond with some thoughts and opinions on those questions.

 Catcher

There are three candidates for two jobs.  The catcher, who at this point seems like the odd man out for Opening Day, was a year ago the expected starting catcher: Christian Vazquez.  Vazquez came up with an elbow injury which required Tommy John surgery.  So the pivotal question for the catching position may well be how soon can Vazquez recover from surgery and as importantly can he still throw like a Howitzer?

Red Sox management has repeatedly stated its intent to be cautious with Vazquez and the plan is to let him get back to form by playing at AAA to begin the season.  But if he shows up in Fort Myers and seems perfectly healthy can he regain the starting role.

Of course, now matter how the Vazquez situation plays out, Blake Swihart is certainly capable of grabbing the number one in his own right. His defense is not on par with Christian (most MLB catchers are not), but Swihart showed signs in late 2015 of how special he could be on offense.

Ryan Hanigan likely backs up one of the young catchers until the time comes, maybe by mid-season, when the Sox go with both oh the youngsters.

FIRST BASE

Okay this question may be the biggest question of all for this team:

Can Hanley Ramirez play an acceptable level of first base?








If the answer is something resembling yes, the pieces of the 2016 puzzle fit together much better. But can Hanley do it? Hey look, I was sure he could handle Left Field, so maybe I will pass on this question.  If it works the Sox have another potential big bat in the lineup, and a natural fit to be the 2017 DH after the retirement of David Ortiz.  If Ramirez completely fails the Sox have some other options, but in the hell do they do with Hanley?  Release him with 66 million or so still owed to him?

The next best option is Travis Shaw.  In his rookie season, Shaw in only 226 at bats hit 13/36/.274/.331/.822.  Shaw is likely to make the team with his ability to play first, third, and will try leftfield in camp.  Even if Ramirez plays first, Shaw should find playing time.

By July or so there could be another candidate to play first: Sam Travis.  The 2014 draftee from Indiana Univ., is expected to start the season at AAA after splitting '15 at Salem and Portland.  His numbers at each stop were incredibly consistent, at Salem he had 246 at bats in 66 games, and in Aa he had 243 AB's in. 65 games. Here were his lines:

Salem. 5/40/.313/.378/.845 with 15 doubles and 4 triples

Port.     4/38/.300/.384/.821 with 10 doubles and a triple.




Travis is not considered a power prospect (maybe 15 per year) but is a hitter.  First base could be a Travis/Travis platoon before the year is out.

SECOND BASE

The only question here is can Dustin Pedroia stay healthy for a complete season?  If he does this is his job. The de facto captain is signed through 2021, and although I would be willing to bet his hold on this job does not last that long, a contending Sox team surely is easier to envision with Pedey in the lineup.

If another injury does occur, super sub Brock Holt likely is next man up for second base.


THIRD BASE

Another straight forward question: will Pablo Sandoval come to camp in shape and play like San Francisco's Pablo?  Or is his career in steep decline at only the age of 30?  I think of the Hanley/Pablu dual busts of 2015, Sandoval is more likely to bounce back.  But if he doesn't the only internal options are likely Holt and/or Shaw.  Another candidate could be Deven Marrero, but can he hit enough for a corner position?

One other Sandoval note. If Ramirez flops at first, would the Sox try to flip Pablo to first and try Hanley at third? Doubtful, but maybe in desperation.

In the next post I will examine the rest of the lineup and the pitchers.



























Saturday, January 2, 2016

Fifteen From '15

The Boston Red Sox just seem to be one of those pro sports franchises that creates major headlines.  Even from the ashes of another season with poor results (and let's not sugarcoat it finishing last in the AL East for the third time in four seasons is unacceptable), the Red Sox had so many headlines and highlights.  It was actually difficult to prune the list to fifteen.  But here are fifteen players or events that will either influence the immediate seasons to come or will be long remembered by Red Sox Nation.

1. Pedro Martinez joins the Baseball Hall of Fame.  This story began on January 6, 2015 when the vote was announced for 2015 and it included four new members to be, Randy Johnson, Pedro, John Smoltz, and Astros star, Craig Biggio.  Pedro finished second to Johnson in the voting with 91.9%

The formal induction was held in Cooperstown on July 26, 2015.  Pedro became just the second Dominican inducted after, his idol, Juan Marichal (who pitched very briefly for Boston near the end of his career). Pedro's acceptance speech, as expected, stole the show.

Two days later at Fenway Park, the Red Sox held ceremonies in which Pedro's 45 was retired and joined the other retired number on the facade at Fenway. 1(Bobby Doerr), 4 (Joe Cronin), 6 (Johnny Pesky), 8 (Yaz), 9 (Ted) 14 (Jim Rice), 27 (Carlton Fisk) along with Jackie Robinson's 42 retired throughout baseball.

Pedro will have a new number joining him and the others up on the facade next year, as in December the Red Sox announced the 26 of Wade Boggs will be retired.

2. Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts.  The Sox had not just one but two offensive stars in 2015 who were both just 22 years old.  Betts had a few bumps in the early months of the season, but largely both kids excelled all year long.  The duo finished 2015 with the following stats:

Betts: 18-77-.291-.341 adding in 21 stolen bases, 42 doubles, and 8 triples.

Bogaerts: 7-81-.320-.355 with 10 steals, 35 doubles and 3 triples.

Throughout the season both Betts and Bogaerts continually accomplished offensive feats that had not been matched by 22 year old Red Sox hitters since Tony Conigliaro or in some cases Ted Williams. With Betts hitting leadoff nearly all year, and Bogaerts ascending to the third hole as 2015 went on, the pair combined for 113 extra base hits.

But they also excelled in the field.  Betts in his first full campaign as an outfielder made a number of circus catches.  And after a 2014 in which Bogaerts was moved for a time to third base and doubts surfaced as to whether he could shortstop in the big leagues, Xander blossomed at short and finished the year as a finalist for the Gold Glove for American League shortstops.

Throughout this off season both of the kids were repeatedly asked for in trade talks for pitching. But they are not only untouchable, Mookie Betts and Xander Bogaerts are the cornerstone of this team for years to come.

3. David Ortiz defies Father Time.  What could the Red Sox expect from a 39 year old David Ortiz? Well what they got was a typical Big Papi season.  As a matter of fact Papi put up his best home run and RBI numbers since 2007: 37-108-.273-.360 with 37 doubles.

Among the results of such an outstanding season was David Ortiz reaching a milestone most expected him to shoot for in 2016.  On September 12th at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg, Big Papi smote two home runs.  They were numbers 499 and 500 of his illustrious career.  When he hit number 500 off Rays lefty Matt Moore, Ortiz became the 27th member of the 500 home run club.

4, Blake Swihart's Unexpected Arrival.  After spending a large portion of 2014 in Portland with a late season promotion to AAA, Swihart was expected to spend nearly all of 2015 honing his catching skills at Pawtucket. But as so often happens circumstances intervened.  First the fellow rookie catcher who was expected to be the Sox starter in 2015, Christian Vazquez was injured and required season ending Tommy John surgery. Veteran Ryan Hanigan, acquired that off season in a trade for Will Middlebrooks, became the starting catcher and Boston picked up light hitting Sandy Leon as a back up.  The guessing game on Swihart was would he play well enough (or would the parent club need him for a pennant push) to be recalled in by the All Star break or would it be in August or September.  But then Hanigan broke his hand, and the Sox decided Leon did not hit enough to play regularly.  So on May 2, Swihart was recalled and made his major league debut.

Swihart did not immediately shine at the plate or behind it.  But he held his own and steadily improved on defense.  Around the time Hanigan returned, Swihart served his own stint on the DL.  But when he off the list, the Sox cut Leon and went with Hanigan and Swihart.  Swihart's bat particularly came to life after the DL stint.  Blake hit .312 for August and September with 4 of his home runs.  His final 2015 line was:

5-31-.274.319

A very solid debut for the switch hitting catcher.  The big question going forward is how do the Red Sox solve the very pleasant problem of finding time for Swihart and Christian Vazquez?  The first step will be determining Vazquez' health and his ability to throw as he did before the TJ surgery. After that a number of options exist.  One of the kid catchers could be sent back to AAA temporarily ( Vazquez especially as he may need the playing time to recoup from his year away from the game), one could be traded (Swihart is coveted around the game and if Vazquez proved he can still throw like a laser, he would be as well), or move Swihart to first or third base and get both in the lineup.

This will be a hot topic in spring training 2016.

5. Eduardo Rodriguez Explodes on the Scene.  The 2015 Sox not only had 22 year old offensive stars, the also debuted a 22 year old left handed starting pitcher, who showed the signs of being a future #1. Rodriguez made his MLB debut on May 29th at Texas and pitched 7 2/3 shutout innings.  Over his first several starts, the combination of fewest hits and runs allowed combined with the number of batters he struck out had not been matched been any debuting MLB starter since 1914. Eduardo hit a few bumps after that but completed a very strong rookie campaign with a record 10-6 with a 3.85 ERA, while pitching 121 2/3 innings.

This off season the Yankees have been shopping their relief ace, Andrew Miller.  The reported asking price is a young pitcher with the stuff to be the front of the rotation starter ( for example the Yanks asked Houston for Lance McCullers for Miller).  But Boston had all ready beat them to the punch.  The Red Sox acquired Eduardo Rodriguez from divisional foe, Baltimore for the same Andrew Miler in July 2014.  Eduardo should be a mainstay near the top of the Red Sox rotation for the rest of this decade and maybe beyond.

6. All Star Brock Holt.  The Red Sox super sub again in 2015 played all over the field, everywhere except pitcher and catcher.  When it came time to name the American League All Star squad, the Sox were unlikely to have more than one representative due to their poor first half.  There were qualified candidates like Xander Bogaerts, but Royals manager Ned Yost choose Brock Holt as one of the AL subs.

Holt's performance has caused a division in Red Sox Nation . One group feels he should be in the lineup every day, maybe even at one set position.  The other faction (which I confess to be among) feels Holt's bat suffers when playing too many days in a row, is better off as a bench player.  But in 2015 Brock Holt was an All Star.

Brock got into the game as a pinch runner and scored a run, he then played left field and struck out in his only at bat in the 6-3 AL win in Cincinnati.

7. John Farrell has Cancer.  This bombshell announcement in early August rocked the Red Sox and their fans.  As important as baseball is to the hard core fans,  real life always trumps sport, and everyone prayed for John's recovery.

But from a strictly baseball point of view, Farrell's illness put the Red Sox in a very awkward situation.  For the last month or so, whispers of John Farrell being fired had amplified.  The Sox were heading to their second consecutive last place finish under Farrell.  but now, can anyone release a cancer patient from his job?  And would Farrell be healthy enough to continue in 2016?

Bench coach and Farrell confidante, Torey Lovullo took over on an interim basis.  And in many ways this just complicated the picture even more.  The team played much better under Torey, as the young players gelled.  Lovullo looked like a major league manager.

