Mailbag: A look at the Patriots’ wide receiver depth chart, the Celtics’ playoff chances, and the Red Sox’ pitching strategy

Julian Edelman Danny Amendola
Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola take the field for the AFC Championship game against the Denver Broncos in January 2016. –Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Introducing the sports mailbag. Every week we’ll respond to your questions about the Patriots, Red Sox, Celtics, Bruins and anything else tangentially related to Boston sports. Have a thought, theory, or question for the mailbag? Send them into

So without further ado, as Tom Brady would say, “Let’s go!”

Karli B.: What are the Patriots going to do without wide receivers Danny Amendola and Brandin Cooks?

Nicole: I don’t expect the departures of Amendola and Cooks to have a hugely noticeable impact, performance-wise. Even without considering their offseason additions, the team is adequately stocked at receiver with proven players, like Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan, as well as those eager to get their shot in the Patriots’ system, like Phillip Dorsett and Kenny Britt. Malcolm Mitchell, who shined his rookie season but missed last year due to a knee injury, should also be returning the field, which will only provide more depth.


Add in offseason additions Jordan Matthews and Cordarrelle Patterson, and the Patriots, per usual, are probably going to be just fine. Plus, their top two running backs, Rex Burkhead and James White, are effective pass catchers. White averaged 7.7 yards per reception last season. Obviously, the rushers don’t offer any sort of deep threat, but they can easily complete a short passing play on third-down — one of Amendola’s strengths.

The bigger question mark after the Amendola trade is Tom Brady’s happiness. Brady reportedly wasn’t sad about the Cooks trade, but I assume he feels differently about Amendola leaving (after all, only one of them got an Instagram farewell).

Nik: No Amendola and no Cooks leaves Julian Edelman and (probably) Chris Hogan as their two starters. Last time that was the case was the 2016 season, which turned out just fine.

Seriously though, I wouldn’t fret too much. It isn’t like the team is going back to the Reche Caldwell days. A healthy Edelman should be able to fill in for Amendola and trading Cooks, who felt somewhat underutilized last year, means the Patriots aren’t planning to part with Gronk anytime soon. Hogan, Malcolm Mitchell, Phillip Dorsett, and newly acquired speedster Cordarrelle Patterson may also help stretch the field.

@TrandymossCrowl: Thoughts on how Alex Cora is handling the starting pitchers and their innings?


Nik: The new Red Sox coaching regime has been intent on keeping the workload on the starters light since spring training. The “slow buildup” has continued into the regular season. That’s why no Red Sox starter has thrown more than 93 pitches or past the sixth inning (with the exception of David Price’s seven-inning outing in Thursday’s home-opener) through the team’s first seven games.

The goal of this rest strategy is for the starters to be relatively fresh and healthy when it comes to September and, hopefully, October — which was not the case last year. Granted, it’s still very early and the Sox haven’t exactly faced any worldbeaters, but so far, it hasn’t cost the team much in the short term. The starters have performed near-impeccably, giving up a total of only four runs through 35 innings. Of course, the one big concern is that this strategy also puts more pressure on the bullpen, which hasn’t fared as well. Ahem, Carson Smith.

Buy Tickets

Nicole: Yeah, as Nik mentioned, the new rest strategy means the Red Sox will have to trust their relief pitchers to seal the deal. The bats will also play a supporting role, as it never hurts to have a cushion of runs.

Allan Y.: Are the Celtics going to be eliminated in the first round of the playoffs with Kyrie out?

Nicole: So here’s the latest news about Kyrie’s knee: Due to a bacterial infection, he’s going to be out four to five months, as opposed to the initial timetable of three to six weeks.

With Kyrie out for the entirety of the postseason, the Celtics won’t be operating that differently from how they have been over the past 11 regular-season games he’s been out. Terry Rozier and Shane Larkin (once healthy) can continue to step up at point guard, as will the rest of team at their respective positions. Marcus Morris, for example, has been great.

Watching this team come back from a whole slew of deficits this year, it’d be silly to write them off for almost any reason. People thought their season was pretty much over when Hayward went down in October. This group is resilient and has managed to find a way to win in a variety of situations with a variety of players. Their road is obviously a lot more difficult without Kyrie, but the challenge by no means implies they can’t advance.


There is still one player who could return, and that’s Marcus Smart. The self-proclaimed “junkyard dog” underwent surgery in mid-March to repair a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his thumb. His expected return is end of April at the earliest, which means he could possibly return for the Eastern Conference semifinals — if the Celtics make it past the first round that begins Saturday, April 14.

The Boston Globe’s Adam Himmelsbach reported Thursday that Smart’s timetable for return will be updated after a re-evaluation next week.

David G.: Should the Celtics pursue Kawhi Leonard?

Nik: Jalen Rose floated the idea of the Celtics trading for Kawhi earlier this week and since then a few others in sports media have followed.

