2013 Boston Red Sox Preview
After a forgettable 2012 campaign the Red Sox have retooled their roster in hopes of competing for a division crown in 2013.
If Bostonians suddenly developed amnesia and forgot that the 2012 baseball season ever happened, most would not be terribly disappointed. After bringing in Bobby Valentine last offseason to try to replace Terry Francona and establish some order in the clubhouse, the ball club completely fell apart and fell to the bottom of the American League Eastern Division. After the embarrassment of the 2012 campaign, the front office made it clear this winter that they wanted to do whatever it took to build their ball club back into a contender, and they wanted to do it quickly. They jettisoned Valentine and brought in Blue Jays’ manager John Farrell and they added veteran players Ryan Dempster, Jonny Gomes, Mike Napoli and Shane Victorino to help restock their offense. While these moves may not make a contender out of the ball club right away, they will certainly be a more cohesive unit then they were last season and could be a sleeper club to watch come September.
The Red Sox infamous late-season collapse in 2011 was caused by the poor performance of their starting rotation during the last two months of the season. Unfortunately for the ball club, that trend of poor performance continued into 2012. Their ace, Jon Lester (9-14, 4.82 ERA) turned in the worst performance of his career in terms of record, ERA, strike-outs, home runs given up and opponents’ slugging percentage. Not only did Lester struggle with his control on the mound, but mentally he never seemed as though he was in a good spot when he took to the rubber. With Farrell now at the helm of the ball club, hopes are high that he can get Lester straightened out, after all, Lester turned in some of his best performances when Farrell was the Red Sox pitching coach from 2007 to 2010.
If Farrell can get Lester straightened out, hopefully he can work some magic with the number two guy in Boston’s rotation, Clay Buchholz. Under Farrell’s tutelage in 2010, Buchholz won 17 games and finished the year with a 2.33 ERA, but over the last two seasons he has been a bit of a mixed bag. Last year, Buchholz did show signs of the pitcher that he could be, turning in a 2.08 ERA in an 11-start stretch during mid-season, but he struggled at the beginning of the year, and fell apart late in the season and ended up with an 11-8 record on the season and a 4.56 ERA. For the Red Sox to make any progress this season, both Lester and Buchholz will need to rebound and provide the team with no less than 13 wins a piece, otherwise their bullpen is going to be taxed beyond their potential, and the team is going to spend time in the basement of the division again in 2013.
Behind Buchholz will be offseason acquisition Ryan Dempster, who finished last season with a 12-8 record and a 3.38 ERA with stints in the National League (Chicago) and the American League (Texas). Dempster’s transition between the two leagues did not go as well as expected, and when he joined the Rangers for the second half, he struggled mightily. Whether or not he can get things straightened out remains to be seen, but even if Dempster has an ERA in the 4.00 to 4.50 range, the thing that he will be able to do for the ball club is eat up innings, which will give the bullpen a much needed rest.
Felix Doubront (11-10, 4.86) is another guy who will likely give the club 200 plus innings, but exactly what those innings will look like remains to be seen. Doubront started 2012 strong, posting a 3.75 ERA through June 2 nd, unfortunately the summer months brought with them a quick decline in his control and from June 2 nd through the end of the season, his ERA soared to 5.56. His low-to-mid 90s fastball could be his bread and butter if he can just learn to keep it out of batters’ hot zones, he will also need to figure out when to mix in his very good curveball as well. Behind Doubront will be John Lackey, that is if he can come back from Tommy John surgery and forget that the 2011 season ever happened.
Lackey was phenomenal in 2010 and the ball club thought that he could potentially be their ace for the foreseeable future, unfortunately his elbow problems crept up the following season and he became a liability for the club every time he took the mound. If his elbow is healthy again, there is no reason to believe that he will not rebound this season, and while he may eventually regain his ace status with the club, all they want this year is for him to be a reliable number five guy who can give them 170 or so innings and keep his ERA in the 4 to 4.50 range.
