BOSTON RED SOX: 97-65 (First in the Division, AL Champ, World Series Champ)
Projected Lineup/Batting Order:
RF Shane Victorino
LF Daniel Nava
2B Dustin Pedroia
DH David Ortiz
1B Mike Napoli
C A.J. Pierzynski
3B Will Middlebrooks
SS Xander Bogaerts
CF Jackie Bradley Jr.
Projected Starting Rotation/Key Bullpen Arms
SP Jon Lester
SP John Lackey
SP Clay Buccholz
SP Jake Peavy
SP Felix Doubront
SP Ryan Dempster
RP Koji Uehara
RP Edward Mujica
RP Craig Breslow
The Red Sox did what 29 other teams couldn’t do last year….win the World Series. So they are riding high coming into this season. John Farrell is back, their pitchers have returned to their All Star forms and the good teammate clubhouse approach worked beautifully. So with that being done, they just needed to path holes created by free agency and see if they could add some bullpen depth. They did all of those things.
Offensively this team lost both Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia. There is no way they could replace Ellsbury, and they didn’t try. They like young Jackie Bradley Jr. and he will have a chance to take over in center field. More recently they signed Grady Sizemore to a make good major league deal. He’s guaranteed to see time in the major leagues, but the Red Sox are only on the hook for $750,000 if he’s still not back to full health. There are incentives, which could raise it to over $6 million. I’d love to see Sizemore come back as he was a great player and a good guy done in by injuries. He’s an insurance policy if Jackie Bradley Jr. isn’t ready and may garner more playing time even if he works out. They then upgraded at catcher with A.J. Pierzynski, and hope that will be enough to offset their losses. Even if it’s not, this team should still be pretty solid. We can assume that Shane Victorino is the most likely leadoff hitter replacement option. However Daniel Nava’s name has also been tossed around, and they want Bradley there in the long term. I listed Victorino as the leadoff hitter for now as he has the most experience. But it’s important to note, that he’s traditionally struggled in that role. In 216 games hitting leadoff, he’s hit 249 with a 317 OBP. He’s never been a big walk taker either. But after hitting 294 in the 2 hole last year with 21 SB, he’s the first option. The other thing I did in this lineup, was assume that Bradley will win the starting job. He may or may not. But if he is platooned or on the bench to start the season, then Victorino will take over center, Nava will move to right and Johnny Gomes will play left. Gomes will stick around as the top bat off the bench and a man to spell the outfielders if he isn’t starting in left. And now there’s also Grady Sizemore to consider in the outfield rotation as well. If healthy and playing well, he probably jumps Gomes as the top defensive replacement, with Gomes the top bat. I put Nava in the 2 hole after a breakout season where he hit over 300 with 12 HR. This left Pedroia (301/9/84/91/17) hitting third and Big Papi David Ortiz as the cleanup man, with his team leading 309/30/103 line (led the team in all 3 categories). However Pedroia profiles more as a 2 man, so it wouldn’t shock me to see him move up a spot leaving Ortiz 3rd, Napoli cleanup and maybe Nava 6th behind Pierzynski. Either way Ortiz, Pedroia and Mike Napoli (23 HR, 92 RBI) are the heart of this order. And the addition of Pierzynski makes them even deeper with his 272 AVG, 17 HR and 70 RBI. He’s also a vast upgrade defensively behind the plate. Beyond the heart of the lineup, glove-first rookie Bogaerts can find his way with Jackie Bradley Jr. at the bottom of the lineup, while both play great defense up the middle. The last piece of this offense is Will Middlebrooks who struggled in 94 games before going out with an injury. He hit 17 HR but his AVG dropped to 227. They want him to come back to his rookie form, but if he can’t he’ll stay in the bottom third of the batting order.
Defensively this team is a middle of the road club. Victorino has won a Gold Glove as has Pedroia and Pierzynski. But those guys are in right, at second and behind the plate. Good, but not at the key spots. Bradley and Bogaerts are great defensively, but unproven still. However I suspect both will be fine in the field, and give the Sox great up the middle players. Everyone else is fine, with Napoli being brutal at first. But the defense shouldn’t be a problem overall.
On the mound, this team won’t disappoint. John Lester was the ace leading the team with 15 Wins and 117 Ks to go with his 3.75 ERA. John Lackey was a comeback player of the year nominee with his team best 3.52 ERA. They sit atop the rotation. Behind them, Clay Buccholz was lights out going 12-1 with a 1.74 ERA striking out 96 in 108 IP. But injury limited him to 16 games. He’s got the stuff and potential to take over as their ace, and he may finally live up to it all this year, after starting down the road last season. And after those 3, the Sox have 3 guys left for 2 spots. That’s good, because only 1 starter (Lester) made 30 starts for the champs last year. Ryan Dempster came close to that with 29 starts, but wasn’t at his best going 8-9 with a 4.57 ERA. He’s definitely on the back end of his career but still has the strikeout pitch going with 157 in only 171 IP. He’s an innings eater at this point, and they hope to get a few good starts from him if necessary. They really will rely on Felix Doubront and Jake Peavy to fill those last 2 slots. Peavy is not the pitcher he was with San Diego and Doubront isn’t an ace. But both are more than capable of eating some innings and turning in ERAs around 4, which is what they want from their 4 and 5 men. And if either struggles, Ryan Dempster is around to eat up the slack. In the bullpen they have plenty of quality arms, led by the AL Rolaids Reliever of the Year winner Koji Uehara who stepped into the closer’s role nicely at the end of the year with 21 Saves to go with his 1.09 ERA. He will be the closer again for a full year this time. If he struggles (because he actually has very little experience as a closer) Edward Mujica is an insurance play, saving 27 games in St. Louis last year, before falling apart at the end of the year to lose the job. Both are natural set up men with closing experience, and between them the Red Sox should get good back end of the game performances.
It’s hard not to like the defending champs. Not only now, but for the foreseeable future. They’ve got youth in Bogaerts, Bradley, Buccholz and the bullpen. They’ve got stars in Lester, Pedroia and Ortiz. And they’ve got plenty of quality veterans and strong clubhouse presences in Gomes, David Ross, Dempster, Napoli and Peavy. There is no glaring hole and they have lots of options both in the rotation and batting order. Their youngsters are buried at the bottom of the lineup to allow them to focus on defense and develop their offensive skills later. And their biggest question mark is a young third baseman that hit 17 HR last year.
They really don’t have any major holes. If Bradley can’t hack it, then Gomes or Sizemore step in and the defense shifts for optimal alignment. Bogaerts is their only real option at short, so they’ll suffer his offensive missteps longer, if he has any. They have the best backup catcher in the game in David Ross and 6 starters. Any team can use more bats on the bench or arms in the bullpen, but by and large this team is set. They addressed a backup plan to their closer and got a primary setup man with one signing. And they upgraded the catching position immeasurably. This team was good last year and only got better.
I think the Red Sox are a great team. I think they played a little above themselves last year, but can definitely win this division. I wouldn’t be surprised if they didn’t, but only because of the talent they are up against, not because of any lack of faith I have in the boys from Beantown. But since I’m making picks, I’m taking the Red Sox to win the division, even if their win total drops closer to 90.