Could Boston be Weak in 2014 (no really this time)

So I know that after you read the title of this article most of you were likely thinking “who does this scientist think he is?” and or “are his parents cousins?” Last offseason the popular view was that Boston and New York were in a vulnerable position paving the way for the newly formed Super Jays to romp to a division title and then the World Series.

Now clearly anybody except the kids in Africa with the Cardinals 2013 World Series Champions shirts can tell you that things turned out the exact opposite way. The Yankees did about as well as any team with Vernon Wells could be expected to do, as the Jays finished at the bottom of the division while the “down and out” Red Sox ended up popping bottles at the end of the post season.

Jacoby Ellsbury will join the division rival Yankees in 2014 trading in his beard for millions and millions of dollars. Credit: Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

So far it appears that the Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is smartly letting some of the pieces of last years championship roster get paid elsewhere in the league. Avoiding the common pitfall of trying to “keep the gang together” after a championship (see Aubrey Huff after 2010). Like last offseason short term deals for older players seem to be the Red Sox MO as they wait for their prospects to arrive at the big league level.

While completely writing them off for these deals like many did last year is obviously foolish, it’s not likely that the Red Sox will be able to simply find the value that departing players provided. And although A.J. Pierzynski may come fairly close to matching what they lost in Jarrod Saltalamacchia, the 5.8 WAR provided by Jacoby Ellsbury will be a little harder to replace.

Jackie Bradley may end up being the long term solution for the club they may have some short term lapses in production which could prove advantageous for Toronto in 2014. Even at catcher if Pierzynski ends up flopping this year three of the Sox top 20 prospects are catchers so it’s likely to only be a brief respite for the Jays.

As I mentioned earlier it may be simply foolhearted homerism to think that Red Sox will take a step backwards, but David Ortiz is 38 and his bat speed has to go at some point, and Xander Bogaerts is likely to experience some sort of growing pains. But perhaps where the biggest drop off may be will as previously mentioned in centre field. Currently MLB.com lists Shane Victorino as the extent of the Sox depth chart for the position. Victorino had a puzzling 2013 the first year of his three year $39 million deal with the Sox. Overall he did bounce back from his career low WRC of 93 from 2012 putting up a 119 which came close to his career high 132 from 2011. That fact alone however paints an incomplete picture of last season. Victorino saw his base on ball percentages and K rates take a turn for negative town, and that was before he stopped switch hitting and batted from the right side only due to injury. But even with his walk rate nearly cut in half from his ugly 2012 and striking out two percent more his triple slash line of .294/.351/.451 was remarkably better than 2012. Part of this may be due to a career high BABIP of .321 but he also did see an uptick in his power numbers after he switched to right side only batting.

After losing some key members of the roster John Farrel’s magic powers will be put to the test in 2014 Credit: Eileen Blass-USA TODAY Sports

This leaves lots of questions for Victorino for 2014, will the team force him to switch only as a righty or will he go back to switch hitting, was the 2013 a BABIP fuelled outlier which will see Victorino come crashing back down to earth for 2014, or can the peripherals be ignored and this be the future production to expect from Victorino. Either way there is likely to be a defensive drop off in the outfield with the Sox losing Ellsbury and moving Victorino to second, but with their mix of young players and older players with potential question marks they could be in for a rather grim outlook offensively as well.  But perhaps thats where the magical powers of John Farrell come into play?

Obviously Boston is still a formidable opponent and Ellsbury is still within the division after pulling a Johnny Damon 2.0 to the tune of $153 million. Boston so far has played it smart this off season not simply throwing money around for the sake of spending, and overall the club looks like its back on track to be perennial contenders. Still sooner or later the years have to start catching up with either Boston or New York (provided they don’t fix themselves with the savings from Robinson Cano signing with Seattle.)

Also one key step in this scenario unfolding the way I have dreamed it up is that all the Jays players that are huge question marks going into 2014 will of course either live up too or exceed or greatest expectations. So 23 wins from Brandon Morrow, and Kyle Drabek will throw pitches that people not named J.P. Arencibia would swing at. I know it’s fairly sad that it’s back to the days of thinking maybe everything will line up just perfectly and the Jays can make a run at things but a man has to dream right… right?

Topics: Toronto Blue Jays

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  • JaysHopeful

    I’ve always felt that Victorino was one of those “intangibles” kind of players. He gets a little older, a little craftier, a little less focussed on his stats. You need a guy to get on base? He’s the guy who takes the hbp, fakes the pain, and then steals second on the next pitch. You move him to right field? He slams into the all a little less, goes for the assist a bit more. As CF playing RF, he still earns the gold glove.

    He’s the epitome of the grizzled veteran; he’s smart, he’s stubborn, he’s got clutch, he loves to play, and he never quits. If you have a bunch of young guys coming up and they have the precedent, example, and expectation of Pedroia and Victorino – even Pierzynski now too – you are there to compete, and going to have to bust your butt to keep up.

    AL East next year is going to be a tougher division than last year by the looks of it. Blue Jays are going to have to get grizzled if they’re going to step it up. I think they’re going to have to get mean, and I wonder if their veterans are capable of doing so.

  • brad

    I really wonder about Boston. They sort of reminded me of the first moneyball A’s last year. Not in the fact that they spent no money(because that wasn’t true at all) but that it seemed to be smoke and mirrors all season….. and they won anyways. I think a lot of their success was based on character and without Napoli and Salty next year, a lot of that is gone. Pierzynski is an ok character guy but he’s gotta be winding down now….as a 37 year old catcher and all. Boston has lost 3 of their best 5 hitters and leaders…. hard to imagine their offense not getting drastically worse(especially if Papi stops defying age at some point). The off-season is still young though. Guess we’ll have to wait and see

    *edit: sox sign Napoli…. behind on my news. Slightly less dire for Boston next year…. still reasonable troubles with age, character and talent

  • Justin Jay

    Here’s the thing about Victorino. Farrell wants to keep him in RF and the Red Sox brass wants him to continue to be a right-side only hitter. It’s his natural side anyway, as he only started becoming a switch hitter after he went Pro. It won’t matter, because he’s staying in RF.

    Jackie Bradley is getting dibs on CF. He’s got a better arm than Ellsbury (much better), but less speed, good glove. He also has better discipline at the plate, but not by much. His walk rate is only slightly better and if he can start hitting the ball, the only thing will Sox will miss from CF is the speed on the basepath and some range in the OF.

    I’m with ya on Ortiz. His bat speed did slow down once, but “eye-drops” and a diet supposedly helped fix that. At 38 though, you’re right, he’s due to fall off. Another guy that may be due to fall off is Napoli. Even though they just re-signed him, he’s got a hip issue that concerns the team.

    The scary part is the incredible depth they have in their rotation. The high powered arms coming up to Pawtucket should more than suffice if Buchholz, Peavy, or Lackey break down (1st 2 being highly likely to break down.)

    You may be right, because I thought the Sux played over their heads a bit. At the same time, they could make a similar run again.

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