After the season ended the answer came down.  First and most importantly, John Farrell, who had described his cancer as very treatable, had been told by his doctors he was cancer free.  The Sox announced Farrell was their manager going forward and Torey Lovullo, despite a number of managerial openings around the game, had agreed to stay on as bench coach.

8. Dave Dombrowski is the New Sheriff in Town.  Long time baseball exec, Dave Dombrowski, who had built winning teams in Montreal, Miami, and Detroit was let go by the Tigers in early August, somewhat surprisingly.  About two weeks later, on August 18th, in the middle of a Red Sox game, the team announced Dombrowski had been named Red Sox President of Baseball Operations.  Dombrowski would have final say on all baseball decisions.  Current Sox GM, Ben Cherington who had masterminded the 2013 World Champs less than two full seasons ago was out.

Speculation immediately abounded that Dombrowski would completely dismantle the baseball ops department built by Cherington and before him Theo Epstein.  The conventional wisdom also pronounced Dombrowski as the type of exec who loved to trade kids for veterans, and the feeling was he was wipe out the top rated Sox farm system. With the awkward managerial situation added to the fire, an explosive next few months into and including the off season awaited.

But  Dombrowski fooled some of the critics or skeptics but not only keeping John Farrell as manager, but he kept nearly all of the baseball ops people intact, including promoting Ben Cherington's right hand man, Mike Hazen to General Manager.  We will examine his big on the field moves later in this post.

9. Don Orsillo Out at NESN.  The word of this move leaked out more than a month before NESN intended to announce it.  But when word did leak, the team officially announced it, and the word was no less of a bombshell as Farrell's illness or Dombrowski's hiring.

No good explanation for the move was ever offered, and NESN took big time criticism from all quarters.  Orsillo did finish out the season, and NESN did allow Don to say good bye near the end of his last game.

Fans threatened to stop watching the games on NESN among other grousing.  But NESN will likely salvage the day by hiring Red Sox radio voice, Dave O'Brien as the TV voice.  O'Brien with much ESPN TV baseball experience as well as nine years in the Red Sox radio booth is a top notch broadcaster, who will excel on NESN.  Jerry Remy will return as TV analyst, although in a reduced role.  Remy is expected to do about 100 games.  NESN studio hosts, Dennis Eckersley and Steve Lyons will do the remaining games, as well as some games with three men in the booth.

On the radio side, O'Brien's seat beside long time Sox announcer, Joe Castiglione, will be filled by Tim Neverett.  The Nashua, New Hampshire native has been doing Pirates TV/radio for a decade or so.  Sox fans have gotten a small sample of Neverett's work the last couple of spring trainings when NESN and the Pirates TV crew have done combined broadcasts.

Don Orsillo ended up signing a very lucrative deal to do San Diego Padres baseball beginning in 2016. In 2017 after the retirement of Dick Enberg, Orsillo will become the lead announcer for the Padres.

10. Hanley/Pablo signings a Bust in 2015.  An off season ago Ben Cherington and the Red Sox made a big splash by signing the two biggest names available in the free agent market for hitters: Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval.  Hanley was coming home to Boston where he began his career before being dealt to the Marlins after just two MLB at bats and Sandoval had been a post season hero for three Giants title teams in the last five years.

Both players were complete busts in 2015.  Offensively:

Pablo  10-47-.245-.292       Hanley  19-53-.249-.291

Ramirez was red hot in April with ten home runs and 22 RBI, but injured his shoulder running in a wall, and never seemed to recover.  Sandoval was so futile hitting right handed the switch hitter gave up and batted only from the left side.

And as bad as their offensive numbers were, the defense was worse.  Ramirez, a career shortstop, was moved to left field and it was a failure.  Sandoval, despite his girth, came with a sterling rep in the field, but he did not meet past performance and was poor in the field all year long.

Ramirez is under contract for three more years a roughy 22M per, and Sandoval four more seasons at around 19M per.  What does the future hold?  Well Sandoval is still in his 20's (will turn 30 in August), and the hope is with some additional commitment to conditioning, his contract can still be salvaged.  The stated plan for Ramirez is to shift to first base as Dave Dombrowski ended the left field experiment las September.

If either or both fail again, youngster Travis Shaw has apparently positioned himself to take over at one of the corner infield spots.  Shaw, unexpectedly came form AAA and hit 13-36-.274-.331 in just 226 at bats.  His 13 bombs tied Mike Napoli for fourth on the '15 Sox.

11. Dustin Pedroia's Health.  Injuries held Pedroia's 2015 to just 93 games, which was a disappointing end to a season that began with Pedroia's seeming to be healthier than he had been in a while.  Pedey is now 32 years old and he signed for six more seasons, through 2021.

This is the question concerning the de facto captain:  has he had some unlucky injuries in recent years or is his balls to wall, all out style of play breaking down his body?  Is Pedroia the type of player who can start at second base through age 38?

With young Cuban uber prospect, Yoan Moncada playing second base in the low minors, is Pedroia's future in Boston as secure as it seems?

12. Jackie Bradley Jr.'s August.  JBJ began 2015 back at AAA after being surpassed by Mookie Betts in center field.  JBJ put together a very good AAA season and eventually made his way back to Boston.  After a couple of brief trials he got into the lineup on a daily basis and in August he had an ungodly hot streak at one point hitting 11 straight extra base hits and for the month hit:

5-23-.354-.429

But in September he cooled off ( which of course he had to some ) and he finished 2015 at:

10-43-.249-.335

The performances of JBJ and Rusney Castillo in late '15 lead the Sox to plan on going into 2016 with the three young fly chasers, including Mookie Betts.  But both JBJ and Castillo will need to prove they are capable, every day players.  Veteran free agent outfielder Chris Young was brought in as some right handed pop and insurance for Jackie and Rusney.  Brock Holt could also play into the outfield equation.

13. Red Sox Trade Top Ten Prospects for Criag Kimbrel.  Dave Dombrowski stated the bullpen was an area of concern and he acted in a big way.  The Sox traded for Craig Kimbrel from San Diego.  Kimbrel has led all of MLB in saves over the last five years, leading the NL in each of 2011 through 2014 while pitching for Atlanta.  He added 39 more saves in 2015.

Kimbrel is fireballer throwing around 97 mph.  He will not turn 28 until May 28th and is under contract for two more years plus a team option in 2018.  Kimbrel appears to be exactly the type of pitcher needed in Boston and his is in his prime and under control for three years.  What is not to like?

I can tell you a segment of Red Sox nation hated this trade, saying it illustrated Dombrowski's intent to rape the farm system because he traded four players all in the Top 30 Red Sox prospects, two in the top five or six:  outfielder Manuel Margot, shortstop Javier Guerra, pitcher Logan Allen, and infielder Carlos Asauje.  Margot and Guerra are the top kids, both highly regarded.  The complaint is the deal was too much to give up for just a reliever who pitches 60 innings a year.

We will see which side is correct, but I fall on the side of good trade.  Boston needed a closer and Margot is a center fielder with Betts and JBJ ahead of him and 2015 first rounder Andrew Benintendi coming fast up behind him.  Guerra is a shortstop blocked by Bogaerts.

This deal, as well as the later trade for Seattle's Carson Smith deepens the pen.  Kimbrel also makes Koji Uehara the 8th inning man, and has Junichi Tazawa for the 7th.

14. Red Sox Sign David Price.  If there was any hole bigger than closer for Boston it was the ace in front of the rotation.  After trading for Craig Kimbrel, Dave Dombrowski very candidly stated the ace was likely to come from free agency.  Boston shopped for younger aces around the game like Sonny Gray, Chris Sale, Matt Harvey, and others but the reported cost always included some combination Betts, Bogaerts, Swihart, and top prospects like Moncada, Rafael Devers, and others.  Boston was not going that route so it became imperative to grab a free agent ace.

And they grabbed the best in David Price for seven years, 217M on December 4th before the opening of the winter meetings.  Price, a long time Rays star, also excelled in Detroit and Toronto.  Part of Price's fit in Boston is the fact he is a known quantity in the AL East.

What makes the deal intriguing is Price has an opt out after the third year, after making 30m per year the first three.  If he opts out, and most stars with the opt out do, the Sox may have signed Price for 3 years 90M, and they could let him walk after 2018 eliminating the risk of big money to pitchers into the mid 30's.

For now Price is the alpha dog this team lacked as they promoted their "five aces" last spring.  With Price at the head of the pack, the hope is other hurlers like Rick Porcello, Joe Kelly, Clay Buchholz, and especially young Eduardo Rodriguez will feel less pressure and shine in the rotation slots.

15. 2016 will be the Swan Song for Big Papi.  On November 18th, his 40th birthday, David Ortiz announced via the Players Tribune, that he will retire after one more season.  With the outstanding numbers Ortiz amassed in 2015 is is heard to believe he would retire, but as Ortiz allowed at his age the preparation to play gets more and more difficult. So unless Papi has change of heart along the way, which is very doubtful, Red Sox Nation will enjoy just one more campaign from arguably the most impactful Red Sox player of all time.

Hopefully, Dave Dombrowski has put together a team that can contend to send Big Papi out with another ring.  But if not the three has has earned will be a big part of his legacy.  As will his smile, his diva-like qualities at times, his fierce competitiveness, clutch blasts, and power at the plate. Boston will always be his fuckin' city.











Monday, December 21, 2015

Red Sox Maniacs Christmas Special 2015

Live Blog Red Sox Maineiacs Christmas Special 2015
 

Monday, December 7, 2015

Winter Meetings Day One- Dealer Dave Dombrowski Strikes Again

Today was the official opening day of the baseball winter meetings.  Throughout the day a variety of rumors cropped up about teams asking about several Red Sox starters.

Among the teams reportedly inquiring were Seattle ( Joe Kelly, Clay Buchholz, or Wade Miley), Miami (Miley), Texas (Kelly), and the World Champion Royals (Buchholz).  Not one of the rumors mentioned who may be targeted by Boston.

As seems to be Dave Dombrowski's style, he moved quickly and completed a trade with one of the rumored teams: Seattle.  The Sox sent innings eating lefty starter, Wade Miley along with reliever Jonathan Aro, who made his major league debut in 2015 to the Mariners. The Red Sox received two pitchers: 26 year old righty Carson Smith and 27 year old lefty Roenis Elias.

Smith is the real prize for Boston.  He is  6'6" and throws into the mid 90's with a sinking fastball and has a top notch slider. In 2015 he had 92 strikeouts with only 22 walks in 70 innings, in his second big league season.  His career ERA is 2.07 and a WHIP of 0.97.  He was the Mariners' closer for a part of 2015 and he had 13 saves.  Smith should share the seventh inning duty with Junichi Tazawa and certainly should be capable of pitching in the eighth or ninth on any day Koji Uehara and/or Craig Kimbrel are unavailable.

