by Jason Martinez
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BOSTON RED SOX OFFSEASON PREVIEW
One of the most disappointing finishes to a Red Sox season in 2011 was followed by one of the most disappointing overall seasons in decades. Manager Bobby Valentine was fired after one season as his team went 69-93 to finish last in the AL East. There was plenty of drama along the way -- not the good kind that involves playing really competitive baseball -- and Valentine probably didn't help, which is why he was let go. Still, this was a team hit harder than most by injuries to key players.
General Manager Ben Cherington decided to hit the reset button and clear three huge multi-year contracts from payroll in a mega deal with the Dodgers in late August . Clearing that salary, which saves them nearly $57 million in 2013 alone, should allow the Sox to shop aggressively once again this offseason. The key will be how wisely they spend it. And there are plenty of holes to address.
STARTING LINEUP ANALYSIS
OK, so you got Dustin Pedroia and Jacoby Ellsbury somewhere in the top third of the lineup. That's a given. Will Middlebrooks and Jarrod Saltalamacchia should also be penciled in, although they are much higher in the projected lineup than I'd be comfortable with at this point. That's because this is a team lacking in at least one reliable middle of the order bat. Re-signinig 'Big Papi' David Ortiz could take care of part of the problem but the soon-to-be 37 year-old played in only 90 games this season. Although he's typically good for 145-155 games per season, it's hard to expect that again from the aging slugger. Cody Ross is another player the Sox could try and lock up before he hits free agency. The 31 year-old had an .807 OPS in 130 games during his lone season in Boston and would solidify one of the corner outfield spots for the next few seasons if re-signed.
In an ideal world, shortstop Jose Iglesias would've hit enough in his late-season audition that the Sox would feel comfortable enough to hand him the starting job next season. He's so good defensively that even a .225 batting average with little power would be enough. But the 22 year-old was only 8-for-68 with 1 HR, 4 BB, and 16 K in 25 games after being called up on August 25th. Mike Aviles, who started at shortstop for the majority of the season, finished the season with a .663 OPS and might profile best as a utilityman who plays regularly against left-handed pitchers. Pedro Ciriaco, one of the few bright spots for the Sox this season, could also end up in the mix. Double-A shortstop Xander Bogaerts, 20, can probably outhit all these guys now but he may be another year away from the majors and could end up changing positions along the way.
Along with the shortstop position being unsettled, first base and the corner outfield spots are, as well. It's hard to see the Sox not making LF or RF a priority this offseason, and re-signing Ross may very well take care of one spot. Ryan Kalish, Daniel Nava, Jerry Sands, and Ryan Sweeney are the in-house candidates while prospects Bryce Brentz and Jackie Bradley, Jr. could force their way into the picture at some point in 2013. The 23 year-old Brentz had an .833 OPS as the everyday right fielder for Double-A Portland. Bradley, a left-handed hitting center fielder, had a combined .911 OPS between Double-A and Hi-A with 24 SB and 87 BB. He could be the heir apparent to Ellsbury, who will be a free agent after next season. An impressive couple of months to start 2013, however, and Bradley could be playing in the same outfield with Ellsbury next season.
STARTING PITCHING ANALYSIS
Former ace Josh Beckett is now a Dodger, which is a good thing. He was set to make $31.5 million over the next two seasons and he wasn't very good at all in 2012. The Sox no longer have to pay a ridiculous amount of money to a guy who will be 33 next season and isn't close to resembling the guy who won 20 games back in 2007. Current ace Jon Lester didn't pitch much like an ace this season either. He was a workhorse, giving the team 33 starts and 205.1 innings, but his ERA was close to 5.00. Clay Buchholz, despite getting rocked for 8 ER in 1.2 innings during his last start of the season, rebounded from a disastrous first six starts (9.09 ERA on May 6th) and had an overall solid season. If the Sox are going to bounce back, they'll need good seasons from Lester and Buccholz at the top of the rotation.
A pair of lefties, Felix Doubront and Franklin Morales, will have a good shot to win spots in the rotation and John Lackey should be at full strength as he comes back from Tommy John surgery in November 2011. After pitching 214 innings and posting a 4.40 ERA in his debut season with the Sox in 2010, Lackey struggled badly in 2011. Trying to pitch with a torn elbow ligament might have been the cause. If it was, and he can return to his pre-2011 form, Lackey could give the rotation a big boost. I doubt they are counting on it as they prepare for the offseason, but I guarantee that they're hopeful that it can happen.
Former 1st Round pick Matt Barnes has emerged as the team's top pitching prospect and he could be on the fast track to the big leagues. He'll likely start the season in Double-A and could help if the Sox need him. If the Sox need him in 2013, however, that's probably a very bad sign. A dark horse candidate to help the pitching staff in 2013 is Rubby De La Rosa, who was acquired from the Dodgers in the August deal. He returned from Tommy John surgery late in the season and will be 20 months removed from surgery on Opening Day. The 23 year-old has the stuff to be a frontline starter or a shutdown reliever.
RELIEF PITCHING ANALYSIS
One of the injuries I alluded to in the intro was closer Andrew Bailey's torn thumb ligament that cost him 4 1/2 months of the season. The lack of stability in the back of the bullpen contributed greatly to the team's 4-10 start. Although Alfredo Aceves ended up doing a solid job overall as the fill-in closer for a few months, he fell apart over the last two months of the season and it was obvious that he had major issues with Valentine. With Valentine out of the picture, there is a better chance he returns. But I still wouldn't count on it.
Despite the shaky start, the Sox had a number of strong performances out of their relief corps. Junichi Tazawa had terrific numbers throughout the season (1.43 ERA, 44 IP, 5 BB, 44 K) and is certain to have a higher leverage role in 2013. Lefties Andrew Miller, Rich Hill, and Craig Breslow all pitched well. Mark Melancon, after a brutal start followed by a two-month minor league stint followed by two more shaky months, finished the season by allowing only 1 ER over his last 10 innings with 1 BB and 13 K. As with many teams, the Sox could use a veteran setup man but it's the least of their worries right now.
TOP OFFSEASON PRIORITIES
1 First Baseman
2 Starting Pitcher
3 LF or RF
5 Setup Man
2012 HITTING STATS
2012 PITCHING STATS