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Inbox: Will Kimbrel return to dominance?

Beat reporter Ian Browne answers Red Sox fans' questions
January 9, 2017

Craig Kimbrel obviously had a down year last season. Entering his age-29 season, it would seem he can still bounce back to the elite level he was at in Atlanta. How do you think will he perform? -- Haruka H., JapanThere's absolutely no reason Kimbrel can't bounce back and be

Craig Kimbrel obviously had a down year last season. Entering his age-29 season, it would seem he can still bounce back to the elite level he was at in Atlanta. How do you think will he perform?
-- Haruka H., Japan

There's absolutely no reason Kimbrel can't bounce back and be more consistent in 2017. I think the past two years have been a little topsy-turvy for him, getting traded twice. Now, he's settled with Boston and knows he will be there for at least the next two seasons. Kimbrel, to me, is a creature of habit who likes to be comfortable in his surroundings. Look for him to have a monster year.
Do you think David Price and Pablo Sandoval are poised for bounce-back years in their second season playing in Boston, much like Rick Porcello and Hanley Ramirez had last year?
-- Mike L., Chester, Conn.

Absolutely. I think that the addition of Chris Sale is the best thing that could happen to Price. Suddenly, all of the scrutiny will be on another high-profile newcomer and Price will have fewer distractions in his quest to bounce back. Look for Price to lower his ERA by close to a run. I'm really bullish on him rebounding. It's harder to project with Sandoval because it's been a while since he's been an effective player. But he has done a tremendous job working himself into shape and he will be one of the stories to watch throughout Spring Training and beyond.

What is happening with Rusney Castillo?
-- Shayne B., Concord, N.H.

Castillo is no longer on the 40-man roster, but perhaps he will get an invite to Major League Spring Training. He is essentially a Minor League player, though he is still making Major League money. Castillo has been a disappointment thus far. But he is 29, meaning it's probably too soon to write off the rest of his career. Castillo has been playing in Puerto Rico this winter.
Are the Red Sox going to sign another power hitter like Mark Trumbo or Jose Bautista?
-- James F., Windsor

The longer those guys stay on the market, the more you wonder if their price can some down enough to make the Red Sox viable players for their services. Chris Carter, who tied for the National League lead with 41 home runs, might make more sense because the Red Sox wouldn't lose any Draft compensation.
When can we expect to see Carson Smith on the team, and in what role?
-- Ephraim K., Beit Shemesh, Israel

As far as the timeline goes, I would say midseason is realistic. The role will depend on how well he pitches and how others are performing in the bullpen at the time. It's always hard to project how a pitcher will bounce back from Tommy John surgery. For John Lackey, it resurrected his career. Daisuke Matsuzaka was never the same again. It is amazing how much interest there is in Smith. My Inbox has been flooded this winter with questions about his status.
Given what we saw from Andrew Benintendi last season, is it safe to say he will be the everyday left fielder for the Red Sox in 2017? Or will he platoon with someone like Chris Young?
-- Greg A., Haddam, Conn.

I don't think it will be a full-blown platoon. Benintendi should get a lot of playing time assuming he hits like he did after his callup. Young will also be in the lineup against all lefties, but it won't always be at Benintendi's expense. There could be quite a few occasions when Young serves as the desginated hitter against lefties. Jackie Bradley Jr. will also get a breather here and there, giving Young more chances to get at-bats.

I'm curious as to why everyone's solution for Thomas Pomeranz is to just throw him in the bullpen. I hear a lot of that on the radio. I feel like people forget he was an All-Star and could offer a lot from the rotation.
-- Zach M., Agawam, Mass.

Don't believe everything you hear on the radio. I think manager John Farrell will give Pomeranz every chance during Spring Training to prove he belongs in the rotation. The Red Sox gave up a big-time prospect in Anderson Espinoza to get Pomeranz, so they have every motivation to have him pitching a lot of quality innings.
There is a lot of talk about Hanley becoming DH. Why aren't we hearing more about Sandoval moving to DH? I was fairly impressed with Hanley's glove work at first last year, which is more than I can say for most of Panda's outings at third. The Sox have guys capable of playing third base, why not let them and keep Hanley at first?
-- Shaun H., Twin Mountain., N.H.

This might have been a more viable option if not for the trades of Yoan Moncada and Travis Shaw. The Red Sox then went out and signed a first baseman in Mitch Moreland, making Ramirez the logical choice to go to DH. You will still see Ramirez at first at times.

Are there any public plans to name Dustin Pedroia captain now that David Ortiz has retired? Does Pedroia have any competition as the team's primary clubhouse leader?
-- David C., Dayton, Ohio

Without question, Pedroia is the leader. In many ways, he was a leader even when Ortiz was around. I'm not sure being a captain is all that important to Pedroia. He would rather just keep setting an example by how hard he works and the way he plays the game than needing a title to symbolize that.
I am very surprised to see Fernando Abad still around and in the bullpen, at least as they prepare to start Spring Training. What am i missing here?
-- Mark V., Syracuse, N.Y.

Abad struggled after his acquisition at the non-waiver Trade Deadline, but that's hardly uncommon. Getting dealt in the middle of the season can be jarring and every player handles it differently. There's no reason not to give Abad a shot in Spring Training to see if he can resume being one of the better lefty specialists in the American League.

Ian Browne has covered the Red Sox for since 2002. Follow him on Twitter @IanMBrowne and **Facebook**.