MLB Preview: Boston Red Sox

With baseball season fast approaching, it is time for TheWaiverWire’s inaugural Baseball Preview package. We will look at every division in baseball, starting in the American League and moving from East to West by division. Also, we each team by who will finish last to first. So, the first team you read about from each division is in the basement, and the last is who we determine to win the division.

American League East

Third Place: Boston Red Sox

Fourth Place: Toronto Blue Jays (read season preview here)

Fifth Place: Baltimore Orioles (read season preview here)

Starting Line-up -

Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia (26) – 103 games, .235/.288/.450 16HR 56RBI

First Base: Adrian Gonzalez (29) – 159 games, .338/.410/.548 27HR 117RBI – 2011 All-Star, Gold Glove winner, Silver Slugger, 7th in MVP Voting

Second Base: Dustin Pedroia (28) – 159 games, .307/.387/.474 21HR 91RBI – Gold Glove winner, 9th in MVP Voting

Shortstop: Jose Iglesias (22) – 10 games, .333/.333/.333 0HR oRBI

Third Base: Kevin Youkilis (33) – 120 games, .258/.373/.459 17HR 80RBI – 2011 All-Star

Left Field: Carl Crawford (30) – 130 games, .255/.289/.405 11HR 56RBI

Center Field: Jacoby Ellsbury (28) – 158 games, .321/.376/.552 32HR 105RBI – 2011 All-Star, Gold Glove winner, Silver Slugger, 2nd in MVP Voting

Battle for Right Field:

OF Cody Ross (31) – 121 games, .240/.325/.405 14HR 52RBI (with San Francisco Giants)

Ryan Kalish (24) – Spent 2011 in the Minor Leagues

Designated Hitter: David Ortiz (36) – 146 games, .309/.398/.554 29HR 96RBI – 2011 All-Star, Silver Slugger

The good news…

If the Sox went to the playoffs, Ellsbury was probably the league MVP

Did you notice all the bold next to Red Sox individual seasons last season? They had arguably the best all-around first baseman and center fielder. Ellsbury blew everybody away with his season last year, especially after struggling through an injury-plagued 2010 campaign. On top of his power, he stole 39 bases (though, he did get thrown out 15 times as well). Look, Ellsbury probably won’t replicate his incredible, MVP-caliber 2011 season next year. But, 20+ homers, .300+ batting average, 35+ stolen bases are definitely in play. He’s that good. 

Sure, the returns are only one year in, but it seems that the Red Sox have already won the Adrian Gonzalez trade. The San Diego Padres’ big catch, Anthony Rizzo, has already been traded to the Chicago Cubs (you know, where Theo Epstein is now, the guy that traded him for Adrian Gonzalez). He’s the complete package at first base. He plays a tremendous defense while providing his 110+ RBI totals every season. His power to all fields is best utilized at Fenway, where he bashed 45 doubles to go along with those 27 homers. And his plate presence is fantastic. There is no reason not to be excited about Gonzalez in Boston for the next five years.

Dustin Pedroia is a seriously good second baseman. He already has an MVP to his name, and he continues to be an unexpected threat in the middle of the Boston line-up. He bounced back nicely from his broken ankle in 2010. He’s probably overshadowed in the American League East a little bit by Robinson Cano (and rightfully so), but he’ll put up his 20 homers, 80 RBI and .280-.300 average every season. 

Also, as bad as he was last year, the odds that Carl Crawford stinks that much next year are slim to none. Yes, he was terrible in 2011. He’ll be the first person to tell you that. But, he truly is too good of a baseball player to sink that fast from prime to nothing. He’s only 30. He will steal more than 16 bases next season. He will draw more walks. He will hit better than .260. He will score more than 100 runs. Relax, Red Sox Nation. Carl Crawford will be fine.

Now the bad news…

We just went over about half of this Red Sox line-up is dominant. Well, the other half of the line-up is one giant question mark. Let’s start with the two positions on this Red Sox team that are likely to be held by rookies.

What are they going to get out of the youngster Iglesias?

There is no denying the Gold Glove caliber shortstop Jose Iglesias is capable of playing. He hit a lowly .235 in AAA last season. Even worse, he only drew 21 walks in 387 plate appearances. I don’t think anyone is expecting Iglesias to put up the numbers Marco Scutaro did last year (.299/.358/.423). But, he’s going to have to do better in the Majors than he did in AAA, and that’s a very tall order to ask for.

