Has GM Ben Cherington Assembled A Team Capable Of A Repeat?
Earlier in the off-season I read Phil Jackson’s newest memoir, Eleven Rings, where he said
“The mistake that championship teams often make is to try to repeat their winning formula. But that rarely works because by the time the next season starts, your opponents have studied all the videos and figured out how to counter every move you made. The key to sustained success is to keep growing as a team. Winning is about moving into the unknown and creating something new.”
Now obviously, studying all the ‘moves’ in basketball is a lot different than baseball, though essentially the truth in this statement applies especially the creating something new aspect. Trying to repeat what Boston has done by resigning their free-agents and keeping the same roster intact grows a little mundane (not to mention expensive), where the same players may grow a bit apathetic together. Trying to repeat yet another championship for the city, as Jackson suggests, means bringing in remarkably new and enthusiastic talent who crave to win.
So what has Boston done exactly to create something new in 2014?
Gone are the Ellsbury’s, Saltalamacchia’s, and Drew’s (at this point in time at least) whom the Red Sox let walk. In is A.J. Pierzynski on a one year deal so the Sox can bide their time for Christian Vazquez and eventually for Blake Swihart. In are the young kids, Jackie Bradley Jr. and Xander Bogaerts, two top prospects, to take over center field and shortstop, respectively.
One player GM Ben Cherington did decide to bring back, however, was Mike Napoli on a two year deal. Why, one might ask, was this important? First off, he represents a powerful one-two punch behind David Ortiz. As far as power bats go, those two hitters combined hit 53 home runs last year, only trailing that of Chris Davis & Adam Jones (86), Edwin Encarnacion & Jose Bautista (66), and Yoenis Cespedes & Brandon Moss (56). Other formidable duos are no longer together (e.g. Miguel Cabrera & Prince Fielder) meaning that Boston did well to secure that power threat in the middle of their line up. Secondly, Napoli resigned on a shorter term deal, which still provides the team with financial flexibility, and third, he started the whole beard endemic which created a thing that brought the team together.
The rotation will continue to be exceptionally solid with Jake Peavy in the fold for the entire year along with Felix Doubront and Ryan Dempster fighting it out for the fifth spot. That and talented youngsters like Brandon Workman and Allen Webster create formidable depth. Furthermore, Boston could have replacements in waiting in highly rated prospect Henry Owens along with Matt Barnes and Anthony Ranaudo should injuries occur or if Jon Lester, Peavy or Dempster leave as free agents after this coming season.
Cherington fortified the bullpen with the astute signing of Edward Mujica who should shut down opponents and hold 8th inning leads. The unheralded trade for Burke Badenhop adds reliably consistent results in middle relief, and one of Dempster or Doubront adds an impressive long man to the pen. Craig Breslow together with Andrew Miller, back from foot surgery, should continue with their dominance from the left side of the mound.
Still, there’s the question of whether they’ll bring back Drew or not. Fangraphs’ Steamer projections for Bogaerts amounts to .261/.325/.413 for a 2.8 WAR. Now Drew was pretty spectacular in 2013 producing 3.4 WAR, however, out of his seven and a half years as an MLB player, he’s only produced greater than 3 WAR twice. In 2014, he’s projected to hit .232/.314/.378 for 2.0 WAR so clearly Bogaerts is expected to exceed the 2014 version of Drew. What the Red Sox have to decide is if the aggregate of Bogaerts and Drew is better than the aggregate of Bogaerts and Will Middlebrooks. Middlebrooks produced a significant batting line in his 2012 rookie year, but 2013 left much to be desired.
So which player will show up this year? The projections are somewhere in between for Middlebrooks resulting in a .261/.308/.463 line and 2.3 WAR. If Drew is interested in another one year deal, then Boston may be inclined to bring him back to provide Middlebrooks some more development time. Otherwise, Boston may very well be inclined to proceed with an ever-increasing youth movement with three players in their starting lineup under the age of 26.
And that’s not all. Along with the aforementioned prospects, there’s Garin Cecchini who could be ready by mid 2015 to take over a corner infielder position. Imagine if Cherington can promote a top prospect every year, what that would mean in terms for payroll flexibility for the big league club and overall organizational success? That, to me, reveals much more than simply trying to repeat in 2014; it means being competitive far out into the future as well.
For what it’s worth, Vegas’ odds of Boston winning the World Series this year is set at 12/1 which is tied with the Yankees and is only surpassed by the Cardinals (9/1), Nationals (9/1), Tigers (7/1) and Dodgers (11/2). So really, they’re one of the favourites again to win it. Boston, as a team, is also expected to produce the highest WAR this year in all of MLB according to Fangraphs.
Use of WAR and Steamer projections are from Fangraphs.