Boston Red Sox
The Red Sox have been perennial contenders and a model of baseball success since their World Series victory in 2004. But thought their record was good enough last year (90 wins) they failed to live up to the predictions that they were the team to beat, particularly after their star-studded 2011 offseason acquisition of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. Gonzalez was great, and now seems a bargain, while Crawford had his worst-ever season and can only do better this year. There are question marks at shortstop, having traded starter Marco Scutaro to free up payroll and avoid the Luxury Tax. The job is young defensive dynamo (but offensive lightweight) Jose Iglesias’ job to lose. Right field is also a question. JD Drew produced very little from the position last year, and since he has retired they can only improve. But will a platoon of Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross be enough? Young slugger Ryan Kalish could have had the job but was injured and is recovering in Triple-A. The Sox did re-sign their most popular player, David Ortiz, who is now the face of the Red Sox, with the probable retirement of Tim Wakefield and Jason Varitek. The rotation remains a question—it faded last year, with John Lackey having a terrible season (and now, almost mercifully, injured this year), Dice-K Matsusaka also recovering from injury, and co-aces Josh Beckett and John Lester recovering from some negative press (accusations of snarfing down fried chicken and beers in the clubhouse while their team lost). Stunningly talented Clay Buchholz should be the strong third starter, but he was also injured and has to prove he can last a season. The fourth slot is former set-up man Josh Bard’s to lose—he wants to be a starter and has the knockout stuff to do it. The question is how his conversion will go, and we won’t know until we see him start four or five games and get into a rhythm. The rotation will be filled out with a pick-n-mix of veteran starters who were once exceptional, but who are either recovering from bad seasons, age, or injury: Carlos Silva, Aaron Cook, Vincente Padilla, et al. The bullpen was hugely improved despite the loss of closer Jonathan Papelbon—Mark Melancon and Andrew Bailey were acquired to cover the 8th and 9th innings, and strong Alfredo Aceves returning, along with a hopefully-healed Bobby Jenks. The new GM Ben Cherington has shown intelligence in his moves since Theo Epstein made a break for Chicago, so the front office changes had little effect.
In: Ryan Sweeney (trade), Andrew Bailey (trade), Mark Melancon (trade), Cody Ross (free agent), Kelly Shoppach (free agent), Bobby Valentine (new manager), Nick Punto (free agent), and a host of veteran starters competing for a slot.
Out: Jason Varitek, Tim Wakefield, Jonathan Papelbon, John Lackey (injured for the season), Daisuke Matsusaka (injured for the first half of the season)
Strength: The Red Sox have heart, they play hard, they hit a ton, and they have “it,” the magical fairy dust of winners since their 2004 championship.
Weakness: the clubhouse needs to bounce back from the sour end to last season, and it remains to be seen how Bobby Valentine will manage (in all sense of the word). Shortstop remains too much of a question for a team that expects to make the play-offs every year. Carl Crawford can only improve, but can he get back to the elite status that warranted a $100 million-plus payday? Right field also seems insubstantial, unless the platoon pans out or someone like Cody Ross turns into an everyday player.
Manager: Bobby Valentine (new)
Projected Rotation: Josh Beckett, John Lester, Clay Buchholz, Daniel Bard, plus one of the veterans invited to camp
Projected Closer: Andrew Bailey
Projected Starting Lineup:
Jacoby Ellsbury CF
Carl Crawford LF
Dustin Pedroia 2B
Adrian Gonzalez 1B
Kevin Youkilis 3B
David Ortiz DH
Cody Ross/Ryan Sweeney RF
Jarrod Saltalamacchia C
Jose Iglesias/Nick Punto SS