Speaking of minor leaguers with something to prove, Ryan Kalish has been a Red Sox top prospect for a remarkable six years. At some point, this guy has to be given a chance to play everyday at the Major League level. It’s just hard to justify this being the year he is given that chance. With J.D. Drew moved on and Josh Reddick traded to Oakland for Andrew Bailey, it seems as though the Red Sox are just handing the job to Kalish. However, he was even worse than Iglesias last year in AAA, in what was his second year in the league. He battled injuries all year (which allowed Reddick to play so much in the Majors), but when he was healthy, he did nothing. He hit .209. That’s right. The Red Sox likely everyday right fielder for 2012 his .209 at AAA in 2011. I’d be more excited, but that’s horrible. Did I mention he slugged .279? I didn’t? Well, now I did. 22 games is a small sample. That doesn’t mean Sox fans shouldn’t be nervous.

The Red Sox understand that right now, their catching situation is in flux. They’re completely fine with whatever they can get from Salty and back-up Kelly Shoppach, at least until they decide to give the job full-time to Ryan Lavarnway, which will be dependent on how well Shoppach/Salty do to begin the season.

surprised to find Youk in the "Bad News"?

The real question for the Red Sox is what in the world are you going to get this season from Kevin Youkilis? He’s battled injuries for the better part of two seasons. He hit a career-low .258 (though his plate discipline is still fantastic). I truly believe the team is willing to go one more year with David Ortiz as their designated hitter and let Youkilis play third for 2012. But, with his growing injury history, there has to be concern of his ability to play the field for a full 162-game season. That, and prospect Will Middlebrooks is all but graduated from the Minor Leagues. If Ortiz had struggled last season, Youk is the full-time DH and Middlebrooks plays third. Now, the Sox are given one more year to see what Youkilis can do. If they want to be successful, the Greek God of Walks needs to play 130+ games.

Starting Rotation…

Ace: Jon Lester, LHP (28) – 31 starts, 15-9, 3.47ERA, 191.2 IP, 182 Ks, 75 walks, 1.26 WHIP – 2011 All-Star

#2: Josh Beckett, RHP (31) – 30 starts, 13-7, 2.89ERA, 193.0 IP, 175 Ks, 52 walks, 1.03 WHIP – 2011 All-Star, 9th in Cy Young Voting

#3: Clay Buchholz, RHP (27) – 14 starts, 6-3, 3.48ERA, 82.2 IP, 60 Ks, 31 walks, 1.29 WHIP

#4: Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP (31) – 7 starts, 3-3, 5.30ERA, 37.1 IP, 26 Ks, 23 walks, 1.47 WHIP

#5: Daniel Bard, RHP (26) – 0 starts (70 games), 3.33ERA, 73.0 IP, 74 Ks, 24 walks, 0.96 WHIP

The Good News…

The best possible news is John Lackey will not pitch in 2012. He had Tommy John Surgery immediately after the 2011 season and will not be able to contribute to the Red Sox season. Has there been a worse free agency signing in the last decade than John Lackey? The dude has completely fallen apart since leaving Los Angeles for Boston. Its remarkable, really. Well, either way, you will not see his name in a Boston box score this season. That’s absolutely good news.

There's a Cy Young in Lester's future

Also, there’s that guy Jon Lester. He’s pretty good. Yes, he struggled at the end of 2011. Then again, which player on the Red Sox roster didn’t struggle at the end of last season? That’s what I thought. Lester is exactly the kind of pitcher you want anchoring your rotation for the next five years. A power lefty that has the guile and attitude to pitch you deep into the post-season. I fully expect him to revert back to 2010 Lester, the one that won 19 games and struck out 225 batters.

Josh Beckett is the perfect, proven veteran leader a American League East rotation needs. He has proven himself every which way in this league. Pencil him down for 15-20 wins, 175+ strikeouts and an ERA in the 3.00 range. 

The Bad News…

The caveat you are required to say about Josh Beckett after saying anything positive is “if he can stay healthy”. Fair or not, Beckett has had a hard time avoiding the small injuries, like blisters or arm soreness. Yet, they add up. He did start 30 games last season, but the year before, he only started 21, and he was atrocious. Only four times in his career has he started 30+ games. But if he is healthy, hey, he’s dominant.

Which Clay Buchholz is going to show up for the Red Sox this season? In 2010, he was worthy of Cy Young consideration. 17 wins and a 2.33ERA? All of Boston was giddy with the potential of the young righty. Then, there was 2011, when Buchholz got injured and only started 14 games. While his numbers took a dip, they weren’t necessarily horrible. He is a giant question mark though. He could be really good, or 2010 could prove to be a flash in the pan. Only way to find out is to play the games.

At what point do the Sox give up?

And then there’s the matter of Daisuke Matsuzaka. Three years running now, he’s been rather terrible. Not John Lackey bad. But bad. It seems like a really long time ago that Dice-K won 18 games and had a 2.90ERA. That was 2008. Doesn’t even seem like the same pitcher anymore. Hasn’t had an ERA under 4.70. Has won a total of 16 games in those three seasons. What exactly are the odds of him turning it around in 2012? I’d have to say slim. If he did manage to do the unthinkable, then, hey, the rotation is that much deeper.

