“65 Mustangs”: They Are… The Most Interesting Team in the AL East (2015 Boston Red Sox Preview)
My 2015 AL East coverage will look at the hottest burning questions for each team heading into the 2015 MLB season & the correlated fantasy season for all five teams. With a few exceptions, I believe the skill set that makes a player relevant in real baseball nearly always translates to the fantasy game one way or another. For the most part, my colleagues have started their coverage with each division’s predicted last place team, but I’m kicking things off with the division’s most interesting team in my eyes, which just so happens to be last year’s bottom feeder, the Boston Red Sox.
What the heck happened to the Red Sox in 2014? No, I don’t see them as a last place team again, but I also can’t write them in for a playoff spot after last season either. This team has a lot to prove. They have a good balance of youth and experience with most of the major offensive pieces still in place from the last World Series winner. Most of that starting rotation is gone now though and the bullpen mainstays are two years older. Perhaps the two biggest questions are how to fit all the pieces together on offense and who will lead this pitching staff. To do so, first let me debunk a few conspiracy theories that have been floating around the last few months.
Myth 1 : Jon Lester’s departure was a foregone conclusion, thus the trade to the A’s. Lester’s loyalty to Theo runs deeper than any of us realize and the Sox knew that.
Myth 2 : The Sox were negotiating with both Panda & Hanley at the same time hoping to get one of them to play 3B. When both agreed to sign, they said screw it and decided to sign both.
There. Now we know what probably happened so it will be easier to dissect this season’s version of the Sox without those two questions dogging us.
DH & 2B: There is no question who is manning these two spots in the order (likely 2nd & 4th). Dustin Pedroia & Papi Ortiz are Boston icons. Peds will turn 32 just after the AS Break, and, while he is still one of the leaders of the team, it is doubtful he’ll again be the fantasy force we’ve become accustomed to. He has not reached double digit HR nor 20 SB in three years, and he posted career lows in nearly every offensive category in 2014. Sure, he missed about 25 or 30 games to injury which explains some of that regression, but the nagging injuries come along with getting older as well. I think he’ll be like Chase Utley now. A dependable middle infielder that will not lead your team in any categories but won’t hurt you either. He’ll be drafted too soon for that though in many leagues. Big Papi is still a power-hitting machine, good for 30 HR, 100 RBI and a good BA. He has shown some peripheral regression the last few seasons, and, at 39, the vultures are circling. If you are drafting Ortiz hoping for the 40-50 HR and 140 RBI from his prime seasons, you’re sure to be disappointed. But how many players hit 30/100 in 2014? I can count them on two hands. Ortiz can still have value if you’re patient enough not to overspend. I’d love to get him in the 5th round but I doubt he lasts that far.
First Base: Between Mike Napoli & Allen Craig, we should see one or the other at 1B most nights, and they can each fill in at DH when Papi needs a day off. Craig’s versatility should land him a few more at-bats since he can play the outfield as well. My problem with these two guys is that I don’t know how much they will play nor what kind of production I’m going to get. Both hit right handed and neither is the offensive force he was recently rumored to be. I probably won’t own them as I don’t even know where to draft them and I don’t normally roster bench hitters on my teams. I think these two will be good for the Sox, not so much for fantasy.
Third Base, Shortstop, Left Field: Hanley has them all covered, or so Sox fans wish. Xander Bogaerts has been the SS of the future for a while now and signing Sandoval moves him back there. I’m anxious to see a Sox Spring Training game so I can see Ramirez in LF for myself. I’m not fully convinced he can play the outfield yet which puts a serious dent in the draft positions of all three of them on my draft board. Hanley is still in his prime and still a good hitter compared to the bulk of the SS crop. Luckily, he still qualifies there in most formats for one more season. Joel Sherman of the New York Post says that putting Hanley in LF is the biggest gamble by any team in 2015. Fantasy wise, I’ll draft Hanley no matter where he plays because of that SS-eligibility. I don’t think Panda gives enough offense to justify where he will go in drafts (Compare his stats to Juan Uribe in his prime. Other than BA, it is a dead heat.) Bogaerts and Yoan Moncada would be great in Dynasty or other long term keeper leagues but both may be too young to help you win now. Moncada, a 19 year old infielder being compared to Robinson Cano and Chase Utley, will likely need some seasoning in the minors but then what? That makes for a crowded situation should he advance quickly. Stay tuned for this mess to unfold. And don’t forget about Brock Holt, another versatile player who can cover all these positions as well, although I don’t see him as more than a utility player.
