The odds on favorite in the AL East, according to many people. And what’s not to like? They’ve made some major improvements offensively and defensively. The pitching is kind of suspect, but with the Yankees not improving and with the Rays losing more than gaining, this might be the year to stage a playoff run. They’ve got some holes, but they’ve also got larges pieces between them. Let’s take a look:
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, for the most part, with Jason Varitek as the backup. Not looking good for the home team this time around. Saltalamacchia can’t stay healthy, and Varitek shouldn’t start any more games than absolutely necessary. Like 5, or so. Problem is, he’ll have to go at least 40 or more this year to give Saltalamacchia proper rest. I can see some mid-season trade coming here. Florida fans are bitching about John Buck, but who would you rather have?
Upside: Saltalamacchia becomes the player everyone thought he would be
Downside: injuries, and Varitek becomes the starter
Score: - 2
Ladies and gentleman, your new single season home run leader, Adrian Gonzalez. No, probably not, but it will interesting. Free from Petco, Gonzalez is going to show us how good he really is. Maybe a slight upgrade on defense, by being more agile around the bag, but not much. Gonzalez is poised for a monster season, and has a team around him that he doesn’t have to carry. However it plays out, the American League is going wish he would have stayed in the National.
Downside: he’s only human
Score: + 2
Dustin Pedroia. What seems like a down year because of an injury, he had his best season power-wise, and the rest of his numbers weren’t far off his averages. Should bounce back just fine, and benefit from everyone around him. He’ll never be Rogers Hornsby, but he will be Bobby Grich, and that’s a pretty good comparison. The team might have problems defensively this year at short, as he’ll have to cover more ground up the middle. Gonzales will push him over some, so that should help, but does he have the arm? Double plays will also drop.
Upside: none really. He’s at his peak level now
Downside: becomes only an average second baseman
Score: + 1
Kevin Youkilis. This is kind of a down grade after losing Beltre, but an upgrade at first for picking up Gonzalez. But with Youkilis it’s not really either. Combining first and third this year, they will be as good, or better, than last year. Youkilis isn’t replacing Beltre. Gonzalez is. Youkilis had one of his best years, even with injuries, and looks to bounce back with no issues. He’s a good athlete, and he can handle the position, and has a lot of help in the line-up. You’ll hear that comment a lot.
Upside: does what he does every year
Downside: fans get mad he’s not doing what Beltre did while Gonzales does
Score: + 1
Marco Scutaro. Not the weakest link, with the catching issue, but not a strong one either. An average year for him last year, and the team can live with his offense. What they need, but won’t get, is better defense, as he has below average range. This will force Youkilis and Pedroia to field more balls, lower the double plays made, and not help the staff when there are runners on who should be out at first. I figure to see Jed Lowrie playing a lot of late innings, thereby cutting Scutaro’s at bats. Which won’t hurt the team.
Upside: doesn’t get the job done defensively and Lowrie replaces him
Downside: the Red Sox don’t actually have the magical sabermetric defensive tool everyone thinks they do
Score: - 1
Carl Crawford. Who saw this coming? People think he’ll be wasted in left field, but I don’t see it happening. I’m going to go out on limb and predict J.D. Drew gets hurt. The new outfield alignment will then be: LF – Ellsbury; CF – Cameron; RF – Crawford. Remember, you heard it hear first. Doesn’t matter which position he plays, he’ll be fine. He can do it defensively, and his speed is better suited for right field. If he learns to use the wall and his speed to his advantage, he’ll lead the league in doubles and triples every year. He doesn’t need to hit homeruns, but he will need to walk more often. I don’t see him running as often, but the threat will help.
Upside: becomes the best left fielder for the Red Sox since (fill in the blank)
Downside: tries to hit homeruns and steal bases and flops
Score: + 1
Jacob Ellsbury. A good player who doesn’t have to do a lot. Just play defense, steal bases, and not make mistakes. He’s actually has below average range in center, but it won’t matter as much with Crawford, as he can cover the ground to the side so Ellsbury can play deeper. If Ellsbury falters, Mike Cameron moves in. He can’t go 150 games at the level he used to, but he’ll still hit 20 homers and play good defense. Just not give much else. The Red Sox are okay out here.
Upside: a good solid year allowing Cameron to be the 4th outfielder
Downside: he gets hurt or doesn’t hit and Cameron has to start too many games
Score: + 1
J.D. Drew. Getting older and more injury prone. Don’t expect more than 125 games out of him. Which should be limited regardless. He should go into some sort of platoon to keep him healthy. If he is, he’ll put up good enough numbers, and should be dropped in the order where what he does is less noticeable. If he does go down, that will put Cameron in a starting role in right field, unless we see the alignment I mentioned earlier. Either way, an average year from Drew will be good, but don’t expect it.
Upside: has that one last hurrah in him
Downside: gets injured and puts Cameron in a starting role for more games than is good for the team
David Ortiz. A come back year last year, but I don’t think he can sustain it. He’s more than a Three True Outcomes player, but he will be one before long. He can still put a good year, particularly in this line-up. He’s not the big dog anymore, and he doesn’t need to press, and no one should get into a tizzy if he gets off to a slow start. The big issue will be that if he does, who DH’s? I see Drew moving here, which would actually be a help, but hurt the outfield. Ortiz should be good for 30 homeruns from the sixth slot, and get the job done.
Upside: hits like he did last year and doesn’t force a roster move
Downside: doesn’t hit, or gets hurt and forces a roster move
Jason Varitek. I see some form of roster move before the season, or fairly quickly during it. If Saltalamacchia can’t do it, this team won’t win with Varitek getting a lot of playing time. Bengie Molina, anyone? Catching is a serious issue for this team, and this could be their downfall. However it plays out, Varitek is looking at 40+ starts, and that’s not good.