Oh, and the team picked this year to transition Daniel Bard from a set-up man to a starting pitcher. Naturally, there are a lot of “what-ifs” to take into consideration. Both positive and negative. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s on some sort of innings limit or pitch count and how that plays a role in his use this season. Either way, he, too, is a question mark.

Bench -

C Kelly Shoppach (31) – 87 games, .176/.268/.339 11HR 22RBI (with Tampa Bay Rays)

IF Mike Aviles (31) – 38 games, .317/.340/.436 2HR 8RBI

UTIL Nick Punto (34) – 63 games, .278/.388/.421 1HR 20RBI (with St. Louis Cardinals)

OF Ryan Sweeney (27) – 108 games, .265/.346/.341 1HR 25RBI (with Oakland A’s)

The Skinny…

The Red Sox have retooled their bench. Nick Punto is probably the nicest piece they’ve added. If Jose Iglesias struggles the slightest, Punto is completely capable of filling in and serving as a useful piece in the short-term. 

I actually like the addition of Ryan Sweeney. Many looked at Sweeney as a throw-in with Andrew Bailey, but he’s a very good left-handed bat off the bench that can play all three outfield spots. He plays a plus defense, and while he’ll never hit his way into an everyday line-up, he’s a good option as a defensive fill-in or speed off the bench. He’s a good addition.

Kelly Shoppach has pop and is a strong defensive option behind the plate. He’s not going to hit for a high average. Never will. But, he will be fine as a compliment to the switch-hitting Saltalamacchia. That’s all you need from back-up catchers these days. Good defense. Average power. Job well done.

Bullpen - 

Closer: Andrew Bailey, RHP (27) – 42 games, 3.24 ERA, 41.2 IP, 24 saves, 8.9 K/9, 1.10 WHIP (with the Oakland A’s)

8th Inning Reliever: Mark Melancon, RHP (27) – 71 games, 2.78ERA, 74.1 IP, 20 saves, 8.0 K/9, 1.22 WHIP (with the Houston Astros)

Middle Reliever: Alfredo Aceves, RHP (29) – 55 games, 2.61ERA, 114.0 IP, 6.3 K/9, 1.11 WHIP

Middle Reliever: Franklin Morales, LHP (26) – 36 games, 3.62ERA, 32.1 IP, 8.6 K/9, 1.27 WHIP

Middle Reliever: Matt Albers, RHP (28) – 56 games, 4.73ERA, 64.2 IP, 9.5 K/9, 1.44 WHIP

The Skinny…

The Red Sox made a point to reload. They lost Johnny Paps to the Philadelphia Phillies, mostly because they didn’t want him back. The traded for two-time All-Star and former Rookie of the Year Andrew Bailey (and surprisingly didn’t have to trade a lot for him). They also acquired Mark Melancon from the Houston Astros, who did a fantastic job at the end of games for a terrible team last year. They’ll provide the Sox with some stability at the back end of games, which is something that they didn’t have in front of Paplebon last year.

As for the rest of the bullpen, rather unimpressive. Franklin Morales has potential, but its hard to get excited about a hard-throwing lefty reliever that is already relegated to a LOOGY role. Alfredo Aceves is a cool piece to have in a bullpen. He can start on the fly and provide multiple innings out of the ‘pen in the middle of games. I still don’t understand why the Yankees just let him go. But, it’s the Red Sox gain.

I expect Bobby Jenks to fill in the last bullpen spot for the Sox, but I like to always leave that spot open to interpretation. Always good to have a competition or two in Spring Training. Keeps people on their toes.

Top 10 Prospects (provided by MLB.com)

#1: 3B Will Middlebrooks (23) – Expected 2012 Level – AAA

Middlebrooks is rising at the perfect time for the Red Sox. As I said earlier, this is probably the last year the team is willing to let Kevin Youkilis play the field. Its perfect because Middlebrooks probably needs a full season in AAA to be ready for the Majors in 2013. He hit 23 home runs in the Minors last year, and he slugged an impressive .506 between AA and briefly in AAA. His development will be a top storyline for the Sox this year.

#2: OF Bryce Bentz (23) – Expected 2012 Level – AA

Well, hello Bryce Bentz. He mashed 30 home runs between two levels in his first full season of professional baseball in 2011. I don’t care who you are, that is real power. He slugged .574, even flashed real plate discipline on, drawing walks in 8.7% of his at bats last year. He’s making the big leap to AA in 2012, but if he continues to mash the way he did last year, he’ll find a home somewhere in the everyday line-up for Boston.

