Team Preview: Boston Red Sox

The acquisitions of Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez highlighted an offseason that has most pundits now calling the Boston Red Sox the best team in baseball. But are we being too optimistic about a team that was projected by many experts to win the AL East last year, only to finish third and out of the playoffs? Let’s take a look.

Projected Starting Lineup
1 CF Jacoby Ellsbury*
2 2B Dustin Pedroia
3 LF Carl Crawford*
4 1B Adrian Gonzalez*
5 3B Kevin Youkilis
6 DH David Ortiz*
7 RF J.D. Drew*
8 C Jarrod Saltalamacchia**
9 SS Marco Scutaro

Prettay, prettay, prettaaaay good. It’s not easy to lose Victor Martinez and Adrian Beltre and actually get better, but that’s what the Red Sox figure to do. With all due respect to Crawford and his improving offensive game, Gonzalez is the prize here. His power plays to all fields, such that a season with a Green Monster-assisted 80 extra-base hits is well within reach.

The bigger source of upside, though, would be better health for lineup linchpins Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia. Mr. Laser Show put up a strong .377 wOBA last season, but played in just 75 games. Injuries also hurt the Jewish God of Walks, as Youkilis played in just 102 games while posting a stellar .411 wOBA. If both players replicate those rates of production over a full season, the Red Sox would get a huge boost.

There are question marks at the bottom of the order. J.D. Drew took a step back last season, and even his most ardent defenders (I’m one of them) have to wonder if injuries might finally get the best of him. Marco Scutaro’s numbers were way down from 2009 levels, and the Red Sox have little reason to expect anything special from their shortstop either. On the other hand, Boston’s minor league depth produced two potentially worthy replacements in Ryan Kalish and Jed Lowrie, should the incumbent starters get hurt or fail to produce. Boston’s stuck at catcher if Jarrod Saltalamacchia doesn’t meet the expectations set forth a few years ago. But Theo Epstein has shown a willingness to aggressively make moves if needed. As is, an absolutely stacked two-through-six should hide many of the ills that might befall the lineup’s lesser hitters. The defense should also be strong, with Crawford and Gonzalez adding two Gold Glove-caliber defenders to the lineup; well, one glove anyway, with those two signing on and Beltre leaving.

Projected Rotation
LHP Jon Lester
RHP Josh Beckett
RHP John Lackey
RHP Clay Buchholz
RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka

Projected Bullpen
RHP Jonathan Papelbon
RHP Daniel Bard
RHP Bobby Jenks
RHP Dan Wheeler
LHP Hideki Okajima
RHP Matt Albers ##
RHP Tim Wakefield

Let’s start with the bullpen, where you might not see a right-handed hitter get a hit off these guys in the late innings of a close game all season. Righty-eraser Dan Wheeler and portly but effective former closer Bobby Jenks join a late-inning combo that was already well-armed with Daniel Bard setting up and Jonathan Papelbon at closer. Papelbon is almost certainly gone after this season given his rising salary and Bard’s emergence. Until then, though, he could save 40-plus games as the third-best arm in the bullpen. The Sox could use a power lefty to complement that group of four with Hideki Okajima on the downside of his career, but that’s mostly small beer. This should be one of the strongest pens in the game.

The starting rotation is a bigger question mark. The Yankees get all the criticism this year for having one Cy Young candidate lefty at the top of the rotation, one good arm at number two, and a big mess thereafter. That’s not a bad description of Boston’s plight too, though, after Josh Beckett struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness last season (his 4.54 FIP was a lot more respectable than his 5.78 ERA at least) and John Lackey saw his strikeout rate continue its gradual fall, with a corresponding rise in his walk rate. It’ll be a battle of long-term track record vs. recent performance. If the latter prevails, the Sox could be in a bit of trouble.

Key Player
Beckett. The Sox need the rotation to go at least three deep in quality pitchers. Failure to do so could bring the shaky-bullpened Rays and shaky-rotationed Yankees back into the mix as AL East title contenders.

Summary
The Red Sox deserve their spot as AL East and even World Series favorites, especially with the Phillies’ lineup looking severely diminished with Jayson Werth gone and Chase Utley a big question mark. Whatever holes do spring up in Boston, count on the front office to patch the rotation, upgrade at catcher, or whatever else it takes. The Sox will be an extremely tough out this season.

We hoped you liked reading Team Preview: Boston Red Sox by Jonah Keri!

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Jonah Keri is the author of The Extra 2%: How Wall Street Strategies Took a Major League Baseball Team from Worst to First -- now a National Bestseller! Follow Jonah on Twitter @JonahKeri, and check out his awesome podcast.

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Stan
Guest
Stan

I whole-heartedly agree with you about the rotation. Being a Sox fan, it does bother me that this weak link in the team is about as weak as the Yankees. I think it’s exacerbated by the fact that there is almost no minor-league depth as far as starters are concerned. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a mid-season trade for a league-average starter for some of the minor-league redundancies (Lars Anderson, Josh Reddick, etc).

walkoffblast
Guest
walkoffblast

How much depth do you want? Doubront and Wakefield is fine for depth. I doubt overpaying for league average will be necessary or desirable from the position.

