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:

1918 (lost to Boston, neither won again for a while)
1932 (the Babe Ruth called his shot series)
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:


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.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

I'd Like to Say Thank You on Behalf of the Group and Ourselves and I Hope We Passed the Audition

The prevailing wisdom upon the arrival of new Red Sox President of Baseball Operations, Dave Dombrowski, in mid August was everyone in the organization and on the field needed to prove themselves to the new boss.  Here is a look at how some of these auditions have fared so far, with just under a month to go in the 2015 season.

BBC outfield.  This term was coined by ESPN Boston's Gordon Edes (or perhaps by one of his twitter followers).  The BBC....they cover the world.  Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., and Rusney Castillo.  It took about a week and a half (or maybe less) for Dombrowski to ascertain that these three younger players should/would be the outfield for the future and the future seems to be right now.  In that week and a half Dombrowski publicly stated the Hanley Ramirez left field career was over.  Hanley is now working out daily in pre game at first base (and is currently on the DL). Will Hanley be able to play first base any better than left field?  To be determined but here are the slash lines for the three young outfielders in August:

Mookie   3/15/.314/333/.857

JBJ          5/23/.354/.429/1.163

Rusney    3/18/.338/.369/.894

As of this Labor Day weekend Sunday morning, Betts is hitting .281, Castillo .280, and in 153 plate appearances JBJ is at .293 with an OBP of .373.  Jackie is leading all of MLB in slugging average since August 9.

And then you throw in the fact that these three make up a young, athletic, talented defensive outfield as well.  Their abilities range from JBJ's in the discussion for the greatest defensive outfielder of all time to Betts' great range and speed to Castillo's arm and ability to also cover lots of ground.

There are only two questions going forward for this outfield.  First, what will be the alignment.  It seems Bradley, Jr. should be the center fielder, but right field is equally as challenging at Fenway Park, and JBJ has an outstanding throwing arm a plus in right field.  The Sox have begun to play Castillo in left in recent games, so it seems that might be his home, with the CF/RF decision between Betts and Bradley, Jr, to be decided as we go along.

The second question to be answered before anointing these three as the outfield going forward is will Dombrowski trade one of them this winter for an ace pitcher.  It is felt Dombrowski has "no attachment" to any of the young players throughout the Sox system and would trade anybody.  Dave D also has the reputation of trading kids for veterans. The Sox do need a front of the rotation pitcher, but Dombrowski has been so effusive in his praise of this trio, it is hard to picture him dealing any of them.

Joe Kelly- When Boston acquired Kelly from St. Louis a year ago at the July trade deadline, it was hoped he was the kind of young hard throwing pitcher who would blossom into an ace pitcher, a la Corey Kluber, Jake Arrietta, et al. At the end of this July this experiment seemingly had failed and Kelly had been sent to Pawtucket, and the calls rang out to put Kelly and his big fastball in the bullpen.    But as August rolled around Kelly was recalled due to injuries in the rotation.  Kelly stopped throwing his fastball on nearly every pitch, and worked in his off speed deliveries.  Kelly raced through August by winning all six of his starts. He averaged over six innings per start with an ERA of 2.68.  The last Sox hurler with a 6-0 month was Pedro in 1999, and the last Sox pitcher with a 6-0 August was Roger Clemens twenty years ago.

Kelly began September with another win, matching seven game streaks by Josh Beckett in 2007 and Curt Schilling in 2004.  Has Joe Kelly finally turned the corner?  Impossible to tell so far, but it seems unless he completely falls apart in Septmeber, Kelly has to be one of the Red Sox starters to begin 2016.

Rick Porcello- Porcello may have less reason to audition for Dombrowski than any one else here.  Porcello pitched his entire career for Dombrowski's Detroit teams before being traded to Boston last winter.  But his first two starts after coming off the DL were eye opening.  Porcello's Boston debut had been a disappointing disaster.  But in his return in late August  Porcello threw seven shutout innings for the win, and in his first September start, Rick went eight inning with 13 strikeouts, in a hard luck loss.  Porcello apparently went back to emphasizing his two seam fastball, his sinker.  Porcello, like Kelly would seemingly have a rotation spot awaiting in 2016.