#3: SS Xander Bogaerts (19) – Expected 2012 Level – A+

Awfully hard to project the outcome of a teenager about to graduate from Low-A ball. 16 home runs in Low-A for a then-18 year old will make you recognize potential right quick, though. Word is that, while he is perfectly fine at shortstop, he might one day outgrow the position. If that’s the case, he flashed plenty of power to be a third baseman. Watch and let him grow, Sox fans. He’s g0t plenty of growing to do.

#4: C Ryan Lavarnway (24) – Expected 2012 Level – AAA

The catching duo of Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Kelly Shoppach will allow Lavarnway to develop his defense a little more in AAA. That is all he will need to do. The dude can bash. 32 home runs in 435 at bats? Yeah, bashing is his expertise. Add in a .290/.376/.563 triple slash between the two highest levels in the Boston system, and you have yourself a Ivy League school-educated future backstop for Boston. One whiff of struggles from either of the two catchers currently in Red Sox uniforms and Lavarnway gets promoted. Hell, if he continues to hit, regardless of what the two previous mentioned catchers are doing, this is his job by the All-Star break if he continues to hit.

#5: RHP Anthony Ranaudo (22) – Expected 2012 Level – AA

At 6’7″, Ranaudo is an intimidating figure to look at from the batters box. While Ranuado didn’t really put Low-A ball in his rear-view mirror, he was a lot better in his 10 starts in High-A than he was in his 16 starts in Low-A. He struck out nearly a batter an inning, which is a good clip to work at in the minors. How he handles AA will determine just how quickly he’ll get to the Majors. If all goes well, he’ll get to AAA by August and may even be given a chance at the starting rotation by mid-2013.

#6: LHP Felix Doubront (24) – Expected 2012 Level – MLB

If the Red Sox want to use Doubront as a lefty out of the ‘pen at the Majors, or let him continue to develop as a starter in AAA. With Franklin Morales being the only lefty option currently expected to be on the 25-man roster, there’s a good chance they let Doubront get his first extended taste of Major League hitters from Opening Day onward. Just depends on the Sox desired use of him.

#7: OF Brandon Jacobs (21) – Expected 2012 Level – A+

That’s right, Red Sox fans. One of your top prospects heading into 2012 shares the name with a guy on that team you’ve failed to beat in the last two Super Bowls. I’m not positive of the definition of irony, but that might be it. In Low-A, he hit .303 with 17 homers. He struck out a lot, but that won’t worry me until he gets through higher levels of competition. He’s a long ways away from Boston, so, again, let him develop and nit-pick later.

#8: 3B Kolbrin Vitek (22) – Expected 2012 Level – A+

Vitek didn’t show much power in his first full professional season. So, he may not be a third baseman for the long run. However, he does have decent speed and will always make contact. He draws a fair amount of walks, which is a repeatable skill regardless of competition. Like Jacobs, let the kid develop I say!

#9: 3B Garin Cecchini (20) – Expected 2012 Level – A-

Cecchini had a nice professional debut in the New York-Penn League. However, a good debut in short-season Rookie ball doesn’t necessarily translate into long-term success. He’ll be taking Vitek’s spot in the South Atlantic League, so how he responds to a full-season of a professional baseball grind will determine just how bright of a future he truly has.

#10: SS Jose Iglesias (22) – Expected 2012 Level – MLB

Iglesias isn’t far removed from being the Red Sox top prospect. Defensively speaking, if you only evaluated him by his glove, he may still be up that high. However, his bat really hasn’t progressed. At all. How much of that is contributed to a finger injury last season, I can’t tell you. Maybe Iglesias will figure it out one day. Maybe he won’t. What I do know is that with Marco Scutaro playing in Colorado this season, the Red Sox are going to find just exactly what they have in the Majors this season. 

Give it to me straight, Greg…

The Red Sox would be immediate beneficiaries to the new, extended playoff picture. To me, there are three teams fighting for two playoff spots: The American League West crown and this new Wild Card spot. The Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and Red Sox are those three teams. I just don’t think the Red Sox are as complete a team as the Tampa Bay Rays or New York Yankees.

The real question is, are the Boston Red Sox better than either the Rangers or the Angels? As they’re currently constructed, I just don’t see it. And before you call me a Red Sox hater, understand that I LOVE Bobby Valentine more than any manager or coach in any sport. I’m falling for Terry Collins, but there is only ONE Bobby V. He’s the man. I always root for Bobby V. 

With that said, you’re hoping for a lot of things to go right. Beckett needs to be injury free, Buchholz needs to be fully recovered and dominant again, Andrew Bailey/Mark Melancon at the back of the bullpen need to gel, Jose Iglesias needs to start hitting, and Carl Crawford can’t suck. As a Mets fan, I’m all for hoping for the absolute best. But, that’s a lot of hoping. I don’t see them making the playoffs.

2012 Prediciton – 89-73, missing playoffs by 2 games.

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