Rose is right on the point that, when healthy, Kawhi is a singular player. If he joined the Celtics, he would be the best and most complete player on the roster, even including Kyrie Irving, Gordon Hayward, and Al Horford.

There’s still no reported timetable for his return, but let’s say for the sake of the question that Kawhi’s quad injury is fully recovered for the start of next season. Let’s even say that due to the discordant situation in San Antonio, the Celtics could get Kawhi, a former MVP runner-up and two-time Defensive Player of the Year, for a relatively low price.

I still don’t think they should go after him.

While it all depends on what the Celtics have to give up, realistically trading for Kawhi would likely mean saying goodbye to Jaylen Brown, Jayson Tatum, and/or another young player, as well as one or more of Danny Ainge’s coveted draft picks.

It seems more fun — and more rewarding from the fan’s perspective — to watch the current crop of young players continue to develop and grow rather than to hollow out the roster for another star whose fit would be questionable. I mean, seriously, the Celtics haven’t been completely healthy all year and are set to be the two-seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Let’s see what the current roster’s ceiling is before looking to make a complete overhaul.

Nicole: The Celtics’ decision to pursue Leonard boils down to a few things, chiefly: Does Boston want to be really good right now? (And by right now, I mean the start of next season). Ever since Gordon Hayward went down with his season-ending injury five minutes into the season opener, the team’s motto this year has seemingly been, “We’ll get ‘em next year.”

Essentially, the team is OK with the lack of immediate success, with hopes that it will be sustained for a long period of time in the future. But a healthy Kawhi could change that. His, again healthy, addition would give the Celtics potential to experience immediate success.

As for whom or what they might include in a trade package, I assume the Spurs will want Tatum — I mean, who wouldn’t? — and he’s the only player I think is worth pushing back on. As impressive as Jaylen Brown and Terry Rozier’s developments have been, if the Celtics can swing some sort of deal that’s a mix of picks and Brown and/or Rozier, or something similar, then I say go for it.

Carolyn J.: Controversial player talk! Do you think the Patriots will trade for Odell Beckham Jr.? Also, do you want Johnny Manziel on the Patriots?

Nicole: It initially seemed like the Patriots wouldn’t be equipped to trade for Beckham Jr. because they lacked the Giants’ reported asking price: two first-round picks. Once New England acquired a second first-rounder through the Brandin Cooks trade, rumors started to pick up a little that the move was a precursor to making a push for OBJ.

But NFL reporter Jason La Canfora reported that was not the case. New England isn’t in the market, according to La Canfora.

The Jordan Matthews acquisition basically solidifies the trade isn’t happening. Plus, despite looking a bit different, the Patriots’ depth chart at wide receiver is still one of the team’s strengths. It’s unlikely they’ll give up any significant draft capital (i.e. the four first- and second-round picks Bill Belichick could use on cultivating young talent) to bring in a troubled and expensive — albeit gifted — receiver.

As for Manziel, I don’t really care. But I don’t think it’s happening either. The best thing Manziel has going for him right now is he’s cheap. It wouldn’t take a lot to acquire him, have him on the practice squad, and then cut him if things go awry.  

Given the positioning of the Patriots’ draft picks, however, it seems more than likely they’re not only going to select a capable QB — which would be a lot safer than signing Manziel — but they’re also going to be signing the heir to Tom Brady’s throne. The Patriots don’t want just any backup passer this time around. They already have that in Brian Hoyer. They want someone who can succeed Brady in the long run. To me, Manziel isn’t really a fit.

Nik: No and, from the perspective of an industry that relies on content, yes.

Jonathan L.: Does the No. 1 seed really matter for the Celtics?

Nicole: I mean, at the end of the day, it’s just a matter of whether you can beat the other team in the series. That observation isn’t revolutionary by any means, but the Celtics were the No. 1 seed last season and they got destroyed by the Cavs in the Eastern Conference Finals. Fans shouldn’t be distraught (not that I think they are) over Boston being the No. 2 seed, just like how they shouldn’t be overly excited if the Celtics were the No. 1 seed.

With how tight the playoff races have been this season, I think the close competition between the teams will ultimately throw a lot of the seeding out the window once the postseason officially begins. Where seeding still does matter is obviously determining the matchups in the first place, but once those are set, some teams could easily compete beyond their place in the standings.

The Celtics will more than likely be the second seed, so I guess we could also flip the question: Does the No. 7 seed matter? It’s looking like the Celtics will face the Heat, the Wizards, or the Bucks. At this point, anybody could oust Boston in the first round and vice versa, but I think the Bucks are probably their best bet at advancing.

Nik: The Celtics are pretty much locked into the two seed following Wednesday’s loss against the Raptors, which means they’ll have home-court advantage until at least the Eastern Conference Finals — if their decimated roster can make it that far.

