In 2013, the electricity returned to Fenway Park. Expected to be an also-ran in the loaded AL East, the Olde Towne Team shocked baseball - cranking out a 97-win season, and eventually, a World Championship. A healthier team certainly helped, not to mention a manager who wasn't loathed by his entire clubhouse. Love that dirty water.
Just about everyone expects Boston to contend in 2014, but the Red Sox probably won't be the AL favorites. New York has predictably reloaded, signing a host of big-name free agents (including expatriate Jacoby Ellsbury). The Tigers still have Miggy Cabrera and a ridiculous pitching staff. Oakland and Texas look formidable out west. Tampa Bay's roster teems with talent.
Something old and something new is the theme for Boston's Pressing Questions - we have two old-timers to discuss, along with a couple of new kids on the block. Grab your T-pass and make the jump, Wahlberg.
Q: Where does Koji Uehara go from here?
A: Let's take a moment to appreciate just how absurd Uehara's 2013 season actually was. We just witnessed one of the best relief campaigns of all time, and no one saw this coming.
Uehara was just another supporting part in the Boston bullpen when the season started, working in front of Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan. Injuries pushed Uehara to the closing gig in late June, a move Boston made with some reluctance because of Uehara's physical history - some felt he shouldn't be used in back-to-back games. Over his final 41 games of the regular season - drawing the line at the closer appointment - Uehara allowed three earned runs and two walks, silly numbers over 44.1 innings. He racked up four wins, 20 saves and 59 strikeouts.
Here's the final haul for the regular season: 74.1 innings, 1.09 ERA, 0.57 WHIP. Nine unintentional walks against 101 strikeouts. The K/BB ratio was the fifth best of all time, assuming a 50-inning minimum. Video game stats. Everything reads like a misprint.
The wiffle ball theme continued in the playoffs: 13.2 innings, seven hits, one run, no walks, 16 strikeouts. When Hey Nineteen stepped to the mound, game over.
Most of the Yahoo scribes are buying in on Uehara - he's a Top 5 option on four of five clipboards (Dalton Del Don is the lone holdout). But the contrarian case is logical enough - Uehara turns 39 in April and he's coming off the heaviest workload of his career. I'm staying bullish on Uehara for a few basic reasons: he's always had elite strikeout rates, I trust John Farrell's handling of a bullpen, and I can't get that wipeout split-finger pitch out of my mind. Are you doubling down or steering away? Say your piece in the comments.
Q: What's the plan at shortstop?
A: Smiling Stephen Drew was a capable-if-unspectacular option during the title year (.253-57-13-67-6, a solid line over 124 games), but he's in limbo as this PQ goes to press - an unsigned free agent. The Mets have been mentioned as a possible suitor, along with a handful of American League teams. And while a Boston return doesn't appear likely, you can't completely rule it out, either.
Nonetheless, most fake baseballers want to see Drew move along, because they're eager to see prospect Xander Bogaerts take over. The 21-year-old Bogaerts zoomed through the minor-league system, filling the stat line nicely at Triple-A last year (.297/.388/.477, 15 homers, seven steals). He didn't look out of place during a brief Boston trial (.250, one homer, one steal, five walks over 44 at-bats). He's projected to be a plus defender, too. MLB.com ranks Bogie the No. 1 shortstop prospect in baseball.
Bogaerts only holds third base eligibility for now, but he'll pick up the shortstop tag quickly enough. He's currently ranked as the No. 20 third baseman on the Yahoo grid (in part because of my tempered expectations). This is the type of player I rarely own in a redraft league because I figure someone is more likely to chase after a hot prospect than I am. I'm also figuring the Red Sox will handle Bogaerts carefully in his rookie year, slotting him somewhere in the bottom third of the order.
Q: You down with AJP?
A: Yeah, you know me. The Red Sox let Jarrod Saltalamacchia walk in free agency and replaced him with A.J. Pierzynski, and it looks like a logical move. Salty picked up a three-year, $21 million deal in Miami, while Pierzynski earns 8.25 million for one season.
Saltalamacchia had a better fantasy year in 2013 (he was the No. 9 backstop in fake baseball, while AJP was 14th) and he's also nine years younger than Pierzynski, but the Red Sox didn't want to pay Salty after an outlier season. Saltalamacchia batted .273 last year (27 points over his career average) and set new personal marks in a host of key areas (runs, RBIs, walks, average, OBP, slugging). Let's not forget this is the same guy who batted .222 and .235 the previous two seasons, and he's never going to win a Gold Glove Award.
Pierzynski brings a .283 career average to the table, and he's clubbed 44 homers over the last two years - this is a professional hitter aging gracefully. He's never homered in Fenway Park, oddly, but he does have a .322 batting average over 118 at-bats there. Mash it all together and Pierzynski looks like a boring but useful pick as one of the Top 15 catchers in our fake game.
Q: Who takes over for Ellsbury in center field?
A: Jackie Bradley is the winter-book favorite at the moment. He was a flop in his 37-game Boston trial last year (.189/.280/.337), but confidence was quickly restored in a half-season at Triple-A (.275/.374/.469, 10 homers). He's also capable of running some, though he went just 7-for-14 on swipes with Pawtucket. Bradley turns 23 in April.
If you believe in miracles, maybe 31-year-old Grady Sizemore can make something happen. The injury-plagued outfielder signed a one-year deal in January. He hasn't played in the majors since 2011, and his last superstar year dates back to 2008. I'll root for the story from the sidelines, but I'll need to see some proof before I make any tangible roto investment.
Shane Victorino is slated to play right field, but he can shift to center if everything else falls apart. He made 15 appearances there in 2013.
Hub Happenings: The Red Sox have excellent depth in front of Uehara, at least on paper. Junichi Tazawa had an outstanding set-up season last year (3.16/1.20, 6.0 K/BB) and Edward Mujica was terrific in St. Louis until a late slump. Both pitchers look like sneaky budget picks for your AL-only league . . . Will Middlebrooks could be in limbo if the Red Sox land a shortstop and want Bogaerts back at third base, but for the moment it looks like Brooksie will be the starting cornerman. He clubbed 17 homers in 94 games last year, but a toxic .227 average and .271 OBP came along for the ride. He's entering his Age-26 season . . . David Ortiz keeps rolling along in his late-30s, coming off a super year and a historic run in the playoffs. His three-year averages make a statement: .310/.400/.567, 27 homers, 86 RBIs. He's essentially logged a full year in eight of his last 10 seasons. Have some fun, Cookie Monster . . . Jon Lester's bounce-back season turned into a roto profit (on the heels of an awful 2012), but I still wonder if his name exceeds the usual return here. A 3.75 ERA and 1.29 WHIP is rosterable, but those numbers don't move the needle. It took Lester 213.1 innings to get to 177 strikeouts, and remember he worked 34.2 innings in October. I'd want at least three solid options before taking Lester on my mixed-league roster . . . Dustin Pedroia had successful thumb surgery in November and should be good to go. Pedroia's one of the safest second-round picks you can make because you know he'll try to play through just about any injury . . . If you view ERA as a misleading stat, Clay Buchholz probably got under your skin last year. He turned in a 1.74 ERA over 16 starts, a number that wasn't supported elsewhere. A .254 BABIP certainly helped, along with a silly-lucky rate of HR/FB (under five percent). Most of the ERA estimators say Buchholz's number should have been in the mid-3s last year. Health is the other concern with Buchholz; consider his starts per season over the last three years: 14, 29, 16. Put the over/under around 150 innings, I guess. He turns 30 in August.