Collectively, the 2011 Red Sox are the odds-on favorites to get to the World Series, and considering their remarkable talent individually serves as a pleasant confirmation of why they should be an outstanding team.
So in the casual spirit of spring training -- and because it's a really fun way to approach writing about such a deep roster -- TATB is taking a sometimes whimsical but mostly serious look at 40 Red Sox players and prospects relevant to this year's ball club, written up in no particular order.
Now, can 4:05 p.m. Friday and the yep-it's-for-real debut of Adrian Gonzalez and Carl Crawford please hurry up and get here?. . .
Jed Lowrie: The more I think about it, the more I really like the idea of using him in this superutility role. He's never thrilled me defensively at shortstop -- his range is just a step better than Jeterian, and he's either scattershot or careless on too many routine throws. But he can play every infield position at least adequately, and with those old comps to Pedroia as a hitter dancing in my head, I am convinced that his excellent performance in the second half last year (nine homers, .526 slugging percentage, .907 OPS, and some pretty good company) was a legitimate representation of the player he can be come. There's the proverbial big "if" with him regarding his health, obviously, but if he can stay on the field, his value will be immense.
Marco Scutaro: I'll never get why so many fans -- and by fans I mean sports-radio hosts, their most witless callers, and yes, certain media brethren -- are so eager to trade depth just because it's there. Keeping Scutaro, who arguably had a superior season to five-time Golden Globe winner Derek Jeter (what . . . you say he's won five gold gloves? Like I'm buying that) despite playing with a messed-up shoulder, and the promising Lowrie is a good thing, just as retaining veteran Mike Cameron as baseball's most overqualified fourth outfielder is also smart. Doesn't anyone remember Arroyo-for-Wily Mo? Theo learned his lesson and we should too: just because a team has multiple quality players at one position doesn't mean it should swap one of them for a player of lesser value at a position of relative need or a handful of magic beans.
Dustin Pedroia: Laser Show . . . activate! Of all the encouraging developments this spring, there's nothing more encouraging that watching Pedroia look exactly like the player he was last June 25, when he walloped three homers at Colorado the day before his season was effectively ended by a foul ball that broke a bone in his foot. He's running the bases without a limp, his range isn't affected at second base, and he's smacking . . . well, lasers, all over the field. He's the same old Pedey. I think it's OK to exhale now.
Kevin Youkilis: Youk has had a bit of a rough spring (.175 average, no homers in 57 at-bats) coming back from that unusual thumb injury. He's traditionally a fast starter -- he has a career .902 OPS in March/April -- so if he struggles early, I suppose there will be some reason for concern. But I'm not about to do it now. I like Mazz's optimism -- wow, I don't think I've ever strung those words together in that sequence -- in picking him for the MVP, though I think he has the wrong Sox hitter pegged for the award. Youk will have fewer RBI opportunities than we might expect with Adrian Gonzalez batting in front of him, but a .300-28-105 season seems reasonable, even if he doesn't improve his OPS for a seventh straight year.
Scott Atchison: Well, you have to figure that's not the first time he's lost out on making an Opening Day roster for reasons other than performance. The 35-year-old righthander probably deserved the final spot in the bullpen over Matt Albers, but Atchison had options left, Albers did not, and the Red Sox, wisely if coldly, prioritized retaining their organizational depth over keeping the slightly more deserving candidate. If there's any solace, it's that Terry Francona likes him and we're all but assured to see Atchison again this summer. In the meantime, maybe he can pass some of his time in Pawtucket by reading The 26th Man, former pitcher Steve Fireovid's terrific diary/biography (co-authored with the great Mark Winegardner) about being just good enough to be the last man cut.
Mike McKenry: Do you realize that in parts of eight big-league seasons, spanning 246 games and 714 plate appearances, Kevin Cash has a .183 batting average, 12 homers, 195 strikeouts, and a 37 adjusted OPS? The point: I know little about McKenry, but considering he's a 26-year-old catcher who threw out 36 percent of attempted basestealers and has an .812 OPS in his five minor league seasons, it's safe to say he's a far better alternative than another Cash sequel should the Red Sox require an emergency catcher sometime this spring or summer.
John Lackey: I wholeheartedly agree with PeteAbe's prediction yesterday that Lackey "is going to have a very good season. A 3.85 ERA, 15 or 16 wins . . ." Beyond that, I was fascinated and encouraged by something else Pete wrote within the same blog post: "Here's hoping he improves his on-camera demeanor because more people should know what a funny, personable guy he is. His teammates love him." Watching Lackey mutter to himself in four-letter increments after a bad pitch or appear to call out a defensive player who made a mistake, I had no idea he was so well-regarded among his teammates. He's got a clean slate with me entering his second season with the Sox.
Daniel Bard: Hard to believe last year was just his first full season in the majors, isn't it? He's such a mainstay now -- heck, he was the only beginning-to-end reliable option out of the 'pen last year -- that it feels like he's been throwing smoke out of the Sox 'pen since, oh, about 2007. His strikeout rate actually dipped last season (from a Dibblesque 11.5 in '09 to a still outstanding 9.2), but his BB/9 dropped from 4.0 to 3.6, and he allowed a phenomenal 5.4 hits per nine (45 in 74.2 innings). If Papelbon punts away a couple in April, Bobby Jenks will probably get the first opportunity to close, and that's fine. Bard will still get at least as many high-leverage, crucial outs as a setup guy as he would as a closer, and probably more.
Tim Wakefield: Practically, I'm not sure what his role is or whether, at age 44, he's capable of being anything other than a proud, accomplished mop-up man. Nostalgically, who among us isn't pleased that he's here for season No. 17 of his long and winding road into Red Sox lore? I was talking to my old man about Bob Costas's interview with Pedro on the MLB Network tonight, and we agreed that there will never be another one like him. And you know what? There will never be another one quite like Wake, either.
Josh Beckett: He was horrible and hurt last season. He was the former for the most part this spring, though at least he looked healthy as he was getting lit up. But as I sit here typing this, there is he is, mowing down the Astros by flashing a little bit of the ol' giddyup on his fastball and featuring a changeup so crisp and deceptive that it made me blurt to my TV friends Jerry and Don, "What was that?" I know it's the lowly Astros, and I know it's just one start . . . but the Beckett I'm watching right now is as good as I can recall him looking in over a year. How about that for an optimistic note to take you into the season?
About Touching All The Bases
Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.