redsox

Boston Red Sox – 2013 Season Preview

Projected record: (79-83)

Ok, so the Red Sox are not realistically playoff contenders, but they have a $147M payroll as of right now, which will probably put them in the top 5 in MLB. GM Ben Cherington has not been shy about making sweeping changes to his roster, as evidenced by the blockbuster trade last August. Cherington jettisoned high salary players (Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez) for journeyman James Loney and prospects Jerry Sands, Ivan DeJesus Jr. and Rubby De La Rosa. Sands and DeJesus were shipped off as a part of a package to get closer Joel Hanrahan. Oh yeah, the Red Sox also signed a load of free agents including Shane Victorino, Jonny Gomes, Ryan Dempster and Mike Napoli.

The front office in Boston has definitely been busy. The question is, will it translate to wins?

Lineup

For the answer to that, let’s start with their lineup.

C - Jarrod Saltalamacchia
1B – Mike Napoli
2B – Dustin Pedroia
3B – Will Middlebrooks
SS – Stephen Drew
LF – Jonny Gomes
CF – Jacoby Ellsbury
RF – Shane Victorino
DH – David Ortiz

I always like to look at hitters that scare the opposing team. The Red Sox have 3 1/2 guys who fall into that category for me (Ortiz, Napoli, Pedroia and Ellsbury, when healthy). Pedroia has a career slashline of .303/.369/.461. He was off that pace last year while dealing with various hand and muscle injuries. The 2008 MVP is only 29 years old and is the emotional leader of this club. It will fall on Pedroia to welcome in serious long ball threat Mike Napoli. While Napoli’s hip condition likely means the end of his days behind the plate, and reduced his 3 year deal to a one year deal, Napoli has a chance to show that he is healthy and he can still deliver a home run 6% of his at bats.

Big Papi has battled injury and ineffectiveness over the past few seasons. He’s also battled through them to provide a potent bat to a power-starved lineup. I think Ortiz can continue to contribute albeit with fewer at bats. I think the Red Sox protect him with a generous dose of days off. Seeing him healthy for an entire season will mean more quality at bats.

Ellsbury is such an enigma. When he’s healthy, as he was in 2011, he can fill up the box score like few others. He posted a .321/.376/.552 slash line in 2011 coupled with 39 stolen bases. The problem with Ellsbury is that the years on either side of that dominant campaign were marred by long stints on the DL and other minor nagging injuries. He’s scary when he’s in the lineup, unfortunately for the Red Sox, that hasn’t been as often as they’d like.

Ellsbury’s injuries and pending (expensive) free agency has the front office’s ears open on potential trades. The Red Sox do have top prospect Jackie Bradley waiting in the wings for when Ellsbury moves on. I wonder what kind of trade market there would be for Ellsbury. Taking a look at a comparable deal would lead me to the recent Justin Upton deal that sent Upton and 3B Chris Johnson to the Braves for Martin Prado, and prospects RHP Randall Delgado, RHP Zeke Spruill, SS Nick Ahmed and 1B Brandon Drury. For someone with an attractive contract and huge upside like Upton’s, it’s hard to believe that they couldn’t have gotten more for him. Taking that information and applying it to Ellsbury, I don’t think the Red Sox will be able to get a package that provides as much value as Ellsbury. If the Red Sox are out of the playoff hunt by the trade deadline and Ellsbury can stay healthy, I think they might be able to squeeze 1 top 10 prospect plus 1 top 20 prospect out of an organization that needs and upgrade at CF.

Shane Victorino is a huge question mark for me. A 32 year old guy who has spent his entire career in the National League who has already shown signs of offensive slow down. Last year he hit 11 HR with a .255 AVG. I don’t see his skill set translating to the AL East. He signed a 3 year, $39MM deal this offseason. I have to believe that Ben Cherington and the Red Sox faithful will regret that contract sooner rather than later.

Pitching

The Red Sox have some major question marks with their pitching staff. Those questions have to start with Jon Lester. Can he return to the dominant lefty who won 15 or more games 4 straight years (2008-2011)? He went 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA and saw a sharp decrease in his K/9 (8.55 in 2011 and 7.28 in 2012) and an increase in his HR/9 (0.94 in 2011 and 1.10 in 2012). The home runs isn’t a crazy shift from 2011 to 2012, but if you go back and look at his numbers the previous 3 years (0.60, 0.89, 0.61) the change is pretty dramatic. From 2008-2010, Lester was worth over 5 wins above replacement to the Red Sox. In 2011 it was 3.7 and last year it was 3.3. He needs to elevate his game back up to the elite level if the Red Sox have any hope of being competitive in this division.

It should help that John Farrell is now his manager. Farrell was the pitching coach when Lester broke into the big leagues and should provide some steady guidance for this staff. Another guy who blossomed under Farrell, but has since slid backward is Clay Bucholz. Look back to 2010 (17-7, 2.33 ERA) and Bucholz looked like he’d be a super solid #2 starter behind Lester. His 2011 season was cut short by a back injury. He’s battled little injuries for his entire career only eclipsing 100 IP twice in his career.

Sandwiched in between Lester and Bucholz in the rotation will be right hander Ryan Dempster. Dempster is a steady, unspectacular pitcher who can give the Red Sox an innings eater who can miss bats (7.79 career K/9). The rest of the Red Sox rotation (Felix Dubront and John Lackey) don’t give me a whole lot hope for the Red Sox. This rotation could very easily fall apart and be the Achilles heel for this team.

Their bullpen however will prove to be a strength. The aforementioned Joel Hanrahan will handle the closing duties and the Red Sox will rely on Andrew Bailey, Koji Uehara, Daniel Bard and Alfredo Aceves to get the game to Hanrahan. Aceves, Uehara and Bailey all logged saves last year so the Red Sox have a deep and strong bullpen that can pick up some of the slack if when the rotation falls apart. Aceves will also be stretched out this spring to provide depth to the starting rotation.

Fantasy Outlook

The dependability questions about the starting pitchers tells me to stay away from any of the guys in the starting rotation. If I had to take a Boston starter, I’d probably take Dempster just because he’s low risk with a good chance of delivering his draft day value back to you. Out of the pen I like Koji Uehara because of his great WHIP (0.64), high K/9 rate (10.75) and his role. He’s not likely to see more than a couple of save opportunities, but he’ll almost always be the guy handing the ball to the closer. That has value.

Jacoby Ellsbury is in his walk year and I think he’s going to out there to prove that 2011 wasn’t a fluke and that he is worth a gigantic contract next winter. I don’t think he’ll reach the epic 2011 numbers, but I do think he’ll stay healthy and provide quality numbers across your fantasy scoreboard.

Dreaming on prospects never won anyone a fantasy title, but Red Sox Top prospect shortstop Xander Bogaerts is worth keeping your eyes on. Stephen Drew, while serviceable at short, is not any sort of long term solution. And Bogaerts has a prime time bat with enough glove to remain at shortstop.

Conclusion

I’m not in love with the Red Sox. I think they have a lot of holes in their team. The starting rotation scares me, and not in a good way. Their lineup can do some damage, but only if they can stay off the trainer’s table. And I’m not convinced that they can. I think the dawn of a dark time in on the horizon for Red Sox Nation.

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