You know last year's story, a historic September collapse, causing the most exciting last day of the regular season in recent memory. Then a lead going into the bottom of the 9th against a dismal Baltimore Oriole team, holding the win would have guaranteed them at least one more game. But Jonathan Papelbon blew the save (couldn't have happened to a better guy) and they missed the playoffs, much to the joy of the rest of us. It seems almost impossible that they could lose 20 of their last 27 games.
Not surprisingly, they have had a fair bit of turnover this off-season. Manager Terry Francona and GM Theo Epstein, the pair that won them their first 2 World Series since 1918, both are gone, Epstein to Chicago, Francona to the broadcast booth. In their place are Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine.
They also have a bunch of players leaving: Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Tim Wakefield, Jason Varitek, J.D. Drew and Josh Reddick. Also John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka will miss the season after Tommy John surgery.
Their lineup for the 2012 season looks to be:
Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia/Kelly Shoppach. Jerrod was a first round draft pick for the Braves, back in 2003. He hasn't yet become the player that everyone thought he'd be but was ok in 2011 with the Red Sox, hitting .235/.288/.450 with 16 home runs. Not quite what Varitek could produce, in his prime, but ok numbers. Shoppach is 31 year old, journeyman catcher, who hit .176/.268/.339 with 11 home runs for the Rays last year.
First Base: Adrian Gonzalez. A terrific player, good glove, .338/.240/.548 batting line with 27 home runs in his first season with the Red Sox. He finished 7th in MVP balloting. At 30 there is no reason to expect he won't be the best first baseman in the AL East again.
Second Base: Dustin Pedroia. Rookie of the year in 2007, AL MVP in 2008, Dustin came in 9th in MVP voting last year, bouncing back from an injury filled 2010, to play 159 games last year. He hit .307/.387/.474, with 21 home runs. Try, as I might, I can't bring myself to truly dislike the guy.
Short Stop: Mike Aviles. The Red Sox traded off Marco Scutaro, to save salary, words that really don't ring true when talking about the Red Sox. I figure Scutaro was just a way too likable guy to fit in with the Sox. They have given the job to Aviles, who has only played 152 games, at short, in 4 MLB seasons. He hit .255/.289/.419 between the Royals and the Sox last year. I think he is only keeping the spot warm for Jose Iglasias, who, you'd have to think, will be called up from the minors at some point this year.
Third Base: Kevin Youkilis. Ugly missed 42 games, with various injuries, last year, after missing 60 the season before. It was his first season of playing third full time and he was ok defensively, Fangraphs had him at a -3.7 UZR/150. I'd think that, at 33, he isn't going to improve much defensively, but with Gonzalez at first, they can't move him back. He hit 258/.373/.459 in 2012, his worst season with the bat since 2006.
Left Field: Carl Crawford. Crawford had a poor 2011 season, after signing $142 million, 7 year contract, hitting .255/.289/.405. I'd expect him to be much better this year. He had wrist surgery, back in January, and is likely to start the season on the DL. Cody Ross (.240/.325/.405 with the Giants in 2011) will likely start the season in left.
Center Field: Jacoby Ellsbury. Jacoby had a huge breakout season in 2011, hitting .321/.376/.552 with 32 home runs and 39 stolen bases in 158 games. He finished second in the MVP voting and won a Gold Glove. He is the one player in last year's lineup that had a much better season that should have been expected, I'd expect him to regress some.
Right Field: Ryan Sweeney/Cody Ross: Sweeney will play right until Crawford come off the DL, and then take the fourth outfielder spot. Sweeney hit .265/.346/.341 in Oakland, last year. He should do a bit better in Fenway.
DH: David Ortiz. The last couple of seasons, Ortiz has started off slow and then hit better as the season went on. He hit .309/.398/.554 last year, learning to go the other way on occasion, to mess up the big shift he sees. He's 36 now.
Jon Lester: 15-9, with a 3.47, in 31 starts, last year. The Sox went 1-5 in his last 6 starts and he had a 5.40 ERA, helping along their September collapse. Will be their Ace again this year.
Josh Beckett: 13-7, 2.89, in 30 starts. When healthy he's great. He's been in a good year/bad year pattern for the past few, he had a 5.78 ERA in 2010.
Clay Buchholz: 6-3, 3.48¸ in starts. Missed time with a stress fracture in his back. His FIP has been much higher than his ERA, in each of his seasons. He hasn't had the best spring, 4.80 ERA so far.
Felix Doubront: 1-5, 4.22 ERA in Pawtucket last year. He is out of options so will get a get every chance to stay with the team.
Daniel Bard: 3.33 ERA in 73 relief innings in 2010. He's had a 6.57 ERA in spring. I'm not sold on him as a starter, but the Red Sox aren't deep in candidates for the rotation.
Last season the Red Sox scored the most runs in baseball, and there is not real reason to think they won't be near the top again next year. Their pitching, on the other hand, wasn't very good last year and they didn't do much to get better in the off-season. They aren't deep in starters.
They are going to have to hit to win, I kind of wonder if they can pitch well enough to win even with all the offence they have. If one or more of top 3 starters were to hit the DL, or have a down season, they'd have trouble.
I don't know what sort of effect Bobby Valentine will have on the team, after playing for Terry Francona, Valentine will be a shock to the system.