Receiving Carson Smith alone to put another hard thrower in the now rebuilt Boston bullpen may have been an adequate return, but Roenis Elias also could be an useful member of the staff.  The Cuban left hander has made 49 big league starts in his two seasons with an ERA of 3.97.  Elias has particularly good numbers versus left handed batters leading to the possibility Boston could use him in the bullpen as a lefty specialist.  Elias still has options remaining, so being sent to Pawtucket to start as part of the varsity's rotation depth is also an option.

In addition to the talents of the new pair of Red Sox pitchers, with only two years of big league service time, both under team control through 2020.  And for the next two seasons they will be pre-arbitration, and therefore inexpensive.

Miley's ability to pitch around 200 innings per season could be missed. but Smith is a much needed bullpen piece (as Elias may be as well) and with any performance that nearly approximates 2015 then Boston could have its much desired lockdown bullpen.

With Miley's exit the Red Sox rotation looks like this:

1. David Price
2. Eduardo Rodriguez
3. Clay Buchholz
4. Rick Porcello
5. Joe Kelly

6. Henry Owens
7. Roenis Elias
8. Stephen Wright
9. Brian Johnson

The three lefties from six to nine likely constitute the front end of the Pawtucket rotation to begin 2016. Wright is now out of options so he would need a bullpen spot in Boston in order to remain as pitching depth.

Again after this trade Dave Dombrowski indicated to the Boston media, he would be content to go into 2016 with the team as is.  But there are still be a piece or two of work that could be addressed.  Would the Sox package something like Buchholz, JBJ, and a kid or two for a #2 starter like Danny Salazar, Jose Quintana, or Julio Teheran?

And will/can Dombrowski move Hanley Ramirez (or less likely Pablo Sandoval)?  In a possible related item to a Ramirez deal, Jon Heyman of CBS Sports.com reported the Red Sox have been in touch with free agent 1B Mike Napoli.  If the Sox could move Hanley, would the Sox pursue a first base platoon of Travis Shaw and Napoli?

Stay tuned to see if Dealer Dave can conjure up another deal or two.





Sunday, November 29, 2015

Winter Meetings 2015 - One Week Away

The annual baseball winter meetings officially begin, this year in Nashville, on Monday December 7th.  But many of the wheelers and dealers will be in Music City by next Sunday, one week from today.  Let's take a look at some of the rumors involving Boston, and some situations that Dave Dombrowski may still need to address before the 2016 season.

1. Acquiring an ace.  Dave Dombrowski, following the general manager meetings earlier in November and after swinging the Craig Kimbrel for kids trade, was very matter of fact about the likelihood the Sox would find their needed ace on the free agent market.  And as the winter meetings approach there is only one name attached to Boston in any hot rumor.  The rumor reported by various Boston and national reporters is David Price to Boston.  There has been no confirmation from the Sox.  Despite Dombrowski's openness in the likely method of obtaining the front man for his rotation, he keeps the names being pursued very close to his vest.

There are many observers who feel Price does not really want to pitch in Boston (I am one of them).  But the current rumor is reported in a couple of different ways, that in the end might mean the same result: Price to Boston.  Several reporters are saying execs around the game are telling them there is little doubt Boston will make the highest offer to Price.  He may or may not decide to accept the highest offer, depending on the other contenders.  Peter Gammons, for one, is reporting he has heard the Red Sox are willing to go $30-40 million above any other offer. The substantial overage would be an apparent enticement for Price to set aside any lingering doubts about Boston.

There ia a lot of speculation that David Price will sign first of the bigger names free agents, so the others( Zach Greinke, Johhny Cueto, and Jordan Zimmerman) can slot in behind Price.  The next layer of starters, of whom there are many: Jeff Samardjiza, Scott Kazmir, Mike Leake, and several others, would fall in behind the front four.  I do not see Price signing for less than the seven year, $210M, Max Scherzer received last winter.

So stay tuned to see if Price is the guy, and if he should bypass Boston's offer, who is next on the wish list (this Sunday, Nov. 29th, there are reports Jordan Zimmerman is in serious talks with Detroit, perhaps subtracting a name from Boston's list of second choices).

2. Bullpen depth.  Adding Craig Kimbrel to the end of the bullpen, deepens the end of the game staff with Junichi Tazawa and Koji Uehara in front of Kimbrel.  But you can be sure the Sox are on the look out for another power arm or two for the pen, hopefully one of those arms would be attached to the left side of the pitchers body.  I do not believe any new relief pitcher acquired will have anywhere near the star power of Kimbrel, but I do expect more additions to the staff.

3. Outfielder.  There are two schools of thought on any Sox activity here.  The most likely avenue is to acquire a fourth outfielder ( or fifth depending on how Brock Holt is utilized).  The Sox met with veteran Chris Young during the GM meetings.  Young illustrates the issues with signing a veteran as a fourth outfielder, this time of year most guys, Young included, are looking for a full time gig.   Other names mentioned in the rumor mill are Rajai Davis, Ryan Raburn, David Murphy, etc.

The other outfield type of rumor that will not quite die down is the Sox will trade either Jackie Bradley, Jr. or Rusney Castillo for pitching and then pursue a veteran outfielder in the free agent market or perhaps in a trade.  Two of the biggest free agent outfield names that on more than one occasion have been attached to Boston are Alex Gordon and Jason Heyward ( with one or two speculative pieces suggesting Justin Upton could help replace the power loss from David Ortiz' impending retirement in a year).  I do not find this type of rumor completely outlandish, but if the Sox sign Price for upwards of 200 mil, I think Heyward for sure is off the table.

4. Hanley Ramirez.  Can the Red Sox find a taker for Hanley if they pay half or so of the remaining $66M?  Do they even want to trade Hanley?  Look there is not a question, the best case scenario for Ramirez is being able to handle first base well enough for a year and his bat plays like last April.  Then in 2017 Hanley inherits Big Papi's DH role.

Personally I think Boston tries hard to trade him to a team really needing offense ( Baltimore if they lose Chris Davis, Seattle, Tampa Bay, or the Angles come to mind).  The other way to move Hanley besides paying half his contract for little to no return, would be to trade him for another similar contract someone is having trouble to move.  James Shields or the Padres and the Tigers' Justin Verlander are two names of that ilk being floated in the media.  I do not see where Detroit plays Hanley and I am not sure any NL team takes a chance on him in the field.  I think it is 60-40 Hanley stays in Boston.

5. Trading a current starting pitcher. If the Sox snag David Price, or some other numero uno for the rotation, the front three are likely to be mystery guest, Rick Porcello, and Eduardo Rodriguez.  The next two spots would be up for grabs between Clay Buchholz, Joe Kelly, Wade Miley, and Henry Owens. If Boston decides to trade for an outfielder or another starting pitcher, any of these four names could be dealt.  For example, Atlanta has been collecting young pitching, could the Sox begin a package for Shelby Miller or Julio Teheran with Henry Owens?  Or if the Sox are trying to obtain a younger starting pitcher from a team that is not in a rebuild mode, could the Sox send Buchholz, Kelly, or Miley back in a return package?

David Price is really the only name strongly connected to Boston at this moment but expect that to change as the meetings approach over the next week, and especially when the meetings commence.


Saturday, November 14, 2015

Kimbrel (& a Free Agent Ace to be Named Later?)

This week during the General Managers Meetings (will the name of this gathering need to be changed to the President of Baseball Operations Meetings in the near future?)  new Red Sox lead man, Dave Dombrowski, told the assembled Boston media, he had never seen such an amount of extensive trade talk at this gathering.  The GM meetings are usually only a precursor to the December Winter Meetings. But one day after the GM meetings ended, Dombrowki executed his first major trade for Boston.

Dombrowski addressed the poor Red Sox bullpen in a big way.  The Sox acquired all star closer Craig Kimbrel from the Padres.  The trade apparently completed about 8:30 Friday morning, was officially announced Friday night.  Kimbrel is the sole player heading east, and the Sox send four minor league prospects to San Diego: outfielder Manuel Margot, shortstop Javier Guerra, left handed pitcher Logan Allen, and infielder Carlos Asuaje.

Here are a ten thoughts on the trade itself, and some comments made by Dombrowski in his conference call with the media at 9:00 Friday night.

1. The Red Sox bullpen is the biggest reason this team finished last again in '15.  To be sure there are other factors (such as the inconsistent rotation), but the pen had to be fixed and Dave Dombrowski has brought in the best closer in the game over the last five seasons.

Kimbrel had been a closer 2011-2015, all but last season in Atlanta.  His career ERA is 1.63, with lows of 1.01 and 1.21 in 2012-13.  Kimbrel is a strikeout pitcher who throws over 97 mph.  During his career (including 21 games as a non-closer rookie in 2010, in which his ERA was 0.44) he has 563 K's in 348 innings pitched: 1.61 per inning.  His yearly save totals are:

2011   46
2012   42
2013   50
2014   47
2015   39

In each season with Atlanta, Kimbrel lead the NL in saves.

In the last five seasons, Kimbrel has more saves than anyone, and it is not close.

1. Kimbrel     224
2. Street         166
3. Paplebon   161
4. Rodney     152
5. Chapman   146

2. Current Sox closer, Koji Uehara, has all ready checked in saying he is fine moving to any role the Red Sox want for him, and that role is likely the 8th inning in front of Kimbrel.  So at this moment the Sox pen for innings seven through nine looks like Junichi Tazawa, Koji, and Kimbrel.  All ready a monumental step forward.  Last night, Dombrowski said any other bullpen additions would be for "depth".  I do not think this precludes finding another hard thrower or two, they just are likely not going to be big names.

3.  Did this deal illustrate an under the radar trading MO for Dombrowski?  All week long the rumors intensified the Sox were targeting Reds closer lefty flame thrower, Aroldis Chapman.  Then suddenly the deal for a closer is made and it is Kimbrel not Chapman.  Now Kimbrel's name has certainly been floating out there as well as a potentially available closer, but during the GM meetings his name had not surfaced.

Speaking of Aroldis Chapman, which closer would have been the better deal?  They are about the same age, but the major difference is Chapman is a free agent after 2016.  Kimbrel is under team control through 2018.  It would seem the package to get Chapman would have been less because of this, but if the Reds were asking for any package close to what the Pads got, I am not surprised the Sox went with Kimbrel.

4.  As the Sox have in the past talked about with starting pitching although they will be paying Kimbrel big bucks (11M next year, 13M in '17 with a team option of 13M in '18), they will be paying for his age 30 and under years.  Kimbrel does not turn 28 until next May.  He will be only 30 in the last year of his current deal.

5. Moving onto what in the most controversial part of the trade, in some quarters, the fact the Red Sox gave four top 30 prospects for only "a relief pitcher".  There is a school of thought that a team should never pay big dollars to a closer or give up much in talent to acquire one because you can find closers anywhere.  The Sox are certainly doing both of these for Kimbrel.  To me, because the Boston bullpen has been so bad, and Criag Kimbrel has been so good, this deal had to be made.

