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What do you do for an encore after winning the World Series?
This is the question that has been nagging me more and more as the 2014 season rapidly approaches. (I guess it’s already here, but do games in a British penal colony really count? I say no.) Unless the Boston Red Sox pull a 10-year anniversary deja vu of the magical 2004 season, last season’s run to the 2013 World Series title will be hard to top. It’s been almost a decade and a half since the last time a team was able to repeat (the Yankees from ’98-’00, he said begrudgingly), and only one other team has managed to accomplish that feat since 1979 (the Blue Jays, ’92-’93).
So in the interest of managing expectations and not setting myself up for disappointment, here are a few things other than a second straight World Series trophy that I’m looking forward to this season:
With a name like Xander Bogaerts, you have to have a nickname, right? Well, this is the one I made up. I’m open to suggestions. Moving on.
While only 2 of 44 ESPN prognosticators may have picked the Red Sox to repeat, a majority picked Bogaerts to take home AL Rookie of the Year honors. I read a Boston Globe piece on Sunday detailing why Bogaerts could be an All-Star this year. I don’t particularly care if he wins any awards, though any individual hardware for Bogaerts would certainly be an okay consolation prize if the Red Sox aren’t destined to win it all.
I’m just looking to see Bogaerts develop as a centerpiece of the Red Sox moving forward — a patient approach at the plate, a little bit of pop to go with the high OBP, solid defense up the middle, the ability to deal with the inevitable slumps and skids at the plate (and in the field, for that matter).
In short, I want to make sure a Bogaerts jersey is a sound investment. Will Middlebrooks also falls into this category after his sophomore slump last year.
If Bogaerts is the up-and-coming superstar to keep an eye on, Sizemore is the feel-good story. When the Red Sox signed Sizemore this offseason, it was a low-risk, high-reward lottery ticket for a former three-time All-Star. With incentives structured into his contract (details here, but the gist is an extra $250,000 each time Sizemore passes another benchmark), that lottery ticket could end up costing the Red Sox $6 million. He has now exceeded all expectations in spring training, both in terms of health and performance, and finds himself on the verge of playing in his first major league game after two years and several surgeries.
So now that he’s the Opening Day starter in center field for the Red Sox, how much of the remaining $5 million in incentives can Sizemore check off? The closer he gets to $6 million, the better the season bodes for Boston.
The short answer is probably no. Max Scherzer, Yu Darvish, David Price, Justin Verlander, and Felix Hernandez, to name a few, will likely have something to say about that. But if Buchholz can manage to stay healthy, who knows if he could build on his 9-0 start and ERA under 2.00 in 2013? And Lester was a perennial dark horse candidate to win a Cy Young before his train wreck 2011 threw him off track. Now that he seems to have found his groove again at the end of 2013, with a sub-3.00 ERA in August and September, could Lester be on track for a big year heading into free agency?
Doubront ended up being shut down at the end of last year before pitching out of the bullpen in the playoffs. After finally showing up at spring training in shape (like that deserves a pat on the back), Doubront seemed dialed in until he flamed out in two straight spring training appearances.
Let’s just say I’m not holding my breath.
But most importantly…
I already covered this at some length, because I apparently have no life, but you’re telling me you aren’t intrigued by what Jonny Gomes is going to do next? Will it be mustaches of the ’70s pornstar variety? A fake tattoo?? The return of the Cigar Store Indian??? Options abound!
But enough speculation; time to get the 2014 season started already. Hopefully I’ll be distracted enough by Xander Bogaerts and company not to set myself up for disappointment despite everything I’ve just written.