Wade Miley, Eduardo Rodriguez, Henry Owens.  Miley has been the lefty in the rotation for the whole season, and had been joined at mid-season by Eduardo and more recently be Owens.  Miley has been the most consistent starter all season, he is 11-10 with an ERA of 4.43.  Miley, who pitched his first career complete game win on September 5 vs. Philadelphia, has not put up sterling numbers but solid enough for a back of the rotation guy.

Rodriguez began his MLB career with numbers matching the best beginning of anyone in a hundred years based on innings pitched, fewest hits allowed, and the most strikeouts. Since then ERod has been up and down, not unexpected for a youngster.  But Rodriguez is another player singled out by Dombrowski.  The President called Eduardo a potential number one starter in the future.

During August Henry Owens joined the club and has won a couple of starts ( including one versus Johnny Cueto and the Royals).  Command has been Owens' minor league issue so his 27 strikeouts to only 11 walks has been encouraging.

Rodriguez would seem to be a near lock for the '16 rotation along with Porcello and Kelly.  Assuming the Sox bring in the front of rotation guy needed, that would leave one spot that Miley and Owens, among others could be competing for.  Either Miley or Owens could also be part of a trade package to get that needed pitcher as well.

Blake Swihart-  With everything going on with the BBC outfield,  Joe Kelly, and Papi march to 500 home runs, the explosion in Blake Swihart's game is gone somewhat under the radar. Blake's line for August was 1/9/.373/.439.931.  That is right an OBP of .439.  His defensive game improvement is harder to quantify, but there also seems to be a positive progression there as well.  Swihart could be that big time trade chip with another young catcher, Christian Vazquez lurking while recovering from Tommy John surgery.  But again Swihart is another player Dave Dombrowski has more than once singled out as piece to build on going forward.  If Dave trades Swihart, it better be straight up for a Sonny Gray or Matt Harvey type.

Travis Shaw- Here is another player from AAA who has opened eyes wide. His August slash line was 7/16/.310/.365/.985.  This largely exceeds his minor league numbers, so there is a conception this is a small sample size fluke from Shaw.  And it may be, but two things to remember: Shaw's BA has often been low in the minors but his OBP is usually high, so the .365 is not out of line.  And despite a down 2015, Shaw hit 21 home runs in '14 between AA and AAA, and he hit 16 in 2013 for Portland.

Is Shaw the starting first sacker on Opening day 2016?  Unsure, but he is a lefty bat with some pop, who can play first and third, and has dabbled in left field.  Shaw could be a contributor in '16 as a role player as well.

Xander Bogaerts-  Xander has not done anything more since Dombrowski took over than he has all year long.  Maybe the one thing you can say about Bogaerts he continues to look more and more comfortable at the plate and especially in the field. There is no longer any doubt that Xander is a quality major league shortstop defensively.  As of Labor Day weekend Bogaerts is third in the AL in batting average, hitting around .320.  If there is one player Dave Dombrowski will NOT trade it is Bogaerts. Dombrwoski has mentioned over and over how great it is to have a young All Star caliber player in the middle of the field.

Bullpen-  More than other other facet of this team, the bullpen meeds to be rebuilt from top to bottom.  Koji Uehara, whose broken wrist ended his '15 campaign in August, will return next year but will be 41 in April.  Junichi Tazawa failed his audition as closer.  That may be to an inability to pitch the ninth, or it may be Taz is out of gas after so many games pitched: 71 games in each of '13 and '14 ( plus 13 more in the 2013 post season) and approaching that total again in '15.

Pretty much every pitcher used in the bullpen since mid August has failed their audition with the possible exception of Robbie Ross, Jr.  In August Ross pitched eleven innings with an ERA of 3.27.  Ross has pitched much better in the second half of the season.  He may get his try at closer in Koji's absence soon.  Ross is at least in the discussion to return to in 2016 along with Koji and Tazawa.

Torey Lovullo-  No decision made by Dave Dombrowski this off season will be so delicate yet so important as John Farrell's status going forward as Sox skipper.  With a new regime in place, there would be very little doubt, a managerial change would be forthcoming.  But with John Farrell battling lymphoma, will he keep his job, health permitting?

