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Sunday, January 6, 2019

2019 Boston Red Sox: Questions to Ponder and Things to Look Forward To

Believe it or not, the start of the 2019 baseball season will kick off with the commencement of spring training next month. Fresh off their dominant regular season last year and their World Series victory, the Boston Red Sox will have a tough job of exceeding what they just accomplished. They are still in the midst of the Hot Stove League, but there are already some things to look forward to and some questions to ask as the trucks start to get packed up for the trip south to Florida to start another season.

Look Forward To: The continued development and improvement of third baseman Rafael Devers.

Now 22 and about to enter his third major league season, this could be the coming-out party that the team and fans have been waiting for. To be fair, he has already hit .254 with 31 home runs over his first 179 games, but the general consensus is that there is more there; potentially much more. Conditioning has been an issue in the past and now that he is a “grizzled” veteran of a championship team it will be interesting to see if the maturity of his play and preparedness follows him as he gets older. The projections used by FanGraphs forecasts a healthy bump in his production in 2019, so stay tuned to see if this comes to fruition.

Need to Question: What does second baseman Dustin Pedroia have left?

Once a franchise cornerstone, the 35-year-old infielder has become somewhat of an afterthought after playing just three games in 2018, which followed missing approximately two months of the 2017 campaign—all because of injuries.

If Pedroia can get anywhere near his 2016 season, where he produced 201 hits and 15 home runs, the team should be ecstatic. However, that seems incredibly optimistic. While he still has three years and $40 million remaining on his contract, the pressure should be relatively light for him to show what he can still do, as the team is loaded with potential replacements if his body fails him yet again. Brock Holt and Eduardo Nunez are primary candidates to hold down second if needed, or the team could choose to go the way of a youngster like Tzu-Wei Lin.

Need to Question: Is Matt Barnes the next closer?

With the possible exit of free agent closer Craig Kimbrel, Boston will need a new pitcher to close down games in the ninth inning. Many signs indicate this may be the right-handed Barnes, who has pitched well, but not great, in middle relief for the team over the last four seasons.

Like Kimbrel, Barnes can suffer from lapses of control. Although he throws hard and has a good slider, he doesn’t have quite the same raw stuff of the man he may replace. He has a 4.14 ERA and two saves for his career, so the lack of a track record may work against his candidacy for a new role. On the other hand, the market for available closers seems to be dwindling. Even Kimbrel, who was once rumored to desire a new contract that would pay him Scrooge McDuck money, has reportedly seen his market shrivel up to the point that a return to Boston may not be out of the question.

Look Forward To: How much better can Mookie Betts be?

The reigning 2018 American League MVP had a season for the ages, hitting a league-leading .346 with 32 home runs, 30 stolen bases and 129 runs scored; all while playing generationally great defense in right field. The crazy thing is that he still may have room to improve.

Betts will play the entire 2019 season at the age of 26. Stats also show that as he has aged he is making better and harder contact and putting the ball in the air more, which has all contributed to his star production.  With an excellent lineup around him, he also has the luxury of not having to carry the team on a daily basis. Finally, the plan to drop him to second in the lineup should only open up even more opportunities for him to put his myriad skills to use.

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