Center & Right Field: Rusney Castillo is the new toy here and Shane Victorino has the big contract. But there is also Craig, Daniel Nava, Jackie Bradley Jr, and, perhaps the best of the bunch, Mookie Betts. No one should draft Nava or Bradley as they will only get meaningful at-bats if catastrophe strikes. Castillo is going to be 28 before the 2015 season is over and has an oblique strain. He could start in the minors, temporarily unclogging CF for Betts, who can also play 2B. I love Mookie. He gets on base (over .400 in minors), he steals (86 in last two seasons) and he can hit (well over .300 in minors and nearly .300 in Boston in 2014) He even sports some Dexter Fowler-type power. I hope they find a spot for him, and I will be drafting him even as a flyer. As is always the case in MLB, the incumbent veteran will be given the job out of Spring Training out of respect and contract status, so expect Shane Victorino in RF on Opening Day. He has become a player who is better in the real game than the fantasy game. He is also 34 years old and injury prone with a skill set that does not age well for fantasy. My bet is that one way or another, he either loses time to some of these other guys, is traded, or spends a lot of time on the DL. I won’t draft him.
Catcher: Christian Vazquez should go undrafted in most fantasy leagues. Would I use him if he hits? Sure. I know how to find and use guys off the wire.
Personally, I think things will work themselves out here. Between age, injury and minor league options, the Sox are set up well here. Nearly all these players can play multiple positions which leaves the Sox better able to absorb the injury prone nature of the bunch.
DRAFT: Hanley, Papi, Mookie
DRAFT IF THEY FALL: Castillo, Moncada, Bogaerts, Pedroia, Panda, Napoli
DON’T DRAFT: Vazquez, Craig, Victorino, Nava, Bradley Jr, Holt
PITCHING: I can’t get excited about any of these pitchers so I am not going to spend a lot of time discussing them. It is conceivable that I will not own any of them on Opening Day. There is no clear ace here in either the pen or the rotation, so we’ll start with the guy who has been here the longest.
Clay Buchholz: This guy is maddening to own having flashed brilliance at times (2010 & 2013), but also delivering some horrible stretches and injury-marred seasons. I’d own him but it would have to be my last draft pick. He starts the season as Boston’s de facto ace. I was trying to find a reason to post a picture of one of these pitchers, and it was hard, but I found a couple of reasons. Her name is Mrs Lindsay Buchholz.
Rick Porcello: I’d rather own Porcello than Buchholz, but I think his 15 wins in 2014 will inflate his price. He is only 26 and has consistently reduced his walk and HR rates the last several years. He won’t get a lot of strikeouts, limiting him to back of rotation status in Fantasy.
Justin Masterson: He is going to be 30 when the season starts so it is now or never for this guy. Were his 2011 & 2013 seasons the norm or the outliers? I never thought he was as good as his numbers showed those seasons. He walks far too many and that will kill him at Fenway if he can’t control it. I’d stream him, but I’m not owning him.
Wade Miley: Just because a guy is going to pitch 200 innings does not mean he can help you. He did have a strikeout spike in 2014, punching out over 180. Streamer.
Joe Kelly: Many are calling him the sleeper of the bunch. Sleeping on a park bench maybe. He normally has a K/BB ratio that starts with a 1 and his WHIP looks more like Mario Mendoza’s batting average. Until he does something better, I will do nothing more than stream him occasionally for a good matchup.
Eduardo Rodriguez: This might be the guy worth talking about. The Sox got him from the O’s for Andrew Miller last season and he could end up being their ace before too long. He is only 22 but has been in the minors since he was 17. He keeps the ball down, having never averaged more than 1 HR per 9 IP in 5 seasons, averaging 0.4 over his career. In 2014, he did my two favorite things, increasing his strikeout rate and decreasing his walk rate both to career bests. I don’t know if he’ll help you in 2015, but dynasty owners probably already own him.
Koji Uehara: He’ll be the closer on Opening Day so he will be drafted, but he has never been a lock down closer for a full season. I don’t care that they signed him for two more years at closer money. I could see him losing the job by the All-Star break. For a more thorough rundown on Sox relievers, see my series on the Top 100 Relievers in 2015.
Junichi Tazawa, Edward Mujica: If your league counts holds & inherited runners scored , these two are worth owning. They are skilled MLB veterans. Tazawa & Mujica each have closing experience. Mujica finished the season as the Sox closer and closed for the Cardinals the year before that. I’d own him no matter what kind of league it is.
Craig Breslow, Alexi Ogando: Worth a flyer in leagues that count holds and IRS.
DRAFT: Uehara, Tazawa, Mujica, Rodriguez if you can.
DRAFT: Any of the others with the last pick in your draft.
DON’T DRAFT: Any of the others before the last pick in your draft.
I’m picking the Sox to finish with a winning record and be in contention all the way. If they don’t land an ace though, I see them falling short. I think the offense will work itself out.
Next week will be fun too as we talk about the New York Yankees.
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Major League Fantasy Sports Radio Show: Join Ej Garr and Corey D Roberts Sunday March 15th from 7pm-9pm EST for this week’s episode of Major League Fantasy Sports Radio sponsored by the Sports Palooza Radio Network. We will be taking live callers at 646.915.8596. This week’s topic will the Outfield positions.