I can tell you that a number of Red Sox sites are hammering this trade as a bad deal.  One of the main reasons is the one given above, not overpaying in $$ and talent for a closer.  The Sox Prospects site in particular (as you might surmise from their name and focus) is shredding this deal and giving up on Dave Dombrowski going forward.  Reading through all of the posts relating to the trade on Sox Prospects I could not help but think this is the segment of Red Sox nation that gets labelled as overrating the Sox kids. And their overreaction to this deal just feeds that stereotype.

As the person who mans the prospect rankings on our site, I will say my first thought as I one by one I heard the names going to San Diego, was this sounds like a least the start of a package I thought the Red Sox could acquire a starting pitcher for.  Margot and Guerra in the same deal seems like to some degree an overpayment. But there are at least two very important pieces of information, we as fans do not have:  What starting pitchers are available (more on that later) and what was the competition for Kimbrel (or Chapman, et al).  I had no doubt at all that both Margot and Guerra were going to be traded this off season for pitching.  So it may be that Craig Kimbrel, factoring in his age and resume, was the best pitcher available that fit Boston's needs.

6. We still need the "horse" at the front of the rotation.  One of the most surprising things about Dave Dombrowski in his Boston tenure, to me, has been his openness with the Boston media (and therefore with the fans).  And DD struck again last night in his conference call.  When asked if this moving of kids for Kimbrel meant acquiring his ace was now much more likely to be through free agency, he readily admitted this was so.  As a matter of fact, he said his original thought was trade for closer and sign an ace.  The Sox were open to all other avenues, but Dombrowski said they have come back to that equation as being the most likely.  The free agent market itself may have forced the issue.  Last night some of the posters bashing the deal suggested the Sox sign a free agent reliever instead of trading kids.  The three best relievers in this year's class are likely Darren O'Day, Tyler Clippard, and Tony Sipp.  Boston may actually pursue one of these names, but none of them will help the pen like Kimbrel.  On the other side of the coin (and I do mean coin) the 2015 free agent class is loaded with ace and other front of rotation pitchers.  A year from now, the free agent starters are headed by Stephen Strasburg and Brett Anderson. This is the year to sign a big name starter if you want or need one.


7. Other than the deep pool of free agent starters, why not trade for a younger ace?  I think there are three reasons.  First, last night Dombrowski said he expects Kimbrel to likely be the major trade acquisition of the winter. If that is true, despite dealing the four top 30 prospects last night, you still have a farm system headed by Yoan Moncada, Rafael Devers, Andrew Benintendi, Anderson Espinoza, Michael Kopech, Henry Owens, Brian Johnson, Sam Travis, and others which still give them nearly the top farm system in the game.  The inability to trade Blake Swihart this winter (if the Sox even want to consider it) hamstrings the Sox to swing a big deal for an ace.  One major name that has been floating around which would require Swihart and a good deal more to make the deal is White Sox ace Chris Sale.  But with Christian Vazquez recovering from Tommy John surgery, and having his Puerto Rican Winter League season cut short due to his team folding(and Vazquez asking for his release from the team he was assigned to due to lack of at bats) you must hold onto Swihart at least through spring training.

The final reason the Red Sox may not trade for a younger ace is the most important: there may well not be one on the market.  Or put it this way if the Red Sox won't discuss Xander Bogaerts or Mookie Betts in the deal, a deal cannot be made.  And a deal including either of these 23 year old stars SHOULD NOT be made.

These names have floated in the hot stove rumor mill as among Boston targets: Sonny Gray, Matt Harvey, Chris Sale, Carlos Carassco, Danny Salazar, Hector Santiago, Stephen Strasburg, and maybe even Chris Archer.  Among the free flow of quotes from Dave Dombrowski last week, the one that was the most important may have been overshadowed by his we are likely going to do "something painful" quote.  He said at the GM meetings they had gathered tons of information from other teams including"who is not available".  The A's new GM ( under Billy Beane), David Forst said they would not trade Sonny Gray.  Dombrowski was asked to compare this statement to last winter when Oakland dealt Josh Donaldson after saying he was unavailable.  Dombrowski replied the Donaldson deal is an "outlier" and in all his years when a team says someone is not available they mean it.  So I take these two comments on unavailability to mean Boston has exhausted these avenues and will jump into the free agent pool.

8. Which free agent?  Boston has the 12th pick in the upcoming draft, and their preference would be to keep it, and begin to replace the names traded on Friday.  If that premise holds, then there are only two targets: David Price and Johnny Cueto. Both were traded during the 2015 season, which means the teams losing them cannot obtain a draft pick for them.

Price is the star of the show, and he will command at least what Max Scherzer got last winter: 7 years, $210M.  Boston can pay it ,and based on Dombrowski comments last night, they may well do so.  But I have doubts that David Price wants to play in Boston.  But money talks and there is no doubt Price can thrive in the AL East.

Cueto is the name most pundits are tying to Boston when making their predictions on landing spots for this year's free agents.  Cueto would come with two risks: the whispers about elbow issues, although he had a completely clean MRI in May and can he pitch effectively in the American League.  Cueto was up and down after joining Kansas City, but finished with a flourish with his complete game two-hitter in the World Series.  The upside to these risks is it lowers his cost greatly.  It would still be a huge price tag, but Cueto could probably be had for $100-115M.  Last winter, Cueto was the guy I hoped Boston pursued, and risks aside he is still the ace I think the Sox end up with.

Zach Greinke, is the only other free agent that matches David Price in talent.  I find it hard to believe he leaves LA.  But keep this in mind: the KC GM who originally drafted and signed Greinke is Allard Baird , who works in the Sox front office.  And a former Royals pitching teammate of Greinke's was Brian Bannister, who joined the Sox front office  a year ago, and this winter was named pitching coordinator for the Sox.  Greinke was cost the 12th pick and would certainly be worth it.

There a number of other pitching names on the free agent list, but to me the only other candidate to front the Sox rotation would be Jordan Zimmerman of the Nationals.  He is certainly a notch below the three names above, and there would be a debate over Zimmerman being worth the forfeiture of the 12th pick.

9.  There is one other possibility about Dombrowski announced intention of jumping into the free agent pool for pitching.  It could be a smokescreen in an attempt to drive down the cost of a starting pitcher Dave hopes to trade for.

10. One last connected thought: how committed is Dombrowski to the outfield of Betts, Bradley, and Castillo?  If Dombrowski was completely forthright on Friday about Kimbrel being the major trade acquisition of the winter then you would expect the three young outfielders to be the 2016 outfield.  because if one of them goes( and Bradley's name seemingly was everywhere last week), Boston needs to trade for another outfielder (or sign one).  And if they trade either Bradley or Castillo you would expect another quite substantial piece coming back.

Stay tuned and see when Dave Dombrowski strikes again.







Saturday, October 17, 2015

Go Cubs.......I Guess

Obviously every baseball season I look forward to seeing the Red Sox in the playoffs contending for the championship.  And this grateful Red Sox fan has deeply appreciated the three World Series titles since 2004.  But as a Red Sox fan for just over fifty years, I have had a lot of experience viewing the baseball postseason without my Red Sox involved.  And my favorite type of postseason not involving Boston is one with an underdog to root for.  The only problem in 2015 is to figure out which underdog to choose.  Eight of the ten postseason teams could fit the bill, and one could make an argument for the Yankees.  I wouldn't, but the team from the Bronx has won the World Series only once in this century in fifteen tries. And the Yanks did not make it out of the wild card game in '15. The St. Louis Cardinals, the only team to win 100 games this season is no underdog.  They have won two World Series crowns in this century, in 2006 and 2011.  The Cards have also lost two other Series to Boston    ( '04 and '13).  The Cards, Red Sox, and Giants lead the pack of successful teams in the 2000's.  But the Cards lost the NLDS this time around.

Let's take a look at the other eight teams that graced the 2015 post season.

Pittsburgh Pirates:  Until 2013 the Pirates had the longest current streak of non-playoff years.  In 2013 the young Buccos made the NL Wild card game, as they have gone on to do for three straight years.  But after advancing and losing the NLDS in'13 the Pirates were one and done the next two, getting ramrodded by Madison Bumgarner and Jake Arietta, shut out both years 8-0 and 4-0.  If Pittsburgh could ever hang around long enough, they could be an underdog to root for.

After the Yankees, Pirates, and Cards left the stage, seven teams were alive at that point.  The Blue Jays were the team that went into this season with the longest playoff drought (since 1993).  The Jays had inherited that honor from the 2014 AL champ Kansas City( who of course had taken the mantel from Pittsburgh).  To show how topsy turvy and underdog laden the playoff stage had become, although the Jays had the longest number of seasons in a row with no playoffs, of those seven contenders the Jays had won the World Series more recently than any of the other seven!

Let's quickly review the next three teams who exited.

Houston Astros: the Astros rose from the ashes of perhaps the most horrid stretch of seasons ever put together by a MLB team. Paced by young superstar shortstop Carlos Correa, and pitcher Dallas Keuchel, the Astros slugged their way into the playoffs. Although the led the AL West for most of the season, they staggered to the finish line and got a wild card.  The Astros have only been in the World Series once ever.  In 2005 they were swept by the White Sox.

Texas Rangers:  This injury decimated team was written off but a huge second half garnered the NL West crown, and they jumped out to 2-0 on the Jays, but lost the next three in the ALCS.  The Rangers were in consecutive World Series in 2010-11 but lost them both, so like their Texas brothers, the Astros, have never won a World series.

Los Angeles Dodgers:  Okay, probably a reach to call a major media market team that outspends the Yankees (and everyone else) on payroll these days an underdog.  But this franchise has not won the World Series since 1988. Twenty Seven years.

That leaves MLB's final four for 2015.  Let's look at the four in reverse order of their "underdoggedness".

New York Mets:  Again calling any major market team, and there is no more major market than New York, an underdog is questionable.  But they will have nearly no one outside New York rooting for them in the NLCS, they are the anti-Yankees in their home city, they are the descendants of the 1960's Amazin' Mets, and they have not won the World Series since 1986.  1986, screw it, enough about them.

Toronto Blue Jays:  The reason to not grade the Jays as underdogs include they have an entire country rooting for them, they have the most powerful offense left in the post season, and they have won the Series more recently than the rest, albeit 1993.  The long playoff drought that is being snapped and playing the defending AL champs in the ALCS may add somewhat to their claim.

Kansas City Royals:  Ironically in this field of teams with title droughts, the Royals are the defending American League crown holders.  But everything else screams underdog.  Small market team, which has nearly never spent $$ on the franchise since their inception in 1969.  Last year, they were complete unknowns who went from the wild card game squeaker to the seventh game of the World Series, losing to the Giants.  If the Royals return and win the World series, it would be only their second title ever and the the other was in 1985.

Despite the fact the above  six teams' last World Championships were never, never, 1985,1986, 1988, and 1993, they are all pikers in the underdog category compared to the team I will root for going forward in this post season.

