Anyone else have spring training envy right about now? Thought so. The Red Sox have begun gathering in Fort Myers, Fla., in advance of what they’re hoping will be a season of redemption.
So the heck with the snow. Let’s think about baseball with 10 predictions for the Red Sox this spring.
Andrew Bailey will be traded
Bailey, who had 75 saves for the A’s from 2009-11, was injured during much of his first season in Boston and abysmal when he returned (7.04 ERA in 19 appearances). Joel Hanrahan, acquired from the Pirates in late December, has already been anointed the closer despite Bailey arguably being the more accomplished pitcher. With a deep reserve of righthanded setup men (Junichi Tazawa, Koji Uehara, perhaps Daniel Bard), it makes sense that Bailey will be dealt to a team that will use him in his familiar closer role.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia will stick around
Trade speculation surrounded the 27-year-old catcher after the Red Sox signed dependable David Ross as well as slugging Mike Napoli. But Napoli was found to have a serious hip condition that led to a major alteration of his contract, and it’s possible his days as a catcher are over. Saltalamacchia is a flawed player (.288 OBP, 139 strikeouts last year), but he also mashed a team-high 25 homers, and with Ryan Lavarnway showing little in 166 plate-appearances (.459 OPS), keeping Saltalamacchia around makes sense.
John Lackey will win you over
His body language may always be terrible, and the stain on his reputation remains from his role in the beer and chicken nonsense in September 2011. But after missing the entire 2012 season after Tommy John surgery, he’s arrived in camp in terrific shape. He told the Globe’s Peter Abraham in a recent candid interview that his elbow didn’t feel right for three years, lending credence to the theory that he was damaged goods when the Red Sox signed him in December 2009. He deserves credit for pitching through the misery, and perhaps his image will change should he find something resembling the form that made him one of the AL’s most dependable pitchers from 2005-08.
A newcomer will get hurt
Speculating on who may get injured isn’t exactly our favorite exercise, but the reality is that a player or two each spring will have a setback that delays the start of their season. (Bailey being Exhibit A from last spring.) Skepticism of Mike Napoli’s condition makes sense at least until we actually see him swinging the bat. Stephen Drew might seem like another candidate, but he was rather durable (especially by Drew family standards) before suffering a broken ankle in 2011.
Jose Iglesias will show progress at the plate
Or: He’d better. With Xander Bogaerts rocketing up prospect lists and convincing scouts that he may be able to remain at shortstop, and with last year’s top pick Deven Marrero expected to advance quickly, it’s approaching make-or-break time for the slick-fielding Iglesias, whose bat just needs to be competent for him to secure a big-league job. He has just a .589 OPS in nearly 800 Triple A plate appearances, but he reportedly worked in the offseason with Dustin Pedroia, which simply cannot be a bad thing.
Xander Bogaerts will make a great first impression
Speaking of Bogaerts, fans may get a great opportunity to watch him play during the World Baseball Classic. He is on the Dutch roster, and while the Braves’ Andrelton Simmons is expected to be the starting shortstop, Bogaerts is expected to get significant playing time, especially since the top prospect in baseball, Rangers shortstop Jurickson Profar, dropped off the team. As someone who saw Bogaerts several times last season in Portland, I can say without a moment’s hesitation that Red Sox fans are going to love this kid. His talent is extraordinary, and he plays the game with intelligence and hustle.
Daniel Bard will resemble his old self
Perhaps the best Red Sox-related news of the winter was manager John Farrell’s comment that he had seen Bard throw and he looked like the guy who was one of the most dominating setup relievers in the game before his disastrous conversion to the rotation last season. It’s too early to count on him in a significant role to start the season, but after last season, any encouraging signs are more than welcome.
John Farrell will not be spotted on a bike
Avid cyclist and accomplished grandstander Bobby Valentine was a disaster on two wheels last season, a bad match for the market and the particular group of players that made up last season’s miserable 69-93 ballclub. Farrell, for whom Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz had their greatest success, is a no-nonsense type who knows what he’s getting into here. His focus is on baseball, not image, and it will be a refreshing change.
The chemistry will click immediately
The Red Sox should be a superior team to last year’s edition on the field this season. There’s no doubt they’ll be a superior group in the clubhouse. Shane Victorino, Joel Hanrahan, Ryan Dempster, Mike Napoli, and Jonny Gomes are among the new acquisitions who have longstanding reputations as excellent teammates. Ben Cherington’s emphasis on character this offseason reminds me of how the Patriots favor players who were captains and leaders of their college teams in the draft. The 2012 Red Sox are going to be a very likable team.
Everyone will be in the best shape of their life
Because, as the great site HardballTalk.com likes to point out whenever such a declaration is made, it wouldn’t be spring training without the cliched reports of the players all being in peak condition. Hey, and in Lackey’s case, we can actually believe it.