For those among us who are into big, southbound trucks stuffed with baseball paraphernalia — it’s apparently less of a niche hobby than you’d think — tomorrow is a holiday, a surer sign of the approaching spring than anything a groundhog can reveal.
But the Truck Day that interests me is the one that comes at the end of spring training rather than the beginning. That’s the truck that ditches JetBlue Park seven or so weeks from now and heads toward Boston, springtime, and the regular season.
While you’re standing on Yawkey Way freezing your Brian Asselstine off and bidding bon voyage to the fungo bats and cases of Big League Chew tomorrow, I’ll be thinking of that happy return, when baseball returns to Fenway.
Already am, in fact. Spring training has not yet commenced — safe travels, truck! — and I’m already pondering which 25 players will constitute the Red Sox roster come Opening Day in Philadelphia. Here’s my best guess. Let me hear yours in the comments.
Mookie Betts, RF: At Portland, 2014: .355/.443/.551. At Pawtucket, 2014: .335/.417/.503. At Boston, second half: .303/.386/.458. I know we’re supposed to be cautious with the kids now — Xander Bogaerts looked like a can’t-miss rookie star, then he spent the summer missing. But Betts’s skills and production during his ascent suggest a player who will endure very little turbulence. Watching him develop into a star should be one of the joys of this season.
Dustin Pedroia, 2B: He’s entered the Jody Reed-circa-’88-but-with-spectacular-defense phase of his career. And that’s a very valuable player, albeit one who should never hit in a run-producing spot in the lineup again.
David Ortiz, DH: His .873 OPS last year was the second-lowest of his career — and he still rated ninth in the American League.
Hanley Ramirez, LF: I suppose there are unappealing Ortiz/Ramirez baseball partnerships — say, I don’t know, Russ Ortiz and Horacio Ramirez of the 2004 Braves. But the ones the Red Sox put together in the middle of their lineup seem to function fairly well, yes?
Pablo Sandoval, 3B: The guarantee is that he’ll move merchandise. The safe bet is that he’ll deliver in big moments. The uncertainty is whether his three-year decline in OPS continues for a fourth year.
Mike Napoli, 1B: Bet he has a big bounceback season, even at age 33. Tough to mash when you have a mangled finger and can’t sleep or breathe.
Xander Bogaerts, SS: He will be an All-Star this year, and in fact, I believe in everything about the kid other than his ability to play the caliber of shortstop defense a rotation of groundball pitchers is going to require.
Rusney Castillo, CF: Should we flip him and Bogaerts — perhaps the two biggest wild-cards in the lineup — in the 7-8 spots? I’m buying the whole Cuban version of Ron Gant thing.
Christian Vazquez, C: Looking forward to watching the Honorary Molina catch this year, but if the Phillies become willing to take him instead of Blake Swihart in a Cole Hamels deal, the trigger gets pulled without hesitation.
Clay Buchholz: His ERA in 16 starts in 2013 was 1.74. His best ERA in a single month in 2014 was 4.36 in August. He has the talent to be an ace. But he has always been an enigma. Not sure why that would change now.
Rick Porcello: His most similar pitcher through age 25? Jon Garland. His second-most similar pitcher through age 25? Greg Maddux. Hmmm.
Wade Miley: Tell me again why a pitcher whose numbers have mostly declined (save for a spike in K/9 last year) over the past two seasons is going to improve upon his 86 ERA-plus while moving from the NL West to the AL East?
Joe Kelly: Not to overdo the Most Similar thing, but his top four comps are interesting because they were young pitchers of much greater expectation and acclaim: Chris Archer, Zack Wheeler, Gerrit Cole, and Shelby Miller. More important, Kelly’s top comp though age 24 was the immortal Dick Crutcher.
Justin Masterson: In 2,778 plate appearances, lefties have hit him at a .287/.367/.427 clip over his career. That’s a .794 OPS, which basically means every lefty hitter turns into Al Oliver or Bobby Grich or Ryne Sandberg against him.
Koji Uehara: He’ll be 40 on April 3, and it’s hard to know what to expect in the second year of his new deal, let alone the first. But I’ll take my chances on a closer who struck out 80 and walked 8 in 64.1 innings last year.
Junichi Tazawa: Is there a more unsung player on the roster than the 28-year-old nemesis to Miguel Cabrera and righty bridge to Koji? Last two seasons have been almost identical.
Edward Mujica: Had a 1.78 ERA in the second half. Now let’s see him pitch well when it’s not garbage time.
Alexi Ogando: In 135 career relief appearances, owns a 3.25 ERA and an 8.2 K/9. Healthy, he’ll help.
Craig Breslow: He was brutal last year (5.96 ERA, 1.86 WHIP), but until then he was far more consistent year-to-year than most relief pitchers. Probably gets the first shot — ahead of Tommy Layne and Robbie Ross — at being the lefty out of the ‘pen …
Anthony Varvaro: … and it’s uncertain whether the Red Sox will require a second lefty given that this 30-year-old gift from the Braves has a pronounced reverse split — the righty with a devilish changeup held lefthanded hitters to a .149/.198/.284 slash line in 81 PAs last season.
Brandon Workman: Have to figure he’s had his fill of summertime in Pawtucket.
Shane Victorino, OF: If healthy — right, huge if — Farrell will find a way to get him 400 plate appearances.
Daniel Nava, OF: A valuable offensive player who should never hit righthanded again.
Ryan Hanigan, C: Hit three more home runs (in 50 more plate appearances) than Will Middlebrooks, and his OPS was 120 points higher.
Brock Holt, Utility: Listed at six different positions on the Red Sox’ depth chart. Versatility — and Betts’s ability to play second — should allow Farrell to carry an extra pitcher or outfielder at the expense of an extra infielder. I’d like to see Jackie Bradley Jr. on this team for his glove, but he’s going to have to rake in Pawtucket first.
As for Allen Craig, he’ll join an NL team before the end of spring training, one that remembers what he looked like when he was a superb hitter. The guy was a ghost — a .128-hitting ghost — here.