If John Farrell, for whatever reason is replaced, can Torey Lovullo get the job full time?  Normally if Farrell was fired based on the job merits, it would be very unlikely his bench coach would replace him.  But since Lovullo has stepped in as interim manager on August 14 through September 5, the Sox are 13-8.  The team seems to be playing with energy and enthusiasm.  How much credit for this goes to Torey? Lovullo has been finalist for other managing jobs ( the Twins last winter, for one). if the Sox continue playing as they have, and perhaps can push up into third place, Lovullo would have to be seriously considered.

One last thing, when the Sox look to hire a new GM under Dombrowski and if they look for a new manager, you can be sure the field of candidates for each job will include minority applicants.  MLB has a policy in place that at least one minority candidate must be at least interviewed for all openings.  John Henry and the Sox were granted an exemption to this to be able to hire Dombrowski quickly.  Furthermore, Dombrowski is actually the chairman of the baseball diversity committee.

Others-  David Ortiz has certainly cemented another year at DH, hitting 9/22/.352/.42/1.169 in August. In September Papi continues to rake and is up to 496 career home runs.  He has reached 30 bombs for the year, the ninth time in his Red Sox career, breaking the team record of 8 which he held with Ted Williams.  Ortiz is just the third MLB player in history to hit 30 or more at ages 37, 38, and 39.

Pablo Sandoval's game has noticeably improved defensively at third base. At age 29, Pablo still has a future as the Sox third sacker.

Hanley Ramirez is on the DL, but he insists he will get into some games at first base before the year is out.  This could be a very important audition, if not for the 2016 Sox, it could reshape the Sox efforts to trade Hanley this winter.

The season has four weeks to go and the auditions continue.  And then the off season and potential fire works in Boston will begin.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

August Announcements Send Tremors Through Red Sox Nation

Three stunning announcements that impact the present day Red Sox and much more importantly their future have come in the first eighteen days of August.

Two had been at least whispered about on some level, while the second of the three came out of the blue to all including the person involved.  But the timing of all three announcements were sudden and unexpected at the moment of the word breaking.

On Saturday night, August 1, the word came out that Larry Lucchino was stepping down as Red Sox President/CEO.  It was also announced that Sam Kennedy would be promoted to President on the business side only.  But no plan was formalized to replace Lucchino's voice on the baseball operations side of the equation.  Immediately there was speculation the Sox would hire a President of Baseball Ops, a format used in recent years by the Cubs (Theo), Dodgers (ex-Ray GM Andrew Friedman), D-backs (Tony LaRussa), White Sox, and Phillies.

Rumors had swirled since at least spring training if not sooner, that Lucchino was being phased out.  But the sudden Saturday night timing was still unexpected.  Did Lucchino plan this exit as he contended or was he pushed?

The second bombshell announcement landed as the Red Sox began their current home stand last Friday, August 14.  Manager John Farrell spoke in the media room, and told everyone he had been diagnosed earlier in the week with cancer-- Stage One Lymphoma.  This of course overshadows any of the other August announcements because this is a real life crisis, not a baseball related one.  Farrell informed us that his doctors are very confident in his beating the disease because it was caught early.  Farrell does have nine weeks of chemo therapy ahead of him, so consequently he will not manage again in 2015.  Bench Coach Torrey Lovullo will be the interim manager. After months of speculation about John Farrell's job security due to the impending second straight last place finish, this is now pushed to the back burner.  But the now delicate matter still will need to be addressed sometime after the season.

Last night, August 18, late in the Red Sox win over Cleveland, the next earthquake announcement hit Fenway Park.   As hinted at since the Lucchino announcement, the Red Sox did indeed hire a President of Baseball Operations, and the choose to announce it during a week night game in the middle of the NESN/WEEI Jimmy Fund Telethon.  Long time baseball exec Dave Dombrowski was their man.  Dombrowski had built winners in Montreal and Miami years ago, and had been the President of the Detroit Tigers for over a decade until a couple of weeks ago.  He will report directly to John Henry and Tom Werner and will have final say in all of baseball operations dealings. Dombrowski's hiring is effectively immediately.  Within the announcement came word that Ben Cherington declined to remain as General Manager under Dombrowski and was leaving the Red Sox after helping with a transition period.

