It was a trying season for the Boston Red Sox in 2011. They started off slow in April, played awesome from May-August, and completely collapsed in September, blowing the wild card on the final day of the season after a late-game rally at the hands of the Baltimore Orioles. The Red Sox did a lot of retooling in the offseason, and now look to enter the 2012 season with a more solid foundation to their team, and hopefully a playoff appearance.
Depth Chart (as of 3/12)
C: Jarrod Saltalamacchia
1B: Adrian Gonzalez
2B: Dustin Pedroia
SS: Mike Aviles
3B: Kevin Youkilis
LF: Carl Crawford
CF: Jacoby Ellsbury
RF: Cody Ross
DH: David Ortiz
SP: Josh Beckett
SP: Jon Lester
SP: Clay Buchholz
SP: Daniel Bard
SP: Andrew Miller
CL: Andrew Bailey
Boston did a lot of retooling this offseason, but none of the acquisitions were really of the big name variety, save for the acquisition of closer Andrew Bailey to replace the departed Jonathan Papelbon. The team’s new right fielder is the rather coveted former Giant and Marlin, Cody Ross. The Sox also brought in former Astros closer Mark Melancon to serve as the setup man for Bailey. Bobby Valentine is stepping in as the new manager, and Ben Cherington takes over as the new GM.
Former starting shortstop Marco Scutaro was shipped to the Rockies, in a move that was classified as salary relief…which resulted in the Red Sox not throwing big money at anyone. Utility player Jed Lowrie and spot starter Kyle Wieland was the bounty sent to Houston for Melancon. Former closer Papelbon signed with the Phillies for an absurd contrac that the Red Sox showed no desire to match. Long-time catcher (and captain) Jason Varitek retired. Highly paid right fielder JD Drew had his contract expire, and retired. Long-time starter Tim Wakefield also retired after spending nearly forever in Boston. The team also fired manager Terry Francona, replacing him with ESPN analyst (and former Mets and Rangers manager) Bobby Valentine. There was also the mini-controversy surrounding general manager Theo Epstein, who left the team to take the job of president with the Chicago Cubs.
Felix Doubront could take hold of a spot in Boston’s bullpen to start the year. Catcher Ryan Lavarnway, who has been criticized by many for his receiving skills, could end up behind the dish if Saltalamacchia struggles to start the year. Top prospect Jose Iglesias, who is all-glove and no bat, could also take hold of the starting shortstop job if Aviles struggles with the lumber in the early part of the year and Iglesias holds the fort down in AAA Pawtucket.
Boston’s major position battles come in the back-end of the rotation, where Daniel Bard and Andrew Miller are penciled into the final two roles. The Red Sox have brought in a host of veterans to compete for those final two positions, including Aaron Cook, Brandon Duckworth, Ross Ohlendorf, and Vicente Padilla. Personally, I think dragging a retread into the AL East would only result in bombs flying all over Fenway Park, and that the Red Sox should just go with the youthful options…at least that way they could claim to having a solid plan.
Oh, there are several. Carl Crawford had offseason wrist surgery, and might not be available for Opening Day. Ryan Sweeney would take his role in left field if Crawford isn’t ready to go right off the bat. Reliever Bobby Jenks had back trouble last season that’s resulted in him being on the 60-day DL, and has put his career into question. Three Boston starters, Daisuke Matsuzaka, John Lackey, and Rich Hill, all underwent Tommy John surgery in 2011. Matsuzaka and Hill could have a slight impact in the season’s final two months, but it’s going to be a lost year for Lackey, who had his surgery in November. Bench bat Ryan Kalish, who would have normally been ready to fill in for Crawford to start the year, had shoulder surgery this offseason that could postpone the start of his year as well.
Will the back-end of Boston’s rotation be adequate enough to hang on in the AL East? This would be a fantastic rotation with Matsuzaka and Lackey filling the final two slots, but based on the crop of starter vying for the four and five positions right now, things could get substantially sticky for the Red Sox.
Bard thrives in the rotation, the team stays relatively healthy, and the Red Sox are able to fight tooth and nail with the Rays and Yankees for playoff spots in the American League.
The back of the rotation is a nightmare and the Red Sox get nothing out of them, Crawford has another terrible year, David Ortiz starts showing his age at DH, and the Red Sox have to fight off the Orioles for last place in the division.
I think Boston is a real good team on paper. Offensively, they’ve got four superstars in Gonzalez, Ortiz, Ellsbury, and Pedroia. If the pitching can hold up, this is a championship contender. If they struggle, it isn’t. I think the Red Sox are the third best team in the AL East, but that could be good enough to get them a wild card slot this year with the expanded playoff format.