The 2010 season features a Red Sox club that is rife with change, and fans are eagerly awaiting their chance to see the new edition in action.
Those who follow baseball surely know the names (at least) of the recent additions; after myriad meetings between Boston and Los Angeles in recent seasons and post-seasons, John Lackey is practically a household name. Mike Cameron and Bill Hall might have less notoriety, having spent much of their careers tucked away in the N.L. But Marco Scutaro should be fairly well-known to Bostonians after his solid years with the rival Blue Jays. Adrian Beltre, having spent the bulk of career out west, may be unknown to some on the east coast. He is through languishing with the lowly Mariners and will (hopefully) be motivated by playing for a perennial contender. Jeremy Hermida has the chops to become the next Dirt Dog and possible fan favorite, if he can secure some playing time in a crowded outfield. And then, of course, there’s Boof Bonser- a guy who is a mystery to all but the most ardent baseball fans.
And yes- his name really is Boof. He had it legally changed after years of living with the nickname. Personally, I can think of about 7 million things I’d rather be called, but if that works for him, then let’s roll with it. “Boof on”, as they say.
…What, they don’t say that? Well, they will.
In all, there are new faces at shortstop, third base, centerfield, on the mound, and in the bullpen…and many of us were only just getting used to Victor Martinez. So what will this shakeup mean to the Sox’s chances in 2010? There are several key storylines worth following.
1. Will the new philosophy pay off?
Over the past couple of years, Boston has made a concerted effort to beef up its defense. This has come, in a few cases, at the cost of offensive pop. With Manny Ramirez and his replacement Jason Bay both gone, the Sox lost the 30+ home runs and 100+ RBI they might have expected to get from left field. Patrolling now is Jacoby Ellsbury, who should score 100 runs and could steal 100 bases, but won’t be the RBI machine we’re used to seeing out there. Similarly, RBI man Mike Lowell has been displaced from his starting role. And David Ortiz’s production has dropped off considerably.
Here’s a summary of Boston’s major moves:
Move: Ramirez/ Bay were (in essence) replaced by Mike Cameron.
Result: Poorer hitting and poorer all around offensive numbers, but a substantial upgrade in terms of outfield defense.
Move:Signing Adrian Beltre
Result: A lot of money sunk into third, and a likely decrease in RBI totals from the position, but an upgrade in defense.
Move: Signing Marco Scutaro
Result: Perhaps a slight improvement in offensive output from the position, and an upgrade in defense.
Are you seeing a theme here?
The Red Sox made a clear and purposeful shift toward improving their fielding. Even standout Dustin Pedroia has been focusing on his range this winter. The question is, will the enhanced glove work pay off?
2. Will John Lackey make Boston’s rotation the best in baseball?
With Lackey, the Sox have three pitchers who would would be #1 or #2 starters for nearly any team in the majors. All three should finish with double digit wins, sub-4.00 ERAs and decent peripherals. Assuming everyone stays healthy, the trio represents about 105 of the team’s 162 starts, so its success will go a long way toward determining the season’s outcome.
I can’t help but let my mind drift forward to playoff time…if the Sox make the post-season, this rotation gives them a serious weapon in short series. Good front-end pitching can win the post-season, but does the team have enough in the tank to get there in the first place? That is the very question that leads to…
3. Will the Red Sox have enough offense to keep pace with the Yankees and stay ahead of the Rays?
Think of this as the other side of the coin. The shift to defense is only half the story, because those changes came at the expense of offensive production.
The team has a good offensive catcher (when Martinez plays), first baseman, second baseman, and right fielder. Assuming Drew remains intact. The addition of Hermida gives Boston a good option for spelling Drew, which should help reduce his chances of injury.
However, center, left, third base, shortstop, and DH are question marks when it comes to issues of the bat. Well, maybe not exactly question marks allaround- after all, we pretty much know what we’ll get from Ellsbury: an OBP around .360 with 10 or so homers. His value is on the basepaths. And we sort of know what to expect from the increasingly-ancient Mike Cameron…stomaching a .230 average won’t be easy, but if he knocks 20 dingers or more, I’ll forgive his poor batting eye. However, being able to anticipate the numbers that these two will post doesn’t help us to know if that production will be enough.
And then there are Beltre and Scutaro. These two aretrue question marks. Beltre is coming off an injury-plagued season and coming from a park that brutalized him. As one knowledgeable commenter pointed out in my previous posts, Beltre has been seriously held back by playing at Safeco Field. Since arriving in Seattle, his home/road splits for OPS look like this:
It’s very unusual for a player to consistently struggle at home while performing better on the road, but that’s what happened to Beltre, who was obviously affected by Seattle’s stadium. His average road OPS over the five year span was .795, a number that the Sox would certainly be happy with.
(I won’t mention his career OPS of .531 at Fenway Park…that’s surely due to Boston’s incredible pitching. Surely.)
I’ve said all along that I don’t care for the Beltre signing, and I stick by that. I think investing a combined $22 million in Lowell and Beltre is counter-productive, especially when the team has Youkilis who is capable of playing the position. However, there’s still a chance the team could trade Lowell, which would minimize my complaints. As for Beltre’s production, I suppose I’ll have to be willing to take a wait-and-see approach.
Scutaro was an overachiever in Toronto, but I just don’t think the Sox can count on getting those kind of numbers from the 9th spot in the order. It remains to be seen what Scoots (yes, I’m calling him Scoots. It’s going to catch on, trust me) can do at the dish, but I fear that his OPS may not make it out of the .600s. We’ll see.
