Impact Player: LF Carl Crawford
Impact Pitcher: LHP Jon Lester
Best Reliever: RHP Bobby Jenks
Top Prospect: SS Jose Iglesias
General Manager: Theo Epstein
Manager: Terry Francona (654-480, .577)
RHP Bobby Jenks, RHP Dan Wheeler, 1B Adrian Gonzalez, LF Carl Crawford, RHP Matt Albers
C Victor Martinez, 3B Adrian Beltre, UTIL Bill Hall, 1B/3B Mike Lowell, OF Jeremy Hermida, UTIL Eric Patterson, C Kevin Cash, INF Felipe Lopez
For only the second time since 2002, the Boston Red Sox failed to make the playoffs in 2010. Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mike Cameron, Victor Martinez, Jason Varitek, Daisuke Matsuzaka, and Josh Beckett all missed significant time with injuries and miraculously the BoSox still won 89 games and finished 3rd in the AL East. Any team with Daniel Nava and Darnell McDonald logging significant starting time has no business winning that many games, but somehow the Red Sox did it. Rather than bring back free agents Martinez and Adrian Beltre, the Red Sox traded for superstar first baseman Adrian Gonzalez in December and then signed another superstar in outfielder Carl Crawford to a seven-year deal.
If the Red Sox can remain healthy in 2011, they will field one of the most complete teams in the game and enter the year as the favourites in baseball’s toughest division.
Nothing has changed from last year’s rotation, and that’s a good thing. Boston is one of the very few teams who can say that they have five very good starters on their team. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz were two of the best in baseball last season, although Buchholz’s 2.33 ERA was a little misleading when you take into account his 3.61 FIP, which is still very good, but is likely closer to what you’ll see out of him in ERA going forward. His 1.79 K/BB ration is also slightly mediocre.
Lester, on the other hand is coming off a 19-win season with a 3.25 ERA and even better 3.13 FIP. He also had a 9.74 K/9 rate which was third to only Tim Lincecum and Brandon Morrow in all of baseball. Throw in his 53.6% groundball percentage and it’s clear that very little of what Lester throws actually leaves the infield.
The first year of Jon Lackey’s 5yr/$82.5-million contract wasn’t bad. His 4.40 ERA was misleading as he still posted a K/BB ratio of 2.17 and kept the ball from leaving the yard often. He posted a FIP of 3.85 and I expect his ERA to be closer to that mark in 2011 than 4.40.
Then there’s Beckett and Matsuzaka who missed a combined 18 starts last season and were both wildly inconsistent when they did pitch. When healthy, Beckett is still a front-of-the-rotation talent and should bounce back in 2011. Until last season, he had posted three straight years of 5.0 WAR or higher.
Matsuzaka, on the other hand has never posted a FIP below 4.03 in his four major-league seasons; last year’s 4.05 FIP was actually his second best. He may only be 30, but Daisuke has been pitching full professional seasons as a starter since 1999. Only Kevin Millwood (36), Freddy Garcia (34), Chris Carpenter (almost 36), Jeff Suppan (36), and Javier Vazquez (34) can currently say that. Daisuke’s arm is much older than 30. Still, he’s one helluva fifth starter.
Junichi Tazawa should be healthy this year and will provide injury depth along with fellow prospects Michael Bowden and Felix Doubront.
As I said just last week, Jonathan Papelbon’s season was not as bad as Red Sox fans and analysts would have you believe. His career-worst 3.90 ERA in itself is not terrible and Papelbon was also very in unlucky in 2010. His FIP was a solid 3.54 and he still has to be considered one of the better relievers in baseball. The Red Sox would be smart to keep him in the fold for this season and not trade him away.
Daniel Bard emerged as one of the best young relievers in the game last year and is sure to take Papelbon’s place as closer someday. He posted a surreal 1.93 ERA and a sold 3.37 FIP with an excellent 2.53 K/BB ratio. Take out ERA, however, and his season was not a lot better than Papelbon’s.
Boston also signed former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks to a 2yr/$12-million deal this offseason and he may be the best of the bunch. His 4.44 ERA last season was the result of some horrific luck as demonstrated by his 2.59 FIP. Jenks’ peripherals were better than both Bard’s and Papelbon’s last season and taking away his mediocre 2009 campaign, he has been one of the most consistent relievers in the game.
Outside of those three, the BoSox bullpen is surprisingly thin. The only viable left-hander in the ‘pen is Hideki Okajima who has seen his numbers decline every year and who was horrid last season. Other than him, non-roster invites Rich Hill, Andrew Miller and Randy Williams may be the best left-handed options.
Dan Wheeler was also signed away from Tampa Bay in the offseason, but he gives up too many home runs to be terribly successful in Fenway Park. Knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, who probably had his worst pro-season last year, returns at 44-years-old and will likely fill out the ‘pen with the unreliable Scott Atchison. Matt Albers, Bowden, Robert Coello, and non-roster invite Clevelan Santeliz could also challenge for a spot.
This is the one area where the Red Sox can be considered weak. With the loss of Martinez to Detroit, Boston will rely on the well-respected but rapidly aging Varitek and former Ranger Jarrod Saltalamacchia who was terrible last season. A mid-season pickup is very much needed here; Pittsburgh’s Ryan Doumit might be a nice fit if he rebounds.
The acquisition of Gonzalez to play first pushes Youkilis to third, which should be no problem for him defensively as he’s performed well there in the past. Gonzalez could be an MVP with his move to a more hitter-friendly park and if Youkilis stays healthy, he’s one of the best pure on-base guys in the game.
Up the middle, Boston will lean on 2008 AL MVP Pedroia at second who will hopefully play more than the 75 games he played last season. Even in limited playing time, Pedroia accumulated a 3.3 WAR and is still an elite two-bagger. At short will likely be Marco Scutaro who came back down to earth after his career season in 2009 with Toronto. Jed Lowrie is proving himself to be a much better player and may supplant Scutaro at short by the end of the year. Neither player is particularly good defensively.
This was the area hardest hit by injuries last year. Nava and McDonald will now be battling for the team’s final bench spot rather than starting in the outfield with the return of Cameron and Ellsbury. Those two will likely platoon in centerfield with Ellsbury getting a little more playing time.
The corners will be occupied by Crawford in left, who could really elevate himself to stardom playing with the monster in Boston, and J.D. Drew in right who is one of the most criminally underrated players in baseball.
Ryan Kalish will likely start the year at AAA unless an injury opens up an everyday job; the same goes for Josh Reddick.
David Ortiz was fully healthy for the first time in a few years in 2010 and responded by returning to legitimacy swatting 32 homers and driving in 102. His .370 OBP, .899 OPS, .380 wOBA and 3.3 WAR were all his highest marks since 2007. He isn’t the player he once was, but for a 35-year-old DH, Boston could do much, much worse.
To view the Red Sox depth chart and lineup for the 2011 season, click here.
Had Boston managed to stay healthy in 2010, they likely would have been in the playoffs and they’re better this year than their healthiest-possible lineup from a year ago. Health-permitting, the ceiling for this team is unlimited.
Final Prediction: 98-64, 1st AL East.
UPDATE: Boston just signed former Yankee Alfredo Aceves to a Major-League deal. He should compete for a spot in the bullpen and could provide depth in the rotation.