The first of our looks at our AL East opponents.
The Red Sox, after 80 years of being poorly run, having some good players but their bad management cost them any hope of being the equal of the Yankees. Finally, just before the turn of the millennium, they finally got the management they needed to catch up to the Yankees. Good for the Red Sox, not so good for the Jays. Having the two richest teams in our division, both being run well, competing hard against each other, makes it tough.
Last year the Sox had a number of players suddenly turn old, had some injuries, were poor defensively and yet still won 95 games, easily taking the AL Wild Card spot. This off-season, like most since Theo Epstein took over as GM, has seen a lot of turnover on Red Sox roster. Gone are Jason Bay, Billy Wagner, Takashi Saito, Casey Kotchman, Nick Green, Alex Gonzalez, George Kottaras, Javier Lopez and a handful of others.
Picked up were free agents John Lackey, Mike Cameron, Marco Scutaro and Adrian Beltre. They made a couple of trades, getting Jeremy Hermida for prospects, Bill Hall for Casey Kotchman and Boof Bonser for a prospect.
How the Red Sox line up, after the jump.
Last year the Sox started the year with Jason Varitek as starter and George Kottaras as Tim Wakefield's caddy. Varitek hit like a 37 year old catcher and Kottaras did about as well, so they traded for Victor Martinez, likely the second best catcher in the AL. Martinez will be the starter this year with Varitek as the backup. Martinez isn't great defensively and doesn't have much of an arm behind the plate, but he can hit. He played a lot of first last year, this year they Sox plan to have him behind the plate mostly, which might cost him a bit of defense. But then the choice other choice is Jason Varitek.
Kevin Youkillis started 56 games at third, 78 games at first and was great defensively at both. This year, the plan is to play him just at first. He's also terrific offensively. Power, gets on base, good average and doesn't run that badly. The flip side of that is he is a jerk, never seen a strike call he didn't argue. He's a wee bit intense. He's 31 this year, I do get the feeling that he's the type of player that won't age well but I don't think they have to worry about that this year.
Dustin Pedroia lost points of batting average but still hit about .300. He's a great player and will just be 26 this year, so he could still improve. He even was sort of humanized, this past year, with some troubles with his wife's pregnancy and some,far too often shown, commercials.
At short the Sox traded up from Jed Lowrie, Nick Green, Alex Gonzalez and a cast of thousands last year to Marco Scutaro this year. Scutaro is much much better than what they had, but then I don't have to tell anyone here that.
Mike Lowell played third the last three years and until last year was a one the best defensive players at the position, but last year his defense was terrible. He lost all his range after hip surgery. So the Sox went out and signed Adrian Beltre as part of their plan to improve team defense. Beltre is as good as anyone with the glove but he hit just .265/.304/.379 last year with Seattle. His numbers should be better in the more offensively friendly Fenway Park.
The Red Sox have made changes in the outfield. Worrying about his defense, his knees and the contract he was looking for, they let Jason Bay leave. And not being thrilled with the defense Jacoby Ellsbury provided in CF (his UZR was roughly equal to Vernon's) they signed a terrific defensive CFer Mike Camerson moving Ellsbury to LF. At least I think that's the plan, Theo Epstein has said in interviews that the team's own defensive metrics have Ellsbury at least average in center, so he might still see time there.
Ellsbury had quite a good offensive season last year, hitting .301/.355/.415. He also stole 70 bases. He's 26 this year so he could improve a bit still. Cameron is a low average hitter who walks quite a lot, strikes out a lot and has good power. He's 37 this year, so his numbers may decline some. J.D. Drew has a terrific bat and is a good fielder, his weakness, of course, is that he misses time through injuries every year. And 34 this year so I don't think that is likely to change. The Sox also traded for Jeremy Hermida to take Rocco Baldelli's 4th outfielder spot. As a 4th outfielder, he's a good one, some power, good defense, some speed and gets on base ok. He'll see a lot of work this year.
David Ortiz started very very slowly last year, he didn't hit his first home run until May 20th (against the Jays). He did finish strong hitting .258/.350/.516, with 16 home runs in the second half. At 33 he seems to have gotten old very suddenly. He also didn't hit lefties at all, so he might end up in a platoon with Mike Lowell, who has lost his job at third and but still can hit the ball.
Josh Bechett, Jon Lester and free agent pickup John Lackey make for as good a top of the rotation any team has. All three could win 15 to 20 games this year. Beckett is a potential free agent after the season. Lester started game 1 of the ALCS, he seems to have taken over the number one spot in the rotation.
The back of the rotation might not be much worse than the front. Clay Buchholtz came into his own at the end of last year; he was 6-1 over his last 10 starts and the Sox used him as their 3rd starter in the ALCS. Daisuke Matsuzaka has been wildly inconsistent since the Sox spent all that money to bring him over from Japan. Last year wasn't good, he had a 5.76 ERA but he did have 4 good September/October starts to finish the season. It might mean good things for this year. But then who knows.
Tim Wakefield has been with the team for 15 years, but it looks like he will start this season on the DL. I don't know when or if he'll pitch in the majors this year. The Red Sox also have Michael Bowden and Boof Bonser waiting for an injury to get a shot at getting a few starts.
Jonathon Papelbon, even with his blowup in the ALCS (couldn't happen to a nicer guy) will continue to be the closer and there is no reason to expect he won't be the same as he's always been. Hard thrower Daniel Bard is next in line for the closer role. Hidecki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez will also be in the pen.
The Red Sox have made a number of moves to fix up a terrible team defense from last year, at some offensive cost. They look to be changing into a pitching and defense team. There are positions where they are aging, but they should have enough to be in the playoff race again this year and I'd be surprised if they don't make it into the post season.
For the future, they have a number decent minor league prospects and, of course, they have money to buy free agents to fill in any holes they might have. And they are well run, have a good manager, general manager and good ownership so they won't be going away anytime soon.