And then there are the games where Jason Varitek will play catcher. Even if he only plays one in every 5, that’s 33 games or so that will feature an offensive black hole. Yikes. On the other hand, does anyone have a good backup catcher? Maybe I’m overreacting.
Finally, we come to the DH position. At one time not so long ago, this spot was a source of pride and confidence for Boston, but now…well, we’re afraid. Let’s be honest. Because when you’re going up against a New York lineup that includes A-Rod, Teixeira, Granderson, Posada, and OBP-master Nick Johnson– a lineup that could possibly hit 300 home runs– you need power. When you’re trying to finish ahead of a scrappy young Rays team that includes Evan Longoria, Carlos Pena, Carl Crawford, Pat the Bat Burrell, and B.J. Upton, you need power. The Sox simply cannot afford to get underwhelming production from David Ortiz.
There’s no question that the defense will be solid and the pitching strong, but will the bats oblige? And the question of “will they have enough offense” goes hand in hand with…
4. Will Big Papi bounce back?
The fortunes of David Ortiz matter to the Red Sox. Every lineup needs one guy that strikes fear into the hearts of opponents, and with all due respect to Kevin Youkilis and Victor Martinez, neither is that guy. In Boston, that guy is Papi. And right now, Papi isn’t scaring anyone. If his decline is permanent, if he’s truly as finished as he seemed last year, then the teeth have been pulled from this lineup.
I’m not saying it’s not a good batting order outside of Ortiz, because it is. It has balance, speed, and guys who can hit to all fields. But who can be counted onfor 30+ home runs? Youk might get there. Beltre has an outside shot. V-Mart could do it.
Might. Could. Maybe.
Papi was a definite. Papi was a sure thing. The Red Sox need a little bit of that magic to return in 2010. It doesn’t have to be a 100/40/120 year like he was once capable of, but it does have to be something positive. That means avoiding injury, and staying productive. The means not having a 2-month slump to open the year.
If the Red Sox want to be an offensive force on par with their defensive quality and pitching prowess, then the big names must step up. And despite recent travails, no name is bigger in Boston than David Ortiz.
But there is a name that is more expensive…
5. Will Dice-K ever live up to the hype?
I’m fairly certain the answer to this is a resounding “no”. It’s tough to imagine Matsuzaka suddenly becoming a pitcher worthy of his $100 million+ price tag. However, he does still have the opportunity to become a very good 4th starter.
Before you start citing statistics, I want to point something out. Yes, Daisuke had a 2.90 ERA in 2008. It’s tempting to think that season was a good one, but look at the peripherals:
1.324 WHIP, 154 K, 1.64 K:BB
His WHIP was actually identical to the number posted in 2007, when his ERA was a much uglier 4.40. His K rate and ratio dropped considerably from ’07 to ’08. What this indicates is that Dice-K was very, very lucky to have a sub-3.00 ERA.
We all know what a bust last year was, with the ineffective play and time missed due to injury. As much as the Sox spent to get him, they needMatsuzaka to do something positive on the bump. The A.L. East is too tough a division to navigate with only three starters, and there’s simply no way of knowing what Clay Buchholz will do. He might take a step forward and drop his his ERA under 4.00…but he could just as easily stumble to something closer to 5.00. Beckett, Lester, and Lackey are all fine and good, but Boston can’t afford for the other two slots to hurt them.
Dice-K needs to step up. He needs to get the walk rate down and pitch like he did last September. This will be his final season under the age of 30, and if improvements are going to be made, now is the time.
So with these five overarching issues in mind, how good is this team? I’d say Boston will once again be one of the best three team in the A.L. Despite the flaws and shortcomings, the organization continues to do a great job of developing young talent and combining it with key acquisitions.
Late relief/ Set-up
Lack of reliable offensive production
Potential lack of power
Could go either way:
I think that the relative lack of offense is going to prevent Boston from winning the division. Although PECOTAtabbed them as the best team in baseball, I think these Red Sox have some holes that could hurt them. However, it’s still a strong team overall, and should once again be among the league’s best.
-I foresee a record around the 90-win mark, which should be enough for a second-place finish in the A.L. East…baseball’s most grueling division.
-Expect the team to be Top 5 in ERA with one of the best bullpens around.
-Expect them to run more this year with Ellsbury and Pedroia entrenched atop the lineup. Even Cameron and Scoots could swipe a few.
-Expect a lot of wall ball at Fenway. This team should rack up the doubles.
-Expect a couple of big moves by the deadline. It still makes sense for the team to try to move Mike Lowell, and with the bevy of prospects waiting in the wings, young talent and/or other veterans could be on the block depending on where the team stands as of July.
In closing, I want to wish Ryan Westmoreland the best of luck and a quick recovery. The team’s top prospect, a five-star outfielder, Westmoreland has a cavernous malformation on his brain stem, which is essentially a collection of malformed blood vessels that can cause a variety of life-threatening problems. The brain stem controls our most basic bodily functions, and any procedure addressing that area of the brain can have grave consequences. Westmoreland is slated to have surgery on Tuesday, but the operation carries the risk of brain damage and neurological deficits…or worse.
It is my sincere hope to see Ryan playing in the majors someday very soon. But if that can’t happen, then I hope that at the very least he gets to live a long and healthy life.
I’ll be back with some reflections on the Red Sox as they relate to Fantasy Baseball in Part IV of the season preview. Stay tuned…