Welcome back to another edition of the OTM Mailbag. We are just about halfway through spring training at this point, with just another couple of weeks to go down in Fort Myers before things actually get started for real on April 1. With that in mind, we have a few prediction questions on the table here in this week’s edition, as well as a look at Triston Casas’s standing in the game as a whole, plus more.
Zach via Twitter asks:
Predict the 2021 team home run leader.
This is actually a really interesting question that I guess hadn’t really thought about much before. There are a number of reasonable answers here. I found that a little bit surprising because I don’t really think there’s much question about who the best player or hitter is — the answer to both of those questions, to me anyway, is pretty easily Xander Bogaerts — but that’s clearly a different question than just straight home run totals. Bogaerts could be in the running here, but so too could Rafael Devers or J.D. Martinez, not to mention big power hitters like Bobby Dalbec, Hunter Renfroe or Francy Cordero.
I think those latter three are interesting players who will get their chance to prove they are worthy of the amount of playing time they’d need to finish the season as the top home run hitter. That said, I don’t feel comfortable enough with any of them to choose them as the actual answer here. If I were forced to go with a darkhorse I’d go with Dalbec because that power is absurd, but he’s not my actual pick.
My instinct here is to go with J.D. Martinez. There’s obviously plenty of risk with this pick (at least to the extent that there is actual “risk” with predicting a team home run leader) given the performance last year, but I tend to lean towards 2020 being a throwaway year for Martinez, and the return of video between at bats should help him. Plus, I believe in his pure power to negate any potential effects from the deadened ball. I was, however, a bit surprised to see Rafael Devers for the leader in all of the projection systems over at FanGraphs. Devers is obviously a great hitter and I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him finish with the most homers, but I’m sticking with Martinez. I’m kind of doubting my pick after seeing those projections, though.
Cuyler via Twitter asks:
Projected record and ERA for Richards this season?
I’m going to pass on the record for Richards here because, well, I can’t even predict the semi-predictable stuff so I’m not going to try and predict what kind of run support he ends up getting as well. But I do think it’s worth mapping out our expectations of Richards, who is something of a linchpin, at least for me, in this rotation. What I’ve seen from Eduardo Rodriguez this spring has been electric, and I’ve always been a believer in Eovaldi when healthy. Richards is the key to giving them that strong top three to hopefully carry them through the first half of the season as they wait for Chris Sale’s return.
I think using the projections is a good starting point for something like this, and generally they seem to have him somewhere around a 4.50 ERA, which I think would be a bit disappointing, though not really a disaster. How we view that number is also, of course, partially contingent on what the deadened ball may or may not do to the run environment. A 4.50 ERA looked a lot different, say, in 2018 than it did in 2012.
I do think it’s worth pointing out also that Richards has not had an ERA as high as 4.50 in a season in which he’s thrown at least 10 innings since back in 2012, his second year in the majors. So if we were doing an over/under on that mark, I’d probably go under, but not by a ton. He pitched to a 4.03 ERA last year, though that was also with some relief mixed in. He had a 4.27 ERA as a starter. I think that mark sounds about right for this year. I’ll round up to a 4.30 ERA, which if we have a similar run environment to last year should come in slightly better league-average. There’s certainly hope for more, but I think that’s about my baseline expectation.
The Big Man via Twitter asks:
Do we see Franchy Cordero being an above average hitter, or is he gonna be another Renfroe type?
I think he and Renfroe are actually really good comps for each other in terms of overall production expectations, though I don’t think that precludes either of them from being above-average hitters. Both certainly have the skillsets, and Renfroe has actually done it before. He had a 114 wRC+ back in 2018, so the talent is there to do it. With Cordero, there is probably even more talent, though there is also less of a track record and now a delayed start to spring isn’t helping anything.
I think when we talk about the Red Sox outfield these two should almost be a package deal. I say that partially because, in an ideal world, they’d be platooning with each other, at least to start the year. That doesn’t seem likely to happen though as both will get their chances. And so I think the smart thing would be to hope for something of a breakout — a wRC+ of 110 or higher over consistent playing time — from one of them. If I had to bet, I’d go with Renfroe because he’s done it before, but Cordero has the higher ceiling. I think it’s probably safest to expect them both to be right around league-average when it’s all said and done, though, with stretches where they look much better and other stretches where they look much worse.
Tyler via email asks:
This may be premature but who do you think the Red Sox should pursue in free agency next year? They have a ton of salary space to make two or three big moves. Sadly the best players in the class are shortstops and there are very few good outfielders outside of Blackmon (who’s 35) and Conforto. I think the upcoming prospects in Downs, Duran, and Casas make the situation even harder. Personally I think we should resign E-Rod, then go after one of Scherzer/Verlander/Kershaw/Greinke/Thor. Maybe Blackmon on a short term deal. I know Red Sox Stats suggested we go after Story but then what happens with Bogaerts? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
We should start with the obvious caveat that a whole lot depends on what happens this season, including with the prospects. I think a lot of the strategy for next winter is going to depend on how the team is viewing guys like Jarren Duran, Jeter Downs and Triston Casas, who you mentioned above. If all three look like they will be ready to help almost immediately, then I think you can mostly look at the pitching side of the equation, potentially even with Bobby Dalbec as a trade chip if he plays well and Casas is ready to come up. But again, that’s getting ahead of ourselves.
In terms of free agents, the Bogaerts situation is tricky. I do think he’ll have to move off shortstop at some point soon, though I don’t think it’ll be next year, so I’m probably not looking at that market. I’m starting with the pitching, and I agree that in an ideal world Rodriguez is brought back and then you go big over one of the pitchers available. Heading into this season I think Noah Syndergaard is my favorite of the upcoming free agents, but that is obviously subject to change.
And then the outfield really comes down to how Renfroe and Cordero do. The expectation is that Duran and Alex Verdugo will cover two-thirds of the outfield by 2022. If the one of the other two can claim left field, then they’re set there. If not, there are some solid mid-tier outfielders available next year. I’m partial to Mark Canha, I think, with guys like Joc Pederson and Tommy Pham being other potential options. But again, all of this is dependent on what actually happens this season both on the roster and off of it.
Jake via Twitter
How many guys ahead of Casas in MLB prospect rankings would you trade him for? People seem very bullish on him but he’s still lingering in the 40-60 range mostly. Is he expected to fly up those rankings this year?
I’m not enough of a league-wide prospect guy to have a great answer to the first part. I tend to think those people that do the rankings are smarter enough than me that I would trade him for at least anyone who was ahead of him on every list. Those in the same tier would be a case-by-case basis, but there’s probably 40 or so prospects who are easily ahead of him by consensus.
That’s not to take anything away from Casas, though. There are a lot of good prospects in the game. I’m not sure he’s expected to fly up the rankings this year. I certainly expect him to climb because I think he’ll have a good year and that’s what happens when prospects have good years. That said, unless he goes absolutely beserk and sets a new ceiling for himself at the plate, there’s only so high you can go as a first base-only prospect. So I think if everything goes according to plan he could certainly be a top 25ish prospect, perhaps a little higher if things go perfectly, but again his position sets its only ceiling that is tough to surpass unless you have an MVP-caliber bat.
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.