2011 MLB Team Preview: Boston Red Sox 2011 MLB Team Preview: Boston Red Sox 2011 MLB Team Preview: Boston Red Sox
 

2011 MLB Team Preview: Boston Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox didn’t make the postseason in 2010, and that is unacceptable response following a 2009 New York Yankees World Series win.

Boston’s GM Theo Epstein clearly did not want this to resonate in the minds of Red Sox Nation.

So, Epstein made the Red Sox the unmistakable winners this off-season, by signing LF Carl Crawford and trading than signing 1B Adrian Gonzalez, two of the best players in the game.

Crawford and Gonzalez’s paychecks for bringing their talents to Boston for the next seven years are $142 and $154 million bucks respectively. That is a lot of coin, but both players are well worth the money. Guess the Yankees now share the evil empire, with an evil nation.

The Positives:

Signing Crawford and initially trading for Gonzalez made an already substantial line-up into a lethal one. Last season, the Red Sox hit the second most homeruns in the Majors with 211 and led the AL with 358 doubles.

Expect these numbers to grow, as Gonzalez will be hitting in batter friendly Fenway Park. This is heaven compared to his old stomping ground of Petco in San Diego, where Gonzalez went yard 31 times in 2010 and posted 40 homers just a year earlier.

Crawford retains all the tools, as a hitter, as a defender and is just in his prime at 28-years-old. Crawford’s speed is undeniable, with a career average of 54 stolen bases and posting 47 total last season.

Add the swiftness of a healthy Pedroia and Ellsbury who stole 70 bases in 2009, the Red Sox surely won’t be ranking 12th in steals in the AL like last year, with a team total of 68.

Don’t forget that the two newest Red Sox join a line-up that includes David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, JD Drew, Pedroia and Ellsbury, which gives skipper Terry Francona lots of choices.

Speaking of Francona, he is one of the paramount skippers in the game. Francona has a fantastic report with his players, but they respect him even more. After what Francona did with his injury ridden team in 2010 just certifies what we already know, that the Red Sox are in some good hands.

Boston’s starting rotation has a one-two punch of 27-year-old Jon Lester and 26-year-old Clay Buchholz, who both verified their worth in 2010. Buchholz pitched just shy of 174 innings, posting a 2.33 ERA; and Lester had a 3.25 ERA, with 225 strikeouts over 208 innings pitched.

Epstein also added needed depth to the Red Sox’s bullpen by picking up Dan Wheeler and Bobby Jenkins.

What didn’t, excuse me couldn’t Epstein not achieve this off-season?

Pretty much nothing because he took a great team and made them even better. This is stuff of a GM-Genius, but the Red Sox owners deep pockets help a little too.

The Negatives:

Even with as much ‘wow-factor’ as the 2011 Red Sox radiate, it doesn’t exempt them from having areas of concern.

Epstein and Francona’s primary worry has to be the decline of closer Jonathan Papelbon, who lead the league with eight blown saves last season, which equaled his 2008-09 numbers combined.

The once dependable Papelbon has to prove himself reliable again, as any team without a dominant closer will have serious problems, especially in the AL East.

This also adds pressure on the Red Sox starters to try to stretch out seven or eight innings every fifth day. Boston’s back-end of the rotation of Josh Beckett, John Lackey and Daisue Matsuzaka were not reliable last season.

Beckett was a literal mess; Lackey hasn’t pitched like an $82.5 million dollar man; and Dice-K is the Japanese version of Manny. Look, no one expects this aging group to carry the staff anymore, but last year cannot be repeated. It is mandatory for all three to exhibit noticeable improvement.

This will not be an easy task, as the Red Sox had to give-up top catcher Victor Martinez in order to retain Crawford and Gonzalez. So who is Boston left behind the plate?

The starting job is still undecided, but the contenders are underachieving switch-hitter Jarrod Saltalamacchia and seasoned veteran Jason Varitek. Saltalamacchia was acquired back in 2007, but he continues to fail short of Epstein’s expectations.

Than there is 39-year-old Varitek, the team’s captain but other than being familiar with the pitchers, he should have been done three seasons ago. Varitek can’t hit and it looks like a marathon as runners run circles around him.  Varitek is one of the most respected, lifers in the organization but when did winning take a back seat? Varitek’s brand is not bigger than the Red Sox is it?

With all the injuries the Red Sox entailed in 2010, health has to be a concern on Francona’s mind. A screw is holding Pedroia’s foot together literally and rumor has it that Pedroia only felt his foot was healing about three weeks ago. He will not be partaking in any early workouts. This just signals trouble.

Lastly, it cannot be ignored that Crawford and Gonzalez are coming from no-mans-land to baseball’s biggest stage in Boston. Even though Crawford has played all nine seasons in the AL East, it looks a lot different from the other side. It would be shocking if either didn’t fit right in, but hey you never know and Boston is a town where losing is unacceptable.

Players To Watch:

RP Daniel Bard has a key role coming out of the Red Sox’s bullpen.

With Papelbon’s issues Bard will have to be close to perfect. Whether Bard is setting up the eighth inning to hand it over to Paps, or if he has taken over for him in the ninth, Bard will be the man in Boston who could make a big difference in 2011.

Last season, the 25-year-old Bard appeared in 73 games, pitched just shy of 75 innings, striking out 76 batters and posting an ERA of 1.93.

2011 AL East Prediction:

The Boston Red Sox, while not perfect certainly look like the best all-around team heading into 2011 season, but regardless it won’t make the AL East any easier.

Winning 89 games, not making the post season and than writing checks to get the best the off-season has available sounds pretty familiar, right?

That is because this business model has had proven success. Back in 2008, the Yankees won 89 games, were riddled with injury, didn’t make the postseason and went on a spending spree in the off-season. It worked out for the Yankees went on to win the 2009 World Series.

One thing is for sure, if 2011 ends for the Red Sox the way it did in 2009 for the Yankees no one will be surprised. The Red Sox are the heavy favorites to be crowned as World Series champions once again and should win the division.




One Comment

  1. Tim says:

    Ok, overall a solid article but you have to do better research. First of all, the red sox acquired saltalamaccia at the trade deadline last year, not in 2007. Second his name is Bobby Jenks not "Jenkins". Retaqin and entailed. Are not used correctly in this article and in no way does dice-k translate into a japanese manny, they have none of the same qualities, terrible analogy.