Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - After ending a generations-long World
Series drought in 2004, the Boston Red Sox had become an annual staple of
However, there has been a noticeable trend since capturing their second title
in 2007. In 2008, the Red Sox lost the American League Championship Series in
seven games. In 2009, they were swept out of the ALDS in three games. And more
recently, and notably, Boston has failed to make the postseason cut in each of
the last two years.
The way last season ended was particularly tough to swallow. On the final
night of the regular season, Boston, needing a victory over the last-place
Baltimore Orioles to capture the AL Wild Card, took a 3-2 lead into the ninth
inning. That lead would vanish in the bottom of the ninth, as the O's rallied
for two runs off closer Jonathan Papelbon to win in walk-off fashion. On that
same night, the Tampa Bay Rays knocked off the New York Yankees to claim the
wild card and put the stamp on Boston's unthinkable collapse.
As recently as Sept. 3, the Red Sox led the Rays by nine games in the wild
card race and were all but assured a trip to the postseason. Instead, they
dropped 20 of their final 27 games to become the first team in the history of
Major League Baseball to blow a nine-game lead in September and fail to make
the playoffs. It also marked the first time the team missed the playoffs in
consecutive seasons since a three-year postseason hiatus from 2000-02.
In the wake of that late-season meltdown, Boston's offseason was a whirlwind.
The team parted ways with manager Terry Francona amid some controversy about
pitchers drinking beer in the clubhouse and playing video games during games
when they were not pitching. In addition, general manager Theo Epstein left to
become the GM of the Chicago Cubs. Epstein's right-hand man Ben Cherington
stepped into the open GM gig, and former New York Mets manager Bobby Valentine
was lured away from his TV analyst job to replace Francona.
Cherington won't have a whole lot of wiggle room, as he inherits a rather
depleted farm system and a roster with quite a bit of dead money. Left fielder
Carl Crawford, who was signed to big dollars a year ago, is recovering from
wrist surgery and is expected to miss the early portion of the season. First
baseman Kevin Youkilis had his 2011 campaign cut short due to hernia and hip
injuries, and he has been dealing with back stiffness of late.
Infielder Marco Scutaro was traded, Papelbon left for Philadelphia in free
agency, and right fielder J.D. Drew was not retained after playing out his
hefty five-year, $75 million contract. Moreover, veteran catcher Jason Varitek
and knuckleballer Tim Wakefield both announced their retirements.
Indeed, there has been quite a bit of turnover from top to bottom, and that
will be a key storyline entering a new season. Below we take a capsule look at
the 2012 edition of the Red Sox, with a personnel evaluation and prognosis
2011 FINISH (90-72) - Third Place (AL East)
KEY OFFSEASON ADDITIONS: Andrew Bailey (RP), Mark Melancon (RP), Nick Punto
(IF), Ryan Sweeney (OF), Kelly Shoppach (C), Cody Ross (OF)
KEY OFFSEASON SUBTRACTIONS: Jonathan Papelbon (RP), Marco Scutaro (SS), Tim
Wakefield (SP), Jason Varitek (C), J.D. Drew (OF), Josh Reddick (OF),
PROJECTED LINEUP: Jacoby Ellsbury (CF), Dustin Pedroia (2b), Adrian Gonzalez
(1b), Kevin Youkilis (3b), David Ortiz (DH), Carl Crawford (LF), Jarrod
Saltalamacchia (C), Ryan Sweeney (RF), Mike Aviles (SS)
PROJECTED ROTATION: Jon Lester (LHP), Josh Beckett (RHP), Clay Buchholz (RHP),
Daniel Bard (RHP), Alfredo Aceves (RHP)
PROJECTED CLOSER: Andrew Bailey (RHP)
MANAGER: Bobby Valentine
BATTLE FOR THE BACK OF THE ROTATION
The front end of the rotation figures to be a strength with right-hander Josh
Beckett and lefty Jon Lester still in the fold. Each of those two put together
strong campaigns in 2011 but faded badly in September, along with the rest of
No. 3 starter Clay Buchholz seemed to put it all together in 2010 (17-7, 2.33)
but a back injury limited him to just 14 starts last year and the ailment was
not surgically treated in the offseason. Still, Buchholz was ready to pitch by
the end of the year and the team is hopeful he can return to form. His
questionable status, while critical, may pale in comparison to the back end of
That's because Boston has $25 million tied up to starters Daisuke Matsuzaka
and John Lackey, both of whom face long recovery timelines after undergoing
Tommy John surgery. Their absences leave two slots up for grabs in the
To try and fill those spots, the team brought in veteran right-hander Vicente
Padilla, although he was hampered by a hamstring injury and has since fallen
out of contention. Fellow right-hander Aaron Cook is a candidate but has
struggled with injuries and ineffectiveness over the past few seasons.
Consequently, those last two slots may end up falling to relievers Daniel Bard
and Alfredo Aceves. Bard handled the transition with mixed results throughout
the spring but appeared to get more comfortable the more he pitched, perhaps
putting to rest some recent rumors that Valentine was considering moving him
back to the bullpen.
WHAT ABOUT THE BULLPEN?
