Boston’s Biggest Deficiencies and Options to Address Them

Let’s be clear to start off, at 34-15, there’s not a whole lot of holes in this Boston Red Sox team. They possess one of the top offenses in the MLB, are able to trot out two former Cy Young winners and a perennial Cy Young candidate to the hill to start games, and have one of the best closers in baseball. With all that being said, though, that doesn’t mean that there aren’t areas on the roster that could use some work. Here’s what those areas are and what can be done to address them.

The catcher position:

It’s no secret that the catcher position has been a black hole offensively. Even in a position known more for defensive prowess than offensive production, Christian Vazquez and Sandy Leon have grossly underperformed. Vazquez is currently sitting below the Mendoza line, and Leon is still flirting with it after just recently topping .200.

Unfortunately for Boston, there’s not much that can be done in this case. Vazquez just signed a 3-year extension in the offseason, so he’s clearly viewed as the catcher of at least the near future, and Leon has carved out a nice little niche for himself as Chris Sale’s personal catcher. Neither of these guys seem to be going anywhere, so Boston’s best and really only hope is to stick with them and bank on them being able to claw their way back towards the mean.

The bottom of the order:

Vazquez/Leon occupy 1 of the bottom 3 spots in the batting order every night along with Eduardo Nunez and Jackie Bradley, Jr. All 3 of them are playing sub-par ball right now, but unlike with the catchers specifically, Boston does have some options for addressing this particular issue.

Reinforcements are on the way with Dustin Pedroia returning from a lengthy absence, and he’ll likely begin his return campaign somewhere in those bottom 3 spots, presumably in the form of a straight swap for Nunez at 7. That immediately provides an upgrade at one place in the bottom of the order.

Next is the JBJ conundrum. Alex Cora seems pretty intent on sticking with him through this putrid spell that he’s on, and eventually he’ll begin to figure it out to at least the point of respectability, but alternatives are there. Jackie could be pulled from the every day lineup in favor of J.D. Martinez in LF (moving Benintendi to CF), which would push Hanley Ramirez to DH and open up first base for the ever consistent Mitch Moreland. This move would immediately add depth from top to bottom, and close off another weak spot in the order.

As for the 9-hole, well, just read the portion of this article about the catcher’s. Boston is kind of stuck with what they have there, but one close to automatic out is better than two, so consider that a win.

The back end of the rotation:

The pitching is where it gets interesting, starting with the rotation. Chris Sale has been lights out, and aside from two sloppy outings, Rick Porcello has been excellent. David Price has been a bit more hot and cold than the aforementioned two, but his talent and ability is well known, and he just needs to figure out how to utilize them game in and game out.

The last two starters in the rotation is where the real question mark is. Drew Pomeranz has only started 6 games after missing almost a month of the season with a forearm injury, and he’s been far from impressive in those appearances. He’s currently sporting a 5.97 ERA and a 1.78 WHIP, and he’s recorded only 2 quality starts.

(Photo credit: Boston Herald)

Eduardo Rodriguez’s outlook is much more optimistic. The ultra talented lefty certainly possesses all of the tools to be a top end starter in this league, but he’s been very inconsistent throughout his entire career thus far.

Hector Velazquez, although currently on the DL, is probably the best alternative to one of those guys. He’s been working mostly out of the bullpen this year, but he had been a starter his entire career up until he joined the Red Sox from Mexico, where he won the Mexican League pitcher of the year award in 2016. He’s been phenomenal in 2018 as well, with a 2.10 ERA in 25.2 innings.

Steven Wright is another option to replace one of Pomeranz or Rodriguez, but he’s still pretty fresh off of an extensive DL stint. He’s only made two appearances out of the bullpen this year, one of them being good and one being not so good.

There’s one name here that could come as a surprise to some people. Jalen Beeks, the 24-year old lefty, has been tearing it up at AAA Pawtucket this year to the tune of a 2.28 ERA, a 0.99 WHIP, a .203 OBA, and 13.5 K/9. He looks to perhaps be ready to make the step up to the big club and contribute at the back end of the rotation.

There’s also this interesting article detailing 3 Padres pitchers who could find themselves on the trade block soon, but with Boston sitting tantalizingly close to the next luxury tax threshold, the only way that a trade would work would be if they were able to match incoming and outgoing salaries, which could be difficult, but it’s still an option.

All things considered, chances are that the Red Sox stick with what they have going, at least for now. When Velazquez returns, though, it wouldn’t be a huge surprise to see Pomeranz, the lesser of the two starters in question here, get pulled for him and transitioned to a relief role.

The bullpen after Joe Kelly and Craig Kimbrel:

Despite being included on this list, the bullpen has been very good as a whole. With that being said, though, it gets a little shaky after Craig Kimbrel and Joe Kelly.

Heath Hembree and Matt Barnes have had a ton of trouble consistently finding the strike zone, Brian Johnson is very susceptible to giving up big hits in high leverage situations, Bobby Poyner has performed admirably but is still an unproven rookie, and Carson Smith is out indefinitely with a shoulder injury.

One of those 3 Padres pitchers mentioned above has spent some time pitching out of the bullpen this year, and theoretically any one of them could be transitioned into a full time reliever similar to Velazquez or Wright.

Greg Holland is also a name that’s been tossed around, but again, at the risk of sounding redundant, trade salaries need to match up, and the Sox don’t have much to work with in terms of trade pieces, so that possibility is a bit farfetched.

The most viable option is a guy who has never even thrown a single pitch in a Red Sox uniform, Tyler Thornburg. Thornburg has been out for almost 2 yers now, but is very close to finally making his debut with Boston after spending over a month on rehab assignment. He was absolutely dominant with the Brewers in 2016, posting a 2.15 ERA and a 0.94 WHIP in the exact role that he would be expected to fill for Boston.

All hope is on Thornburg to come in and make a splash with his (not so) new club. If he can succeed in doing that, Boston’s bullpen instantly becomes arguably the best in the MLB.

Now, Boston could probably sit tight with what they currently have and still contend for the World Series, but if they really want to push for October glory, it may be smart to look into some of the options mentioned above.

(Header photo credit: Boston Globe)

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