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These Red Sox need some questions answered

Rob Bradford
March 13, 2018 - 11:17 am

FORT MYERS, Fla. -- The Red Sox are going to be a good team. A strong case could be made they are going to be even better than the Yankees. But there is some cleaning up to do before March 29.

Consider Tuesday the calm before the storm. The Red Sox had an off day. When they come back Wednesday there will be 15 days before the games count for real, and that is what we call crunch time. The coaching staff knows it. The front office knows it. It's why watching the sloppiness in Dunedin -- albeit with a roster made up of a lot of back-ups -- should have offered another layer of discomfort.

They potentially have the top-of-the-rotation pitchers needed to immediately be in the postseason conversation. Their lineup, with the addition of J.D. Martinez, has the potential to be as deep as any in the American League. And a bullpen that helped navigate more extra-inning wins in baseball a season ago figures to only get better with the addition of Carson Smith and Tyler Thornburg. 

That doesn't mean as we sit here there aren't potential warts.

Watching virtually each and every one of these exhibition games, here are some concerns that are hovering over the Red Sox:

1. INFIELD DEFENSE

Alex Cora admitted this issue prior to Monday's game, and then proceeded to watch his starting third baseman, Rafael Devers, mishandle a very manageable high-hopper just to his left.

Devers' inconsistency isn't due to lack of effort. He can be found prior to team workouts in the back fields with Carlos Febles and others getting reps in. But he has to take a jump forward in the coming weeks. Part of the equation is simply gaining confidence, while another piece has to be a continued vigilance with his conditioning.

The evolution of Devers might be easier to take if there wasn't another member of the infield who could potentially require a late-inning defensive replacement. Right now, that other guy would be second baseman Eduardo Nunez. Nunez's range was never going to be close to that of Dustin Pedroia, but early returns suggest his return from a knee ailment might be making the difference even more noticeable.

And we aren't even talking about the likes of Xander Bogaerts getting used to his new shift responsibilities (which has, at times, been awkward), or Hanley Ramirez trying to find his defensive form of two years ago. Deciphering what they can do here has to be the top priority heading towards the opener at Tropicana Field.

2. BASERUNNING

We can talk about the 81 guys getting thrown out last year, but so far there's a bunch who are getting whacked down in Florida, as well. And this time the problem hasn't been in relation to aggressiveness, but just carelessness. Getting caught in run-downs. Getting picked off. That sort of thing. The first part of spring training should be a wake-up call in this respect because no matter the altered philosophy, the baserunning has to be better.

3. ROUNDING OUT THE ROTATION

This is potentially a short-term issue, or one that could bite the Red Sox later in the season.

With the physical uncertainties of Drew Pomeranz, Eduardo Rodriguez and Steven Wright, the Sox could very well enter the season with the likes of Brian Johnson and Hector Velazquez as members of their rotation. Johnson has been for the most part pretty good. Velazquez? He simply didn't look like a major league starter Monday.

While it would seem that the Red Sox might be able manage without having to rely on Velazquez heavily in the first few weeks, the whole dynamic raises the issue of organizational starting depth. Johnson is out of options, so he would be perceived as the guy first in line. But after that? For me, Justin Haley -- who was very good in his three innings Monday, and held a 2.60 ERA in seven starts with Triple-A Pawtucket last season -- should leap-frog Velazquez. 

After that, well, let's say it's going to be a work in progress.

4. THE OUT-OF-OPTIONS GUYS

Blake Swihart. Deven Marrero. Johnson. All can be fits on the 25-man roster. All would certainly not pass through waivers if designated for assignment. But all can't be considered slam dunks for roster spots.

Swihart has shown to be a legitimate major league hitter, who can legitimately play both catcher and first base, and maybe some outfield. He is actually quick enough that pinch-running isn't out of the question, as well. But the problem is that the positions Swihart would be most valuable at are already deep on this roster. Perhaps he could integrate himself into another infield spot, but then you're using a spot that you might need for an established defensive solution at second base, shortstop or third base.

Marrero has been Marrero. Great fielder. Offensively, a question mark. There has been an adjustment to his approach -- standing upright instead of leaning over -- and perhaps that will pay dividends as the season progresses. But the bat still isn't at the level of, say, a Brock Holt. Here's the thing: The Red Sox might need a defensive-first guy more than ever thanks to the aforementioned infield question marks. That's where Marrero might find his opportunity, perhaps getting the nod over Tzu-Wei Lin simply due to roster flexibility.

And what should we make of Johnson's existence after his eventual rotation run comes to an end? Will they identify him as the lone lefty in the bullpen. That might work. But the problem is that there isn't really anything to draw on when it comes to how he might adapt to such a role.

5. WHICH RELIEVERS ARE GOING TO GET LEFTY HITTERS OUT?

Roenis Elias had a golden opportunity Monday. Coming off an excellent outing Friday, the lefty cruised through his first two batters with a new side-winding approach against lefty hitters. Then, after putting a runner on, he got the chance to show the ability to get out an established major league left-handed hitter in Curtis Granderson in a tight spot. He walked him. The inconsistency of Elias continued. 

Robby Scott has faced similar fates, looking great at times only to not quite get the job done.

Mention Bobby Poyner's name, on the other hand, and the coaching staff and front office will be quick to sing his praises. So much so that if the Red Sox were to prioritize taking a lefty (other than Johnson) in the bullpen, it would be the guy who hasn't pitched above Double-A.

Perhaps they do go without a lefty, with all three of the southpaw candidates (again, not including Johnson) having the ability to be sent to the minors. But the problem with that is that other than Craig Kimbrel, none of the righties are really known to be weapons vs. lefty hitters, with the possible exception of Smith. It's always a nice option to have.

Maybe I'm being picky, maybe not. But I do know that finding these answers should be weighing heavily on the minds of this organization's decision-makers in the next two weeks.

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