As bad as the Red Sox starting rotation was last season it seemed only a matter of time before their bullpen also started to struggle. They finished third behind Milwaukee and Colorado in blown saves and finished 19 th overall in ERA. Most of their struggles were based on the club’s lack of a true closer after losing Andrew Bailey to thumb surgery just before the season was set to begin. To try to shore things up a bit the club traded for Pittsburgh’s closer Joel Hanrahan, who has racked up 76 saves over the past two seasons. This is the final year of his current contract, so expect big things from the right hander as he prepares to test the waters of free agency when the season comes to a close. The biggest concern for the Red Sox will be how quickly Hanrahan adjusts to the American League, but if he can save 30 plus games for the ball club, they will consider his acquisition a successful one.
Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa are expected to battle it out for the 8 th inning set-up role and both men have huge upsides to them. Uehara has the ability to control his pitches better than almost anyone else in the game, and Tazawa had an amazing stretch at the end of last season, giving up just one run in his final 15 appearances. Bailey will also get a look as a set-up man this spring, and provided that he is healthy he will likely play a big role in the bullpen as a 7 th or 8 th inning option. Lefties Craig Breslow and Andrew Miller, and youngsters Alfredo Aceves and Franklin Morales look to round out the bullpen as well as Daniel Baird, who was unsuccessfully made a starting pitcher last season and will most certainly return to a relief role for the ball club this year.
The fact that the Red Sox finished fifth overall in American League runs scored last season shows just how poor their pitching really was. Despite losing Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford early in the season, and David Ortiz as the ball club appeared to show signs of improvement, the ball club was still able to put runs on the board. When they sent Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers, things looked bleak, but their offense somehow managed to respond and keep the club in ball games. Unfortunately, no matter how many runs they managed to put up, their pitching gave up even more. The ball club will have a healthy Ellsbury (.271 in just 74 games) back this season, and they have added Napoli (.227), Gomes (.262) and Victorino (.255) to supplement the loss of Crawford and Gonzalez. The three additions should all contribute provided that they can stay healthy, and provided that Victorino is able to limit his strike-outs. Both Gomes and Napoli seem to have been born to play at Fenway Park as both seemingly have a tradition of hitting very well at the ballpark. The ball club also brought in shortstop Stephen Drew (.233) who was also limited due to injuries last season but will come into camp completely healthy and ready to make a big impact on his new ball club.
The Red Sox would love to get another season out of catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia like he had in 2012, hitting a career-high 25 home runs, but it is not likely that they will as his slugging percentage dropped as the season wore on, and his strike-outs multiplied. Third baseman Will Middlebrooks (.288) is still adjusting to playing at the major league level, but he showed signs of potential last season and if he can work on his approach and relax a bit more at the plate, his strike-out numbers should go down and his run production should be more on par with what it was in the minor leagues.
Long-time holdouts Dustin Pedroia and David Ortiz will be back for 2013 and both will most likely give the club exactly was is expected of them. Pedroia loves to work a count and should hit somewhere around .300 and give the club double-digits in both home runs and steals as well as taking as many free passes as he can to give the club a consistent base runner. Ortiz is not the same hitter he was three years ago, but that is not necessarily a bad thing as he has managed to cut down on the number of bad swings he was taking that resulted in a lot of strike-outs. Big Papi is still good for 30 plus homers and 80 plus RBIs, which is exactly what the Red Sox need out of him for them to make any kind of progress in 2013.
The Red Sox are far from an elite team, their starting pitching is questionable, their bullpen has gotten better but isn’t fantastic, and their offense is strike-out prone but have the ability to hit the long ball when needed. Where the club has improved the most is with their coaching staff, and John Farrell looks to be just the right man to lead this club to a winning season despite their pitfalls. Don’t expect the Red Sox to bounce back to the point where they are competing neck and neck for a division crown, they simply won’t be as good as New York or Toronto, but they will finish at or above .500 in what will likely be a very competitive division, and should put themselves into position to return to contention in the next two years or so.
By Robert Gonzalez