The Red Sox haven’t even played their first spring training game, but already there are some bad vibes reverberating out of Fort Myers. There is little focus on this year’s new prize acquisitions, David Price and Craig Kimbrel. Instead, all the focus has been on last year’s two big disappointing free agent signings. They top the list of the five biggest things to watch for down in Florida with the Red Sox.
Can Hanley Ramirez handle first base?
The Red Sox couldn’t find any buyers for Hanley Ramirez in the offseason. Why not? Didn’t anyone want a player who can’t play the field and who may have chronic shoulder problems which may hinder his ability to hit? Oh yeah, and nobody wants a 32-year-old lethargic athlete who is owed $68 million over three years?
Ramirez was a disaster in left field last year. He did hit 19 HRs before the All-Star break, but hit zero after when his shoulder problems began to prop up. He also only hit .183 after the All-Star break in 109 at-bats.
The Red Sox will need Ramirez to hit. The Sox only need to worry about his fielding for one year. David Ortiz is retiring after this year and Hanley will be the DH for the final two years of his contract (if he remains with the team).
Early reports from spring training are that Ramirez is working about as hard on his fielding at first base as he did last spring on his fielding in left field. That’s not good. He even forgot his fielding glove when he first arrived at camp. Oh boy.
Will Pablo Sandoval’s weight hinder his performance in 2016?
Sandoval’s weight has been the biggest story down in Fort Myers so far. Who cares? Was Babe Ruth the perfect physical specimen? CC Sabathia was a better pitcher when he was fatter. Remember Fernando Valenzuela? Terry Forster? How about great hitters like Tony Gwynn, Kirby Puckett, John Kruk, Miguel Cabrera, and Prince Fielder? All of those guys had to battle their demons with weight.
Red Sox fans can look at their own history. Remember George Scott, Luis Tiant, and Mo Vaughn? So let’s put the weight issue aside and focus on Sandoval on the field.
Sandoval seems set on resuming his switch-hitting ways. Apparently getting only two hits in forty-one at-bats right-handed last year wasn’t enough to convince him to stay planted exclusively in the left-handed hitter’s box.
Look for Sandoval to revert to his career norms. The first year on a new team in a new city (on an opposite coast) can be hard for an athlete. Just don’t get too excited, because Sandoval’s career norms are about 14 HRs and 64 RBI per season, to go along with about a .280 batting average. Thanks, Ben.
How will the rotation shape up after David Price?
The Red Sox starting pitching was horrible last season. Their starter ERA was third worst in the American League. The Red Sox discovered the hard way that they really did need an ace, and they went out and got one in David Price. The question now is how will the remainder of the rotation shake down. Outside of the addition of Price, there is no change in the personnel vying for the remaining spots in the rotation. In fact, the Red Sox traded away their winningest pitcher, Wade Miley. It’s not a very encouraging sign going forward.
Clay Buchholz looks to be the number two starter for as long as he is healthy, which hasn’t been typically very long. The expectations are high for second-year pitcher Eduardo Rodriguez. Can he build off his solid rookie campaign (10-6, 3.85 ERA) and take the next step with the help of a mentor like David Price? Can Joe Kelly build off his strong second half of last season (6-0, 2.68 ERA in August)? And what, if anything, can be salvaged from the nearly $83 million still owed Rick Porcello over the next four seasons? Henry Owens and Brian Johnson wait in the wings.
Is Rusney as big a flop as Sandoval and Ramirez?
The clock is ticking on Rusney Castillo. The Red Sox had to have expected a little more than 7 HRs and 35 RBI out of Castillo when they signed him for $72 million in August of 2014. He is being handed a starting outfield job in 2016, but what has he really done to deserve it? All the attention is on Sandoval and Ramirez’s ill-advised signings, but Castillo has to rank right up there. At least those guys had track records. The Red Sox have Chris Young for depth, but they might need another veteran outfielder at some point, sooner rather than later. Red Sox fans may not have seen the last of Brock Holt in the outfield.
How good is Carson Smith?
The Red Sox may have gotten a steal when they dealt Wade Miley to the Seattle Mariners for 26-year-old reliever Carson Smith. Smith was closing games for a few months with the Mariners before he hit a rough patch in the dog days of summer. Right now the Red Sox bullpen formula looks like Tazawa in the seventh, Uehara in the eighth, and Kimbrel in the ninth. Don’t be surprised if Smith gets the eighth inning gig before the season is over. He is that good.