This a bold move by a franchise that needs boldness as 2015 will be the fifth time in six seasons this team has missed the post season (granted that sixth season, 2013, was a humdinger).  Here are just a few random initial thoughts:

This is the end of the Theo Epstein Era.  Ben Cherington was in his fourth year as GM and had actually been with the Sox since 1999, longer than Theo.  But Ben and many of his men were Theo era holdovers and the expoused much of the same philosophy. Dombrowski will bring in a completely fresh set of eyes to examine this franchise and any players they may attempt to acquire from other teams. As I read today, excluding one year of interim GM Mike Port (2002) the last Sox GM not born and bred in New England was Haywood Sullivan!

Dombrowski has a well deserved rep as an excellent trader.  Unless the So decide to reverse field on signing over 30 pitchers ( and that was a John Henry policy not Ben may or may not change.) trading will be crucial in finding the needed pitching.  The type of deal the Sox need is the type of deal Dombrowski pulled off to acquire Max Scherzer, before he was MAX SCHERZER, from Arizona.

Dombrowski has a reputation of unloading his farm system to acquire veteran big leaguers.  For example he traded his top two prospects years ago to get Miguel Cabrera.  Those top rated kids were Andrew Miller and Cameron Maybin.  It is entirely possible (likely even) DD will trade one or several of the prized Sox kids.  This may be because it is his style or it may be he will evaluate the prospects entirely differently than Ben. But I strongly disagree that Dombrowski unloads the entire farm or young stars all ready on the team.  His reputation is for building successful teams, not raping farm systems for the fun of it.  I suspect DD will be very happy to have a team built around Bogaerts, Betts, E Rodriguez, Swihart/Vazquez, Bradley, Castillo, etc. But he is a fresh eye and voice, maybe he will trade Betts or Bogaerts for a Sonny Gray type.  Or maybe being a new regime with power to apply, he will deal Dustin Pedroia or some other unexpected move.

Dombowski has has a rep for not being a analytics guy, but instead an old school scouting guy.  His replacement in Detroit, Al Avila, said one of his first moves would be to beef up Detroit;s numbers department.  But Boston has this asset in place and John Henry himself made his millions by crunching numbers. I will be very surprised if Dombrowski takes this team back into the Dark Ages of baseball info usage.

Bullpen.  The major flaw of the 2015 Red Sox (and God knows there are other flaws) was a horrid bullpen.  This is the biggest worry I have about a Dombrowski administration.  His Detroit teams made the post season year after year, but every Tiger team seem to have mediocre to poor bullpens.  DD will have to find nearly an entirely new pen in Boston.  Peter Gammons tweeted last night that DD prefers hard throwing pitchers, let's hope he finds several for the 2016 Boston bullpen.

Bringing Dombrowski in now rather than October or November will be a huge help in getting ready to overhaul the Sox.  It will give the new man several weeks to evaluate the whole franchise from top to bottom.

Dombrowski's own signing will be just the beginning of major front office and staff overhaul.  First a new GM to work Dombrowski must be selected. Names like Frank Wren, former Atlanta GM, Dan O'Dowd, ex- Rockies GM, and ex-Angel Jerry DiPoto ( all ready hired last week by Boston as a "consultant") are among the rumored candidates. But I would expect nearly all of the baseball ops execs who worked around Cherington to go.  Dombrowski has been in the game for over 30 years, he will have numerous candidates to bring into his department.

And as mentioned in the Farrell section above, at the appropriate time (NOT NOW) the delicate matter of John Farrell remaining as manager will have to be addressed.  Normally everyone would fully expect a new regime to name their own manager.  But when your incumbent skipper has cancer, that complicates the issue.  And who knows maybe Dombrowski wants John Farrell as his manager.

