Spring training observations after a week in the Florida sun . . .
When the lockout ended, I believed the Red Sox would make a massive move in the middle infield, be it Carlos Correa (a remote possibility) or Trevor Story (more likely). Both players remain free, but as time passes without Chaim Bloom and Co. striking, I'm starting to fear that what you see is what you get, with a veteran outfielder possibly joining the right field mix.
Is this good enough? Maybe. The Red Sox surprised us last year. But with the landscape of the American League East changed by the Blue Jays going all in and the Yankees improving their defense at shortstop, catcher, and third base, last year's performance might not carry the day, even with an extra wild card qualifier.
The two clubs that took the Red Sox to the final day last season, the Jays and Mariners, have improved, with the former adding Gold Glove third baseman Matt Chapman, among others, and the latter signing Cy Young winner Robbie Ray away from Toronto and swinging a blockbuster with the Reds for All-Star outfielder Jesse Winker.
The Red Sox, meanwhile, made a small addition by bringing back first baseman Travis Shaw on Friday and signing veteran left-hander Derek Holland to a minor-league deal. Consider the needle unmoved.
Does manager Alex Cora ever feel like asking Bloom, "When do we get some help?"
"It all depends on how you see it," Cora said. "You can add, but there's other players that impacted the division that are playing somewhere else. They're in the AL West. So at the end, it starts April 7th. We're comfortable that we're going to be able to compete."
Bloom's seemingly marginal upgrades keep delivering, so it's important to note that winning the offseason doesn't always correlate with actual winning. But it sure would be nice to see the Red Sox join the fun. . . .
Maybe there's still a splash to be had, however, in the form of Story. The Rockies shortstop has fallen through the cracks this offseason and might have to settle for a one-year deal. MLB insider Jon Heyman reported on Friday that Story is open to a short-term position change, which doesn't necessarily make the Red Sox the favorites to land him. The Giants are also in the mix and they already boast a Gold Glove shortstop in Brandon Crawford. Story could play second in San Francisco or Boston.
The question is if the 29-year-old Story, who's almost exactly the same age as incumbent Xander Bogaerts, actually represents a better long-term investment. If we're going to continually throw Bogaerts' sub-par outs above average statistic in his face -- he ranked 35th out of 36 qualified shortstops in 2021 -- it's only fair to note that Story placed 31st on the same list.
On a one-year deal, however, there's lots to like. Story could shift to second base and give the Red Sox one of the most powerful and productive middle infields in the game. A two-time All-Star, Story owns 35- and 37-homer seasons and still managed 24 long balls during a down 2021.
Since the Red Sox have continuously been linked to high-end free agents without consummating any deals, put me firmly in the camp of, "I'll believe it when I see it." . . .
On a one-year deal, however, there's lots to like. Story could shift to second base and give the Red Sox one of the most powerful and productive middle infields in the game. A two-time All-Star, Story owns 35- and 37-homer seasons and still managed 24 long balls during a down 2021.John Tomase on the impact Trevor Story could have in Boston
The Red Sox surprised everyone en route to the ALCS last year. They shouldn't be sneaking up on anyone now, but their failure to keep pace with the other AL contenders has them once again being underestimated, which isn't the worst thing in the world if you're Cora.
"Last year it felt like we were the best team in the league," Cora said. "And then we were the worst team in the league and then we had the most COVID cases in the league. We are who we are. We won 90-whatever games, and at one point, we were very inconsistent. So I understand that. I understand that there are teams that, they're young and people expect them to be better. And, obviously, New York is New York and Tampa, they keep doing their thing.
"But if you ask the other three teams, they feel the same way. Last year, we beat New York in the wild card game and we played great against the Rays in the playoffs. We played four great games against Houston. We just ran out of gas, or hitting. But one of the things I learned over the years is it really doesn't matter what people think. You still have to show up and play and you've got to get better. This is a new season. We learned a lot about the group. There are some guys in that clubhouse that you see them now compared to last year and there's a presence about them, right? And we added some people, they've been around and they're very hungry to win a World Series." . . .
Give Bobby Dalbec credit. The first baseman started spring training with homers in his first two games. It's probably worth considering a 2022 where Dalbec plays more like his Player of the Month August self and less like the strikeout machine of April through July. The young slugger is still only 26 and there's no reason he can't improve. Let's not hand Triston Casas the job just yet.