We are officially in spring training, with pitchers and catchers having reported and started their workouts late last week and position players joining them next week. We are also exactly a week away from the first game action of spring. Baseball is back. And so with baseball being back, this week’s mailbag has a focus on the depth chart as well as some prediction fun.
Julian via email asks:
If Kevin Plawecki has to miss a significant amount of time, any idea as to who would be the favorite for backup catcher between Connor Wong and new acquisition Ronaldo Hernández?
So we should start this out by saying as of right now there doesn’t seem to be any concern that Plawecki will miss any time, never mind significant time. For those who missed it, Plawecki was placed on the COVID list at the start of camp. We have seen that the effects vary wildly from person to person and some get over it quickly while others take a long time to recover. That’s not even just Eduardo Rodriguez, either, as both Josh Taylor and Darwinzon Hernandez never seemed to get back to being themselves last summer after testing position. All of which is to say we don’t really know what’s going on with Plawecki one way or the other.
That said, it’s still useful to think about the depth behind him, and Julian brings up two prospects who are also on the 40-man roster. However, while they are on the 40-man I don’t think they’ll be viable backup candidates to start the season. Wong has only played sparingly as high as Double-A while Hernández hasn’t even played at Double-A yet. Both were at Alternate Sites last summer so that helps a bit, but unless they impress wildly at camp I don’t think they’ll be options to start the season.
Instead, the Red Sox would be in a bit of trouble. Chris Hermann was just recently signed as a veteran third catcher option, and he’d probably be the favorite. Catcher is a relatively weak position around the league, so if you don’t have the option ready in the minors and you’re left scouring the free agent market, the veterans who are available on minor-league deals can be kind of rough. Hermann is below-average both offensively and defensively, but he has the experience and would provide a stopgap until the prospects are ready. Jhonny Pereda would be another option with perhaps better defense, but like the prospects he doesn’t have the requisite even Triple-A experience under his belt. Generally, Boston will be much more able to make it through a catcher injury a couple months into the season than they would be to start.
SF Larry via the comments asks:
Is there any reason to think that Nick Pivetta is going to give us 30 starts and be reliable/any good? What am I missing in the Nation’s enthusiasm about this guy?
I’ll mention that I haven’t really seen any enthusiasm about Pivetta, but perhaps that’s just my little bubble. I’ll also acknowledge that I, personally, am not all that excited about Pivetta and think he ends up in the bullpen or out of the organization entirely by mid-May.
That said, it’s not totally unfounded to be excited nor is it totally impossible that I’m wrong here. Shocking, I know. Pivetta has not been successful in the majors. In 406 1⁄3 career innings the righty has a 5.40 ERA (127 ERA-) and 4.61 FIP (105 FIP-). He’s been solidly below average for what equates to two full seasons. But there have been reasons for excitement, including 2018 when he struck out over 10 per nine innings while walking fewer than three, as well as his two starts to close out last season for the Red Sox in which he allowed two runs over 10 innings with 13 strikeouts and five walks. The talent is there, and change of scenery players are a real thing, even if we tend to be more confident in our abilities to identify them than we have any right to be.
So I think you can make a case based on old scouting reports, flashes he’s shown in the majors, his brief performance with Boston last summer, and the change of scenery adage. Personally, that’s not enough to sway me from my opinions based on the whole of his career, but he’s also the fifth starter. If they can somehow squeeze 25-ish starts of roughly league-average performance out of Pivetta, that’s a win. They don’t necessarily need a star turn.
Jake via Twitter asks:
What unheralded bullpen guys are you most looking forward to seeing? Any breakout candidates?
I’ll mention three names here. Durbin Feltman is someone I’ve brought up a bunch over the last month or so. He’s something of a forgotten man after struggling so much in his first full professional season. His stuff reportedly looked better at Fall Instructs, though, and I’m looking for a post-hype breakout there. I’m not sure if Eduard Bazardo counts as a breakout at this point after all the helium he’s experienced the last few months, but I think he can be a major contributor this year, and perhaps earlier than some are expecting.
And then I’ll also point to Colten Brewer as someone I’m looking forward to seeing. Brewer likely won’t be part of the Opening Day group and doesn’t have a late-inning ceiling, but he was jerked around last summer and made to start due to the team’s just abysmal rotation depth. That was not fair to him and his skillset, and I’m looking forward to seeing if he can get back to being a solid ground ball-oriented reliever who may not get saves but can play an underrated fireman role in middle innings to try and get double plays.
Dick via email asks:
Since Dustin Pedroia is now retired what becomes of the $13 million dollars owed him by the Sox for the 2021 season? Doesn’t retirement from playing in 2021 void the obligation to pay $13 million? Though the amount was guaranteed, the guarantee must assume a player willing to play not one retired. And if that is so, don’t the Sox have about $20 million under the threshold for the luxury tax, not $6-7 post signing of Gonzalez and Sawamura?
I’ve gotten a few versions of this question the last couple weeks, so we should probably clarify this. Pedroia did retire, but technically what happened is the team released him and then he retired. That was just done as a mechanism to make sure he did get his money. He presumably would not have retired without that kind of deal, which to be clear is exactly how it should be. That’s his money. But because of that, the money does still count towards the tax this year.
Ari via Twitter asks:
The team predictions have started up again on Twitter. What are yours for the Red Sox?
These were the categories I was given from Ari.
Division finish: 4th
Postseason Prediction: N/A
Team MVP: Xander Bogaerts
Team Cy Young: Nathan Eovaldi
Team ROY: Bobby Dalbec
Pretty straight forward. For the record, I’ve mentioned this before but worth saying again, I think the current roster is something like a .500-ish roster. The PECOTA projection of 80 wins seems right. But I’m very high on the top three in the AL East so being on a .500-ish pace, I think, puts the Red Sox firmly in fourth place, which means I think they sell a bit at the deadline and focus on getting youth some playing time, knocking their win total down a bit. If the division isn’t as competitive as I thought to the point where Boston stands pat, I could see the win total being more like 81, 82.
As for the rest, Bogaerts is the obvious choice to me. He’s clearly the best player on the team. I think Eovaldi is super underrated, and while banking on his health is silly there’s nobody on this staff I feel good about banking on workload-wise. And Dalbec is probably the chalk pick, and playing time is really what puts it over the top for me.
Thanks again for all of your questions. And again, if I didn’t get to yours look out for it in a future edition of the mailbag or on the podcast. We always appreciate more questions, so please if you have any you can either ask me on Twitter @OverTheMonster, you can leave a comment on our Facebook page, you can drop a comment down below on this post, or you can send it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.