In 2013, the Boston Red Sox rebounded from a disastrous 2012 season to become the best team in all of baseball. Yet, in 2014, they have looked much more like the 2012 Red Sox than the 2013 Red Sox. Last year, many pundits praised their offseason strategy to acquire multiple mid-tier Free Agents, instead of signing one expensive star player. While this was certainly an effective strategy, the Red Sox received career years from many new players and many of those performances have not carried over to 2014. They began the 2014 season with a very similar roster, just missing Jacoby Ellsbury, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Stephen Drew. The Red Sox let all three of these players walk via Free Agency because they believed they had capable replacements within the organization. However, the Red Sox have yet to find a capable leadoff hitter and still have a huge hole at both 3rd base and in the outfield.
The 2013 team was carried by the fact that multiple players experienced career years. To this point in 2014, most of those players have not enjoyed the same level of success. The loss of Ellsbury has certainly hurt their outfield, but the poor performances of Shane Victorino, Mike Carp and Daniel Nava have been the real issues for the Red Sox. While Victorino did not set any career highs in 2013, he did hit better than his career triple-slash line in every category with a .294/.351/.451 line and accumulated a 5.6 WAR. So far this season, Victorino has battled hamstring issues, but in his limited opportunities (21 gms) he has a OBP of just .275 and 67 wRC+. Carp was able to set career highs in both his SLG% and WAR during 2013, but has been unable to sustain his newfound power, as his SLG has dropped .237 pts. Maybe the biggest surprise of 2013 was Daniel Nava, who put up career highs with a slash-line of .303/.385/.445 and a WAR of 1.8. However, Nava has struggled to replicate his career-year, as he has slashed just .134/.224/.232 and accumulated a minus-0.6 WAR, while going back and forth between Triple-A and the MLB. This lack of production from some of their top outfielders in 2013 has contributed to a glaring hole in their outfield. After ranking as the best outfield in 2013, the Red Sox have the worst outfield thus far in 2014.
Beyond just these outfielders struggling to replicate their 2013 performances, the Red Sox also lost three key contributors to Free Agency. The Red Sox were unwilling to match the Yankees’ offer of 7-years, $153 Million to Jacoby Ellsbury. It is certainly understandable why they would not match such an offer for the oft-injured Ellsbury, but they did lose their best player from 2013, in terms of WAR. While Ellsbury was off to a slow start, he has been hot of late and has still managed a WAR greater than the entire Red Sox outfield combined. In the long run it may have been a good decision not to match the Yankees’ offer, but that does not change the fact that the Red Sox are greatly missing his production. The Red Sox also chose not to re-sign shortstop Stephen Drew during the offseason, although realizing they would not recuperate a draft pick if he signed after the draft, they recently re-signed him. While his replacement at shortstop, Xander Bogaerts, has been phenomenal, Bogaerts’ replacement at 3rd base has not been as effective. This has left a substantial hole on the left side of their infield, both in terms of defense and offense. As I said, the Red Sox did recently sign Drew; however, in his first 3 games he is still looking for his timing at the plate. They also let Jarrod Saltalamacchia sign with the Miami Marlins, and the Red Sox instead chose to sign AJ Pierzynski, who has not been quite as productive, but even more worrisome he has caused some issues in the clubhouse.
The problem is not that the Red Sox let these players leave, as they were all defensible decisions, but the real problem is the way that the Red Sox tried to replace their production. In Centerfield, the Red Sox signed Grady Sizemore to compete with Jackie Bradley Jr. for the starting job. They essentially chose to replace one of the best Centerfielders with two unknowns, as Sizemore had not played in the Majors since 2011 and Bradley Jr. struggled in his first big league action last year. So far this year the pair has combined for a WAR of minus-0.2, as each has struggled mightily at the plate. Their struggles combined with the regression by the rest of the outfielders have contributed to the Red Sox having the worst outfield in the Majors. The Red Sox also failed to adequately replace Stephen Drew, although the issue has not been with their new shortstop. When they let Drew walk, they chose to move 3rd baseman Xander Bogaerts to his natural position of shortstop and put Will Middlebrooks at 3rd base, in the hopes that he would return to his 2012 form (.288/.325/.509). However, Middlebrooks has failed to be a productive option at the 3rd base, as he has just a 74 wRC+ and has a batting average under .200 with little power. While they have brought Drew back, it will take time for him to get his timing back, so the problem is not necessarily solved.
Bringing Drew back was a step in the right direction, as they realized his replacement was not getting the job done; however, they still must improve in the outfield. While they may wait for Victorino to return from his hamstring injury, even if he returns to form, they will be left with just one above-average outfielder. This post has been directed towards the team’s offensive struggles, which is understandable since their team wRC+ is just 92 (100 wRC+ is average). Nevertheless, the Red Sox will need to get more from Clay Buchholz upon his return from his knee injury. Buchholz was one of the best starters in the Majors in 2013, when he was healthy, as he posted a 1.78 ERA across 108 1/3 innings. However, in 50 innings this season, his ERA has ballooned to 7.02 with a much higher walk rate. The Red Sox great off-season strategy prior to the 2013 season had a huge impact on their success, and likewise, their poor off-season strategy before this season has had a substantial effect on their struggles thus far. A 10 game deficit at this point in the season is not insurmountable, but they will need to realize that they are not going to get similar production from many of their key contributors of just a year ago.
They are going to need to acquire more offensive talent to bolster their lineup and the easiest position to add to is the outfield. The Dodgers have a logjam in the outfield and would likely be willing to move one of their outfielders to Boston at the right price, but right now neither Matt Kemp nor Andre Eithier is having a strong campaign. The Red Sox would likely not be willing to pay the price the Dodgers would demand, but there are likely to be plenty of other outfielders available. Another contender with surplus outfielders is the St. Louis Cardinals, who could trade Allen Craig, Jon Jay, or Peter Bourjos. If the Padres fall further out of contention, the Red Sox would have the prospects to acquire any of their outfielders: Carlos Quentin, Cameron Maybin or Seth Smith. Smith would likely be the main target as he is playing the best and is not under contract beyond this year, so he should not cost as much as Cameron Maybin. Another target, if the Phillies decide to undergo a fire sale, could be Marlon Byrd, who is under contract through the 2015 season. If the White Sox, fall behind in the standings, they could look to trade Dayan Viciedo or Alejandro De Aza. Another potential trade target is Michael Cuddyer, if the Rockies decide to sell. Cuddyer is in the final year of a 3-year deal and is in the midst of his second strong season in a row.