Chicago Cubs: Here is a quick litany of the Cubs World Series experience form 1903 to 1945:

1907 and 1908 World Champs

The following seasons the Cubs played in the World Series, but lost:

1910
1918 (lost to Boston, neither won again for a while)
1929
1932 (the Babe Ruth called his shot series)
1935
1938
1945 (last World Series of the World War II era, when most of regular players were at war)

Now the Cubs World Series Trips since 1945:





You got it.  None. The Cubs have not been to the World Series in 70 years.  Last World Series victory was in 1908.  One Hundred and Seven years.

This is not news to any baseball fans, but it certainly cements the Cubs as an underdog to pull for.  I am not a fan of Cubs manager Joe Maddon in any shape or form.  But a Cubs win puts Theo Epstein in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and I am in favor of any good will that comes Theo's way for his efforts in Boston. Jon Lester is my short list of all time favorite Red Sox and would enjoy Jon's getting another ring.

But here is the real reason I am pulling for the Cubs.  As a long time Red Sox fan, I well know the agony of a streak of non-championship seasons, lasting well longer than your own lifetime  Although Boston from the 1940's through the 1980's made a World Series appearance once a decade except for the fifties ( 1946,1967,1975,1986).  As Red Sox Nation went through the year after year heartbreak      (and some years had more heartbreak than others), there was always the feeling any time the Sox got close the baseball world was pulling for us.  Except of course for the fans of the teams the Sox were playing and the Yankee fans(understood).

For many decades the Cubs(1908), the White Sox (1917) and the Red Sox (1918) wandered through the landscape as three lost kindred souls.  For a long while I never subscribed to the Curse of the Bambino, but thought there may some kind of left over 1919 Black Sox scandal curse on any team in Chicago or with Sox in their name.  But in back to back campaigns, both Sox teams left the Cubs alone, 2004( Boston sweeps the Cards) and 2005 (Chisox sweep Astros).

Another decade has passed for the Cubs and they are still waiting. This is a team of young stars, perhaps reaching the post season a couple of years ahead of expectations.  It is manufactured by Boston's own Theo Epstein.  It may or may not be their year (Back to the Future or not), but this is a team Red Sox Nation should lend its support to.

There is no team other than the Red Sox I pour my heart and soul into, and there is still that pesky Joe Maddon factor to try to ignore (they won't show him much on the telecasts, right?)  But I will join most of the country.

Go Cubs...........I guess.




Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Ramblings on 2016 Red Sox

With the arrival of the postseason for a quarter of MLB teams, comes an early start to the Hot Stove for the other three-quarters, including the back to back last place Boston Red Sox. There have been several quality articles put out in the last week by the plethora of Red Sox writers from John Tomase to Pete Abe to Brian MacP.  Two prime areas that most writers have weighed-in on so far are the annual call for an ace to upgrade the rotation and the need to move Hanley Ramirez and/or Pablo Sandoval. Yesterday, Dave Dombrowski addressed the media about his plans for the off-season. With that in mind, here are a few ramblings from Cousin Jason on the winter ahead and the 2016 Red Sox.

During the Don Orsillo Farewell tour over the final month plus of the 2015 season, the Red Sox actually played pretty good baseball. This fact, in my opinion, has muddied the waters on the moves that Dave Dombrowski, Mike Hazen, and company can and should make this winter in an effort to avoid a fourth basement finish over the last half-decade in 2016. Players like Jackie Bradley, Jr., Travis Shaw, and Rusney Castillo played to a level, or showed flashes, beyond their profiles when the month of August began. The same can be said of Joe Kelly and Rick Porcello. Prior to August, Bradley looked destined to be moved this winter as an elite defender and 4A hitter. After his torrid August, the question in most circles has become does JBJ play CF or RF in 2016? Yet others want to see the Sox shop Bradley now that his stock has rebounded. Shaw was viewed as a prospect that may have plateaued at AAA. Now the question becomes can Travis Shaw be an everyday corner infielder and would you kick yourself if he turns out to be one after getting shipped out of Boston? I would answer no to both of those questions, although Shaw in the Daniel Nava role wouldn't be bad. Castillo is the $72.5 million dollar man that has showed great athleticism with a limited baseball IQ while being hounded by injuries. However, after he too put up great numbers in August the call for the BBC outfield began. To this Sox fan, Castillo will never become the great player we all dreamed of when he signed and this winter would be a perfect time to move him while his stock is still relatively high. Joe Kelly went 7-0 with an ERA in the 2's until being should down in early September. Do you pencil him into the rotation and hope you get 6 months of that in 2016 only to end up with the same 5+ ERA he put up in the early season? Which Rick Porcello will you get or does Dombrowski deal him for the second winter in a row? Certainly a quagmire for the front office to wade through, although not necessarily bad developments for the Sox.

The opposite can be said of Pablo Sandoval and Hanley Ramirez, as their disastrous season's only got worse as the year went on, with both of them being non-existent in September. It will be next to impossible to deal either of them without eating a bankfull of money, although that probably would have been true even if both hadn't pulled a Harry Houdini in the final month. So currently, the plan is to have the two of them man the corners in 2016, with Ramirez at first and Sandoval at third. The consensus amongst the Sox writers is that the idea of Ramirez at first is not only a horrendous idea, similar to trying to make him a left fielder in 2015, but is also smoke and mirrors in that you can't come out in October and say this guy sucks in case you cannot trade him before Spring Training, even though you are actively trying to move him. Moving Ramirez would be preferable to many in Red Sox Nation, but because of his contract with 3 years and $66 million remaining, the fact that he continues to prove to be a cancer to teams, and what position can he play, where and how do you accomplish such a move? At a fan's glance, the market for Ramirez is very limited. He proved without a doubt that he cannot play the outfield and with his apparent love of weightlifting and his bulked up body he probably can longer play shortstop. Defensively, he is a reach at first or third so that leaves him as a DH. Based on my brief research, here are some possible landing spots for Ramirez. Cleveland: Would the Indians be interested in adding Ramirez's bat to be their DH, possibly as part of a larger package for a starter such as Carlos Carrasco or Corey Kluber? The Tribe might be interested in adding a bat but, the prospect of getting Carrasco or Kluber back would take the addition of Bradley or Castillo and a prospect or two. Tampa Bay: Here is another team looking for improved offensive production, would the Sox be willing to deal Ramirez to a team that they will face 19 times a year for the remainder of his contract and what do the Devil Rays have to offer in return? How about Ramirez for Jake McGee? Milwaukee: Would the Brewers be willing to take Ramirez as a third baseman? This might be a stretch defensively, but Ramirez has played the hot corner in the past. How about Ramirez for Matt Garza or Ramirez and Castillo for Garza and Francisco Rodriguez? Trading Sandoval might not be as difficult as but because of his contract, weight, and offensive decline, would there still be suitors for his services? Here is a look at some possible trade partners for Sandoval. Milwaukee: Would the Brew Crew take Sandoval in the same scenarios listed for Ramirez? Pittsburgh: After back-to-back Wild Card game loses, are the Pirates interested in re-shuffling their deck? Is there anything the Pirates have to offer in return? Both good questions, without much clarity.  San Diego: This has been a much discussed possibility for the Sox to move Sandoval as the Padres were very in on Sandoval last winter. However, Yangervis Solarte proved himself to be an everyday player this year which might block such a move. Still, let's suggest Sandoval, Bradley, and Wade Miley for James Shields and Craig Kimbrel. Los Angeles of Anaheim: With David Freese a free agent, would the Angels look to take on Panda in exchange for a starter like Matt Shoemaker, CJ Wilson, or Tyler Skaggs? Oakland: Are the A's in full on rebuild mode and would Sandoval help this? How about Sandoval for Coco Crisp, as a 4th outfielder? I know much of Red Sox Nation is hoping that if the Red Sox make a trade with the A's it is to bring Sonny Gray back but, I just don't see the A's trading Gray. He is still under team control and while they do have a bunch of young arms, I don't see moving him helping the rebuild by the bay.

A couple of givens for the 2016 edition of the Olde Towne team, Mookie Betts, Xander Bogaerts, and David Ortiz will all have a roster spot. Betts and Bogaerts were both tremendous in 2015 and are the future faces of the franchise. Big Papi continues to be the greatest DH of all-time despite turning 40 years of age (at least, you can never trust those Latino years). Another name that can be added to the list of guaranteed returners from this years' team is Eduardo Rodriguez. The views of Rodriguez after his rookie season, range from a potential future ace to a solid #3 starter, either of those view and anything in between would suffice. Regardless of the view, Rodriguez was dominant in half of his starts and very good in a few more. Of course, there were some hiccups along the way but that is to be expected of a rookie. At the very least, Eduardo can be penciled in as the Sox #2 or #3 pitcher heading into 2016. Beyond this group, the remainder of the roster should be open to evaluation and reconstruction. That is not to say that there will be major upheaval for the Sox this winter, but roles and roster status for all others should at least be evaluated.

Let's begin by cleaning house on the 40 man roster. First off, Craig Breslow and Rich Hill are both free agents. Good luck to both of them in their future endeavors as Cousin Jason sees neither of them helping next year. Next, let's list some names currently on the roster that can be replaced: Jonathan Aro, Edwin Escobar, Jean Machi, Roman Mendez, Garin Cecchini and Sean Coyle. A few other names to consider.: Josh Rutledge, Sandy Leon, Allen Craig, Anthony Varvaro, Alexi Ogando, Heath Hembree, and Ryan Cook. In the case of Rutledge and Leon, both showed some useful skills during the 2015 season. Rutledge offers big league experience and infield depth whether that is as a major league back-up or at AAA. Leon is certainly a very adept defensive catcher, however he couldn't hit water if he fell out of a boat. With the Sox currently having Swihart, Vazquez, and Hanigan all on the roster Sandy can be nothing more than depth at AAA. In regards to the 4 pitchers (Varvaro, Ogando, Hembree, Cook), all offer the possibility of being useful relievers but the Sox can probably do better. Lastly, what a sad story Allen Craig's career has become from an MVP candidate to completely done in just 3 years. The biggest reason Craig is not on the list of names to delete from the 40 man is the fact that he is owed $21 million for the next 2 years. Can the Sox eat that salary, especially if they need to eat much of Ramirez and/or Sandoval's?

