If I’m a Red Sox fan going into 2014, I’m feeling pretty good about life. Three titles in ten years, with a different core of players each time? That’s the stuff teams dream about. Boston will look to make it four titles in 11 years in 2014, but there are still some things that need to be answered before they begin their march to October.
Does A.J. Pierzynski have anything left in the tank?
When Boston signed Pierzynski to a one-year, $8.25 million contract, there were some eyebrows raised. After all, Pierzynski spent the 2013 season with the Rangers, and despite their favorable home park, the 37-year old hit just .272/.297/.425 with 17 homers. Despite the decent home run output, Pierzynski’s overall production doesn’t seem A) like it would be a fit in Boston, and B) like it would be worth $8.25 million.
But with several catching prospects coming down the line, including the highly-touted duo of Christian Vazquez and Blake Swihart, all the Red Sox needed was a stopgap, and that’s exactly what Pierzynski is. But if he struggles with the stick like he has in prior seasons, will the Red Sox feel rushed at the trade deadline to search for an upgrade over their veteran? I understand why the Sox didn’t bring back Jarrod Saltlalamacchia, but giving Pierzynski more money than Salty will make this year just doesn’t seem like the best use of Boston’s vast resources.
Is Xander Bogaerts ready for The Show?
Unlike last year, when Jackie Bradley Jr. was given the Opening Day job in center field based on a strong spring, Bogaerts looks like he’ll be ready to roll right from the get go in Boston thanks to a strong September audition that saw him get placed on the Postseason roster for the Red Sox.
Bogaerts is the top prospect in all of baseball, a 21-year old dynamo at shortstop that hit .298/.388/.477 with 15 homers between AA and AAA a year ago. He’s done nothing but hit throughout his minor league career, and all eyes will be on him heading into the 2014 season.
But what if Bogaerts struggles out of the gate in Boston this year? Will the Red Sox have him on a short leash, or will they give him all the time he needs? Furthermore, what *should* they do – this is a team built to win again in 2014, and trotting out a sub-replacement level player at shortstop may not be in their best interests. It wasn’t much of an issue with Bradley last year, considering the team already had four viable, veteran outfielders in addition to him, but there is no such depth in the infield this year.
There may be no more scrutinized player in Boston this year than Bogaerts.
Can Koji Uehara do the impossible once again?
Uehara’s 2013 was a thing of beauty. He struck out 101 batters in 74 1/3 innings, and walked just nine. In the second half of the season, he gave up just one run in 32 innings, striking out 41 and walking one measly hitter – that’s good for an .087/.095/.136 line, by the way. By any measure you want to use, Uehara’s 2013 was a dream.
Now, the big question – can he do it again? It’s tough for someone to repeat such a dominant performance, but if anyone can, it’s Uehara. Since the Orioles made Uehara a reliever in 2010, he has been lights out when healthy. That year, he struck out 55 and walked five in 44 innings. In 2011, a year he spent split between the Orioles and Rangers, Uehara punched out 85 and walked nine in 65 innings. Uehara missed a substantial bit of time in 2012, but still managed to strike out 43 and walk just three in 36 innings.
The guy is incredible, and while that second half may never be replicated, it wouldn’t exactly be a stretch if Uehara struck out ten times as many hitters as he walked yet again this season. After all, in his four years as a reliever, he’s struck out 284 and walked only 26.