Ask Nick: How good will Ortiz be in 2013?

FORT MYERS, Fla. – Apathetic about the Red Sox? A diehard fan? Taking a wait-and-see approach?

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Being here in Fort Myers, the crowds are still here in full force, though I must admit the fervor and the excitement is definitely down about the team.

We’ve written about season ticket sales being down, but only by 10 percent. None of the offseason moves were “sexy” and none of them yielded an impact player. There was little buzz about John Farrell being hired as the new manager.

And while Jackie Bradley Jr. has created some excitement and Farrell has said the organization is at least open to keeping him around, we know in the end he’ll be back in the minors.

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So tell us how you feel about this team heading into the season.

Are they fifth place? Are they better, but out of the playoffs? Are they a playoff team?

It’s never been so hard to judge a Red Sox team heading into the season. As we wrote a couple of weeks ago, it’s Camp Low Expectations. The Red Sox have not created much preseason anticipation, but they’d love to emerge from that with a good, competitive team that’s in it until the bitter end.

The optimists have said this:

When Mike Napoli fields a routine grounder at first base, I’ve actually heard people say, “Hey, sure, he can play there.” When Jonny Gomes catches a routine fly ball in left: “He’s not that bad out there.”

And Papi will be OK with his Achilles’ and he’ll get plenty of good pitches to hit. And you watch how good Stephen Drew is at shortstop.

And Jacoby Ellsbury will have the type of year he had two years ago because this is his walk year.

And Dustin Pedroia will be healthy all season and emerge as a force in the lineup.

And Shane Victorino will bring great energy and improve the right-field defense.

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And Will Middlebrooks will emerge as a superstar, a power hitter, and that balky wrist will be sound the rest of the year.

And Jon Lester is going to win 20.

John Lackey will be a 200-inning bulldog.

Ryan Dempster will be the best pitching acquisition since Frank Viola or Mike Boddicker.

Salty will emerge as a 30-homer catcher.

If all of those things happen, they’ll win the division.

And so we answer your questions in this week’s mailbag:

What is your personal projection for David Ortiz in 2013? In my opinion, he is by far the biggest contributor to the offense. Last year, the Red Sox were a .350 team without him and a .500 team with him.
Ryan, Sharon, Mass.
He’s their slugger, centerpiece, their force, you name it. Lot of weight on his shoulders and he knows it. I think someone has to emerge as protection for him in the lineup, whether that’s Napoli or Middlebrooks or someone. If that occurs he’ll put up his usual numbers, providing he doesn’t have any setbacks with his heel.

The Sox seem to have both quality and depth in their farm system for pitching, OF, C, SS, and 3B. The big hole is a legit power hitter to play 1B. Do you see them making a trade for this missing piece, perhaps with Ellsbury, at the deadline?
Ben, Phoenix, Ariz.

I think they’ll monitor the Napoli situation and see how it works out. If he stays healthy and puts up good numbers, they’ll try to re-sign him a year at a time providing the MRIs on his hips don’t change much. It is a point of concern, but they can always convert people – like Middlebrooks – to first base.

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Would the Marlins trade Giancarlo Stanton for the right offer?
Mark, Stratham, NH
I think they will move Stanton, yes. If he keeps griping about being on the team, it might be sooner than later. Their people tell me they won’t do it this season because there’s been so much bad publicity down there. I would take Ellsbury out of the equation. They wouldn’t take on any part of a $9 million salary. Some of the other names like Xander Bogaerts and Allen Webster would be ones that would make them move. You’d probably have to give up Jackie Bradley as well.

