Significant Departures: OF Cody Ross, RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP Aaron Cook, RHP Scott Atchison, RHP Vicente Padilla, IF Mike Aviles, RHP Mark Melancon, RHP Matt Albers, LHP Rich Hill, OF Scott Podsednik
It’s still hard to fathom that the Boston Red Sox were the best team in baseball in early September 2011. After four months of absolute dominance, the Red Sox fell off a cliff and had the worst collapse in baseball history to end that year. The hangover carried over into 2012 and they had their worst season since 1965 finishing in last place in the AL East.
After the 2011 collapse, ownership decided not to renew manager Terry Francona’s contract and after General Manager Theo Epstein took over the Cubs, ownership stepped in again and hired Bobby Valentine as the new manager. New GM Ben Cherington wanted Dale Sveum—who eventually went to the Cubs—but he appeared to be overridden.
Valentine ended up being nothing short of an unmitigated disaster in his return to managing. He publicly called out players, alienated his entire team and certainly was no help in righting the Red Sox wayward ship.
By August, the front office cashed in its chips and unloaded $261-million in salary commitments by trading Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto to the Dodgers for a package of players. That package included high-upside pitching prospects such as Rubby de la Rosa and Allen Webster which is a nice bonus to go along with a lot of financial flexibility. Hopefully there’ll be less drama around the Red Sox this season with the return of former pitching coach John Farrell who was acquired from the Blue Jays for Mike Aviles in November to be the new manager.
Despite all of their problems, the Red Sox still finished fifth in the AL in runs scored. Their problem was their pitching, which ranked among the worst in the league. Cherington had a lot of work to do in the offseason and went about making small additions with short-term deals. He brought in the likes of Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli and Ryan Dempster and did not commit more than three years to any of them. Looking at the complexion of the roster, it’s hard not to see an improvement for 2013.
Pitching is still a potential area of weakness for Boston heading into the year as the team lacks a real impact arm at the top of the rotation. Having said that, left-hander Jon Lester certainly has shown that type of ability in the past and Boston is hoping the return of Farrell will help bring that back. Lester was a huge disappointment in 2012, posting a 4.82 ERA. However, his peripherals suggest that he was the victim of some bad luck and should see a bit of a rebound in 2013. Fellow incumbent Clay Buchholz is unlikely to make the same kind of bounce back. Always a little overrated, Buchholz finally showed it in 2012 posting a 4.56 ERA and a mediocre 2.02 K/BB ratio.
The addition of Dempster should help Boston achieve a bit more consistency this season. Dempster struggled a bit after being traded from the Cubs to the Rangers last year, but was his usual consistent self overall. He doesn’t seem to have much trouble staying healthy and has been extremely consistent in his performance. Even though he’s now 36, the Red Sox should get solid value out of him over the next two years.
The last two spots in the rotation will probably go to lefty Felix Doubront and veteran righty John Lackey who missed last year recovering from Tommy John surgery. Lackey was awful in 2011—his first year with the Red Sox—but was probably pitching hurt for most of the season. If he’s healthy, he could easily return to being a solid mid-rotation arm. Doubront, meanwhile, ended up being one of the more dependable starters for Boston last year posting excellent strikeout numbers. His walk and home run rates are a little troubling, but at just 25, there’s room to improve. Franklin Morales and de la Rosa are also around to provide some rotational depth if need be and could unseat Doubront if he struggles out of the gate.
The bullpen saw a lot of changeover this winter. Gone are Scott Atchison, Matt Albers and Vicente Padilla and in are Joel Hanrahan and Koji Uehara. Hanrahan was acquired in a trade over the holidays with Pittsburgh for a package of low-level prospects and reliever Mark Melancon and should step in as the closer. He was not as good as his ERA would suggest last season as he saw a substantial rise in walk- and home run-rates, but the previous two years, he was one of the best relievers in the National League.
If Hanrahan can’t hold down the closer’s role, Andrew Bailey—who’s never healthy and who struggled mightily last season—is still around and Uehara was also brought in to handle high leverage situations late in games.
