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.

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