Some things I will be looking for at ST...
First it was very obvious from day one last year that the players did not respect Bobby V. I hope it's equally obvious this year that they DO respect Farrell.
This could be a big plus this year.
The rumblings about Doubront's conditioning are disturbing. I'm anxious to see first hand just how true they are. If it is true and it's not the first time in his young career, you have to wonder what, if anything is going on inside his left-handed brain. As an old catcher, there was never a ton of respect for pitchers' smarts, especially the lefties. With the exception of you, Amp!
Just as I have defended Beckett against geo's rants based on the tendency for a person to not radiaclly change his personality over a short time, I expressed my concern over Doubie's attitude after the 2011 fiasco.
I'm not giving up on him, but I am certain that many here who have been defending him would be bashing me if I was suggesting trading for a pitcher on another team with a history of coming to camp with the chance of a lifetime our of shape.
I'm not shocked, but I am hoping I don't get to say, "I told you so".
Just how long and to what extent are Ortiz and Napoli going to be pampered.
Nap's hip injury is very touchy. The hip is probably the most important part of the body when it comes to hitting... see ARod and Lowell. I'm encouraged by the recent reports that it is not getting worse.
Papi's injury is just as touchy and hard to avoid with pampering. One false step or turn and it could be the season. I'm keeping my fingers crossed.
Can Victorino and Drew turn the clock back a few years to when they were both very productive players. This lineup gets a HUGE boost if they can come close to their better years. Fenway has a way of making all hitters better.
Fenway can also mess up a swing, especially for notorious pull hitting RH'ers. I think with Drew, it is all about his health. If he is healthy, he will come close to his career high numbers. That might be a big if, since he may never get to 100% again. SV worries me vs RHPs, and he has played a lot of games over his career. I worry that he may be an "old 32".
Farrell and Nieves are going to have to use "B" games to get all the arms enough reps to decide who to keep. I doubt it will happen, but I'd like to see them bring the best pitchers north, not just the ones who are out of options. A trade could help eliminate the logjam, but too often after you make one of those trades an injury or two occurs that makes you wish you didn't make the deal.
I think if all our pitchers stay healthy and look good in ST (extremely unlikely), we will get creative with the DL. We will also be able to keep Taz and Bard in AAA until needed.
I think the Ross addition to the catching crew can be a huge addition. I don't want to rekindle the old CERA debate, but I am a strong believer in it. But I also believe that the huge disparities should not exist on a team where everybody is working towards a common goal. If Ross has an idea and he's not in the lineup, it should be pretty easy to get that idea to Salty and the pitcher.
Shoppach had pretty good CERA numbers before we signed him last winter. Perhaps, Ross is even better, but one encouraging trend was the fact that Salty was nearly even with Shoppach in CERA after April 23, 2012.
This team should be much stronger defensively than last year's model. A healthy Ellsbury and Pedroia, Ross behind the plate, and to some degree Drew over Aviles should really upgrade the "up the middle" defense. Victorino is a big upgrade in right (I thought Cody Ross was vastly overrated defensively) and if Napoli and Gomes don't perform like butchers the overall defense will be better, and that can only help the pitching staff.
I was not a big fan of Aviles' D at SS before last season began, but he really surprised me on defense. I am not sure that Drew can do much better. I guess he still has a pin in his ankle. Our RF/9 at SS last season was a very respectable 4.70.
A healthy Middlebrooks should be a big improvement over all the games that Youk and Ciriaco played at 3B last year (298 innings by Ciriaco & 248 by Youk, plus 160 by Punto and over 130 by Valencia, Gomez, Aviles, Spears and De Jesus.)
One big area we can improve in is the OF. You mentioned Ellsbury, but I think Byrd, Pods, Kalish and Sweeney did pretty good last year in CF. Our biggest weakensses in the OF last year were the corners:
LF: Nava 611 innings, Ross 166, and DMac 149
RF: C Ross 767 innings, AGon 127, DMac 36 and Nava with 20.
Although Gomes is no better than Ross, he will be restricted to LF, and playing in Fenway half the games might help hide that weak link somewhat. If Sweeney beats out Nava, we should improve LF defense, but the huge gain will be in RF. Victorino should blow Cody's D away.
Here is a list of our 2012 OF defense by innings:
Nava 633 (That's a combined 1400 innings of horrible defense!)
Lars A 9
And that brings me to the final thing to look for...can these guys pitch?? There are a lot of "if's", in fact every projected starter comes with at least one. But IF they can all come close to career averages then this can be a quality staff. If they look more like the 2012 versions of themselves then we should be ready for Webster, De La Rosa, Wright and others to see lots of action in the second half.
Lester 3.76 (119 ERA+) 1.306 WHIP (Can be a good #2 type)
Buch 3.92 (113) 1.339 (Can be a good 32 type, if healthy)
Lackey 4.10 (107) 1.345 (Might be a good #3 type)
Demp 4.33 (99) 1.430 (His ERA+ and WHIP are not encouraging then the age thing...)
Doub 4.86 (90) 1.477 (Not impressive)
If these guys give us there career averages, I see maybe 2 number 2's, a number3, a number 4, and a number 5. That's a lot of ifs to just get us to mediocrity.
Yes, we have the hope that Morales, Tazawa or DLR may step up and surprise, but I'd rather us not have to pray on a remarkable confluence of happenings to make us an average or top half rotation.