Pressing Questions: The Boston Red Sox

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Boston expects big things from rookie Andrew Benintendi
Boston expects big things from rookie Andrew Benintendi

We’re not too far from pitchers and catchers reporting, and Fantasy Baseball Draft Season will be here before you know it. With that in mind, we’re going to bounce around the next couple of months, trying to give you some fantasy advice on a team-by-team basis. Mind your Ps and Qs, gamers; it’s time for another season of Pressing Questions.

Although the Red Sox were quickly bounced form the 2016 playoffs, then lost David Ortiz to retirement, expectations are sky high for the new season. Boston is currently the favorite to win the AL Pennant, per the betting pools, and only the World Champion Cubs have lower World Series odds. The blockbuster trade for Chris Sale generated a deafening buzz in The Hub, and the Red Sox roster doesn’t have many obvious weaknesses. And if something appears leaky in season, GM Dave Dombrowski is sure to be aggressive, looking for a fix. This is a team built to win now and, in a sense, desperate to win now.

A handful of regular Boston names will go in the early rounds of your draft. Mookie Betts is currently the No. 2 player on most expert boards — trailing only Mike Trout — and Sale will probably be a second-round pick more often than not. If you want shortstop Xander Bogaerts, you’ll have to strike early. And David Price looks like a Top 50 player again.

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We’re not here to talk you into Betts — if you can’t appreciate his gifts, you’re playing the wrong game. We talked about Sale around the time of the trade; if you need to catch up, jump over here. We’ll focus on the deeper names in this premier issue of Pressing Questions. Load up the queue, let’s get this party started.

Q: What is Andrew Benintendi ready to do?

The highly-touted Benintendi made a two-level jump in August and wasn’t overwhelmed — he essentially kept the same average and OBP he had with Double-A Portland, and his slugging percentage was a reasonable .476. We didn’t get a lot of category juice (two homers, one steal), but that’s standard for a young player. Over 151 games in the minors, he had 20 home runs and 26 steals (albeit the swipes came on 38 attempts).

Expectations are lofty entering Benintendi’s rookie year and age-22 season — he’s expected to be the team’s full-time left-fielder, and the Red Sox desperately need more left-handed contributions after the retirement of Ortiz. Benintendi might get a shot at the No. 2 spot in the lineup, as the team looks to break up the glut of right-handed hitters. Even if we assume Benintendi will be in the top half of the lineup, he’ll probably be the only lefty in that five-man group.

Unfortunately, this is the type of buzzy player — and on a buzzy team — that often costs a lot at the draft table. Benintendi’s NFBC ADP currently stands at 141 — that’s No. 33 at the outfield position — and that sounds awfully expensive for someone with a limited resume and an uncertain batting position.

Unless I knew Benintendi were locked into the No. 1 or No. 2 spot in the lineup, I wouldn’t consider writing this ticket. And even if he gets that nod before the year, it still is a difficult way to make a profit. Shiny New Toys generally come with inflationary costs. And Benintendi’s average might arrive quicker than his power and speed will.

Q: Where did this Sandy Leon spike come from?

Leon had the classic “good glove, no hit” tag entering 2016, something we often live with at catcher. And by no hit, we mean nothing at all — Leon’s career slash sat at .187/.258/.225 through 75 games of major-league experience, and he never hit much in the minors (.654 career OPS).

Alas, Leon was pressed into regular action in the middle of last year, and he brought a line-drive stroke with him (24.7 percent, above league average). Even with a notable slump in September, Leon’s .310/.369/.476 result was a stunner. His offensive WAR contribution was eighth-best at the position, despite Leon playing just 78 games. The seven homers were also shocking; he had just one in his previous MLB experience.

So now we have to decide what to believe in — a hot 10 weeks from Leon, or the .539 OPS (with no homers) he posted in the final month. The womb of the Boston offense sounds nice, but Leon will also be batting ninth most of the year. He’s currently the No. 17 catcher in NFBC ADP, which sounds about right — a steady placeholder if you need to start two backstops, but not someone exciting enough to target in a one-catcher league. At overall pick 254, you won’t need to outwrestle the room for him.

