Christian Vazquez has lost 25 pounds this offseason. (WEEI.com photo)
The family of five poured into the Foxwoods Resort and Casino elevator Sunday morning, all of them wearing their Patriots jerseys. The day before, they explained, the garb had been Red Sox-related (due to the team’s “Winter Weekend” event), but it was now time to focus on the task at hand — beating the Broncos.
Monday, Saturday’s shirts were pulled out of the hamper.
WIth the Patriots season now officially over, it might be a good time to offer reminders as to where things stand with the next team up — the Red Sox.
With nearly 6,000 people filing into Foxwoods over the weekend to see virtually the entire Red Sox team (those absent included David Ortiz, Clay Buchholz, David Price, Craig Kimbrel, Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa), there were two days of reminders as to what awaits in a few weeks.
Most of New England might not have been paying attention then, but they probably will start altering their focus now.
Let’s help you catch up with some of this team’s key storylines,and where things stand with each of them …
1. Hanley Ramirez is a friendly first baseman
Ramirez swept through Foxwoods with plenty of smiles, handshakes and good cheer to go around. He received a standing ovation at the Town Hall event Friday night, and was the star of the show when participating in a Saturday game show featuring players, coaches and alumni.
But can he play first base? We still have no idea.
Ramirez has started taking ground balls in South Florida with Red Sox exec Laz Gutierrez, and checked in at 234 pounds. (Although he insisted that that is only three pounds difference from where he finished the season at.)
Ramirez told us on WEEI that this has been his most challenging offseason, referencing how many times he has been checked up on by the organization. He also remains supremely confident that playing first base won’t be a problem.
He remains concerned about the play that involves reaching for throws into the runner due to his left shoulder’s history. And the footwork thing is on his radar.
In the end, everything that has unfolded to this point won’t matter if he doesn’t put the time in once in Fort Myers. The kind of time Mike Napoli put in when trying to pull off the same transformation. If he does that, the skill-set would suggest his history as an infielder will allow him to manage. If not, nobody is going to remember any of the feel-good moments of this offseason.
2. What should we make of Christian Vazquez?
We got the first “I’m in the best shape of my life” reference over the weekend, coming from Vazquez. But we can absolutely confirm that this isn’t the usual February hyperbole. Vazquez is undeniably is in better shape than ever, which was confirmed with the presentation of a body 25 pounds lighter than the one we last saw.
Such a transformation shouldn’t be a surprise. When players have Tommy John surgery, their overall body is usually much-improved since it is rare time they can workout without having to focus on using their arm. (It is the reason pitchers often come back throwing harder than before the procedure.)
Now comes the question as to what it will all mean for Vazquez’s spot on the Red Sox roster.
Dave Dombrowski defined Blake Swihart as the team’s No. 1 catcher at the moment, with Vazquez not throwing to bases until this week. But there is every expectation that Vazquez — who spent the last few months serving as a designated hitter in the Puerto Rican Winter League — will be hitting the ground running come mid-February.
Dombrowski also confirmed that there have been no plans to try Swihart at a different position this spring.
The guess here is that if all three catchers — Vazquez, Swihart and Ryan Hanigan — are healthy, the Red Sox will wait as long as possible in spring training before either, A. trading Hanigan; B. using March performances to determine if Vazquez or Swihart could plausibly keep progressing in Pawtucket.
3. Rusney Castillo will play, but how much?
Castillo left the Puerto Rican League playoffs to swing through Foxwoods. He looked about the same as when we last saw him, passing along (through translator Brian Cruz) that he feels refreshed after a leg injury contributed to the outfielder wearing down in September.
He also still hasn’t shed that mystery man label.
Castillo is under contract for the next five years at $56.6 million. He has is 28 years old and has played in 90 major league games. And we still have no idea what to make of him, and neither do the Red Sox.
If the Sox did have full confidence in Castillo’s ability to be an everyday player, the guess is that they wouldn’t have spent so heavily in the free agent outfield market. Chris Young is considered a viable option to play a lot if Castillo slips, having totaled 140 games for the Yankees a season ago. And if the Cuban doesn’t then Young’s time will come more in a platoon situation for Jackie Bradley Jr.
Castillo has said he shortened up his swing, while noting the adjustments he has made to endure the long big league season. It’s a start. But the Red Sox would most definitely agree it’s time to pick up the pace when it comes to defining Castillo’s existence.
4. What will offseason of change bring to Dustin Pedroia, Pablo Sandoval?
Pedroia has gone to EXOS in Phoenix, working out in the same group as Xander Bogaerts, and used his time at the training facility to focus on the kind of agility and mobility he feels might have left him a year ago. (The second baseman said he focused too much on upper-body strength last offseason considering, trying to play catch-up after hand and wrist injuries had limited him during previous winters.)
As he pointed out during our interview with him at Foxwoods, Pedroia only attempted four stolen bases all season in 2015, getting caught twice. In his previous seven seasons, he totaled 118 steals in 153 attempts.
He certainly looked the part, showing to the weekend event seemingly in great shape. Considering the ability to put both the hand, wrist and hamstring injuries in the rear-view mirror, that’s a good start, especially considering Pedroia is coming off a pretty good season (.291 batting average, .797 OPS) in the 93 games he played.
We have also heard Sandoval has had a successful offseason, losing a reported 20 pounds. We’ll have to take their word for it, because Sandoval didn’t make an appearance in Mashantucket.
What we learned about the importance of the third baseman’s weight is this: when even a little lighter, he can actually move adequately at his position. When as big as he was in May, June and July, the range is so limited the player becomes a legitimate defensive liability.
The other big question for when Sandoval hits camp: will he hit right-handed? He has suggested that remaining a switch-hitter is his desired path, but you simply can’t ignore the numbers. In the 20 games he hit righty, Sandoval went 2-for-41 with a walk. Hitting lefty on lefty for 56 games, the clip was a very tolerable .255 (27-for-106), albeit with just five doubles, 10 RBI and no homers.
Did we mention that Brock Holt hit .312 with an .807 OPS against lefties?
5. Get ready for the netting, and maybe the Celtics
Team president Sam Kennedy explained what is in store for those sitting on the first and third base side of Fenway Park, from dugout to dugout. In short, they’re going to have a net in front of them.
While the material used in the net hasn’t yet been determined (that should happen this week), the area involved reaches from the beginning of each dugout. Kennedy noted that all season ticket holders who might have to look through the new obstacle have been notified and given options to relocate.
Kennedy also confirmed he has had ongoing discussions with Celtics president Rich Gotham about playing a basketball game at Fenway Park.
(To listen to Kennedy, click below)