4. Boston Red Sox
2012: 69-93, 5th place, 26 games behind
2013 projection: 80-82, 4th place, 13 games behind
Plenty of new faces, but can they contend? Things can’t get much worse this season for the Red Sox after the team stumbled to a last place finish under controversial manager Bobby Valentine last season. Ineffective starting pitching sunk the Sox on the field as Boston’s rotation posted a 48-72 mark with a combined 5.19 ERA, good enough to rank No. 27 in all of MLB.
What’s changed? Almost everything. The well-respected John Farrell has returned to Boston to replace the much-maligned Valentine. The cost included starting shortstop Mike Aviles.
Gone are malcontent starter Josh Beckett, the prickly Adrian Gonzalez, and the underperforming Carl Crawford and in came a slew of replacements via trade and free agency. Newcomers include first baseman Mike Napoli, a notorious Red Sox killer with the Rangers who we now know has a very serious hip condition, and right fielder Shane Victorino, another acquisition coming off a down year, who will each be on the books for $39 million over three years. Veteran Jonny Gomes was signed for $10 million to platoon in left field along with the returning Ryan Sweeney, signed when Ryan Kalish was diagnosed with needing shoulder surgery.
Also new are shortstop Stephen Drew, backup catcher David Ross, starter Ryan Dempster, solid set-up reliever Koji Uehara, and newly acquired closer Joel Hanrahan.
And for the first time since 2007, Red Sox fans and AL batters won’t have Daisuke Matsuzaka to knock around.
Drew, two years removed from an ankle fracture, is the latest to get a shot at shortstop in a one-year deal to replace Aviles as banjo-hitting prospect Jose Iglesias will get more time to develop. Drew hit .223 in 2012 and was limited to 79 games with an ankle injury.
Former Dodger pitchers Rubby De La Rosa and Allen Webster will most likely have opportunities to impress.
There’s also a new look to the back-end of the bullpen with Hanrahan, who had 36 saves and 67 strikeouts in 59 2/3 innings for the Pirates last season, closing out games. Former injury-riddled closer Andrew Bailey, speculated to be on the trading block, will set up Hanrahan. Underwhelming reliever Mark Melancon was also shipped out in the Hanrahan deal.
Clubhouse chemistry is expected to be harmonious as general manager Ben Cherington made a conscious effort to change the culture and infuse the team with some new energy and attitude.
What’s stayed the same? Outside of newly signed innings-eater Ryan Dempster, who the Sox are looking to have a better showing against AL batters than he had in his 12 starts with the Rangers last season that yielded a 5.09 ERA, the Red Sox will begin the 2013 campaign with essentially the same starting rotation whose poor performance was the primary reason for the poor results last season.
Jon Lester, who posted a 9-14 record with a 4.82 ERA, Clay Buchholz, 11-8 with a 4.56 ERA, and 34-year-old John Lackey, returning from Tommy John surgery, will be expected to have bounce-back years while they hope Felix Doubront can stay strong and improve on his impressive early showing in 2012 before finishing 11-10 with a 4.86 ERA.
Jacoby Ellsbury is back for what might be his final season in Boston and the hope is he can get back to the near-MVP season in 2011, when he hit .321 with 32 home runs and 105 RBIs.
Even with all the new faces at Fenway, David Ortiz (.318 with 23 home runs) and Dustin Pedroia (.290 with 15 home runs) remain the de facto leaders of the team. The Red Sox are looking at the veterans to stay healthy and put up the big offensive production numbers that will be needed in a lineup that, on paper, lacks some punch.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia, who struggled at the end of the season the last two years, is expected to be back behind the plate for the majority of the games while the enigma that is Daniel Bard returns and the hope is that Farrell can help find the magic that made Bard one of the league’s most prized relievers just two years ago.
The good news is that the Red Sox don’t have Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett anymore. The bad news is that the Red Sox don’t have Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, and Josh Beckett anymore. There’s plenty of change coming to Boston, but did the team really upgrade? Has Ben Cherington done enough to rebuild the starting pitching rotation? Are there enough impact bats in a new dirt-doggy lineup? Those are the key questions.
There were some definite improvements made, specifically to the bench and the back end of the bullpen.
There is the possibility that the Red Sox will repeat as basement dwellers in the AL East, mostly because the starting pitching remains suspect even if Lester and Buchholz return to form under Farrell, their former pitching coach. And while they’ve added some new arms to the staff and bats to the lineup, most of the new position players are coming off down years. Meanwhile the competition, outside of the Yankees, is much improved from just a couple of years ago. Look for Boston to finish closer to the bottom than the top of the division. The prediction here is for a fourth place finish that will leave the Sox on the outside looking in on the postseason for the fourth consecutive year.