Upside: Red Sox make a roster move
Downside: Saltalamacchia gets hurt, or can’t hit
Score: - 2
Backup first baseman:
The depth chart says Lars Anderson, but it won’t be. Gonzalez is expected to play 150+ games, and you don’t put a young guy on the bench for the season for 10 starts. Youkilis will do this when he needs a rest, or maybe even Ortiz a game or two. Possibly Cameron, but there is no real back up. If Youkilis has to play here, then who plays third? They don’t really need a back-up here, which is good.
Upside: Youkilis can do it if needed, but it would probably be Drew or Cameron
Downside: no third baseman, inexperience at the position, and no back up outfielder
Score: - 1
Jed Lowrie. Not a bad guy to have. He can play all three positions, and is good defensively. He can hit better than some people think, but just how well over an extended time is the question. The Red Sox are okay as long as Youkilis and Pedroia don’t get hurt. Lowrie could do the job either place, but not as well. It would be a downgrade at second or third, but might be an upgrade at short. If Scutaro can’t get the job done, he and Lowrie will trade places, which is mostly a push.
Upside: the rest of the infield performs and he’s a super utility player
Downside: if he’s starting, someone else isn’t. If it’s Youkilis or Pedroia, it won’t be good
Mike Cameron. Good choice, as he can play all 3 positions well, and still has some pop. He won’t do much else offensively, but that won’t be needed in this outfield, barring a long-term injury. With the team the Red Sox have this year, if Cameron has to start for an extended time, it wouldn’t hurt them as much as other teams. He might even see some time at first, if Gonzalez needs a break. This might be his last chance to get to the World Series, and he’ll make the most of it.
Upside: fills his role well
Downside: none really, as he could fill in for a starter if needed. His bat can be hidden in this line-up
Score: + 1
Rotation (front 3):
Jon Lester, John Lackey, and Clay Buchholz. Good. Not great, but good. The rotation is better than I thought it was, and should be a strength. Like the Yankees, they don’t have to get crazy and try to strike every batter out, and throw a shut out every game. They’ve got a good defense behind them and the offense will score a lot of runs. They should put up some good but not spectacular numbers, and the team will get a lot of wins. Additionally, they have proven guys who can step in if needed. This “shouldn’t” be an area the Red Sox have to worry about his year.
Upside: everyone stays healthy
Downside: injuries cause the back end guys to move up
Score: + 1
Rotation (back end):
Josh Beckett, Tim Wakefield and Daisuke Matsuzaka. No world beaters, but good guys to have there. This won’t hurt the team. Beckett could easily be in the front three, and others besides me will probably do so. They’ll eat innings, provide flexibility and get the job done. Starting pitching isn’t something the Red Sox need to worry about this year.
Upside: limited innings means more effectiveness and flexibility
Downside: the front end falters and too much is expected out these guys
Score: + 1
Daniel Bard, Bobby Jenks, Dan Wheeler, Hideki Okajima, Felix Doubront and the odd man out of the rotation. These guys don’t really impress me all that much. They’re all one inning pitchers, and while they might be good at that, they have to hope it stays like that. If the rotation can go deep into their starts, the bullpen will be okay, but if the starters falter, these guys will have to pitch too many innings and it won’t be good. On the bright side, Bard or Jenks could step in for Papelbon if needed, but that will make the pen even worse.
Upside: the starters pitch a lot of innings and limit these guys
Downside: one of them has to close, weakening the pen even more
Jonathon Papelbon. One bad season and the fans have turned on him. There’s a reason most closers only last a few years at top performance. That’s the standard more than a guy like Trevor Hoffman or Mariano Rivera. The question is whether or not he can come back again, and I think he can. The offense and the starting rotation should lower his save opportunities, and times he needs to pitch. Limiting his appearances and increasing his innings (per appearance, not season) might just help him get back on track. If not, he’s gone by the All-Star game.
Upside: shouldn’t be nearly as many close games this year to save
Downside: the bullpen continually fails and he has to pitch too often
Team speed (which includes base running):
Good speed. Ellsbury and Crawford are good for 70 steals each, if they get the green light, and the others run the bases well. Minus Ortiz and whoever catches, they are more than a base at a time team. This will help in road games a lot.
Upside: 100 plus stolen bases to go with the all the homeruns
Downside: the line-up prevents the speed from being used properly
Score: + 1
Good in the outfield, at the corners, and not bad with limited range in the middle. Catching is the concern, and up the middle isn’t what it should be, but they’ll catch the ball. I think the double plays will go down. If the pitchers keep the ball in the park, the defense won’t hurt them.
Upside: Crawford leans to play the wall and the outfield takes care of business
Downside: An injury creates a lot of issues
Score: + 1
Have you looked at the names above? This is probably the best overall line-up in the game. Yes, better than the Rangers. They are going to score a lot of runs. Everyone except the catchers can hit, or can hold their own with the bat for what they will need to do. They will be the top offensive team in the majors.
Upside: they break the scoreboard
Downside: it turns into a softball game
Score: + 2
Good pitching from the starters, but not so good from the bullpen. As long as they get an early lead and can pitch effectively through the first 7 innings, they should be okay. But too many appearances by the relievers early will cause a lot of problems. I expect several roster moves over the course of the season. Close games will kill the Red Sox, so they have to put the game away early.
Upside: the starters go deep and can put in a lot of innings
Downside: the bullpen gets into too many close games
Score: + 1
Total score: + 8