This winter's hot stove has all ready been lit in Boston, and it was ignited by using gasoline. From the inferno hopefully a contending club will emerge for 2016.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

RSM Red Sox Top 30 Prospects- August 2015

As hard as it is to believe, August is the last full month of the minor league baseball season.  And as we again rank the top prospects as they enter that final month, we have some changes at the top of our list due to graduations and several new names in the lower ranks.

Eduardo Rodriguez, last month's Red Sox top prospect has graduated to big league rookie season status.  And although he is a dozen or so at bats shy of officially graduating, we have also bumped Rusney Castillo off our list.  It seems obvious at this point, Rusney is going to spent the rest of 2015 in Boston.

The July 31 trading deadline did not create any changes to our list, with no Sox kids being dealt away, nor were any prospects acquired by dumping Sox veterans.

Before we meet the new #1 Sox prospect and several players who have burst onto the Top 30, here is the usual housekeeping:  The team listed behind each player is their team as of July 31, and the number in { } is July's ranking.  The slash lines used are:

Hitters: HR/RBI/BA/OBP/OPS and Pitchers: W-L/ERA/WHIP/K-BB/.

Here is the Top 30 for August 2015:

1. Rafael Devers, 3B Greenville {2} Each of the players in the top 6 spots were all considered as the new top dog, but Devers edged them all out.  Although his BA for July was down to .258, Rafael continued to show the power he is known for with five home runs and sixteen RBI.  One of the home runs was the third grand slam of his pro career, on July 25.  Not only has Devers delivered at the plate at only age 18, but a number of scouts feel he has been showing better defense than expected at third.  Despite his very young age, there has been some speculation the Sox may bump Devers up to high A Salem soon.  This remains to be seen and a full year at Grenville would certainly not set Devers back at all.

2. Yoan Moncada, 2B Greenville {3} The heralded Cuban youngster has come to life in the second half of the South Atlantic League season.  His line for July was 4/13/.316/.419/.945 with six doubles, a triple and 13 stolen bases in 14 attempts. His play at second base has been less than sterling, and there is very good chance his future big league position will be elsewhere.  Moncada, too, has been rumored to be on the cusp of a promotion to Salem.  In fact, Yoan's move to Virginia is more probable than Devers.

3. Manuel Margot, OF Portland {5} Margot continues to adjust to AA, hitting only .231 in July. But in addition to an outstanding defensive game in center field, Margot's July included nine extra base hits, and seven steals.  As with Devers and Moncada, Margot is still very young, he will not turn 21 until after the season on September 28.  When the Red Sox go shopping for a young controllable ace type pitcher this winter, you can be sure some or all of these first three names will be requested by the other side of any deal.

4. Henry Owens, LHP Pawtucket {6} From the start of the AAA season through June 9, Owens had seven games in which he walked four or more batters with an ERA of 3.64.  From June 14 through July 23, Owens pitching in his regular rotation had NO games in which he walked as many as four batters.  His ERA for that stretch was 2.77.  Another illustration that Owens has seemingly tamed his command issues to some degree.  For the season he had 103 strikeouts and 56 walks( this includes the good streak in June and July) at ratio of less than two K's per walk.  But in five July starts Owens had a K/BB of 34/8, better than a 4 to 1 ratio.  On August 4th Boston recalled Owens and he made his first big league start at Yankee Stadium.  He took the loss, in large part due to the putrid Boston bullpen who followed Henry to the mound.  Owens pitched 5+ innings allowing three runs on five hits.  Owens at one point retired 12 in a row, and he struck out five and walked only one.  Owens should get an audition for the 2016 rotation for the rest of 2015.

5. Brian Johnson, LHP Pawtucket {4} Johnson has had a roller coaster ride since our last rankings. As we predicted Johnson made his major league debut in July.  On July 21 Johnson started versus the Astros in Houston.  Johnson pitched fairly well ending up giving up four runs in 4.1 innings. At the time of this start, Johnson ( partially due to the All Star Break) had not pitched in nearly two weeks, and he looked rusty.  But this seemed to be the start of Johnson' s audition, but unexpectedly after the start he was optioned back to AAA.  A week or so later John Farrell told reporters both Johnson and Owens would be recalled in a matter of days.  Johnson made a start for Pawtucket on August 2, and went only four innings and sixty pitches, and everyone assumed the brief outing was a tuneup for his recall to Boston.  But the next day, Brian went on the DL with " left elbow tightness".  He was diagnosed with ulnar nerve irritation. The Sox say it is not serious and requires only rest and rehab, and he is not done for 2015.  But any injury that mentions ulnar nerve in the pitching elbow waves red flags.

