THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Ten questions as the Red Sox enter spring training

February 17, 2012
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1. How will Bobby Valentine be welcomed?

Terry Francona’s style was to trust his players to do the right thing. That worked for a while before the Sox repaid his faith with consecutive third-place finishes. Now comes Valentine, whose hands-on approach will jostle some complacent Sox. How the players adapt will be a season-long saga.

2. Is the rotation deep enough?

In theory, the Red Sox have a championship-caliber rotation. But that requires Clay Buchholz to last the whole season, Daniel Bard to successfully transition from the bullpen and a No. 5 starter to emerge. Their depth will be tested and, for now, appears to be lacking.

3. Is there a shortstop?

The puzzling trade of Marco Scutaro to the Rockies left the Sox with the option of using either Mike Aviles or Nick Punto as the starting shortstop. Aviles has not been a full-time shortstop since 2008 while Punto is a career utility player. Despite all their resources, it’s a position the Sox just can’t figure out.

4. What about right field?

The Red Sox received scant production in right field last season, so expect at least a modest upgrade. The question is whether that will come primarily from Cody Ross, Ryan Sweeney or Ryan Kalish once he’s healthy.

5. Failing chemistry?

Last year’s collapse and subsequent revelations about in-game clubhouse beer fests revealed the Sox to be lacking in character and leadership. With team captain Jason Varitek in career purgatory, new leaders must emerge. Adrian Gonzalez and Dustin Pedroia are the leading candidates.

6. Can the new bullpen deliver?

Valentine said Tuesday that bullpens win pennants. But the Sox let Jonathan Papelbon go to the Phillies without a fight then they moved Bard into the rotation. Now Andrew Bailey and Mark Melancon are the new closer and set-up man. They have the stuff to do the job but will be tested by the AL East. Bobby Jenks returns from an injury-marred season.

7. What place for Ace?

Alfredo Aceves was one of the team’s most valuable pitchers last season, throwing 114 innings in a variety of roles. He could become a starter or he could be glue in the bullpen. The trick is figuring out what suits the team best.

8. Is Youuuuk too oooooold?

Kevin Youkilis, 33 next month, was battered and bruised into submission at third base last season, finally landing on the disabled list. He has missed 102 games the last two years. Can he remain an offensive force and play an adequate third base?

9. When is Crawford coming back?

Carl Crawford followed up his colossally disappointing first season in Boston by having wrist surgery in January. He’ll be out for at least a few weeks of the regular season. Once he returns, the Sox hope their $142 million left fielder will start to hold up his end of the deal.

10. Is there a sleeper in the house?

The Red Sox farm system has more pluggers than prospects in Triple-A. But catcher Ryan Lavarnway, third baseman Will Middlebrooks and righthander Alex Wilson could help the major league team this season. Spring training will be their chance to step forward.

PETER ABRAHAM

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