Here are the biggest Red Sox storylines to watch for this spring.
Spring Training games are nearly here, and the defense of the 2018 World Series championship is underway. The Red Sox head into 2019 with most of the 2018 team intact. The only notable departures being Joe Kelly, Drew Pomeranz, trade-deadline acquisition Ian Kinsler, and (still unsigned) closer Craig Kimbrel.
With the full squad reporting to camp, let’s take a look at four key things to watch this spring.
Shoulder inflammation landed ace, Chris Sale, on the DL for multiple stints in the season’s second half, and was likely the deciding factor in manager Alex Cora‘s decision to start David Price on short rest in the game 5 World Series clincher over Sale. How much those DL stints were directly related to Sale’s shoulder, and how much was a disguise to keep him fresh for the postseason we may never know, but as he enters the final year of his contract, his durability will be a deciding factor in the length of what’s surely to be a mega contract for the left-handed starter.
Former MVP, Dustin Pedroia, is set to return from multiple knee surgeries, after missing nearly all of 2018. He’s in camp with limited restrictions, with an eye on Opening Day. The team will certainly be cautious with Pedroia, but a return to health for the 35 year old second baseman could be bigger than any off-season acquisition. The bullpen situation could change drastically with a return to health from Tyler Thornburg, Carson Smith, and Steven Wright. A healthy spring from Marco Hernandez could put him in the conversation for the final roster spot as a utility infielder.
The Red Sox have some some key players entering the final year of their current deals. Chris Sale and Xander Bogaerts are both slated to become unrestricted free agents, and J.D. Martinez can exercise an opt-out clause in his contract and hit the open market as well. Sale has recently said that he is open to working out an extension, and Bogaerts and Martinez have both publicly expressed their desire to stay in Boston. It’s rare to see a deal worked out once the regular season begins, so keep an eye on contract extension talks this spring.
The Farm System:
Graduations and trades have thinned the farm system significantly. The Red Sox come into 2019 with a consensus bottom farm system in all of baseball, failing to land a single player on the Baseball America Top 100, and only Michael Chavis (#79) on the MLB Pipeline Top 100. Spring Training allows for a decent amount of at-bats and innings pitched for minor league players to showcase their talents to the team, media and fans. Ryan Brasier put himself on the radar last spring, and ultimately found himself pitching in high leverage situations in the postseason for the Big League club. Look for players like Chavis, Bobby Dalbec, Josh Ockimey, Travis Lakins, Durbin Feltman, and Mike Shawaryn to see plenty of playing time this spring with the hopes of a Major League call up at some point in 2019.
Headed into the 2018 postseason, the Boston bullpen was a glaring weakness on a team that won 108 regular season games. Inconsistency and health concerns led many major media outlets and gambling sites to pick against the Sox to win the World Series (and in many cases, the American League). The perfect storm of health, talent, and fortitude made the relief unit arguably the teams biggest strength as it took home the 2018 crown. The 2019 bullpen has plenty of question marks. Most notably, who’s the closer?
The Red Sox chose not to re-sign 7x All-Star Craig Kimbrel (yet), and allowed his potential successor, Joe Kelly, to sign with the Dodgers. In-house options Matt Barnes and Ryan Brasier are potential options, and former Mets’ closer Jenrry Mejia was signed to a minor league deal after two full seasons away from the game.
Tyler Thornburg could be a consideration if he is finally healthy. There are also some veteran options still available on the free agent market in A.J. Ramos, Bud Norris, Ryan Madson, and Tony Sipp, that could come relatively inexpensive as we get deeper into the spring. While a reunion with Kimbrel seems unlikely, the need for an established closer, combined with his lack of teams to play for make the fit intriguing if the two sides can find a financial solution.
There will be plenty of other storylines, but Red Sox baseball is nearly back and that should excite the majority of Red Sox Nation.