Boston Red Sox preview: Renewing the faith at Fenway

Boston Red Sox at spring training.
Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester need to be Boston’s one-two punch in the rotation. (Matthew West/Boston Herald)

In the hands of Bobby Valentine, the Boston Red Sox tallied only 69 wins during the 2012 campaign, putting them in the cellar of the AL East. Good news Sox fans, it can only get better this year.

Last year, it seemed anything that could wrong did. Injuries were widespread, notably to run producers David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury. New closer Andrew Bailey did not see the mound until August. The starters were near the bottom of the AL in both ERA and Quality Starts. The fallout of the Chicken & Beer “scandal” lingered in the media, if not the clubhouse.

By midseason, it was apparent that the playoffs were a pipedream, so GM Ben Cherington began an overhaul of the roster. A blockbuster deal sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Nick Punto to the Dodgers for a handful of prospects. Having already shipped out mainstay Kevin Youkilis, it was clear a house cleaning was underway.

After the Valentine disaster, the Boston Red Sox brass brought back John Farrell, a stalwart from the Terry Francona era, to manage this year. The revamped roster for Farrell has just two players who played in 100 games for the Boston Red Sox last year. With plenty of new faces in camp, the team certainly has their work cut out for them.

Boston Red Sox position players

The corner infielders will be expected to boost the team’s power numbers. They will count on Will Middlebrooks to pick up where he left off before last year’s injury. After an early scare this spring, he appears ready to go for opening day.

Cherington brought in Mike Napoli to cover at first base. Primarily a catcher throughout his career, Napoli may need a bit of adjustment period. Farrell seems to like what he has seen defensively, so far — well enough to allude that Napoli won’t DH while Ortiz continues to heal.

The revolving door at shortstop continues. Stephen Drew will join the likes of Mike Aviles, Marco Scutaro, Nick Green and Julio Lugo. If Jose Iglesias could find a swing to match his glove, he certainly would make a push for at-bats. Until then, the Boston Red Sox will settle for an adequate Drew, with Pedro Ciriaco as a serviceable back up.

Second base is the one point of stability on the roster. Former ROY and MVP Dustin Pedroia enters his eighth year with the Boston Red Sox. The de facto clubhouse leader brings gold-glove defense and 20/20 potential every year.

Backstop Jarrod Saltalamacchia returns to handle the pitching staff. He led the team with 25 homers last year, but batted just .222 with 139 Ks. Journeyman David Ross should spell him every fifth game after backing up Brian McCann in Atlanta the past four years.

The enigmatic Ellsbury will patrol center field. Hard to tell if he will ever replicate his 2011 MVP caliber numbers, given his proclivity for injury. He’s in a contract year, which means he could perform well if he stays healthy.

Flanking him will be free-agent signees Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino, who the Boston Red Sox opted for over higher-priced talent like Josh Hamilton. Victorino still has the speed to cover center should the need arise, but for now, he will be in Fenway’s sneaky tough right field. Daniel Nava and Ryan Sweeny should leave Fort Myers with bench spots.

The reigning DH Ortiz is suffering heel troubles and is unlikely to play on opening day. This spells trouble for a lineup already desperate for power. Depending on the length of Big Papi’s DL stay, Farrell has a number of options here. Albeit none of them are great.

Playing utility man Mike Carp at first base would allow Napoli to DH, a role he has held in the past. Recent comments from Farrell have indicated the Boston Red Sox will use a DH by committee instead. Don’t be surprised to see a lot of early shuffling with Gomes, Napoli and Sweeny all taking a turn. If Ortiz is out for a longer period, Mauro Gomez and Ryan Lavarnway could get an opportunity.

Boston Red Sox pitching

The opening-day start will go to Jon Lester. After turning in his worst year as a professional, the Boston Red Sox need the lefty to pull a real turn around if they hope to compete. Anything less than 15 wins would be a let down. Based on his strong spring showing, that shouldn’t be a stretch.

Clay Buchholz is also coming off a lackluster season. He did manage to strike out 129, a career mark. Somewhat alarming are the 25 home runs he yielded last season, about double his previous high. Buchholz will most likely define himself as a frontline starter or middle-of-the-rotation guy. Given last year’s stats and ongoing durability questions, he may be more suited as a three or four.

For now, those spots are held by newcomer Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront. Dempster has had a successful career and should finish with 200-plus innings. Skeptics will point out he had an ERA north of five with Texas last year, his only time in the AL. Doubront doesn’t exactly dazzle, but with 11 wins, he has earned a chance to stay in the rotation.

