FORT MYERS, Fla. – Welcome to Spring Training 2024. Before pitchers and catchers officially report on Wednesday, I have some questions:
1. Does trading Jarren Duran make sense for the Red Sox?
The San Diego Padres are among several teams sniffing around Jarren Duran.
But while the Padres certainly need Duran – their only established outfielder is Fernando Tatis Jr. – the Red Sox do, too. Somehow, he’s actually one of Boston’s more veteran outfielders, at least, in terms of playing for this team. They have enough outfield options to trade him, but almost all of them come with significant risk. Free-agent signee Tyler O’Neill has averaged 80 games per season over his six years in the Majors and doesn’t offer much in the way of power-hitting. Rookies Ceddanne Rafaela and Wilyer Abreu have each played 28 career games in the bigs, too small of a sample size to pass judgment. Masataka Yoshida was considered a bat-first player before he arrived from Japan last year. He was minus-8 Outs Above Average and ranked in the third MLB percentile in Arm Value and 23rd in Sprint Speed. Rob Refsnyder is always a solid option off the bench, but has never been an everyday player; his 89 games last year were nearly double his previous career high. He does absolutely demolish left-handed pitching, though.
So, what gives?
A Duran trade wouldn’t be much of a cost-cutting transaction; he’s still making the league minimum. He’ll be arbitration eligible in 2025, and a free agent in 2029.
Perhaps the Red Sox don’t think he can sustain last season’s performance – the ZiPs projections indicate as much – in which case, trading him could turn out to be a savvy ‘Sell high’ move, especially if they got some young, club-controlled pitching out of the deal. Over his first two sporadic seasons in the Majors, Duran struggled in almost every aspect of the game. He didn’t make last year’s Opening Day roster, but with Kiké Hernández in the infield and eventually traded, and Adam Duvall out for months with a wrist fracture, Duran became an everyday player, and an impressive one, at that. In one of the most stunning turnarounds by a young player in recent franchise history, he hit .295 with a .828 OPS, 24 doubles, two triples, eight home runs, 46 runs, and 40 RBI. He led the team with 24 stolen bases, the most by a Red Sox player since Mookie Betts swiped 30 in 2018, and was in the 95th MLB percentile in Sprint Speed.
Parting with Duran would also make sense if the Red Sox truly believe that Roman Anthony is on the verge of knocking on debut’s door. Of course, Anthony has only ascended as far as Double-A Portland, and that was late enough in the ‘23 MiLB season that he only played 10 games. He’s also 19 years old, and the Red Sox aren’t going to rush the development of a prospect that young, and risk wasting such immense potential.
With the outfield already lacking power hitting, speed, and defense, giving Duran up could also make what’s shaping up to be another disappointing season just that, or worse.
2. Are the Red Sox putting too much stock in their top prospects?
I asked something like this in a previous “Starr’s 7 Questions,” but after seeing Spencer Turnbull sign a one-year, $2 million contract with the Philadelphia Phillies on Sunday, I’m revisiting.
The Red Sox have spent the last month or so heaping praise upon Roman Anthony, Kyle Teel, and Marcelo Mayer, essentially painting the trio as the harbingers of the next era of winning in Boston. But about half a decade ago, Turnbull was the pitcher who was going to lead the Detroit Tigers into a new era of winning, and now, at 31 years old, he’s looking for a second chance after being cut loose by the Tigers.
It’s one of countless stories that illustrate why it’s risky to put too much stock in top prospects. The most highly-touted may amount to nothing, while someone who never reaches their organization’s Top 30 could become a Hall of Famer. Most of the time, they end up somewhere in between.
Of course, Turnbull isn’t a perfect example. He made it to the Majors in 2018, and pitched well for the Tigers, even throwing a no-hitter in 2021 before undergoing Tommy John surgery shortly thereafter. He struggled in his 2023 return, leading to a demotion, stint on the 60-day injured list, and eventual non-tender.
But overall, top prospects are nothing but potential until they prove themselves. That’s already a tall enough order without a prospect’s big-league bosses telling the world to put all their eggs in said prospect’s basket.
3. Lucas Luetge is still pitching?
In case you missed it, the Red Sox are signing Lucas Luetge to a contract. The pitcher, who turns 37 next month, first reached the Majors in 2012.
Luetge was dominant out of the Yankees bullpen in ‘21 and ‘22, posting a combined 2.71 ERA across 107 outings, including one start and 31 games finished. Over those two seasons, in which he racked up 129 ⅔ regular-season innings and faced 552 batters, he struck out 138 batters and only allowed 10 home runs and 32 walks.
4. Who will lead the Red Sox offense?
Rafael Devers is the obvious answer, but for stretches during the season, his bat was cold. Justin Turner was the team’s most consistent hitter, and now that he’s a Toronto Blue Jay, the Sox have even more offensive ground to make up than before.
It doesn’t project to be a strong year at the plate for Boston, but for better or worse, there’s usually at least one player one each time whose performance comes as a big surprise.
5. How soon until Corey Kluber gets his first coaching job?
Much like Dustin Pedroia, who was essentially coaching his Red Sox teammates in later years – remember when he taught Eduardo Rodriguez a new pitch? – Corey Kluber has been a coach-in-the-making for a long time. Before he left Cleveland, he was a go-to for young arms, who wanted to soak up any expertise the two-time Cy Young winner had to offer.
Now that Kluber has announced his retirement and stated a desire to find a new way to contribute to baseball, it feels like it’s only a matter of time before he finds a place to start that journey.
6. Who will create the most meme-able moment in the 2024 Red Sox Netflix docuseries?
With the announcement last week that the Red Sox will be the subject of not one, but two Netflix docuseries – one about 2004, the other about the upcoming season – I’m thinking back to the weekly meme-fest that accompanied each episode of “The Last Dance.”
Among the highlights: Michael Jordan looking skeptically at iPad footage of Isiah Thomas, Jordan’s security guard John Michael Wozniak mimicking Jordan’s iconic shoulder shrug, the clip of Jordan jamming out to music on the Chicago Bulls’ bus in the ‘90s, and of course, Jordan telling Larry Bird, “You bitch, (expletive) you” while hugging him.
I can’t wait to see what internet gold is mined from these two Red Sox series.
7. Why won’t the Red Sox sign Jordan Montgomery?
He’s healthy. He’s a proven winner. He’s used to the American League East from his days with the Yankees. He’s living in Boston while his wife does her residency at a local hospital.
I’m going to keep asking this until someone signs him.