AL East Preview: Boston Red Sox
posted Mar 04 2013, 08:34PM
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No team in all of baseball has been through more nonsense off of the field the past two years than the Boston Red Sox. Their first basemen have transformed from Kevin Youkilis to Adrian Gonzalez to Mike Napoli while their managers have gone from Terry Francona to Bobby Valentine to John Farrell. The pitching staff has been atrocious. The bullpen has been shaky on a good day. Jacoby Ellsbury has spent as many days in Arizona rehabbing as he has in Boston playing. And Boston's franchise player, Dustin Pedroia, seemed to have shrunk in the midst of controversy and losing. After coming in last place in the American League East in 2012, how do the Sox stack up in 2013?

Final 2012 Record: 69-93 (Last in AL East)

Key Offseason Acquisitions: Mike Napoli (1B/C), David Ross (C), Shane Victorino (OF), Joel Hanrahan (CL), Stephen Drew (SS), & Ryan Dempster (SP)

Projected Rotation: Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Ryan Dempster, & Felix Doubront

Projected Lineup: Jacoby Ellsbury (CF), Shane Victorino (RF), Dustin Pedroia (2B), David Ortiz (DH), Will Middlebrooks (3B), Mike Napoli (1B), Jonny Gomes (LF), Jarrod Saltalamacchia (C), & Stephen Drew (SS)

Top Prospects: Xander Bogaerts (SS/3B/LF), Jackie Bradley, Jr. (OF), Matt Barnes (P), Allen Webster (SP), & Rubby De La Rosa (SP)

Outlook: The AL East is always one of - if not the - most competitive divisions in all of baseball. In 2013, that may be an understatement. The Toronto Blue Jays made the loudest moves of the offseason while the New York Yankees remained relatively quiet. The Baltimore Orioles were one of 2012's biggest surprises and the Tampa Bay Rays bring back reigning AL Cy Young winner David Price atop one of the best rotations in the game. For a last place team in this division to move up, you need more than a few breaks in your favor. And while everyone looks at the Red Sox and says pitching is their key in 2013, I couldn't disagree more.

The only chance the Red Sox have of competing this season rests completely on the shoulders of Jacoby Ellsbury. Through five seasons as a full time center fielder, Ellsbury has cracked 145 games played three times. In those seasons, he has proven to be one of the best outfielders in the entire league. But, his two injury plagued seasons have, so far, been the definition of his career. In 2010, Ellsbury only appeared in 18 games. Then in 2011, he finished second in MVP voting after finishing with a .321 average, 32 home runs, 105 RBI, 119 runs, and 39 stolen bases. Beginning to see why he is the catalyst for this team?

But Ellsbury could not follow up his '11 campaign. At all. Over 74 games, Ellsbury saw a .050 point drop in his batting average and a nearly .250 point drop in his OPS from '11. Ellsbury finished '12 with an under whelming .271 average with four homers, 26 RBI, 43 runs, and only 14 stolen bases. Ellsbury, however, has two things working directly in his favor in 2013 and that could be all the difference.

Ells will turn 30 in September. If you buy into Bill James in the least, you know that 30 is the middle of the supposed prime of any baseball player's career. Add that into the fact that Ellsbury is in the final year of his contract with the Red Sox, and you have the potential of a perfect storm on the horizon for Ellsbury this season. Ellsbury will be looking for a long term deal after this year and he knows that his wallet will be fatter if he can put together another 145 game season with a .300 average, 25 bombs, 90 RBI, 100 runs, and 30 stolen bases. That's a $100 million player. That's also an MVP candidate. If Ellsbury is truly looking out for himself this season, it will greatly benefit the Red Sox as a whole even if he is gone come 2014.

But so what? We saw Ellsbury put up those numbers in 2011 and the Red Sox still failed to make the postseason. That's true. There was also one less spot in the playoffs in 2011. And had there been a second wild card when the Sox failed to clinch in '11, the Sox would have claimed that second wild card.

"But the Sox haven't had trouble scoring runs the past few years. They didn't address their pitching needs at all." Listen, the Sox didn't go out and trade for Felix Hernandez. They didn't sign Zach Greinke. Kyle Lohse ain't walking through that door either. But don't tell me they didn't address their pitching woes. General Manager Ben Cherrington just went about it in a non-traditional fashion.

For starters he traded for John Farrell. When Farrell was the pitching coach for the Sox, Lester looked like a perennial Cy Young candidate and Buchholz appeared to be a potential ace of the future. Since Farrell left, the pitching staff has been too busy pounding Bud Diesels and mowing down Popeye's chicken to worry about mundane things like making it past the sixth inning. Farrell will keep this staff in line. But if he really wants to see the pitching staff flourish, David Ross should be handling the vast majority of the catching duties for this club.

Over the past four seasons, Ross has an MLB best 3.33 ERA as a catcher - which is the best mark in all of baseball since 1998. Sure, he played in the NL and his bat is less than stellar, but if you already believe the Sox can score enough runs to compete why would you not opt for one of the best defensive catchers in the league? Salty and Ryan Lavarnway have significantly better bats, but between Salty's erratic arm and Lavarnway's inability to, yanno, catch, why not go with the best defensive option behind the dish?

For the team as a whole, it's tough to predict what's going to happen. I could see this team competing for the final Wild Card spot throughout September, or I could see them being completely out of contention by August. Either way, I don't see the Sox actually grabbing that last Wild Card. The American League is too deep and the Sox have too many question marks to see them as a legitimate threat. But that does not mean this season is a total loss. Remember, the Red Sox only won 69 games last season. They appeared to have zero desire to win once the All Star Break hit. 80-86 wins would be a massive improvement and solid season for this team in 2013, especially considering the talent the other four teams in the division posses.

Final Prediction: 82-80, Fourth in AL East


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