What do you predict the starting lineup and starting five will look like for the Sox in 2014?
-- Ben, Boston
Based on the current roster, the lineup should look something like this against righties:
1. Daniel Nava, LF
2. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
3. David Ortiz, DH
4. Mike Napoli, 1B
5. A.J. Pierzynski, C
6. Shane Victorino, RF
7. Xander Bogaerts, SS
8. Will Middlebrooks, 3B
9. Jackie Bradley Jr. or Grady Sizemore, CF
If Sizemore wins the center-field job, he would presumably hit higher in the order than Bradley.
The starting five is likely to be Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Jake Peavy and Felix Doubront. Obviously they have an extra pitcher in Ryan Dempster, and it remains to be seen how that logjam will be resolved. Inevitably, someone will come up with a sore arm in Spring Training and the depth will prove to be invaluable.
How do you think the Red Sox's bullpen will perform in 2014? It was shaky last year, and the only considerable additions are Edward Mujica and Burke Badenhop, who don't have much experience in the American League.
-- Patrick D., Essex Junction, Vt.
Every year, bullpens are volatile and hard to project. However, I think your evaluation of last year's group is a little bit off the mark. Koji Uehara was almost historic with his dominance as the closer. For the most part, Junichi Tazawa was a strong setup man. Lefty Craig Breslow had a career year. Andrew Miller was also dominant before his season-ending injury just before the All-Star break. This group projects to be a good one. But bullpens have become virtually impossible to predict, which is why you need to have as many options as possible.
Who is the fastest prospect in the Red Sox's system?
-- Jackson B., Smithfield, R.I.
Mookie Betts, who has 59 stolen bases in 199 Minor League games, is the speed prospect the Red Sox are most excited about. He could have a strong future in the organization and is a dynamic player who should be fun to watch.
I know that this seems a little far-fetched, but if Sizemore does win the center-field job in Spring Training, is it possible that he could become the team's leadoff hitter for the 2014 season while giving Bradley some more time to develop in Pawtucket? I know he hasn't been healthy for a while, but he does have experience as a leadoff hitter back in Cleveland.
-- Jake M., Albany, N.Y.
I don't think it's far-fetched. I'm guessing that initially the Sox would have Sizemore hit in the middle to lower part of the order to take some pressure off of him and allow him to get back on his feet. And if Sizemore wins the job, I think you're right -- Bradley would wind up in Pawtucket in that scenario.
If a team wanted to sign Stephen Drew without giving up a Draft pick, could they propose a sign-and-trade deal with the Red Sox where the Sox would sign Drew and then trade him to the other team for a mutually agreed upon player? Or is there a rule prohibiting such deals in MLB?
-- Jim M., Philadelphia
Any time a team signs a free agent -- whether it is with his previous team or a new team -- that player can't be traded until June 15.
Why not let Nava play more in the outfield and let Bradley continue in the Minor Leagues?
-- Richard M., Naples, Fla.
Nobody is suggesting that Nava's playing time will be reduced. The need for Bradley is that he plays center field. The Red Sox are intent on playing Victorino in right. So the need for Bradley will depend squarely on how much of a role Sizemore is ready to take on. This should be the most compelling issue of Spring Training.
Having a healthy Victorino back in right field will be excellent. Do you think with the promise he showed primarily batting only righty at the end of the season, he will stay with batting righty or will he go back to switch-hitting? Right-handed pitchers using scouting reports against him would know how to pitch him when he's batting lefty, so it's possible he messed with their heads by batting right.
-- Michael P., Griswold, Conn.
I'm guessing Victorino will go back to switch-hitting, because that's what he's done for most of his career. But we won't know definitively until Spring Training. I think you might be right in the sense that that right-handed pitchers might be able to adjust to him if he continues to bat righty.
If Ben Cherington offered Lester the same contract that Pedroia signed last year, would that be considered acceptable? Why do you think they haven't talked yet?
-- Guy N., Saco, Maine
A general manager uses the winter to build the roster for the coming season. Lester is already on the team. Spring Training is typically used to discuss contract extensions with veteran players. The pitching market will probably insure that Lester makes a higher average annual value than Pedroia. The market simply dictates that elite pitching is more costly than an elite position player, at least for the most part. There are always exceptions.
Where does Allen Webster fit in on the 2014 Red Sox? In the bullpen? In the rotation if he's good enough in Spring Training?
-- Jacob H., Wilbraham, Mass.
That is ultimately up to Webster and where he proves to be in his development. Last year, his command was shaky when he got opportunities. But perhaps this is the year it clicks.
What has become of the Adalberto Ibarra, the catcher the Sox signed out of Cuba? Has he fallen way down the depth chart?
-- Dave S., Toronto
Ibarra was released in March 2013. He had health problems from the start and never panned out as the Red Sox had hoped. Fortunately they have plenty of catching in the farm system.
We all know about Babe Ruth, Wade Boggs, Roger Clemens, Johnny Damon and Jacoby Ellsbury. But what are some of the most successful defections from the Yankees to the Red Sox?
-- Brad C., Weymouth, Mass.
You make a great point. For whatever reason, there are far more examples of Boston players going on to do big things in New York than the other way around. However, Don Baylor is one notable exception. He moved from the Yankees to the Red Sox in 1986 and helped Boston win the pennant. Mike Easler, the player he was traded for, didn't make much of an impact in New York. Mike Stanley also became a respected run-producer and leader for the Sox after a solid career with the Yanks.