Next, let's discuss the 2016 infield. One thing that we have already established, Xander Bogaerts will be the shortstop of the 2016 Boston Red Sox (and beyond). The other position that is established is Dustin Pedroia at second base. 2015 saw the return of Pedey's power that had been zapped by hand and wrist injuries in 2013 and 2014. That said health has started to become an annual issue for Pedroia. Given this information, it might be wise for the Sox to at least investigate moving the de facto captain this winter, although his contract which runs through 2021 might scare some teams off. However, if moving Pedroia improves the club going forward, perhaps to obtain the ace that everyone thinks this team needs, you at least have to consider it no matter the fallout with Red Sox Nation.
As mentioned above the Sox are currently penciling Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval in as the starting 1B and 3B in 2016, yet much of the Nation is clamoring for them to not even be on the roster. So where does that leave the Sox with regards to the corner infield spots? If not Ramirez, where history shows that Ramirez profiles as a bounce back candidate offensively, then who plays 1B? Travis Shaw displayed power well beyond his AAA numbers in his extended look this season, which sets him up for a regression to the mean 2016. However, there is no doubt Shaw is the superior defender. With that information, I believe the Sox should view Shaw as prime trade target. A versatile left-handed bat that could be part of a package to obtain an ace and/or fix the bullpen. Another internal option, which has been referenced, is to move Sandoval across the diamond. Defensively, you have to think this would be better than playing Ramirez there. However, Sandoval's offense numbers in 2015 were career lows and not the prototype for a MLB 1st Baseman. So that leaves the Sox to look at free agents, Chris Davis is a name that has been mentioned by some as a possibility although that would certainly make the Sox more left-handed in the middle of the order. Beyond Davis the pool is pretty shallow with Mike Napoli the only other name worth consideration. However, a name that I will throw out there is Matt Wieters. Wieters is a catcher by trade, however he is a year removed from Tommy John surgery. Like Napoli in 2013, would the Sox be willing to bring in the switch-hitting Wieters and make him a first baseman or is it better to try Ramirez if you are going to experiment? I think Wieters is at least a name worth watching. Third base profiles similarly to first for the Sox. Sandoval struggled in 2015 to put it lightly. Again though, Sandoval's history sets him up to be a bounce back candidate in 2016. Is that good enough or do they need to look elsewhere? Travis Shaw's name has also been mentioned as a possibility to play third should the Sox move Sandoval to first or out of town but I've already given my thoughts on Shaw. The free agents at third base are also weak with David Freese the only name worth a look. So after all of this, it is probable that the Sox begin Spring Training with Sandoval and Ramirez manning the corners.

Looking at the catcher and back-up infielder positions, the Sox on paper have solid options for both. Brock Holt was the Sox lone All-Star in 2015, although Bogaerts certainly warranted making the team. Holt's ability to play both infield and outfield along with his team controlled contract make him a very nice piece to have. However, over the last 2 seasons he has worn down in the second halves, proving his limitations. If the Sox could get to a set-up where Holt does not have to play everyday but rather is the super sub a la an NBA 6th man, Holt probably thrives for the entire season. There is also the school of thought that now would be the perfect time to trade Holt and transition Deven Marrero into the back-up infielder spot. This does have some merit and certainly you would get more in return for Holt than Marrero as both of them cannot be on the roster. However, Marrero's inability to play the outfield and Holt's better offensive capabilities would seemingly make Marrero the odd man out. Travis Shaw is the other probably back-up infielder. At the catcher spot the Sox have to make a decision with regards to Blake Swihart, Christian Vazquez, and Ryan Hanigan. All three cannot be on the roster and the two kids have nothing left to prove at AAA. There are really two options, keep Swihart and Vazquez to platoon although this would appear to limit the Sox ability to utilize either Swihart's bat or Vazquez's defensive ability. There is also the matter of Vazquez coming off Tommy John surgery. The other option is to keep either Swihart or Vazquez while trading the other to improve the club and pair him with Hanigan, who has proven to be a useful back-up catcher over his career. Certainly, trading Swihart would net a larger return that Vazquez but are the Sox willing to make such a move. Lou Merloni has even offered up Swihart for Sonny Gray as a proposition. Lastly, what the Sox do at the catcher spot may have repercussions on the pitching staff as well. Vazquez is a top shelf defender, while Hanigan is also an accomplished framer of pitches. Swihart's defense proved to be a work in progress during 2015. That is not to say he will never be a great catcher but, it certainly is a factor worth noting.

Moving onto the outfield. The Sox appear to be committed to the BBC outfield, which would certainly be one of the best in baseball defensively. The group of Betts, Bradley, and Castillo most assuredly played a role in the second half 180 that the pitching staff made. Betts put up a tremendous 2015 and was viewed by some as perhaps the team's MVP. As mentioned above Bradley and Castillo both were tremendous in August. Therein lies the question mark, can JBJ and Castillo perform at a high enough level offensively (and stay healthy) to play everyday? The other question with this outfield is what alignment will they play due to the intricacies of right field at Fenway. Most believe that Castillo will man left but where to play the other two remains a mystery. As discussed previously, this fan believes that looking to move Castillo and Bradley might be in the best interest of the club. A couple of other items pertaining to the outfield is the free agency of Jason Hayward, who Deacon Art projected as a Red Sox target last winter. It is believed that the Cardinals will re-sign Heyward, however it is at least worth monitoring. Signing Heyward, who is only 26, would give the Sox flexibility to shop their youngsters minus Betts or give them 4 solid outfielders. Dombrowski seems committed to the BBC but stated that he would like to add outfield depth. Some free agents to keep an eye on to fill this role are Rajai Davis, whom Dombrowski brought to Detroit, Austin Jackson, whom Dombrowski also had in Detroit, and Dexter Fowler. All three would not only add depth but also offer a degree of speed as a pinch runner. One final free agent name to monitor is Justin Upton, whom Sox fans clamored for a couple of winters ago.

The piece of the puzzle that will receive the most attention this winter is the pitching staff. Dombrowski admitted yesterday that the goal is to upgrade the bullpen and find an ace. As Sox fans well know, the rotation is currently made up of back of the rotation guys which offer depth and the opportunity to be a strong group of starters if you can find that number 1 to lead them. It appears that the Sox are in a position to be able to spend on one of the frontline starters on the free agent market this winter. Much has been made of the Sox going after David Price. He has a track record of success in the AL East and Dombrowski made a trade for him in 2014. While others view him as a prime target for the hated Yankees. Price should be an interesting story going forward this winter. Other aces on the open market include Johnny Cueto, who has flounder with the Royals since being acquired at the trade deadline, Jordan Zimmermann, who may profile more as a #2 than an ace, and the possibility of Zack Greinke, who would need to opt out of his deal with the Dodgers and whose anxiety issues probably makes him a high risk in Boston. There are a number of other solid starters that could fill a void in the Sox rotation but without an ace would leave the Sox in a situation similar to 2015. Names to at least consider include: Brett Anderson, who finally had a season without health issues for the Dodgers, Wei-Yin Chen, who has been consistently successful in the AL East for the Orioles, Doug Fister, who Dombrowski had in Detroit, Yovanni Gallardo, who was a big reason the Rangers won the AL West, Scott Kazmir, who pitched well for both the A's and Astros, Jeff Samardzija, who was inconsistent for the White Sox, Hisashi Iwakuma, who regressed a bit in 2015 for the Mariners and is also 35. A couple of other names include Rich Hill, who performed tremendously in September and does not have the number of innings on his left arm that other 36 year olds do, and John Lackey, who was tremendous in St. Louis this year. Beyond bring in a front-end of the rotation arm or two, the Sox would still have numerous arms on the roster. It is believed that the Sox will pick up Clay Buchholz option. Although it is unclear if he would be the Sox #2 or #3 or if they will look to move him. Wade Miley and Rick Porcello are both under contract and would be solid #3-5 starters. Eduardo Rodriguez, as previously mentioned may be an ace in the making. A rotation of Price, Buchholz, Rodriguez, Porcello, and Miley would be very solid. That leaves Joe Kelly and Henry Owens without a spot and very much trade chips. Of course the Sox could also look to the trade front to upgrade the rotation with some names such as Sonny Gray and Tyson Ross mentioned frequently. A team to watch may be the Washington Nationals, after collapsing in 2015, what course of action do they take and could a starter like Stephen Strasburg or Gio Gonzalez be had?

Without a doubt the weak link to the 2015 Red Sox was the bullpen. This is the greatest concern going forward for me, as the current bullpen sucks and Dombrowski has a track record of putting together poor bullpens. To start, the Sox will get Koji Uehara back from his broken wrist and is currently the closer but at 41 will 2016 be the year he finally loses his effectiveness. Junichi Tazawa will presumably be back, although some think the Sox should look to move him as his workload may have caught up to him. Robbie Ross, pitched effectively in a variety of roles this season and will presumably be back. Tommy Layne, is a true weapon against lefties however he was called upon to be more than that in 2015, bringing him back to be a lefty specialist would be a help. Matt Barnes and Heath Hembree appear to be power arms that could thrive out of the pen but they both struggled at times in 2015. Other internal options include Noe Ramirez or bringing back some of the 40 man roster members such as Alexi Ogando and Anthony Varvaro. Externally, some names on the free agent market to consider, left-handers who have all had success in the past include Antonio Bastardo, Eric O'Flaherty, and Tony Sipp and right-handers with past success who could be power arms including Neftali Feliz, Tommy Hunter, Tyler Clippard, Darren O'Day, Bobby Parnell, and Joakim Soria, whom Dombrowski brought to Detroit. Additionally, there are some closers that could be had via trade allowing Koji to move back to his set-up role and taking some of the strain off both himself and Taz. Craig Kimbrel of the Padres, he has been an outstanding closer over his career and the Padres seemingly need to make a new plan going forward. Would they be willing to move Kimbrel for a package including Henry Owens and Rusney Castillo? Another team sure to get calls this winter about their closer is the Cincinnati Reds and Aroldis Chapman. No one throws the ball harder than Chapman and the Reds are in a bit of a rebuild mode. Could a deal of Clay Buchholz and Blake Swihart get the Cuban flamethrower? Another name that is intriguing is Jonathan Papelbon. The Nationals obviously have to do something as a result of the incident between Papelbon and Harper, and they are not going to move Bryce Harper. While Papelbon comes with plenty of baggage, it is believed that a return to Boston would negate much of that as players like Pedroia and Ortiz would be able to keep Papelbon in line. Bringing back Papelbon might be nostalgic but I believe it would be an upgrade and might bring some swagger and toughness back to the Sox pen that seems to be lacking both.

So there you have it, days worth of thoughts, turned into this tremendously long ramble about the Sox moving into the Hot Stove season. I hope you enjoyed reading and I look forward to seeing the comments this generates. Go Sox!

Sunday, September 27, 2015

RSM Red Sox Top 40 Prospects 2015 Post Season Edition

We now present our final ranking of the Red Sox prospects, from their very, very deep system, for 2015.    Any one of the top ten or beyond could be ranked at or near the top of another less deep system.  There has been some shuffling of the ranks since August.

As usual the team listed after the player is the most recent stop for that player.  The number in { } is the August ranking for that player.  The slash lines we use are:

Hitters:  HR/RBI/BA/OBP/OPS

Pitchers W-L/ERA/WHIP/K-BB

However for this year end report, we will use some stats, but we will focus more on how the 2015 performance may influence the 2016 assignment for each player. And that assignment may well be with another organization, if a particular prospect has potential to be a trade chip.  We will discuss that as well.