Last, and certainly least, is John Lackey. What can you even say about this guy? His 2011 season is one of the worst on record. The rumor is he lost weight; I guess that is an improvement.

The bullpen appears stacked on paper. Reality may be a different story. Offseason acquisition, closer Joel Hanrahan, has been anything but lights out in preseason. Time will tell if he will stand up to the increased scrutiny of the Boston media.

Last year’s closer, Alfredo Aceves, should move back to a long-relief role. So far, the highlight of his spring has been a scuffle in the WBC.

An effective Daniel Bard would be welcome, but his slot isn’t assured yet. Being in limbo between the pen and the rotation seemed to rattle his psyche last year. If he fails to bounce back, Bailey and/or Koji Uehara should come in for the eighth.

Andrew Miller will likely be the only lefty until either Craig Breslow or Franklin Morales is on the mend. The remaining spot should fall deservedly to Junichi Tazawa, a pleasant surprise during the second half of 2012. Keep in mind he and Bard might be the only ones with minor-league options.

Boston Red Sox rotation

  1. Jon Lester
  2. Clay Buchholz
  3. Ryan Dempster
  4. Felix Doubront
  5. John Lackey

Boston Red Sox opening day lineup

  1. Stephen Drew SS
  2. Dustin Pedroia 2B
  3. Jacoby Ellsbury CF
  4. Mike Napoli 1B
  5. Jonny Gomes DH
  6. Will Middlebrooks 3B
  7. Shane Victorino RF
  8. Jarrod Saltalamacchia C
  9. Daniel Nava LF
Jackie Bradley Jr. signs autographs during spring training for the Boston Red Sox.
Jackie Bradley Jr. may be the next big thing in Boston. (Chris Gobeille/WBZ-TV)

Boston Red Sox prospect watch

First and foremost is Jackie Bradley Jr. JBJ is tearing the cover off the ball in the Grapefruit League. Currently, he is batting over .500 and showing impressive range. He’s most likely destined for Pawtucket to start the year, but it’ll be hard to keep him from the show if his torrid pace continues. Expect to see him up at some point this season, especially if Gomes struggles defensively or Ellsbury goes down.

Xander Bogaerts leads the Boston Red Sox farmhands on most prospect lists. Portland fans might liken him to Hanley Ramirez with a bit more pop. At just 20 years old, he’ll probably spend the year in the minors but looks to be the future at shortstop.

The once lofty expectations for Ryan Kalish have been plagued by injury. He probably has too much service to even qualify as a prospect, but he’s someone to keep an eye on. For now, he is listed on the 60-day DL.

A couple of right-handers in the haul from the Los Angeles Dodgers are making a case to move up the ladder, too. Both Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa are registering high on the radar gun. Either of them could be in the mix if Doubront or Lackey struggles out of the gate.

Alex Wilson or Brandon Workman might also see time in spot-start or middle-relief duties. Another arm to watch is Steven Wright, who has converted fully to a knuckleballer. Under the watchful eye of Tim Wakefield, he bested R. A. Dickey in a spring appearance but has already been assigned to the minors to start the year.

As mentioned above, Gomez or Lavarnway may be suited for a DH role, but both appear blocked at their respective positions; not to mention Lavarnway’s poor spring. Iglesias will probably also see time in Boston at some point this year.

UConn product Matt Barnes and lefty Henry Owens both need some additional experience. Each could factor into the Boston Red Sox rotation by 2014. Drake Britton’s name would be in the conversation, but it’s tough to tell how the organization will respond to his recent legal troubles.

Others to watch ascend through the system are Bryce Brentz, Brandon Jacobs and Travis Shaw; 2012 draftee Deven Marrero has raised some eyebrows, but there is glut at shortstop in the system.

Honorable mention to Ryan Westmoreland, who officially retired after a comeback from multiple brain surgeries proved to be too much. He was once tabbed by Baseball America as the Boston Red Sox’ top prospect.


I’m going with 83-79. The 83 wins are generous if Ortiz and Ellsbury aren’t at full strength. The team is already struggling to get the ball out of the park. Losing either one of these guys will result in probably seven or eight more games in the loss column. It’ll be interesting to see what Cherington has up his sleeve if the Sox are out of contention by the trade deadline. Unless some real surprises take place don’t, expect the Boston Red Sox to challenge for the division nor the two wild card spots.

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