Left-handers Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller were both solid last season and they’ll be joined by Junichi Tazawa and Alfredo Aceves, provided he doesn’t get released or traded. Daniel Bard is also still around after his failed attempt at starting last season. If he can return to the form that saw him become one of the best relievers in baseball for a period of two years, it will be a big boost to the Red Sox bullpen.
There’s an argument to be made that the Red Sox lineup could actually be better than the one they started off last season with. Ellsbury missed much of the season with a shoulder injury and should be healthy this year. He’s penciled in to centerfield and the leadoff spot once again. He’ll be joined in the outfield by Victorino who wasn’t very good last year between the Phillies and Dodgers but is only one year removed from a career-best 133 wRC+ season.
Second baseman Dustin Pedroia had a down year by his standards in 2012, but was still a well-above-average hitter. With Valentine gone and Farrell returning, perhaps Pedroia’s happiness will increase, spurning a return to his previous superstar status. He’ll be joined in the middle of the lineup by designated hitter David Ortiz who missed the second half with an Achilles injury which he’s still battling. When he played, he was excellent posting a .318/.415/.611 slash line. His health is definitely a concern going forward, but if he’s healthy he should be counted on for another Papi-like season.
Napoli originally signed a three-year, $39-million contract this winter, but his physical revealed a deteriorative hip condition and his deal was re-worked for just one year and $5-million. At that price, there’s almost no way it can be a bad deal for the Red Sox. He probably won’t catch much and instead will play mainly first base or DH if Ortiz is still hampered by injury. He wasn’t as great last year as he was in 2011, but he’s still an above-average hitter if healthy.
The left side of the infield will be comprised of Will Middlebrooks at third and Stephen Drew at short. Middlebrooks had a solid debut in 2012 which made long-time Red Sock Kevin Youkilis expendable. He’ll get the opportunity for a full season in 2013 and could be a big part of this lineup for years to come. Drew on the other hand, was sub-par at the plate last year between Arizona and Oakland, but was still recovering from a horrific ankle injury that robbed him of almost two full years. If he’s fully recovered he could be in line for a nice bounce back and is only in on a one year deal anyway.
Jonny Gomes had a big year with Oakland last season and continues to absolutely rake against lefties. Last year he posted a 171 wRC+ against southpaws and was right around league-average against righties which could prompt the Red Sox to give him every day playing time in left field. If he proves unable to hit righties, Daniel Nava, Ryan Kalish or Ryan Sweeney could make decent platoon partners.
The Red Sox signed David Ross—maybe the best backup catcher in baseball—to help out Jarrod Saltalamacchia behind the plate. Ross is excellent both offensively and defensively and may end up splitting time with Saltalamacchia who’s only real redeeming quality seems to be his ability to hit for power.
The Red Sox weren’t healthy enough in 2012 to get a good gauge on their fielding ability. They finished eleventh in defensive efficiency but were without the likes of Ellsbury and Crawford for significant portions of the season. A full season from Ellsbury and the addition of Victorino should help the outfield defense some—although Gomes won’t help in left.
In the infield, Drew, Pedroia and Middlebrooks are all well regarded defensively and provided they all stay healthy the Red Sox should be above average in the infield. Adding Ross will also help as he’s significantly better than Saltalamacchia behind the plate.
The disaster that was Bobby Valentine was not the only reason the Red Sox were so awful in 2013. Injures and underperformance from the likes of Ellsbury, Ortiz, Pedroia and Lester combined with some bad luck to completely tank the season. If luck balances out and the team remains healthy, Boston is poised for a bounce back of sorts in 2013. Cherington went about making smart short-term additions this winter and the lineup should be among the league’s best once again. They also have a very strong farm system and help will be on the way in the coming years with the likes of Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley and Matt Barnes. The wildcard is the pitching which could be okay if Lester and Lackey can perform close to previous standards.
2013 Prediction: 86-76, 4th AL East