Here the 40 top prospects for the Boston Red Sox :

1. Yoan Moncada, 2B Greenville  {2}.  Perhaps unfairly, most everyone expected the super prospect from Cuba to explode onto the American baseball scene.  But despite the fact Boston kept Moncada in extended spring training into May, Yoan was a 19 year old kid, living in a completely different culture and environment than he had ever known.  But after the SAL All Star break, Moncada exploded, with a couple of months adjustment to the game and life under his belt.

Boston left Moncada at Grenville, as they did with nearly all of the players on this prospect-laden team. And Moncada finished with :  8/38/.278/.380/.817.  He also stole 49 bases in 52 attempts.  In August, Moncada's hit .333 with a OBP of .451 with three homers, seven doubles and a triple.

Moncada, who will not turn 21 until the middle of 2016, will begin the new season at either Salem or Portland. If the Sox go the conservative route it is Salem for sure.  If they want to be aggressive with the player one scout called " a switch hitting Robinson Cano"(and despite the Yankee connection, who wouldn't take that for a career to come) he could start at AA.  My guess is the Red Sox will have Yoan avoid playing baseball in Maine in April, and begin him at Salem.  But by early May, the folks at Hadlock Field should be ready to welcome the Sox top prospect.

With so many big name prospects across MLB going to the show in 2015, Moncada should be in the running as the number one prospect in all of baseball when the various rankings come out this winter.

When will Yoan Moncada reach Boston?  Based on the two young stars leading the Sox right now: Xander Bogaerts and Mookie Betts, the end of 2016 and for sure early 2017 seems reasonable.  Bogaerts played at Greenville at age 18, Salem and Portland at 19, then made the majors at 20.  Betts split 2013 at Greenville and Salem at age 20, then was in the big leagues mid way through the next year.

Moncada is one prospect that seems nearly untouchable in any Dave Dombrowski deals this winter.

2. Rafael Devers, 3B Greenville {1}  The left slugger who will not turn 19 until October 24, put together a very strong year at age 18, but tailed off in the later stages.  This likely can be chalked up to an adjustment to playing a full season of pro baseball for the first time.  Devers also spent the whole season at Greenville and hit 11/70/.288/.329/.443, very strong numbers for an eighteen year old.  At such a young age, the Sox will likely continue the one step at a time progression for Devers, and send him to Salem for 2016. If his power really blossoms, a late season promotion to Portland would not be completely out of the question.  In order for the Sox to include Devers in a trade this winter, it would have to be a blockbuster.  Something like a Sonny Gray or Matt Harvey deal.

3. Henry Owens, LHP Boston {4}  A member of the Sox super 2011 draft class, reached the big leagues in August.  And while his overall numbers for Boston are pedestrian 3-3/4.41/1.42/43-24, his numbers have been skewed by a couple of rough outings.  In others Owens has gone deep in the games and has shown swing and miss stuff.  Since Owens is not overpowering ( although not a junkballer by any means)he will need to spot his pitches on a more regular basis.

Overall his big league appearances have been very encouraging and likely lead Owens to one of three paths for 2016.  In order of our best guess of likelihood: 1. begin '16 at AAA to refine his game more and to be ready as depth for the big league rotation.  2. traded this winter as part of a package of prospects to acquire a front of the rotation starter 3. with a strong spring and the trade of some veteran pitchers, Owens joins Eduardo Rodriguez as two strong young lefties in the Sox rotation.

4. Manuel Margot, OF Portland  {3} After a mid season promotion to AA Portland, Margot put up a very respectable line of 3/33/.271/.326/.745 with 21 doubles and 19 stolen bases. Because his stats were not off the chart fantastic, in some quarters Margot's AA experience has lowered his prospect standing some.  What these people are forgetting is Margot played the entire 2015 season at age 20.  Manuel was the sixth youngest player to appear in an Eastern League game this year (in fact with a birthdate of 9-28-94, Margot became the first player to play for the Sea Dogs, who was born after the Dogs franchise began). Margot, on September 6, also became the first Sea Dogs player to hit for the cycle at Hadlock Field.

One thing is for sure, no matter how someone rated Margot, he is the most attractive and available trade chip Boston may have.  Margot is an outstanding defensive center fielder, and Boston seems to be set there with both Mookie Betts and Jackie Bradley, Jr..  And then coming along behind him is the 2015 first round draftee, Andrew Benintendi.  All of this makes Margot expendable. Earlier this month while reading a baseball chat, the question was posed what kind of player(pitcher) could Boston get for a package of Margot and Devers, and the answer was anyone you could possibility want could be had for those two.  It will be a major upset, if Manuel Margot is not traded this winter, and would be equally surprising if he does not go on to a fine major league career.

5. Anderson Espinoza, RHP Greenville {9} Another push up the rankings for the 17 year old wonder kid.  Greenville was his final stop of the year, but it was just one start in the final weekend of the season.  But this was after Espinoza, blew through the DSL and GCL.  Red Sox officials while speaking off the record have called Espinoza their best pitching prospect "in decades".  Scouts from other teams all over baseball compare him to Pedro.

The right hander who hits 99-100 mph on the guns will likely return to Greenville to begin 2016.  Anderson has said he would like to reach the big leagues at the same age his idol did.  That would be Felix Hernandez, who reached the show at age 19.  We shall see.  Espinoza will not be traded.

6. Andrew Benintendi, OF  Greenville {6} Benintendi came out of nowhere on the scouts radar at Univ. of Arkansas with a sensational season that pushed him all the way up to the number seven overall first round pick by Boston.  Because he previously had not been highly regarded he had not attended some of the specialized workouts and summer college leagues.  So as Andrew began his pro career the big question was could his newly found power translate to the use of wooden bats.  Benintendi's stops at Lowell and Greenville seem to answer that question. At Lowell he had seven homers with an OBP of .408 and when promoted he had four more homers with an OBP of .430.  The eleven homers came in 198 pro at bats.

Because of his college background, it is very likely Benintendi plays in Portland in 2016, perhaps with a brief stop in Salem to begin the year.

7. Javier Guerra, SS Greenville {7} No one on this list boosted their stock more this year than Guerra.  The young Panamanian shortstop had played two years in the Sox system, one year each in the Dominican Summer League and the Gulf Coast League.  His combined batting average for the two years was .258 with two home runs.   But Guerra did possess a sterling defensive reputation, with shortstop being considered near or at the level of Jose Iglesias.  But at age nineteen Guerra's offense exploded, while the defense remained top notch.  His line was 15/68/.279/.329/.778 with 23 doubles and three triples for the Drive.

In at least two major trades in the last year or so, David Price from the Rays to Detroit, and the Josh Donaldson to Toronto deal, the return package has included a toolsy, young Class A type shortstop.  Guerra could be such a trade chip for Boston this winter.

If Guerra is not traded, and he won't be unless it is in a blockbuster, he should begin 2016 at Salem.  With Xander Bogaerts manning shortstop in Boston for a long time to come, there will be no need to rush Guerra.

8. Sam Travis, 1B Portland {8} If there is one prospect on this list who get to the major leagues more quickly than expected and to have an outstanding career it may well be Sam Travis.  The first baseman split 2015 between Salem and Portland with a combined line of 9/78/.307/.381/.833 with 32 doubles six triples and 19 stolen bases (albeit in 32 attempts). His AA stats were nearly the same as the overall line, .300 BA and .384 OBP at Portland.  The Red Sox selected Travis as their 2015 minor league offensive player of the year.  Sam should begin '16 at AAA, and how soon he goes up from there to Boston depends on his own AAA performance and what the Red Sox do about first base this winter.  Travis will be playing in the Arizona Fall League.

9. Brian Johnson, LHP Pawtucket {5} The slide down the list has nothing at all to do with Johnson's pitching performance: 9-6/2.53/1.10/90-32.  Because of Johnson's ability to throw so many quality strikes, he was called up to Boston in July and made a single start and seemingly was ready to get a chance to audition in the big leagues.  But he was mysteriously optioned back after that one start, and soon was pulled from a AAA start, and it was announced he had some elbow stiffness.  He had continued a workout program in Fort Myers, but in late September the Sox announced Johnson was being shut down and would be re-evaluated on October 1st.  All the ominous signs of an impending Tommy John surgery are there.  If that turns out to be true, Johnson will miss all of 2016 and depending on how soon a diagnosis is made, early 2017 could be in jeopardy too.

10. Travis Shaw, 1B-3B Boston  {14}  In what may be a first on our rankings, Shaw is a player shooting up the list based on on his major league output.  After yo-yoing between AAA and Boston earlier, Shaw finally came up to Boston in late July and grabbed the regular first base job with his power bat.  For the last month or so, interim manager Torey Lovullo has hit Shaw fifth, behind Big Papi, and he has played first neary every game.  His MLB line with about a week to go in 2015: 11/30/.275/.340/.837 with ten doubles.  Is Shaw a flash in the pan or a late bloomer?  He was never considered a middle of the order power hitting prospect, but he has at least played his way into the discussion as a regular in Boston for 2016.

11. Michael Kopech, RHP  Greenville {10} Kopech's 2015 at Greenville was limited to 65 innings due to a fifty game suspension for use of a banned substance.  In those 65 innings his ERA was 2.63.  The Texan fireballer will make up for some of the lost innings this fall in instructional league.  Also, due to the limited innings, Kopech may likely begin '16 back at Greenville.  But a quick call up to Salem could be forthcoming if he repeats his '15 performance for the Drive.

12. Deven Marrero, SS Boston {13}  Marrero missed a lot of AAA playing time this year due to spending several weeks in Boston as a little used back up infielder.  Marrero hit .256 for Pawtucket, and his question remains the same: can he hit enough to be a big league regular? Marrero has outstanding defensive skills, and they have shown in his time in Boston as well.  As with Javier Guerra, the path to shortstop in Boston is fully blocked by Xander Bogaerts.  Deven could stick with Boston as the utility infielder or go back to AAA for more seasoning.  If another big league club out there believes in Marrero's bat, he could be a trade chip.  A year ago, Marrero had an outstanding Arizona Fall League, including with the bat.  The best guess here is Marrero is traded this winter.

13. Michael Chavis, 3B Greenville {11} One of the two 2014 first round picks (along with Kopech), Chavis fulfilled his reputation at draft time last year as a potential power bat.  Chavis hit 16 home runs for Greenville, the top total on the loaded Drive team.  But he only hit .223, with an OBP of .277. But like so many of the Drive players, Chavis was a teenager (turning 20 on August 11), so the power at that age is encouraging.  Greenville had somewhat of a logjam of top infield prospects all season, so Chavis' 2016 assignment may depend on where some of the others are sent.  A return to the Drive to begin '16 with a mid season call up to Salem seems to be a likely scenario.