If the two top seeds win out — an outcome that easily could not happen — fundamentally this question is about whether the Celtics can beat the Raptors without homecourt and their two best players (sorry, Al Horford, you’re a close third). Conveniently, the Celtics and Raptors have played in two of their last three games and both times the home team won.

It’s a common trope that role players play worse on the road, but two things stand out looking at the box scores for those two games. In the Celtics’ home win, the Raptors’ heralded bench mob shot a combined 7 of 25. If you take on Fred VanVleet those numbers are even worse. But in Toronto’s home win, that same unit was 18 of 30. The difference in the Toronto bench’s overall regular season performance home-versus-away isn’t quite as stark, but they also aren’t playing every road game against the TD Garden crowd.

TL;DR: Home-court definitely matters against a team like Toronto that relies so heavily upon it’s bench. Of course, the Celtics will have to get their first.

@XxBosox12xX: I’m a huge fan of Sam Travis and think he deserves to play in the bigs. Do you think he gets called up sooner than later? If so, where does he play? Are we better off trading him for some pitching depth?

Nicole: Based on president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski’s comments during spring training, I assume the Red Sox don’t intend on trading Travis.

“We’re going to keep Sam Travis,” Dombrowski told reporters in Fort Myers. “Sam Travis has had a tremendous spring. He looks like the guy that we thought he would be … He’s not only hit but hit with power, and he’s made some little adjustments working with our people. So we really like what we see.”

“We like him a lot and think he’s a part of our future,” he continued.

Travis plays first base, but the team has also experimented with how to optimize his versatility — a strategy that should improve his chances of getting called up. The 24-year-old recently played left field against the Marlins in a spring training game, and the plan is to “keep moving him around,” according to manager Alex Cora.

Nik: I admittedly don’t know a ton about Travis beyond his impressive minor league stats — .270 batting average, 82 hits, and 24 RBI last season with Pawtucket — but if we could trade him (and Carson Smith) for a reliably good set-up man or an additional starter that helps the team win this year, I’d say it would be worth it.

Nothing against Travis, but especially when Pedroia comes back, I don’t know where there would be space in the lineup, unless Cora starts pulling infielders after the sixth inning, too.

Ken S.: What do you think will happen to Duron Harmon?

Nik: Obviously what he did was really dumb. I still get slightly nervous about the amount of shampoo I bring in my carry-on, much less anything like the several ounces of weed and the various paraphernalia Harmon tried to sneak through into another country. He wasn’t arrested, but that decision was not well thought out.

That said, it could be worse. Harmon apologized almost immediately and whether he not gets suspended, at least by the NFL, depends on if he was already in the league’s drug program, which is kept confidential. As the Globe reported, “it takes four incidents/positive tests/missed tests to earn an automatic four-game suspension for marijuana.”

Given the fact that there haven’t been any other reports like this in Harmon’s past, I’m going on assumption that he isn’t in the program. Hopefully, given the country’s shifting views on marijuana, everyone can move on.

Poll of the week: Who would you rather the Celtics face in the first round of the NBA playoffs?

Nik: The fans apparently do not fear Playoff Kelly.

Seriously though, I’m surprised that more fans don’t want to face the Bucks. Yes, every team in the league should be scared of Giannis (I’ve been a fan since Bill Simmons was tweeting his grainy scouting videos). But after watching the Celtics nearly beat the Bucks and their disjointed offense this week, while starting Kadeem Allen at point guard, I’d have confidence in the ability Brad Stevens to gameplan accordingly against Milwaukee.

From a neutral perspective, I’d love to see a Celtics-Wizards playoff rivalry reignited, if only for the ridiculous Morris twin conspiracies. But as good as Terry Rozier has been, I also understand why Boston fans might not be eager to see Bradley Beal and John Wall without Irving or Marcus Smart.

Nicole: Given the Celtics’ postseason history with the Wizards, it makes complete sense why fans are not interested in a first-round matchup against Washington. Given the standings, I doubt they’ll end up playing the Pacers. So between the Heat and the Bucks, I think the Boston would have a better chance against Milwaukee for a variety of reasons. To sum it all up, however, at the end of the day, the coach of the Heat is Erik Spoelstra and the interim coach of the Bucks is Joe Prunty.

What’s on deck this weekend?

Nik: Looking forward to the Red Sox trading Carson Smith.

In all honesty, the Sox have been fun so far this year and I’m surprised how much I’m into them this early in the year. Looking forward to attending their first series against the Yankees next week in freezing weather.

Nicole: I’ll be at the Celtics games Friday and Sunday to hopefully catch some Point Yabu. Boston has four games left in the regular season, with easily the most notable one coming Tuesday against the Wizards. I anticipate we’ll see an assortment of lineups, as the team both rests and prepares for the playoffs.

Loading Comments...