In our Hope for the Hopeless series, we take a look at all of the teams in the league that finished under .500, and examine what their fans can be optimistic about after a disappointing 2012 season.
Calling the Boston Red Sox "hopeless" is unfortunate, but that's just how the series rolls. Anyway, the Red Sox have 80 losses for the first time in a season since 1997, and could clinch their first 90 loss season since 1966. It's been an absolute lost year, and the team discharged some of their biggest contracts in Carl Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, and Josh Beckett last month to clear the slate for 2013.
The Red Sox still have two potentially great starters under contract for 2013 in Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, and they also have the underperforming, oft-injured John Lackey. Boston also has some decent young starters ready to roll, including Felix Doubront (probably a lock for the 2013 rotation after his performance this season), Rubby de la Rosa, Zach Stewart, and Franklin Morales. Morales and de la Rosa could both end up in the pen next year, but both could also be starters if the Red Sox brass likes what they see.
The Red Sox bullpen, which has been adequate this year, will end up looking much better in 2013 as well. I'd fully expect the impressive Junichi Tazawa to be handed a full-time role in the majors last season, along with a pair of other 2012 holdovers in Scott Atchison and Andrew Miller. Closer Andrew Bailey will hopefully be healthy this season after (essentially) a lost 2012 year, and the Red Sox are hoping that Mark Melancon rebounds after a disastrous 2012 year. Throw in guys like Alfredo Aceves, Craig Breslow, and any of the younger guys who don't make the rotation and you've got yourself a pretty solid looking bullpen. I didn't even take Daniel Bard into account, who has been a complete mess this year as both a starter and a reliever and will likely need some reprogramming in the offseason.
Offensively, it could be a challenge for the Sox. Dustin Pedroia will return at second base, and Jacoby Ellsbury will be back in center field after a disappointing 2012 (and a breakout 2011). David Ortiz is a free agent at DH that the team will probably look to bring back (given that his Achilles injury turns out OK), and Cody Ross will be looking for a big-time payday after a 2012 breakout year that saw him get paid just $3 million. The team does have a few holes, including left field, right field (if Ross signs elsewhere), first base (after James Loney has been positively Loney-esque after the huge trade), and potentially shortstop (where Mike Aviles and Jose Iglesias just don't seem good enough, but are still under team control).
The bright side with all of these holes is that the Red Sox are still the Red Sox. After dumping the Gonzalez, Beckett, and Crawford contracts, Boston has a ton of extra money to play with. Now, going out and throwing nine figure deals around wouldn't be a wise move after what happened last offseason, but the Red Sox can hand out one or two year deals for eight figures like they did with Adrian Beltre a couple of years back. The Red Sox also have a pretty solid farm system and could deal from that depth to fill holes…if Ben Cherrington wants to go that route, that is.
In summary, the Red Sox had a terrible, awful year…but it seems to be the exception rather than the rule. But if Bobby Valentine is still around next year, then it may become the rule, and a once proud franchise could get dragged down even further. This team as constructed right now may not be talented enough to contend next year, but this isn't a situation like in Houston, where everything needs to be blown up and started anew. One or two pieces may be enough to make Boston a playoff team once again.