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A topic in your previous mailbag made me wonder what is truly the most efficient way to develop a pitching staff. Do you believe it is better to prepare arms by allowing prospects to pitch unlimited innings? Or do you feel that prospects should be limited to protect their arms?
Stephen, Niceville, Fla.
I’m old school. Pitching a lot improves arm strength. A lot of Japanese pitchers throw all day and avoid arm injuries. Dice-K is a good example. He gets to the US and he gets Tommy John surgery because his routine changed so dramatically to adapt to the way American pitchers are taught and trained.
Two questions, both focusing on power: 1.) Can’t a good case be made that home runs are really not a great judge of effective production? After all, many players feast on mediocre pitching, but when a clutch home run, or any hit, is necessary late in the game, those same players, with big HR numbers fail to come through? They’ll be known as 25-30 HR hitters, but the value of those home runs is tarnished. 2.) I understand Fenway’s dimensions are enticing, but why can’t the Red Sox aim to have 2-3 players who can steal, bunt, run, like Pedro Ciriaco?
Roy, Cape Elizabeth, Maine
I think everybody likes home runs. They can win games. I see what you’re saying if the home runs are hit for padding stats in meaningless situations. I think that will always happen, but if you’re hitting 40, some of those have to be meaningful. That’s why I wanted Josh Hamilton here. There are few game-changers in baseball. He’s one of them. As for Ciriaco, I agree. He’s very exciting coming off the bench. He brings energy. They’re trying to give Brock Holt a good look, but he’s a second baseman who can hit. Ciriaco does so much for you.
Andrew Miller has looked dominant at times so far in Florida. He’s still on the younger side, and in my opinion has matured a lot since becoming a reliever. I think the Sox should stretch him out. A tall, 3/4 arm slot lefty, 95 mph fastball, knee-buckling curveball. Not to mention his hair and beard. What do you think?
Tony, Gray, Maine
There’s always the temptation to move him to the rotation, but I think the Sox brass finally realizes not to mess with success. He’s a very good reliever and his future here is in that role.
What do you think of the concept of having Victorino lead off and sliding Ellsbury down to the 3-hole? Yes the running game would be weakened, but if Victorino can play to the back of his card, sliding Ellsbury down could increase his chances to stay healthy and increase his power numbers.
Adam, Shelton, Conn.
Very low OBP numbers for Victorino last two years. I would think something would have to go wrong with Ellsbury for that to happen.
Why didn’t the Red Sox look into signing Nate Schierholtz?
Xander, North Andover, Mass.

Didn’t hear that name at all.
What are the chances that Mark Hamilton will make the Red Sox team?
Rick, Sherborn, Mass.

Not very good. He’s a good hitter, but I think the competition for that first base/left field spot is Nava, Carp and Overbay.
Since Daniel Bard finished 2012 in Triple-A, will starting this season in Pawtucket use up another one of his options?
Dan, North Port, Fla.
Sure. Unless he continues to be erratic, I don’t think that will happen.
We wrap up with a grand slam of questions from Dr. Vicente of Jamundi, Colombia:
Are there rules about how a player presents himself in spring training camp? Ortiz looks heavy again. Dubront supposedly came out of shape. Why are they allowed in camp?

Doctor, the team can certainly be upset about players coming to camp out of shape, but technically that’s what spring training is for. If they’re out of shape once the bell rings, that’s another story. Ortiz told me he’s 260 pounds, same as he was at the end of last season. He does have an excuse with his injury.
Would you trade immediately Ortiz, Lester, and Dubront?
Ortiz won’t be traded. He’s the best DH in baseball and still the main cog in their lineup. You could make a case for Lester if you got a huge return. I would stay with Doubront, who can be very good.
I remember when the Sox brought up talent from the farm much earlier. At least two of the pitchers seem ready but will have to wait. I would trade and bring up the talent. Your opinion?
I don’t believe there’s a pitcher who is ready at this point. You could make cases for Jose Iglesias and Jackie Bradley Jr.
Are the Sox looking for a DH to replace Ortiz? From a medical position, I will be stunned if he plays much any longer. It is too bad. He also took, I think, the wrong therapy (lack of hyperbaric medicine).
I doubt it. He’s trying to be ready for Opening Day and my guess is he will. Have no idea about hyperbaric stuff. I’ll ask, but I haven’t heard that.

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