JBJ made the leap last year
JBJ made the leap last year

Q: Will the real Jackie Bradley Jr. please stand up?

Bradley had a snappy finish in 2015 and perhaps it foreshadowed his 2016 breakout. At the All-Star break, Bradley was sitting on a robust .296/.378/.548 slash, with 14 home runs and seven steals. He was the No. 11 fantasy outfielder over that span.

Bradley’s homer column was fine in the second half (12 over the fence), but he stopped running (two steals) and his slash collapsed (.233/.315/.412). He also showed a modest home bias, and a significant lapse against left-handed pitching (.239/.309/.346).

Bradley’s plus defense should mark his territory in center field, and the club has always liked his attitude and work ethic. In short, Bradley will be given the opportunity to work through his slumps. He’s currently trading as the No. 31 outfielder in the NFBC world, which seems realistic — an OF3 in most leagues. Bradley cut his strikeouts by 4.7 percent last year; another move in the proper direction and we might be onto something.

Q: Can Pablo Sandoval salvage his career?

Sandoval was known as the Kung Fu Panda during his San Francisco days, but it’s been all Sad Panda since he joined the Red Sox after the 2014 season. A chunky Sandoval struggled to produce in his Boston debut, and he missed most of the 2016 campaign due to a balky shoulder. Sandoval had surgery on the shoulder in May.

Hearing his biological clock ticking, Sandoval, 30, got serious about conditioning in the offseason. He’s reportedly under 250 pounds now, which is a significant drop from his recent playing weights. I realize the “Best Shape of His Life” meme is a laugh track for most people, but when someone this desperate for an improved body seems to get the message, I’m at least going to track it closely in March. The Red Sox traded Travis Shaw a month ago, and Brock Holt and Josh Rutledge are seen as roving utility players. The club will at least give Sandoval a shot to make good, and I’ll approach it with an open mind when spring training opens.

Leftovers On Lansdowne Street: You have my permission to take Betts as early as you want, even if it’s No. 1 overall. It will be interesting to see how much he chooses to run — as a 54-for-67 man since hitting the majors, it’s clear he can steal any number of bags he wants — but the wear and tear of the assignment, and Betts’s spot in the middle of the lineup, could keep the final total in check. He stole 26 bases last year, 21 the previous season . . . A healthy Pedroia had a solid bounce-back 2016, though he’s just about done as a base-stealer. The biggest reservation about drafting him is the overall depth of the second-base position; you should be able to find good values at every price point . . . With Sale’s arrival, Price gets to slot at a more natural No. 2 position, and Porcello — the reigning Cy Young Award winner — will be the No. 3. I could see Porcello being a sneaky value this year; no one is going to pay for a 22-4, 3.15/1.00 duplication, but it might get to the point that major regression is priced into the ticket. I love when I can affordably land a player with a heavy amount of regression already baked into the price — think Doug Baldwin in 2016. Steamer projects Porcello for a 3.95/1.20 season; I see a reasonable chance to beat that. You have to pay a high price on Porcello in NFBC ADP (108 overall, No. 24 at the position), but I’m confident his Yahoo price will be cheaper, perhaps significantly so.

Red Sox Projected Lineup

Dustin Pedroia, 2B

Andrew Benintendi, LF

Xander Bogaerts, SS

Mookie Betts, RF

Hanley Ramirez, DH

Jackie Bradley Jr., CF

Pablo Sandoval, 3B

Mitch Moreland, 1B

Sandy Leon, C

Red Sox Projected Rotation

SP Chris Sale

SP David Price

SP Rick Porcello

SP Drew Pomeranz

SP Steven Wright

Red Sox Projected Closer/Setup

CL Craig Kimbrel

RP Tyler Thornburg

RP Joe Kelly

Projected lineups courtesy of Roster Resource