Boston Red Sox v Baltimore Orioles

There is nothing more satisfying than a bad Red Sox team. After a terrific ten year run of near-constant contention, the Red Sox entered into the “it’s not the bad, it’s the fans” territory as their (mostly) likable teams gave rise to a most unlikable fan base. Not that any fanbase is actually likable – they’re all pretty much the same.

The perception of a considerable swath of Red Sox Nation was noveau riche frontrunners long on attitude and short on the kind of humility wrought by 100 years of futility. Accurate? No. But the perception gained traction and the hated Red Sox theme was born.

2012 was a great time to be a Red Sox hater. After the spectacular collapse of 2011, everything went wrong for the Sox in 2012. Injury, collapse, and delicious wraps all conspired to send the Sox to a surprise last place finish. Now-deposed manager Bobby Valentine was left filling out lineup cards in August and September that would make the Colorado Rockies blush.

The off-season saw the Red Sox take dramatic steps to recover consumer confidence by putting a better team on the field. They signed several veteran players to address holes around the diamond as well as bolstering their bullpen. According to some projection systems, these upgrades worked. Which runs counter to the perception of many of these moves – giving too many dollars and too many years to older players.

There’s the rub – the Red Sox have more bad contracts than bad players. It might not help the bottom line down the road but it will certainly help the ballclub in the short term.

It came as something of a shock to see Baseball Prospectus’ PECOTA projection system forecast a second-place finish for the Red Sox with 86 wins, positioning them above the flashy Blue Jays and all their impact additions. Grant Brisbee ran down a list of reasons why the Red Sox might be better than you think, arriving at the less-than-startling conclusion of: their lineup is really good.

This certainly looks like an order that can score runs in 2013:

1 CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2 2B Dustin Pedroia
3 DH David Ortiz
4 1B Mike Napoli
5 RF Shane Victorino
6 3B Will Middlebrooks
7 SS Stephen Drew
8 LF Jonny Gomes
9 C Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Adding Ryan Dempster and assuming even the slightest return to form for Clay Buchholz and the Red Sox look a lot better than many teams in the American League. Do I want Shane Victorino and Ryan Dempster on my team two years from now? Not even a little bit. But they can certainly help now.

That is the key difference, I feel. The inability to discern between a player’s bad contract and a player’s performance. Mike Axisa did/compiled some research for Eye on Baseball showing that older teams tend to win a good amount of games. They don’t win because they’re old, they win because of selection bias: bad players don’t get the chance to be old.

The Red Sox aren’t going to win 90 games but they are not a team to take lightly. Pushing several league-average players at worst into a heap is not exactly the key to building a championship club but this is a short-term move by the Sox.

With a minor league system now primed with high-ceiling talent like Xander Bogaerts and Jackie Bradley Jr., not to mention the recent windfall of live arms like Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa, the Sox sketched themselves a very clear roadmap to future success, one paved with, at worst, present-day competence.

And the rest

From the reality check department: baseball in the DR is not a pretty business. [Mother Jones]

RIP Fat Mike Trout meme, you lived fast and died young. [Orange County Register]

Hunter Pence still looks like that and does those things [Big League Stew]

Ten guys facing the most pressure in 2013 [Sweetspot]

Do it, Mickey! Do it for the BARVES!

An up-close look at top Blue Jays prospect Aaron Sanchez [Shi Davidi]

Yankees GM Brian Cashman broke his ankle skydiving. That’s what you get for jumping out of a perfectly good airplane. [Eye on Baseball]

Former Rockies outfielder Ryan Spilborghs keeps a diary during his first season playing in Japan [Denver Post]