6.  Andrew Benintendi, OF Lowell {8} The number one pick in the Red Sox 2015 draft made his pro debut in July for the Spinners.  Andrew had a strong offensive start: 4/10/.229/.396/.867.  The low batting average is more than offset by the near .400 OBP.  Last year the Sox assigned high draft pick Sam Travis to Lowell and by August 1, had promoted him to Greenville.  Benintendi should be expected to follow the '14 path of Travis and join the loaded Drive team any day now.

7. Javier Guerra, SS Greenville {10} Perhaps no other player on this list has boosted his stock more than Guerra in 2015.  Known as a top flight defensive shortstop, Javier has continue to rake at the dish all season long.  His red hot line for July: 5/17/.366/.398/.953.  This is not a one month hot streak, his YTD line: 13/54/.302/.351/.844.  Guerra is another teenager, who will not turn 20 until September 25.

8. Sam Travis, 1B  Portland {13} Travis has earned the five spot jump by handling the Eastern League almost since the day of his mid season promotion from Salem.  In a 27 game stretch in July Travis hit .356.  His July OBP was .407.  Travis was drafted last year out of Indiana University with a reputation of being a complete hitter.  Nothing in pro ball has disputed that so far, and Travis could be in the Red Sox first base mix before 2016 is out.

9. Anderson Espinoza, RHP  GCL Red Sox {18}.  The young righty is another hard charger up our list.  Anderson has continued to shine in Florida after his promotion from the Dominican Summer League.  His combined line for 2015: 0-1/1.15/1.05/38-11 in 39 innings. His relative slight stature bring comparisons to Pedro, but let's give it a few years and enjoy watching his development.

10. Michael Kopech, RHP Greenville {9} First let's admire Kopech's YTD line: 4-5/2.63/1.23/70-27.  These numbers put up in 65 innings will be Kopech's final line for 2015.  On July 16 MLB suspended Kopech for 50 games for testing positive for a banned substance, Oxilofrine.  This is a stimulant often used for weight loss.  Kopech apologized for the transgression, while claiming he did not intentionally use the stimulant.  From strictly a baseball point of view, the Sox will have Kopech pitch in the Instructional League and maybe winter ball to make up for any missed innings.

11. Michael Chavis, 3B Greenville {14} Chavis line for the year: 10/39/.222/.274/.654 illustrates two points. Last year's first round draft pick is showing the power scouts felt he possessed, but there is still a adjustment to pro ball as his low BA and OBP show.

12. Trey Ball, LHP Salem {12} Ball continues to make steady, but not spectacular progress.  His line for July: 2-2/3.67/1.26/14-13 largely mirrors the YTD line: 8-8/3.69/131/59-45.  But he has pitched 102.1 innings through July and that pro experience is what is needed for the first round draftee from 2013.

13. Deven Marrero, 2B-SS Pawtucket {11}  The good news for Marrero is due to Dustin Pedroia's hamstring injury, he spent from July 1-25 in the big leagues.  The bad news is he only received five plate appearances for Boston and back at AAA he only played four games and had just fourteen at bats for July.

14. Travis Shaw, 1B-3B Boston {15}.  Shaw continued to yo yo between AAA and Boston, and on August 1st Shaw may have pushed his way into Boston's plans going forward.  Playing third base at Fenway versus the Rays, Shaw exploded for two home runs, a double and single, with 3 RBI and five runs scored. Boston did not move Mike Napoli at the deadline but that move is still expected, and when it does it will be interesting to see how many of those at bats Shaw will get.

15. Ty Buttrey, RHP Salem {17} The big righty's numbers slowed some in July with a ERA of 5.11, but his line for Salem this year is still an acceptable: 7-5/3.65/1.40/56-31.  Barring a complete collapse in August, Buttrey has regained his highly regarded prospect status in 2015.