Inbox: How will Sox bullpen stack up come spring?
Beat reporter Ian Browne fields fans' questions
The Red Sox bullpen looks like a work in progress. So far I see Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa in the back end and a lot of other spots up for grabs. How do you see the 'pen shaping up as Spring Training nears?
-- Steve J., Ridgewood, N.J.
One of the underrated moves of the winter might have been the trade with the Braves for Anthony Varvaro. The righty has put up impressive numbers the last two years and could effectively replace Burke Badenhop as the guy who gets key outs in the sixth and seventh innings. Edward Mujica, who finished strong and has closing experience, is also back for another year. Craig Breslow is back for another tour of duty and he's the perfect second lefty if he gets back on track. I still think general manager Ben Cherington would like to find a power lefty, as the loss of Andrew Miller is obviously significant.
Now that the Red Sox have traded for Ryan Hanigan, will he be starting or will he be a backup like David Ross was?
-- Shane T., Newton, N.H.
Hanigan will slide into the veteran backup role vacated by Ross. He might play more than the average backup, depending on how well Christian Vazquez develops at the plate.
Since Mike Napoli underwent surgery to correct his sleep apnea in November, I've wondered if it helped improve his health. Heard anything about it?
-- Joe O., Lynn, Mass.
By all accounts, Napoli's procedure went well and he will hopefully feel more energetic on a daily basis now that he's sleeping better. There are other health concerns that probably plagued Napoli more last year than sleep apnea, such as the finger injury he sustained in Chicago early in the season that never truly got better. Look for Napoli to have a bounceback year.
Why is it that the Sox have never re-signed a big-name free agent? With this history, Rick Porcello might be here for one year.
-- Larry G., Lakeland, Fla.
One thing the Red Sox have done a pretty good job at is signing players to extensions before they get to free agency. They did this with Dustin Pedroia twice, and David Ortiz a few times also. I wouldn't rule out Porcello signing an extension before he gets to free agency if he finds Boston to be a good fit.
If the Sox should get another starting pitcher, is there a chance that Joe Kelly gets shifted to the bullpen as a setup guy? Justin Masterson has a solid history as a relief pitcher, but Kelly has great metrics when used as a relief pitcher and projects well as a closer some day.
-- Bill F., Melbourne, Fla.
I don't think that's a realistic scenario at this point. Kelly is still young and has enough pitches in his arsenal to be effective as a starter. If a logjam was created by adding another starter, I think the Red Sox would more likely trade Kelly than shift him to a reliever.
I like Porcello, but he is an extreme ground-ball guy who got a lot better when the Tigers got Jose Iglesias. Can Xander Bogaerts improve his defense enough that Porcello will continue pitching well?
-- Ken M., Melrose, Mass.
Your point is a great one. The Red Sox have built a pitching staff of ground-ball pitchers and they will need excellent defense up the middle to be successful. You already know you're going to get that from Pedroia. It is critical for Bogaerts to take a big step forward with his consistency on defense in 2015.
With the acquisitions of Wade Miley, Porcello and Masterson, do you think the Red Sox are set in their rotation or will they look to add more starting pitchers?
-- Paul R., Oakville, Conn.
I'm guessing the search for an ace will continue, whether it's a potential trade for Cole Hamels or someone else. If the price is too high, look for the search to pick up again in July.
The Red Sox traded in my opinion two very good players for Miley. Do you see this as a good move?
-- Sam, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
Sure. The only way the D-backs were going to trade a pitcher the caliber of Miley (2012 All-Star) is if you gave them some quality arms in return. The jury is still out on how effective Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster can be as Major League starting pitchers. But Cherington knew it was critical to find as many innings-eaters as he could for his new-look rotation.
With all the talk of these prospects, what are the Sox waiting for to bring them up?
-- David C., Attleboro, Mass.
There is always a fine line with prospects, and when, exactly is the right time to bring them up. However, last year, the club was not hesitant at all, as several of the prospects you've been hearing about for a couple of years got to play plenty at the Major League level, including Bogaerts, Mookie Betts, Jackie Bradley Jr., Vazquez and others. The Red Sox will continue to develop their talented crop as best they can and find the right opportunities for those players when they are earned.
This question has nothing to do with the present Red Sox, but this question has been burning inside me for a very long time: Will we ever see Dwight Evans elected into the Hall of Fame and will we ever see his No. 24 retired by the Red Sox? I mean, the Sox always have Pesky's No. 6 up, why not 24? I think he deserves both.
-- Ryan N., New Britain, Conn.
The interesting thing is that if Evans played in this era, I think he would be more valued due to his strong on-base percentage and OPS. Evans was also an elite defender and I feel like he has been underappreciated in the years since he stopped playing. I'm not sure Evans will get enough support for the Hall of Fame. Given his long ties to the Red Sox and the community, there's certainly a chance the No. 24 will one day be on the right-field façade.