Boston Red Sox offseason needs: Balance is key in 2012
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New Red Sox GM Ben Cherington is certainly not entering into the easiest situation in Boston. Cherington faces the task of succeeding general manager icon Theo Epstein but also turning the tide on a Red Sox club responsible for one of the most infamous collapse in regular-season history.
Though helped along by the appeal of a big market like Boston, rebuilding this perennial AL East contender is no small task for Cherington and a Red Sox organization that has missed the playoffs each of the last two years. Fortunately, as I will examine in this three-part preview of the 2011-2012 hot stove season, Cherington does not need the art of the blockbuster deal his predecessor provided in order for the Sox to be successful in 2012 and beyond. In fact, it would probably behoove Cherington to play small ball in the free-agent market and favor consistency over superstar status, as inconsistency and clubhouse discontinuity led to the September collapse this year and was a subtext of the entire season. That said, though there are many areas the Sox could stand to dismantle completely and rebuild from scratch, there is the same potential for potency that the Sox had going into spring training and, with a few balanced additions, this potency should come to fruition in 2012.
To begin with, let’s look at the area that was seemingly the one major question mark going into last season:
Catcher: Unable to previously prove himself in either Atlanta or Texas, Jarrod Saltalamacchia was the only obvious option to start at catcher last season. Despite a slow start which resulted in a platoon role with Jason Varitek that continued throughout the better part of the season, “Salty” eventually caught stride and was a consistent contributor batting .235 with 16 HRs and 56 RBIs. Though he allowed a career-high 26 passed balls, he also set a career-high with 37 runners-caught-stealing, so look for Salty to be starting behind the dish again, probably with a bit more frequency, in 2012.
A free agent, I expect Varitek to also return with another one-year contract as he has expressed no desire to retire as of yet. However, given Ryan Lavarnway’s versatility as a catcher and potential designated hitter, I would expect him to have a fair chance to make the team out of spring training, pending the re-signing of David Ortiz.
First Base: Despite an injury-reduced spring training, Adrian Gonzalez paid immediate dividends through the first half of the season, but following the All-Star break, his impact dropped a bit throughout August and September. I am of the school of thought that the neck injury, which kept him out of a series in Chicago towards the end of July, was a bit more severe than the organization may have revealed. Nevertheless, his prowess at first base earned him his third Gold Glove and the admiration of Red Sox Nation.
Second Base: Business as usual here. Dustin Pedroia came back from his injury-shortened 2010 season and batted .307 with 91 RBIs while earning a Gold Glove. Did you expect anything less?
Third Base: Let it be known: I am no fan of Kevin Youkilis. A once loveable, intense, clutch Dirt Dog, Youkilis has become the Red Sox equivalent of former Yankee Paul O’Neill, whining every time he strikes out watching a hittable 0-2 pitch. On a positive note, Youkilis returned to his “natural position” at third base this year and posted a .967 fielding percentage with 15 errors at the hot corner. This was a slight drop from his production at first base, but still competitive. Though a potential bargaining chip, Youkilis’ recent injuries would probably keep the Red Sox from getting full value from other teams, so I do not see him on the move this offseason.
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