It ain’t over until it is over! It is hard to evaluate a team’s offseason until it is over.
There was a lot of whining in Red Sox Nation about the fact that the Red Sox didn’t sign any high profile players. People fail to see that a few key players got significant raises (like Crawford and A-Gon) and they will probably have the 2nd or 3rd highest payroll in MLB. Even the Yankees were relatively quiet.
Things were busy, and crazy, around Yawkey Way this winter. Theo left a huge mess for Ben Cherington. He’s a thoughtful NH guy who sounds an awful lot like Theo. But he’s acting like the Theo before the 2003 season. That is the Theo I liked. He played Money Ball, finding undervalued guys like David Ortiz and Kevin Millar that ended up being the foundation of a World Series championship.
First Ben had to get a manager though. It was painfully slow. The last guy I wanted was Bobby Valentine. But he’s growing on me. They really did need an experienced manager to change the tone and deal with the personalities. But the time to negotiate exclusively with your free agents came fast. They decided not to make Papelbon the highest paid closer in baseball. They let the Phillies sign him for more money and too many years than the Red Sox were willing to commit to a closer. Rivera is a rarity. Most closers don’t last very long. He was looking for a pay day and found on. We enjoyed you while you were here, Pap, but all good things come to an end.
I think they made the mistake of offering arbitration to Ortiz. They lost leverage (though the flip side is they would have offended him and lost him). So he’s now got a very expensive one-year contract for a DH (whose contracts have been shrinking in the last few years much to the chagrin of guys like Vlad).
Injuries were a huge problem for the Red Sox the last few years. So one of the main changes wasn’t on the field but on the training and medical staff. Big changes. We’ll see what happens now.
But the oft injured Jed Lowrie was sent packing since he was unreliable. He and Weiland, who floundered as a starter (coming up too soon due to injuries in the starting rotation) and really should be a reliever. The main thing was bringing back a solid 8th inning guy in Melancon. He also closed some games for the Astros, so he can fill in if need be. That’s because they traded for Bailey, the A’s closer (it was the trade for Foulke from the A’s to close in 2004 that was a key in winning the World Series). He’s young, works quickly and is aggressive. He’s not going to waste pitches, which seemed to be a downfall of many a Sox pitcher last year. So Ben rebuilt the 8th & 9th innings for the Sox.
He had to address the outfield. Drew was gone. Kalish, the outfielder of the future, was hurt most of last season. He lost the year of development. And he was not going to be ready for the opener. Reddick started well last season but cooled off considerably. It was discovered he had a wrist injury that contributed to that drop off. So he had surgery. But he went to Oakland for Bailey. They got Sweeney in return with Bailey. A very good defender, but he hasn’t developed the power he body says he should have. There was some risk there. But it was revealed that Crawford had a wrist injury, and surgery. He might not be ready for the beginning of the season. They like Linares, who hits righty, but who knows how that ankle injury that cost him most of last season has healed.
Here is where the waiting game helped. Cody Ross’ price tag plummeted. He is a guy with World Series experience with the Giants. He was key for them in the first 2 rounds of the playoffs that year. With the number of Red Sox with playoff experience dropping fast then the temperatures when the Canadian Express roars in (aided in the inevitable retirement of Wakefield and Varitek), they needed a guy with that experience, and success.
The added more in Nick Punto who won the series with the Cards. They decided they were paying too much for Marco Scutaro’s production. He was productive and played thru lots of injuries. But they decided to take a chance after running the numbers. This will be a risky proposition. Do you want to rely on Avila and Punto? Is Iglesias’ bat ready? We’ll see.
In terms of the rest of the position players, a number of guys are healthier. A-Gon’s shoulder is much stronger. A weak shoulder led to his power drop off after the All-Star Break. Youkilis had surgery, again, but should be ready physically. Hopefully he can still stand the wear and tear at 3rd. Pedroia had the screw removed from his foot and can stop worrying about it. Crawford seems to have lost the deer in the headlights look, realized Madigan was right last season and has adjusted his stance. I think he’ll have a big comeback. And I don’t think Ellsbury will have much of a drop off. I’ve been a believer since he was called up in 2007. He’ll be an elite CF for quite some time.
The main problem was the rotation. Diva-K was lost to Tommy John and might be back around the All-Star break. Maybe Valentine will help him figure out how to pitch well here. At least nothing will be lost in translation. But Lackey also, mercifully, needed Tommy John surgery after an absolutely brutal season. If he’d hung it up sooner, perhaps the Sox would have actually gotten a reliable pitcher before the trade deadline. Shots only do so much for an elbow, you know.
So they needed two starters going into the off season. The Bard Experiment has begun. He sees the financial advantage to being a starter. I think he’ll do well. He only has to be the 4th or 5th starter because they have a ticked off Lester & Beckett and a healthy Buchholz coming back. With a new pitching coach they might actually attack the plate and go deeper into games this year. We need those guys close to 200 innings if not more. Their short outings are part of what killed the bullpen late in the season.
The 5th starter? Aceves or any one of a number of cast offs used to build depth in the system. Depth which was sorely lacking last season after they let Millwood go (bet Theo regrets that one). Could also be Miller or Doubront. There are like 6 guys vying for that last spot in the rotation. And some of them will end up in AAA as “depth”. Some are out of options and may end up in the bull pen or traded. Doubront may have a chance. Last year, the year they wanted him to be the first pitcher out of AAA, he showed up out of shape and ended up oft injured. This year they kept him close to Boston so he showed up in shape. This would allow them to keep Aceves in the long relief, spot starter role this thrived in last year. They could have a great rotation. Or not. Time will tell. But they do not have to be as good as Tampa’s. The Rays don’t have an offense that can set records for productivity (futility possibly). The Yankees rotation has some question marks even with the departure of Burnett. The AL East is a different beast, as some of their additions from the West Coast will soon discover.
The bull pen will be interesting to watch as well. Jenks nearly died after surgery this winter. He looks much thinner, but he won’t pitch for quite some time. Hill is recovering from Tommy John surgery, but may return in May or June. He’d add that lefty specialist they lacked after his injury. He was lights out. Then we are back to the list of cast offs and prospects out of options- Albers, Bowden, Morales and more. It will be interesting to see if Tazawa can put it together after his Tommy John surgery.
The Red Sox have a few questions. That isn’t a bad thing. Complacency, as we discovered, is the death of a team. Lavernway will begin in AAA, sadly. But I like this team and their chances. 2011 humbled them, made them hungry. I hope they will be like Rocky after losing to Clubber Lang. But the AL East is still the toughest division with the Yankees, Rays and Jays. Detroit is probably better than last year, and the Angels got much better while the Rangers held steady after 2 straight World Series appearances. I’m glad I’m not a betting man. But if they can be the team they were from May to August last season- watch out.