Papelbon was an All-Star closer in four of his six seasons in Boston, but
he'll now be closing games for the Phillies. To try and fill that void, the
front office inked former Oakland A's closer Andrew Bailey as well as young
right-hander Mark Melancon, who spent last year as the Houston Astros' closer.
Those signings could turn out to be as vital as any, not just because they
have the potential to form one of top back end duos in the league, but also
because Bard and Aceves could wind up starting. If that happens, it will
obviously have a domino effect on the 'pen.
Also impacting the team's short relief corps is the not-so-promising status of
former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks, who is currently on the 60-day disabled
list as he recovers from multiple back surgeries and a pulmonary embolism.
More recently, he was arrested for a DUI hit-and-run. There are also some
questions about who will handle long relief. Matt Albers, Franklin Morales and
Felix Doubront are still around, although they were part of a relief corps
that Francona virtually ran into the ground last September. Doubront spent a
chunk of the spring challenging Aceves for a rotation spot.
If Valentine has any hopes of making a lengthy playoff push in his first go-
around, he'll need to handle the bullpen better than Francona did last year.
But first, he needs to figure out who is starting and who will be pitching in
IS THIS A WORLD SERIES-CALIBER TEAM?
As far as Red Sox Nation is concerned, that is the ultimate question. Playing
in the ultra-competitive AL East, it's a question that is not easily answered.
After all, Boston won 90 games last year and 89 the year before, yet failed to
make the playoffs in both seasons.
Have the Red Sox truly improved with the offseason signings? Can they stay
healthy? Those are among the chief concerns, although few factors contributed
to the team's collapse last September more so than the struggles of the back
end of the rotation. The front office tried to address that issue by signing
veteran journeymen like Cook and Padilla to low-risk deals, but Valentine
appears more inclined to give a look to a reliever, and possibly two.
How the pitching roles play out could ultimately be the biggest factor in the
team's success this season. For example, Bard, while solid in relief, is still
adjusting to things like how to go about his pre-game routine, how to approach
each start mentally, and the like.
With the pitching-rich Tampa Bay Rays and the offensive-minded New York
Yankees not fading out of contention any time soon, the Red Sox can ill-afford
another season filled with questions beyond their first two or three starters,
not to mention an unsettled bullpen.
X-FACTOR: CARL CRAWFORD
Crawford's debut season in Boston could not have gone much worse, and he'll
likely begin the 2012 campaign on the shelf. For a guy looking to live up to
the hype of his eight-year contract, that scenario is certainly less than
Last winter, the Red Sox felt comfortable signing Crawford to such a contract
because they thought they were getting a four-time All-Star in his prime.
Instead, Crawford struggled out of the gate, hit a career-worst .255 for the
year and saw his on-base percentage -- one of his most critical stat lines --
dip below .300 (.289). To put that last number in contrast, over his eight
previous seasons in Tampa, Crawford boasted a career .340 OBP.
Moving forward, it's complicated to put a finger on what would be considered a
feasible rebound season for a player who will turn 31 in August. For example,
does he still have the speed to steal 50 bags in a season, something he has
done five times in his career but has totaled only 65 steals over the last two
Red Sox Nation may still be holding out hope for vintage Crawford, but more
realistic goals would probably include staying healthy and improving on his
numbers from last year. After all, he posted a career-worst strikeout rate of
nearly 20 percent a year ago, which would seem to indicate he put a lot of
pressure on himself to make things happen in a new environment. Perhaps
batting lower in the lineup could help Crawford's mindset and restore some
When the stakes are high, as they always are for a team of Boston's caliber,
it's easy to look past what's already in place and instead focus on the
potential shortcomings. But make no mistake, the Red Sox are locked and
Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury and first baseman Adrian Gonzalez both won
Silver Slugger and Gold Glove awards last year, the only American League
players to do so. In fact, Ellsbury won the league's Comeback Player of the
Year award and finished second in the MVP voting, as he became the first
player in Boston's long history ever to hit 30 home runs and steal 30 bases in
a single season. Gonzalez was the opposite of fellow newcomer Crawford, as he
tied for the league lead in hits (213) and was second in batting average
(.338) after signing a mega-deal the previous winter.
For the Red Sox to get back to the postseason, they'll need another big year
from those two, although replicating last season's numbers may be a bit
optimistic. The team will also need to count on a few less heralded players.
One of those guys is new shortstop Mike Aviles, whom the front office hopes
can hold the fort until highly-touted infield prospect Jose Iglesias is ready
to be called up from Triple-A.
While there are some notable roster battles playing out, there is also a new
regime featuring Cherington as the general manager and Valentine as the new
skipper. Francona's fate was sealed when it became clear he had lost control
of the team, although it will be interesting to see whether the clubhouse
culture does indeed change under Valentine's watch.
This year also marks the centennial celebration of Fenway Park, MLB's oldest
ballpark. Of course, the Red Sox rang in that 1912 season with a World Series
title, which would be their last until 2004. For Boston fans, it would be
fitting to cap Fenway Park's centennial season with another world
championship. However, the front office may have an eye toward 2013, when they
figure to have the financial flexibility to be major players in free agency.
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