Spring Training Battles: Bullpen Pt. 1

Bullpen Picstitch

Can you name each of the Red Sox relievers show in the picture above? Answers at the bottom.

The Red Sox enter Spring Training returning with an even stronger bullpen than last year, which now carries more depth. The 2013 season got off to a rocky start with Joel Hanrahan being named closer. He only ended up pitching 7.1 innings allowing eight runs and blowing two saves before the announcement was made that he would be out for the season due torn muscle in his right arm. Then, manager John Farrell tabbed Andrew Bailey as the replacement closer. Although Bailey was an improvement to Hanrahan, he still struggled and blew five saves in his short stint as closer, before he too would be declared out for the season, caused by labrum and capsule damage to his shoulder. This injury came on the heels of a season-ending injury to  another key reliever, Andrew Miller, who required foot surgery that would not allow him to pitch again in 2013. This  crippled a Red Sox bullpen that had quickly lost its abundant depth. That’s when the more-overlooked at the time, Koji Uehara stepped in as closer and was lights out. Uehara recorded one of the best seasons as a closer baseball has seen, allowing only nine runs in 74.1 innings. He also put up one of the best runs a closer from August 21st to September 13th, in which he pitched 12 innings without allowing a runner to reach base, the closer’s equivalent of a perfect game and then some.  Uehara, who was originally signed for $4.5 million in the offseason, was projected to be extra depth in the bullpen coming out of Spring Training. What’s more is the medical staff was worried about overuse, pitching as a 38 year old, nevertheless, he helped guide the Red Sox to the playoffs and was named ALCS MVP, appearing in five games against Detroit, saving four and winning a fifth. When General Manager Ben Cherington signed him to a contract last year, he cleverly included an option that would trigger if Uehara pitched in 35 games. So, Red Sox fans can rest assured that when the final cuts for the 25 man roster come at the end of Spring Training, Koji will be safe. As for the eight others competing for what is presumably six other bullpen spots, they don’t necessarily have this same guarantee. Here’s the breakdown, these eight others include:

Returners: Andrew Miller, Craig Breslow, Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara

Acquisitions: Edward Mujica, Chris Capuano, Burke Badenhop

Rookies: Brandon Workman, Drake Britton

In the next post, each reliever will be summarized with a projection on their chances of making the 25 man roster and where they could land in the bullpen.

Answer Key (from left to right):

Top: Breslow, Tazawa, Mujica, Uehara

Bottom: Britton, Workman, Capuano, Badenhop, Miller

Spring Training Battles: Centerfield

For the Red Sox, Spring Training this year is full of excitement and competition. There are several positions in which two or more players have a legitimate shot for a spot on the selective 25-man roster. One such position battle that will be very closely followed is for the starting center fielder, between Grady Sizemore and Jackie Bradley Jr. As a reminder, whoever wins this battle, the other is not necessarily guaranteed to get the backup spot. The Red Sox have six players who can play in the outfield: Nava, Gomes, Carp, Victorino and the aforementioned Sizemore and Bradley Jr. Victorino and Nava are both capable of playing center if needed, but defensive metrics indicate that it would not be in the best interests of the Red Sox if they were to play there. So, it comes down to who will start and who will more than likely back up.

Starting off with Jackie Bradley Jr.,  in case you forgot, he has been on the major league team before. After lighting up Spring Training in 2013, hitting a torrid .419 in 28 games, he made the jump from AA Portland to Boston’s major league roster. However, he did not last long only playing in 37 games hitting .189 and he was sent back down. In Pawtucket, he showed some consistency and finished the year hitting .275. Over the offseason, it became clear that starting center fielder was Bradley’s job to lose after Jacoby Ellsbury signed a 7 year $153 million contract with the Yankees. Behind Bradley Jr., there is no clear centerfield prospect and so to provide a backup plan, if he began to struggle at the major league level in 2014, the Red Sox brought it Grady Sizemore.

Grady Sizemore hasn’t played since 2011, but when it was announced that he was hoping to return this year he attracted the interest of several teams. And why not? Before injuries started taking a toll on his performance in 2009, from 2005-2008, he was an all-star caliber player, posting 20-20 seasons and in 2008 broke 30-30 barrier. Along with that, he added two gold gloves in 2007 and 2008. Reportedly, Sizemore was on the cusp of signing with the Cincinnati Reds, before meeting with Red Sox medical staff who laid out a plan to ease him back into baseball. This was enough to convince Sizemore to take his talents to Boston. Now, while it is easy to get excited for the arrival of Grady Sizemore, expectations must be tempered, because keep in mind he still hasn’t played a professional baseball game in more than two years, so its not fair to compare the 2014 Grady to the 2008 Grady, who hit 33 home runs and stole 38 bases. At the same time, all reports from Spring Training have indicated that he is progressing well and he is scheduled to play his first game tomorrow, so there is reason to be excited for his return.

At this point, Jackie Bradley Jr. is  in the driver’s seat and it is still his job to lose. Sizemore would have to have an outstanding Spring Training in order to remove Bradley from the starting role and Bradley would have to underperform. Contractually, Bradley will be under the Red Sox’s control for the next six years and will have a salary around $500,000 for this season. On the other hand, Sizemore, being a free agent, received a one year $750,000 contract but that could turn into $6 million based on incentives. Regardless, money is not as much an issue for the Red Sox so they will take whoever deserves the starting spot. Ultimately, I believe they will end up keeping both Bradley Jr. and Sizemore, with JBJ earning the starting spot.