14. Trey Ball, LHP Salem {12} The 2013 first round draftee appeared to be on his way to mirroring 2014 around July.  In '14 at Greenville, Ball struggled early but his second half of the season was much better.  After a slow start to '15 Ball had some outstanding mid year starts.  But over the last month or so he continued to have up and down starts.  His overall line was 9-13/4.73/1.46/77-60.  Numbers that are not good enough, especially the poor K to BB ratio.  The good news is Ball made 25 starts for 129 innings at high A.  Coupled with the 22 starts for 100 IP in '14 at Greenville, Ball should be ready to begin 2016 at Hadlock Field. But next year will be a very pivotal year for the number seven overall pick in '13.

15. Ty Buttrey , RHP Salem {15} After a blazing April in a return to Greenville, Buttrey was quickly promoted to Salem where he made 21 starts and put up a solid line of 8-10/4.20/1.40/81-45.   If you factor in his starts for Greenville his ERA drops to 3.92 and Buttrey finished third in the entire Sox system in strikeouts with 103.  Buttrey also is looking at beginning '16 for Portland.

16. Teddy Stankiewicz, RHP Salem {22} Along with Ball and Buttrey, Stankiewicz made up the front of the Salem rotation.  Stankiewicz made 25 starts for a line of: 5-11/4.01/1.28/77-32.  All three Salem starters should make up the top of the Portland rotation in 2016, unless.  Any one or two of these three Salem starters could be added to a trade package to acquire pitching help at the big league level.  If the Sox hope a swing a big deal for a pitcher and not give up the young stars all ready in Boston ( Betts, Bogaerts, Swihart, etc.) one way to do that would be to make up a package of four or five names on this list.

17. Nick Longhi, 1B Greenville {17} Longhi sometimes gets lost among all of the big name first round and international signee star prospects he played with for the Drive.  But like so much of his team, Longhi, a 2013 draftee, was a teenager for almost all of the season, turning 20 on August 16.  But his line more than held his own:7/62/.281/.338.741 with 27 doubles and three triples.  Longhi is in the same boat as Chavis, his 2016 assignment will depend on how the loaded Drive team is dispersed.  Unless Devers or Chavis are moved to first base at Salem (unlikely this early in their careers), Longhi may well start the new season at Salem.

18. Wendell Rijo, 2B Salem {20} Like so many of the Greenville Drive stars, Rijo played nearly this entire season as a teenager (turned 20 on Sept. 4).  But the difference is Rijo played the entire season at Salem, an entire level above Greenville. Rijo continued to show some pop for a middle infielder again, 6/47/.260/.324/.705 with 27 doubles.  Wendell seems to be on pace to begin next year at Portland as a 20 year old.

19. Pat Light, RHP Pawtucket {16}  This flame thrower was converted to the bullpen in 2015 and sent to Portland, where he shined with 2.43 ERA and a 32-11 K to BB ratio.  But after being promoted to AAA, Light struggled:2-4/5.18/1.73/35-26.  Light, who will turn 25 next March, is still young enough and certainly throws hard enough( in the high 90's) to still be of help to the 2016 Red Sox bullpen.  Boston's pen needs to be rebuilt nearly in its entirety, and not to start the campaign but before 2016 is over, Light could help in that process.

20. Mauricio Dubon, 2B After a quick start to his season in Greenville Dubon was promoted to Salem. This move was also made to alleviate the overcrowded Drive infield.  At Greenville Dubon hit .301 with four homers.  Salem's numbers regressed some: 1/18/.274/.343/.668.  Dubon and Rijo could both head to Hadlock next April, or they may be in competition for one spot, with the loser staying in Salem.

21, Garin Cecchini, LF-3B-1B  Now matter how you cut it the top ten prospect of recent years had a terrible 2015.  Ever since Cecchini was drafted out of high school in the fourth round of the 2010, he had the reputation of a pure hitter.  His offensive game collapsed in his second AAA season in 117 games for Pawtucket: 7/28/.213/.286/.583 with only fourteen doubles.  Other than a one day cameo, Cecchini was not recalled to Boston, and as a corner infielder/left fielder he has been surpassed by Travis Shaw.  Cecchini has likely hit a dead end in the Boston organization and a change of scenery trade would benefit his career.

22. Logan Allen, LHP Lowell  {28}  With the changes in the last CBA to the amateur draft, it is now much harder to draft first round type talent later in the draft and pay them first round cash.  But the Red Sox may have pulled this off with Logan Allen.  The 18 year old lefty from North Carolina slid out of the first round or two, due to questions of signability.  Boston grabbed him in the eighth round and paid him a $725,000 bonus.  Allen joined the GCL Red Sox and helped lead them to a league championship.  Allen pitched seven games and twenty innings for a line of:0-0/0.90/0.65/24-1.  That is 24 Ks in 20 innings while issuing one walk.  Allen moved up to Lowell to pitch one game after the GCL season.  Allen should begin 2016 in Greenville.

23. Noe Ramirez , RHP Boston {NR} Several relievers have moved up and down and on and off this list in 2015.  One who flew under the radar until he was called to Boston is Noe Ramirez.  Noe was converted to strictly the bullpen in 2013, his second season in the Sox system.  In 2013 and 2014 his ERA was in the 2.00"s, and he continued that in 2015 for the Paw Sox with a 2.32 ERA in 30 games, with 38 -18 K/BB.  He spent a couple of stretches in Boston and put up a line of: 0-1/4.38/1.19/13-6, and in some his more recent outings has appeared to be getting more and more attuned to pitching in the big leagues.  As Dave Dombrowski looks to build a new bullpen, Ramirez has a chance to contribute.

24. Marco Hernandez, SS Pawtucket {23} The player received from the Cubs last winter as the player to be named later for Felix Doubront.  Marco had the best offensive season of any player who began the year in Portland: 5/31/.326/.349/.832.  After being promoted to AAA after the Eastern League All Star Game, Hernandez continued his strong season: 4/22/.271/.300/.709.  If the Red Sox should include Brock Holt in a winter deal and open up a utility spot, Hernandez could be in the mix for that job.  More likely, Marco returns to Pawtucket to begin 2016.

25. Luis Alexander Basabe, OF Lowell {27} The Venezuelan teenager had a very solid campaign for Lowell: 7/23/.243/.340/.741.  His seven home runs tied Basabe for the team lead with Andrew Benintendi.  Basabe was chosen in a post season poll as the sixth best prospect in the New York-Penn League.

26. Williams Jerez, LHP  Portland {26}  The lefty reliever, who is a converted outfielder pitched for three Sox affiliates in 2015: Greenville, Salem, and Portland. His combined line for the three stops was:5-3/2.54/1.34/86-31 with four saves.  The three year old lefty can touch 95 but usually sits in the low 90's.  Jerez, because of his time spent as an outfielder, will need to be put on the 40 man roster this winter.  As a possible lefty in the Boston bullpen, maybe as soon as mid-2016, it is very likely he is protected.  The Red Sox named Jerez as their 2015 minor league pitcher of the year.

27.Yoan Aybar, OF  GCL Red Sox  {24}  The 18 year old Dominican outfielder played his first year stateside, after debuting in 2014 in the DSL.  As a member of the GCL champs, Aybar compiled a line of: 0/16/.268/.298.635.  Depending on his spring performance Aybar could move up to Greenville, but a more likely scenario is remaining in extended spring training until Lowell opens in June.

28. Austin Rei, C [21} Lowell The third round pick this June from the Univ. of Washington played his first pro ball in Lowell.  His numbers suggest a rough adjustment to hitting versus pro pitchers in his debut: 2/12/.179/.285/.579.  There was mixed opinions on Rei's defensive season for Lowell, although he came out of college with a strong defensive reputation.  Despite the poor offensive numbers, with his big college program pedigree,  Rei is likely to move onto Greenville to begin 2016.

29. Carlos Asauje, 2B Portland  {25}  Asauje spent the entire season in Portland amassing 495 at bats more than any other Sea Dog. His line was: 8/61/.251/.334/.708.  Asauje lead the Dogs in RBI and was second in homers to Keury De La Cruz.  Despite playing nearly exclusively at second, Asuaje's shot at a big league career still seems to be as an utility player.  If he can crack the Paw Sox lineup in 2016, this would buttress those big league hopes.

30.  Josh Ockimey, 1B  Lowell {NR}  The big lefty slugger was drafted in the fifth round of the 2014 draft out of a Philadelphia area high school.  At the time the draft experts felt the Boston had reached higher than Ockimey was rated.  But Boston reportedly was taken with his power potential, a short commodity in today's game.  Ockimey hit .188 in the GCL in 2014, and was assigned to Lowell this year. In 199 at bats for Lowell, Ockimey hit: 4/38/.266/.349/.771.  Josh lead the Spinners in RBI and was third in home runs.  Ockimey who will turn 20 in October, is likely ticketed for Greenville next season.


A handful of names that adorned our monthly list earlier this year just missed the cut for the top 30.  They are listed here (along with two new names at the end):

31. Jonathan Aro, RHP-  he has likely failed an audition for '16 Boston bullpen
32. Bryce Brentz, OF- Bryce needs two things: good health and a trade to have a MLB career
33. Edwin Escobar, LHP-'15 was a lost season due to arm injury
34. Heath Hembree, RHP-  another arm who is likely is out of 2016 picture
35. Simon Mercedes, RHP- began '15 even with Pat Light, now lags far behind
36. Sean Coyle, INF- if he can ever stay healthy, a middle infielder with pop could make it, somewhere
37. Henry Ramos,OF- two straight injury marred AA seasons, needs a big 2016
38. Jake Cosart, RHP '14 3rd round draftee struggled at Lowell: 2-2/5.45/1.39/27-20.
39. Tate Matheny, OF son of Mike made his pro debut at Lowell, hitting only .181 but with 20 RBI
40. Roniel Raudes, RHP- this Nicaraguan pitcher was signed in July 2014 at age 16 for a bonus of $250,000 and pitched in 2015 in the DSL going: 4-3/3.52/0.91/63-3 ( that is a 21-1 ratio).  Raudes was promoted to the GCL  where he pitched four more games:  3-0/0.90/0.95/16-6.  Raudes who can hit 95 on the gun, is likely ticketed for Lowell in 2016.

So there is our year recap of 40 of the best names in the Sox organization.  There are other younger players who contended for this list and some are sure to hit our rankings in 2016.

Next up for our lists is watching the upcoming hot stove season.  With a new sheriff in town, will Dave Dombrowski make wholesale changes to our list by trading the prospects wholesale?  I think that aspect of Dombrowski's reputation is somewhat overstated, but I would expect to see at least four names of the upper levels of this list to move on.

Before we go let us take one last look at RSM favorite son, David Chester.  His line for his campaign which was spent entirely in Portland was: 7/21/.181/.249/.551.  Chester added seven doubles in 67 games played.  Chester who will turn 27 at the end of next spring training, likely has reached the end of his time in the Red Sox system.  If that turns out to be true, good luck to the big fella in the future.

Happy Hot Stove Season to all and to all a good night.