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2012 Organizational Rankings: #2 – Boston

Read the methodology behind the ratings here. Remember that the grading scale is 20-80, with 50 representing league average.

#30 – Baltimore
#29 – Houston
#28 – Oakland
#27 – Pittsburgh
#26 – San Diego
#25 – Minnesota
#24 – Chicago AL
#23 – Seattle
#22 – Kansas City
#21 – Cleveland
#20 – New York NL
#19 – Los Angeles NL
#18 – Colorado
#17 — Miami
#16 — Arizona
#15 — Cincinnati
#14 — Chicago NL
#13 — Milwaukee
#12 — San Francisco
#11 — Washington

#10 — Tampa Bay
#9 – Toronto
#8 – Atlanta
#7 – Detroit
#6 – St. Louis
#5 – Philadelphia

#4 – Los Angeles AL
#3 – Texas

Boston’s 2011 Ranking: #2

2012 Outlook: 63 (4th)

The Red Sox offense has holes, but will be formidable no matter what. Last season, Carl Crawford and Kevin Youkilis missed time, the team got nothing from right field, had a mediocre starting catcher — Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s .319 wOBA was tied for 15th among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances — and still led the Majors in runs scored. The team may have the very same issues this season, as well as weakened production at shortstop, but even if they don’t lead the Majors in runs scored, they will have a top-flight offense. In Jacoby Ellsbury, Adrian Gonzalez, David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, the Sox have four MVP-caliber hitters, and if Youkilis is right, he can be a fifth. They will cure a lot of what ails the rest of the lineup, and even at that, it would be difficult to produce worse wOBA’s than the .214 and .275 marks that Mike Cameron and J.D. Drew posted in part-time play last season. Crawford should also rebound from the nightmarish start to his tenure in Boston.

The pitching staff, though, is a different matter. This ranking is a touch outdated, because when we voted, we didn’t know that Andrew Bailey might miss the whole season with a thumb injury. His replacements are likely to evoke memories of the start of 2003’s dreaded “bullpen by committee” season. Alfredo Aceves has been named the closer, but as Mike Petriello pointed out yesterday, there are plenty of reasons to think that might not last. The Sox likely don’t feel too comfortable with their options to start the season, otherwise they wouldn’t have started the season with 13 pitchers. That may be temporary, but it’s a window into the team’s thinking nonetheless.

The lack of quality depth means that the Red Sox are going to sink or swim on the performance of the staff’s stars. Jon Lester will need to pitch well each time out. Josh Beckett will need to stay healthy (fun fact — Josh Beckett has made more than 30 starts in only two of his six seasons with the Olde Towne Team), and Clay Buchholz will need a strong rebound from last season’s back injury.

A lot is also riding on the performances of the rotation’s two newest members, Felix Doubront and Daniel Bard. Doubront, the 24-year old Venezuelan lefty, worked in relief for the big club for a bit last season, but started while in Pawtucket. He threw less than 90 innings last season, and the innings came at four different levels, so it’s hard to extrapolate too much from his performance. He has always been a solid, but not standout prospect, but it’s unlikely that he will be carrying the team on his shoulders anytime soon.

Bard is similarly an unknown. He was famously a disaster a starter in the Minors, to the point where many were ready to write him off as a total bust. 7.08 ERAs will do that. Obviously no one is expecting that this time, otherwise they wouldn’t be letting him convert to a starter’s role. But, even assuming he does well, he hasn’t thrown 80 innings in a season since his final year of college, way back in 2006, and that year he threw a whopping 101.1 innings. Bard might be capable of an Alexi Ogando-like jump in innings, but expecting that jump seems like wishcasting. That reality, plus the fact that the team doesn’t have a lot of quality on the farm, necessitates that Bard makes a smooth transition to the rotation, or the talk of him moving back to the closer’s role will heat up with a quickness.

