Third baseman Will Middlebrooks and the Red Sox are on a mission this season to improve on the team’s 69-93 record from last year and make a playoff push. With the Sox equipment truck leaving for Fort Myers Tuesday and some players already in camp, the official start of spring training is just around the corner. The Sox made many roster changes in the offseason, but did they get any better? Scroll through the team’s latest acquisitions and vote on if they’re upgrades from last season.
What to expect: The Red Sox acquired All-Star reliever Joel Hanrahan from the Pirates for righthanded reliever Mark Melancon and three minor leaguers. Sox manager John Farrell has already named Hanrahan his closer. Even if he doesn’t stick there, he gives the bullpen depth and provides some competition for Andrew Bailey, who was supposed to be the team’s closer last season before being injured.
Who he replaces:Alfredo Aceves was thrust into Boston’s closer role last season and had a rocky go of it. Aceves struggled with the pressure early and finished the season with a 2-10 record, 25 saves, and a 5.36 ERA.
What to expect: The Red Sox agreed to a two-year, $25 million deal with the veteran pitcher to add depth to their rotation. Dempster projects as a solid fourth starter, and while the money is substantial, the length of the contract is favorable. The Sox needed pitching depth and Dempster will help. Among the concerns, Dempster’s ERA was more than twice as high in the AL in 2012 (5.09) as it was in the NL (2.25). There’s also the age issue: Dempster will be 36 in May.
Who he replaces: Josh Beckett made 21 starts for the Red Sox last season, posting a 5-11 record and a 5.23 ERA. Dempster isn’t replacing Beckett directly, but he’s part of a deeper rotation that should help turn things around.
What to expect: The Red Sox are getting an above-average right fielder and someone who can play center field if need be should Jacoby Ellsbury end up elsewhere. The 32-year-old stole a career-high 39 bases last season. Victorino is not a middle-of-the-order bat or a power threat. The Red Sox are locking Victorino into a corner outfield slot for the next three seasons and it’s not clear if he will get the team closer to contention.
Who he replaces: Cody Ross has a good season for the Red Sox in 2012, bashing 23 home runs and 34 doubles and showcasing the dirt dog attitude that Trot Nixon made famous at the position. Victorino is a better fielder but doesn’t have the power.
What to expect: A hip injury turned Napoli’s three-year, $39 million deal with the Red Sox into a one-year pact with incentives. That shows you how much of a concern Napoli’s injury is. Napoli has a career OPS of .863. He hit 24 home runs for the Rangers in 2012, and the Sox are hoping he can return to his 2011 form when he hit .320 with 30 homers, 75 RBIs and a 1.046 OPS. Napoli also got a career average below .260 and is prone to long droughts.
Who he replaces: James Loney? Not quite. Napoli is essentially replacing Adrian Gonzalez, who was traded to the Dodgers last season. Gonzalez had a .300 batting average last year, and while his power numbers were down, he’s one of the premier power hitters in the game.
What to expect: Gomes hit .299 with a .974 OPS against lefthanders last season in 164 at-bats. If the Sox platoon Gomes they can utilize that strength. The Red Sox were also high on Gomes as a clubhouse presence and a mentor to younger players. Gomes is getting $10 million over two seasons. He made $1 million last season with Oakland. If Gomes is going to be a platoon player, that’s an awful lot of money
Who he replaces: Gomes could replace Daniel Nava and get the bulk of at bats in left. Nava played in 88 games last season and batted .243 with a .352 on-base percentage.
What to expect: Ross, who spent the last four seasons with the Braves, is considered one of the game’s best backup catchers. He had nine home runs in 196 plate appearances last season, batting .256. His ability to call a game should be a good influence on Boston’s pitching. Ross is not a game-changing bat, and the Sox now have a glut of catchers. Until they trade Jarrod Saltalamacchia or Ryan Lavarnway, Ross could be redundant
Who he replaces: Kelly Shoppach, who took his backup catching act to the Mets. Shoppach hit .250 in 140 plate appearances for the Red Sox, striking out 62 times with 11 walks. Ross could also be replacing Lavarnway, who struggled after being called up late in the season.
What to expect: For one year and $4.25 million, the Sox are getting a pitcher they plan to use in the late innings. Uehara had a 1.75 ERA, a 0.64 WHIP and 43 strikeouts in 36 innings. He walked just three batters. The bullpen was already shaping up to be a strength of the Red Sox before Uehara’s signing.
Who he replaces:Scott Atchison made 42 appearances for the Red Sox last season and posted a 1.58 ERA. He signed with the Mets this offseason. Mark Melancon was supposed to be the setup man last year, but he posted a 6.20 ERA in 41 games.
What to expect: Since he missed all of last season, we’ll treat Lackey as a new acquisition. Lackey has a 5.26 ERA in two seasons with the Red Sox. He has two years remaining on his $82.5 million contract. He had reconstructive elbow surgery 15 months ago and is hoping to bounce back to the form that made him one of the top five pitchers in the AL in wins, strikeouts, shutouts, and starts.
Who he replaces: Lackey slots in near the back end of Boston’s rotation. He takes the place of Daisuke Matsuzaka and Aaron Cook, who combined to make 29 starts with an ERA around seven.
What to expect: A former high-profile prospect, Drew has been limited by injuries the last two seasons. In 151 games for Arizona in 2010 he hit .278 with 15 home runs and 61 RBIs, but he hasn’t approached those numbers since. He should split time with the light-hitting Jose Iglesias.
Who he replaces: Mike Aviles hit .250 with 13 home runs and 60 RBIs in 136 games with the Red Sox last season.
Coming off a last-place finish last season, the Red Sox had plenty of room to improve heading into this offseason. The Sox have been understandably active, signing outfielder Shane Victorino (pictured, right) and several other players in an effort to improve the on-field product and win back fans. Wary of giving out long-term contracts to players who may underperform, the team has made no blockbuster moves. Is the strategy working?