Now that Super Bowl 50 has graciously made way for the unofficial start of baseball season, it's time to revisit the key storylines of the offseason that set the stage for Opening Day. Namely, Fox Sports' Jon Morosi wonders if the Boston Red Sox have added enough pieces in pitchers David Price and Craig Kimbrel to turn last year's dismal finish into the AL East crown.
Of course, Price and Kimbrel aren't Dave Dombrowski's only offseason moves, but they are the most notable, which starkly suggests one thing: Dombrowski believes he already has a lineup that can win.
Naturally, Boston's existing lineup must play significantly better than it did last season. Outfielder Mookie Betts boosted a first-half .277 batting average to .311 after the All-Star break. Shortstop Xander Bogaerts went from .304 to .337 and outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. went from .133 to .267 (provided he saw a significant increase in playing time in the second half). If all three youngsters (Bradley is the oldest at 25) can reach and sustain their second-half levels of production earlier in the season, Boston could see an offensive revival.
If the success of the Red Sox lineup in 2016 hinged just on those three players, the city of Boston might be able to jump on board; they are a young, likable trio that shows plenty of promise. Unfortunately, the abysmal performances of Hanley Ramirez and Pablo Sandoval last season also loom like stormy clouds over the upcoming year. It became unclear if Ramirez could field a ball and Sandoval posted the worst season of his career (.245/.292/.366 with 10 home runs and 47 RBIs and no defense to make up for it). On top of that, both players struggled with weight fluctuation, which was often thrust into the spotlight alongside their poor play.
Clearly, in order for Boston to make the gargantuan leap over verifiable juggernauts Toronto and New York (not that Baltimore and Tampa Bay are easy divisional opponents, either) a lot of pieces must come together very quickly. It will certainly help that its rotation is in much surer hands than it was last season, but with the number of questions still left on offense, stay tuned through the coming months.
Here is quick look at the other rumors making their way around the majors today:
Los Angeles Dodgers: Morosi also doubts that the Dodgers have improved enough this offseason to warrant talk of a World Series title. They lost Zack Greinke and have yet to find a comparable replacement. The Dodgers also scored the third-fewest runs in the NL after the break but didn't seek to boost their offensive firepower with a position player from outside the club. Morosi also notes the added confusion around Yasiel Puig and the Dodgers' outfield as reasons to justify skepticism over their 2016 hype.
Arizona Diamondbacks: The Snakes have officially signed reliever Tyler Clippard to a two-year, $12.25 million contract, reports Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports. Clippard, 31, is expected to function as a setup man and should be the chief candidate to replace Brad Ziegler should he falter in his role as Arizona's closer. At first glance, Clippard's numbers don't appear to trend in his favor. His 60.6 percent fly-ball rate was easily the highest in baseball last season, his strikeouts went down, his walks went up and his velocity dipped for the third year in a row. Nevertheless, he totaled an admirable 2.92 ERA in 71 innings between the A's and the Mets last year. Perhaps even more impressive is that Clippard's 464 1/3 innings since 2009 are the most by any reliever in baseball by more than 50 innings. Has that workload (roughly an extra season's worth of innings more than anyone else) contributed to his declining velocity? It's possible, but it's also shown unmatched consistency and longevity that's highly prized in any bullpen. In order to clear roster space, Arizona has designated lefty Will Locante for assignment.
Yulieski Gourriel and Lourdes Gourriel Jr.: The two brothers have reportedly defected from Cuba in an effort to launch their major league careers, according to Jorge Ebro of El Nuevo Herald. Yulieski, 31, posts a career slashline of .333/.414/.577 and has played professionally in both Cuba and Japan with the Nippon Professional Baseball Organization. So far in the 2015-16 Cuban season, Yulieski has batted an eye-popping .535/.604/1.012 with 10 homers across 23 games. Ben Badler from Baseball America, who ranked Yulieski the No. 1 player remaining in Cuba, has compared his play to that of David Wright and (pre-last season) Hanley Ramirez. Because of his long professional history, Yulieski would be free to sign with any club for any amount once MLB declares him a free agent, though there is a question of how his age could negatively impact his ability to command a noteworthy deal. His brother Lourdes, on the other hand, is only 22. He's had far less professional experience than his older brother, but Badler argues that Lourdes could develop into a versatile third base option who clubs 20 home-runs a season. There are still quite a few logistical steps the Gourriel brothers must take in the United States before clubs can pursue them, but two premier international talents look set to join the major leagues soon.
Eric O'Flaherty: The free-agent left-hander has narrowed his list of interested teams down to four clubs. ESPN's Jerry Crasnick reports via Twitter that O'Flaherty should sign a deal by this weekend. O'Flaherty, 31, suffered through the worst season of his career last year in his first full season back from Tommy John surgery. Prior to 2015, he had developed a proven reputation as an excellent setup man and one of the most reliable bullpen arms with the Atlanta Braves. From 2009-13, prior to his injury, O'Flaherty boasted a 1.99 ERA and a 58.3 percent ground-ball rate across 249 1/3 innings. Though his velocity dipped significantly in 2015, his ground ball rate has remained constant.