2013+ Outlook: 60 (5th)

The Sox no longer have a top five farm system, but they rank fifth here because of the infrastructure and financial resources they have at their disposal. Teams don’t always hit on every prospect, but with a sound system in place, it’s a lot easier to get back to the top. Our own Marc Hulet has them 11th, and Baseball America ranked them ninth. The fly in the ointment as far as rankings go is Keith Law, who ranked the team just 18th this season. He has a point, in that prospects in the upper levels are thin right now. Most noticeable in this regard is the stalled development of Cuban shortstop Jose Iglesias, who posted just a .260 wOBA last season in Pawtucket.

This lack of upper-level talent outside of Ryan Lavarnway, who is blocked from major playing time, could be exacerbated by the new financial restrictions, which may make it harder for the team to find Major League-ready prospects that may have slipped in the past due to bonus demands (think: Rick Porcello, or Bard himself). The team did have four of the top 40 prospects in last year’s draft though, and it was hard to get a read on any of them since they hardly played.

On the big club, most of the team’s younger players (and yes, a lot of its veterans) are locked up through at least 2014, with Salty and Ellsbury being the big exceptions. Ellsbury is key here. As a Scott Boras client, he is likely to test free agency, and given his not always harmonious past with team management, there is a good chance the Sox could lose him, and that would be a huge blow to the franchise.

Financial Resources: 69 (2nd)

If there is one area where the Red Sox stand at the head of the class. When the team traded Marco Scutaro, it was bandied about that they needed to get under the luxury tax threshold, and they probably would like to do so. But they’re not really worried about it either. And while the Sox were notoriously quiet in free agency this winter, it was likely more about breaking the cycle of high-dollar contracts for mediocre players like John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka than it was a refusal to spend money. If the team was unable to break that cycle, it would really start to limit their roster flexibility. When this season ends, and Bobby Jenks’ and Matsuzaka’s combined $16 million wipe off the books, the team will likely reinvest that in the pitching staff.

Baseball Operations: 64 (3rd)

The team has seen a slow talent exodus over the years (Josh Byrnes, Jed Hoyer, Jason McLeod, Peter Woodfork, etc.), and that trend continued when Theo Epstein left, for real this time. However, the team is still in good hands with Ben Cherington at the helm. Cherington has laid out how he wants the team to function, and the fact that he is already looking at trying to keep the team healthier is an encouraging development, given the team’s cadre of high-priced veterans. And his hire of Bobby Valentine showed that he isn’t going to shy away from controversial decisions. Say what you want about the conspiracy theory that Valentine was team president’s Larry Lucchino’s hire, Cherington — not Lucchino — is the guy that Bobby V is going to interact with on a daily basis. There is very little chance that Cherington didn’t give that hire his stamp of approval. With the Sox likely to need help on the edges as the season progresses, much of the evaluation of Cherington’s 2012 season is yet to be written. And even at that, we will only have one year to judge. This ranking is more about the great system the team set up under Epstein — a system, it should be noted, in which Cherington was an integral part.

Overall: 65 (2nd)

There was a time when the Red Sox didn’t make the playoffs that frequently. Following their trip to the World Series in 1975, the Sox would reach the postseason in only six of the next 27 seasons. That might be a lot if you’re a Pirates fan, but for a team looking to break a decades-long championship drought, it never felt like enough. Then Theo Epstein came along, the team made the playoffs in six of the next seven seasons, and took home two World Series trophies. So now that they have failed to reach the postseason in consecutive seasons, it seems like a colossal failure, when in reality reaching the postseason is no team’s birthright. Even though the Sox have depth issues, both in Boston and on the farm, they are so top-heavy with talent that they will be fixated firmly in the playoff picture all season. That they are no longer a favorite to seize a playoff berth — only two of 20 FanGraphs’ analysts picked the team to win the American League East, and no one has Boston reaching the World Series — is testament to how hard they have forced the rest of the AL to work in order to keep up with them and the New York Yankees. The Red Sox were ranked second here last season, are second this season, and will continue to be a heavyweight in the game for a number of years, whether they reach the postseason in 2012 or not.