According to the computer, Sox have had a pretty good winter


According to the computer, Sox have had a pretty good winter

On Thursday's Felger & Mazz, the Red Sox' offseason moves were a subject of considerable debate.

But -- if you're to believe a computer analysis conducted by ESPN's Jayson Stark -- the Sox have had a pretty good winter.

Using the ZiPS projection system of ESPN Insider's Dan Szymborski, the Red Sox have increased their projected win total by nine games -- from 76 to 85 -- with the free-agent additions of pitchers Ryan Dempster and Koji Uehara, catcher David Ross, shortstop Stephen Drew, outfielders Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes and, perhaps, catcherfirst baseman Mike Napoli. That's the second-highest total in baseball behind the Blue Jays' 15-game improvement (from 78 to 93).

Stark also polled some baseball executives to see what they thought. While one of them noted the Sox "had to add a lot, because they had so many holes," their many acquisitions -- for the most part -- received good marks.

"They've brought in a bunch of guys who can play in Boston," said one.

Another, however, added: "To me, they've spent a lot of money to be mediocre."

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

Will the Harris signing mean more time on the edge for Hightower?

David Harris is expected to be a savvy middle linebacker who will line up his teammates when they help. He's expected to provide some level of leadership, even in his first year in New England, as an accomplished-but-hungry 33-year-old who has not yet reached a Super Bowl. 

What Harris is not expected to do is improve the Patriots pass-rush. He was in on one sack in 900 snaps last season.  

But in a roundabout way he might. 

MORE: How does Derek Carr's new deal impact Jimmy Garoppolo?

There are dominos to fall now that Harris has been added to Bill Belichick and Matt Patricia's defense. How much will Harris play, and whose playing time will he cut into? Those questions don't yet have answers, but one of the more intriguing elements of the Harris acquisition is how he will benefit Dont'a Hightower's game.

If Harris can pick up the Patriots defense quickly -- and all indications are that there should be few issues there -- he could take some of the all-important communication responsibilities off of Hightower's shoulders. 

Ever since taking the reins from Jerod Mayo as the team's signal-caller, Hightower has had to be on top of all requisite pre-snap checks and last-second alignment changes. It's a critical role, and one that Hightower performs well, but those duties place some added stress on the player wearing the green dot. Perhaps if part of that load can be heaped onto Harris' plate, that might allow Hightower to feel as though he's been freed up to focus on his individual assignments.

Harris' presence might also impact where on the field Hightower is used. Hightower may be the most versatile piece on a Patriots defense loaded with them, but with Harris in the middle, Hightower could end up playing more on the edge, where he's proven he can make a major impact (see: Super Bowl LI).

For Belichick and his staff, having the ability to use one of their best pass-rushers -- and one of the most efficient rushers league-wide, per Pro Football Focus -- on the edge more frequently has to be an enticing byproduct of the move to sign Harris. Especially since there are some question marks among the team's end-of-the-line defenders behind Trey Flowers and Rob Ninkovich. 

We'll have to wait for training camp before we have an idea of how exactly Harris fits in with the Patriots defense. But the effect he'll have on his new teammates, and Hightower in particular, will be fascinating to track.