Dave
Guest
Dave

Doubront, Wakefield, Aceves, Miller, and possibly Bowden. That’s a whole lot of depth.

NBarnes
Guest
NBarnes

A league-average starter is a very valuable commodity. I don’t think they’re usually available for spare parts.

TylerTheCreator
Guest
TylerTheCreator

I’d make the argument that the Red Sox #6-8 starters (Doubront, Wakefield, Aceves) are comparable to the Yankees #4-5 starters (Nova, Colon, Garcia, ?). I can’t think of any teams with much better options for 6-8 starters, most clubs are trying to figure out their 3-5 guys.

pft
Guest
pft

Doubront has yet to pitch with forearm/elbow tightness, Wakefield is 44, Aceves had trouble staying helathy working out of the bullpen.

I would take Nova and Garcia over them as they were healthy in 2010. Colon is probably the # 6 guy and uncertain, but unlike the Red Sox, the Yankees seem to have more young arms close to MLB ready who could help if needed.

The Red Sox are also up against the salary tax threshold, so unlike the Yankees, may have fewer options if a salary dump opportunity comes up, since JWH does not like to pay that tax.

Aceves, Miller and Bowden have health or perfmormance issues. The latter 2 have not shown the ability to get MLB hitters out with any regularity. Aceves was effective as a releiver, but unable to stay healthy.

Theo himself has said starting pitching depth is a weak point.

RC
Guest
RC

“I would take Nova and Garcia over them as they were healthy in 2010”

So, you’d take the yankees 4th and 6th starter over the Redsox 6th/7th?

Would you take Nova over Beckett? Because those two are in the same slot?

ronny9
Guest
ronny9

ya i agree, these people that are saying the sox 6-8 options aren’t good enough are crazy. I would much rather be worried about having a couple guys IN CASE they’re needed than be in the position that the Yankees are in:

They are going to either (A) have to bank on Burnett coming back to 2009 form (and even then they will have to have to have TWO OF Mitre, Nova, Colon and Garcia in their rotation) or (B) force as many as TWO young kids who aren’t close to being ready into the big league rotation… i would be worried about the yanks mishandling the progress of the promising young pitching prospects.. i.e. Joba Chamberlain??

All this being said; If Burnett pitches like last year all the players that these Yankee fans are saying would be questionable fill in starters for the Sox would be THE NUMBER 3 STARTER FOR THE YANKEES ALL YEAR.

Give me Lester over CC (mostly because of the price) and the rest of the Sox rotation is far and away better than anything the Yankees will be able to put out there day in and day out this season…

For years i have been telling the Yankee fans that i am friends with that these old and large contract veterans are going to catch up with the yankees sooner or later and no matter how big their payroll can be, they will be in some serious trouble to put a competitive team together. 2011 may not be that year, but 2012, 2013, 2014 paying Rivera, Jeter, Texiera, Arod, Granderson & CC WELL OVER 100MM a season?? ouch

MC
Guest
MC

Yes I agree that starting pitching is a “weak” point for them because the rest of the team is really, really good.

I think however that the only teams with a better rotation than the Red Sox are the Phillies, Giants, and Rays, and IMO in that order. Also a lot of this rotation has to do with injuries. If no one gets injured, and everyone pitches to their potential, this could be a great rotation. However if Beckett, Diasuke, etc. drop off as they have in recent years, it could be a really weak staff.

Rory
Guest
Rory

Erroneous on so many levels. First of all, Burnett has been on par with or even better than Beckett statistically the past two seasons. Aceves has never been a starter and is so prone to injury that he isn’t even a long reliever. Wakefield? Lol. Maybe five years ago. Doubront? What he has proven at the major league level? Nova has had better results. Plus, the Sox have no other pitching prospects waiting in the wings. Yanks have Banuelos, Betances, Brackman, Noesi, Warren, etc.

BobZ
Guest
BobZ

Odd that the “weak link” somehow managed to post the 5th best pitching WAR last season despite a crappy bullpen. You factor in rebounds by Beckett and Lackey and I’m not that worried.

hurr
Guest
hurr

this is the way i’m looking at things too – the rotation should perform better than last year, and last year it was a strength. the bullpen’s much stronger as well.

wilburwood
Guest
wilburwood

To me,the biggest question mark rides with the most questionable move made by Theo Epstein in his extending Beckett long term/big bucks early last season which absolutely baffled me! Now, it will be a MUST that Beckett regain his old form to help the team win somewhere in the vicinity of 16-18 of his expected 30 starts .Also, Lackey needs to step up his role as a dominant veteran starter so the 2 kids in Lester & Buchholz aren’t expected to shoulder the load AGAIN. God help us if Papelbon continues his slide since I fear the expectation by many that Bobby Jenks or the inexperienced Bard could seemlessly step into the closer role might be an unreasonable pipe dream!