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OTM Mailbag: Getting defensive

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Is there enough defense?

Boston Red Sox Spring Training Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

Major League Baseball action is back today. The Red Sox will only be able to be heard, not seen, for their opener but we’ll take it. Today begins eight full months of baseball coming to us on a daily basis, and it’s hard to complain about that. So with that being the case, we can also consider this the final offseason mailbag of the year, coming in just a few hours before the first pitch of the spring schedule. For this week’s edition, we look at what the defense may look like for the Red Sox this year, the team’s ceiling, some names to watch in the draft, and more.

GOAT91 via the comments asks:

The pitching clearly got better this offseason, but now I have concerns about the team’s defense. With Bradley [likely] gone, the outfield is definitively worse from a defensive standpoint, and while I like Alex Verdugo’s glove/arm, moving him to center would result in a downgrade in right field as well. Besides Christian Vázquez behind the plate, is there one other position on the diamond where Alex Cora and Red Sox fans can expect good-to-elite defense? Is the pitching staff’s FIP gonna wind up looking significantly different from their actual ERA?

This is a totally valid question and one that I think is being a little discounted, including by me. It’s harder to talk about defense in this kind of format as compared to offense and pitching because so much of it relies on what you see with your eyes. That not only makes it harder to communicate to other people, particularly if you’re not a scout, but it also makes it harder to make sweeping judgements on new players you perhaps have not seen as much.

With that being said, I think your assessment is fair. The defense does not look great and the outfield definitely looks worse. I do think they have more than Vázquez in terms of positive players for the defense, though. I’m not sure where Enrique Hernández is going to play, but whether it’s in the outfield or on the dirt I expect him to be a plus contributor. I’m not enamored with the idea of Hunter Renfroe being in the lineup on something close to an everyday basis, but he’s graded out as elite defensively once and while I think that’s a bit extreme I think he’ll be average-at-worst. Over at first base, the jury is still out on Bobby Dalbec, but I think he has the athleticism needed to be at least average, and potentially safely above, at the cold corner. And Verdugo, as you say, has the tools needed to succeed wherever he’s put in the outfield.

So I think you’re right that the defense is worse, and it’s still a problem on some spots on the diamond. But they have good players and a little versatility. If they can get their positioning down, I think they’ll be fine. In terms of great-to-elite defensive players, though, yes, they are lacking. I do, however, think they have two in Vázquez — who plays the most important defensive position, particularly in terms of getting the most out of the pitching staff — and Hernández, who can bounce between a couple premium spots.

And then as far as the last part of that question goes, I don’t think the defense is going to be to the point where the staff’s FIP is going to be significantly off from the ERA, essentially meaning the defense is costing significant numbers of runs. There might be a small margin, but I don’t think this defense strikes me as one that will be notably bad in that way.

Toronto Blue Jays v Boston Red Sox Photo by Billie Weiss/Boston Red Sox/Getty Images

OilerFan34 via the comments asks:

Do you think Chaim Bloom is still possibly adding a couple of “impact” players to the roster, like a starting pitcher and another outfielder, maybe? I’m still hopeful Odorizzi will become a Red Sock and maybe another outfielder like maybe Bradley. Or should we just forget about those two and be happy with the moves he’s made in turning over the roster?

Well, I won’t tell you to be happy with these moves if you’re not. You’re allowed to not be happy. That said, I don’t expect another move like this. The only way I see Odorizzi being a real possibility is if one of the Red Sox starters goes down with a significant injury early in camp and Odorizzi is still available. Even then, I’m not really holding my breath on the Red Sox giving a multi-year deal and going that far over the tax threshold, but it would at least be possible.

Bradley is, I think, a little more realistic if for no other reason than familiarity. It also seems like his market has not been what he had hoped heading into the winter, and so it seems possible he will decide to go back to a place he’s familiar with on a one-year deal to try again next winter. But even that, given the tax threshold as well as the 40-man crunch they’ve already been dealing with the last month or so, I would bet against. I think what we’re looking at for the Red Sox is what we’re going to see prior to the season. But I hope I’m wrong, because I really think they need another outfielder.

Evan via Twitter asks:

What’s the ceiling for the Sox this year?

The ceiling for all but the very worst teams in baseball is the World Series, and I don’t think the Red Sox are among the five or so worst teams so I guess technically speaking the ceiling is the World Series. But I suspect that’s not really what this question means. In terms of regular season success, I think it’s an interesting question. There is a path to this team being really good. If Eduardo Rodriguez makes 32 starts and pitches 200-plus innings; if Garrett Richards and Nathan Eovaldi each pitch to their true-talent for 25-plus starts; if Chris Sale comes back in July and looks like Chris Sale pretty much right away; if either Tanner Houck or Nick Pivetta show their performance late last year was indicative of their true talent; if J.D. Martinez bounces back; if Rafael Devers takes that step forward defensively; if Christian Vázquez continues to hit; if Bobby Dalbec gets his strikeout rate to 30 percent of below; if Matt Barnes and Adam Ottavino keep their control at manageable rates...

If all of those things happen, then the Red Sox will be right up there contending for the division. Or to put a finer point on it, if all of that stuff happens, then I think the Red Sox are a mid-90s win team and an obvious contender in the AL. The issue is, of course, the likelihood of it all. On an individual basis, you could take any of those at random and I would say it’s a perfectly reasonable hope. If you took probability classes, though, you know that probability gets lower and lower the more of those scenarios you add up on top of one another. While each of those on their own are reasonable, hoping for all of them to happen at the same time, while not impossible, is probably asking for too much.

Tyler via email asks:

Who are your favorite prospects in the draft and who would you want to Sox to take as of now?

I’ve gotten a few versions of this question so I figure I should hit on it quickly. First, I’m not a draft expert by any means. Second, things are going to change dramatically between now and July. The example many people point to, and for good reason, is Andrew Benintendi, who was nowhere close to the top ten discussion at the start of his draft year. It’s a long process that’s just now getting started.

That being said, the three that pretty obviously stand out right now to me are the three college pitches in Jackie Leiter, Kumar Rocker, and Jaden Hill. The first two pitch for Vanderbilt while the latter pitches for LSU. It’s possible they go 1-2-3 and the Red Sox don’t have a chance at any, but early in the college season these are the three names that look the most enticing to me.

RW via email asks:

Is Noah Song still a viable prospect assuming he still wants to pitch after his Navy service?

I guess nobody can say this with any certainty because we haven’t seen him, but I’m as close to certain as one can be. I’ve been the high guy on Song so I suppose you can take all of this with a grain of salt, but I’m not all that concerned about the missed development time. Granted, it’s clearly not ideal but at the same time it’s not as if he’s been sitting on the couch for all this time. He is doing military training, so I assume he’ll be in shape. I also assume he’s been throwing, even if it’s not with professional coaches. Between the talent and the makeup, I’m still pretty confident he’ll be able to surprise people with how quickly he’s able to get back on track in his development.


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 otmmailbag@gmail.com.