With renewed energy, Sox look to reverse course
After notching just 69 wins last year, Boston is a potential sleeper this season
BOSTON -- Typically when the Red Sox head to Spring Training, they set out to prove that they are worthy of the hype. But something has changed this year. There really is no hype.
Despite a payroll that will still rank among the highest in the Majors, Boston enters 2013 in the strangest place -- a potential sleeper.
After the historic September collapse of 2011 and the bottom falling out entirely amid a 69-win season last year, it is hard to know just what to make of the Red Sox.
But they have some new energy in the dugout via an old friend. John Farrell, who was Boston's pitching coach from 2007-10, is the manager.
The roster has also added key pieces at catcher (David Ross), first base (Mike Napoli, Lyle Overbay), shortstop (Stephen Drew), left field (Jonny Gomes), right field (Shane Victorino), starting rotation (Ryan Dempster) and bullpen (Joel Hanrahan and Koji Uehara).
"I'm excited about our balance," said Farrell. "We have professional, successful individuals with proven track records. We have guys who have come from winning playoff teams and World Series teams, and to bring those ingredients in here this year, we're just looking forward to bringing everyone together in Spring Training.
"We have a challenge ahead of us. With nine new players to add to a 25-man roster, that's a lot to integrate, and to understand that we're coming together and sacrificing for one another towards a team approach. That's where I think the people we brought in -- above and beyond the talents that they are -- have that reputation."
And in 2013, the Red Sox will try to restore their reputation as one of the most successful franchises in the game.
Pitchers and catchers report
Full squad reports
First Spring Training game
Home vs. Northeastern University at 1:35 p.m. ET and vs. Boston College at 5:05 p.m., Feb. 21
First Grapefruit League game
Home vs. Rays, Feb. 23, 1:35 p.m.
Away vs. Yankees, April 1, 1:05 p.m.
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Can Jon Lester pitch like an ace again?
The way the Red Sox are built, they simply cannot afford for Lester to go 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA again. In the four years that preceded 2012, the lefty was one of the best starting pitchers in the American League. Considering that Lester is only 29, there's every reason to believe he can bounce back in a big way.
2. Will David Ortiz's Achilles tendon hold up?
Ortiz is probably the most important bat in Boston's lineup because of his imposing presence. The Red Sox missed him badly over the last couple of months of 2012. The Achilles injury Ortiz had was anything but minor. Fans won't truly feel comfortable until the designated hitter proves that he's healthy again.
3. Which Jacoby Ellsbury will show up?
Was 2011 an aberration? Or can Ellsbury put together another season where he is a leading candidate for the AL Most Valuable Player Award? Though Ellsbury missed a lot of time due to a partially dislocated right shoulder last season, he wasn't much of a presence when he was on the field. If the Red Sox are to have any chance of being a championship-caliber team, Ellsbury needs to be a lot closer to what he was two years ago than last year.
69-93, fifth place in the AL East
Projected batting order
1. CF Jacoby Ellsbury:
.271 BA, .313 OBP, .370 SLG, 4 HR, 26 RBIs in 2012
2. RF Shane Victorino:
.255 BA, .321 OBP, .383 SLG, 11 HR, 55 RBIs in 2012
3. 2B Dustin Pedroia:
.290 BA, .347 OBP, .449 SLG, 15 HR, 65 RBIs in 2012
4. DH David Ortiz:
.318 BA, .415 OBP, .611 SLG, 23 HR, 60 RBIs in 2012
5. 1B Mike Napoli:
.227 BA, .343 OBP, .469 SLG, 24 HR, 56 RBIs in 2012
6. 3B Will Middlebrooks:
.288 BA, .325 OBP, .509 SLG, 15 HR, 54 RBIs in 2012
7. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia:
.222 BA, .288 OBP, .454 SLG, 25 HR, 59 RBIs in 2012
8. LF Jonny Gomes:
.262 BA, .377 OBP, .491 SLG, 18 HR, 47 RBIs in 2012
9. SS Stephen Drew:
.223 BA, .309 OBP, .348 SLG, 7 HR, 28 RBIs in 2012
1. LHP Jon Lester, 9-14, 4.82 ERA in 2012
2. RHP Clay Buchholz, 11-8, 4.56 ERA in 2012
3. RHP John Lackey, Did not pitch in 2012
4. RHP Ryan Dempster, 12-8, 3.38 ERA with Cubs and Rangers in 2012
5. LHP Felix Doubront, 11-10, 4.86 ERA in 2012
The new guys
1B Napoli: The Red Sox eyed Napoli for years because of his powerful swing from the right side that seems perfectly suited for Fenway Park. However, contract negotiations were anything but perfect. Napoli's original three-year deal was reduced to one after a physical revealed a condition in his hips. If Napoli can stay healthy and productive, Boston will have some much-needed protection behind Ortiz.
RF Victorino: The Red Sox coveted Victorino's glove in right field and his enthusiasm in the clubhouse, but they will truly benefit from this signing if he can recover from his offensive woes of last year. When Victorino is right, he is a dynamic player who can create problems with his bat and speed.
LF Gomes: Is it a coincidence that he keeps playing for teams that overachieve? Those who have played with Gomes will tell you that he is just the type of personality a winning team needs. Gomes is selfless and energetic, and he loves being in the middle of a positive clubhouse atmosphere. But the Red Sox got him for his bat, which can be potent, particularly against left-handed pitching.
SS Drew: The Red Sox are again going to a short-term option at shortstop, hoping that Drew can do as well on a one-year contract as another Scott Boras client did with Boston three years ago in Adrian Beltre. Drew was stung by the criticism of his durability, considering he's only had one major injury in his career. Drew has traditionally been a far better hitter than he was last year. He's also a plus defender.
RHP Dempster: Experience and durability. Those are the two biggest traits that led the Red Sox to sign Dempster, who has been in the National League for most of his career. However, Boston thinks that Dempster is mentally tough enough to pitch anywhere. He will have a chance to prove it in the middle of the Sox's rotation.
RHP Hanrahan: The Red Sox are expecting big things from their closer, who has been under the radar in Pittsburgh. That won't be the case in Boston, where Fenway fans will get a look at a closer who has nasty stuff. Hanrahan might be able to replace Jonathan Papelbon, something nobody on Boston's 2012 staff was capable of doing.
RHP Uehara: There have been some health issues at times, but Uehara has put up dominant numbers in his time in America. He can also serve as a mentor for fellow Japanese righty Junichi Tazawa. This could be one of the most unheralded signings of the winter.
C Ross: He is just the type of veteran game-caller the Red Sox need to complement Saltalamacchia. Pitchers have long enjoyed throwing to Ross, who also has some pop in his bat and some experience playing in winning environments.
1B Overbay: The veteran gives the Red Sox a solid defender for the late innings, and also a reliable pinch-hitter from the left side. He is also insurance in the event Napoli's health doesn't hold up.
Prospects to watch
SS Xander Bogaerts: Everyone knows that Bogaerts, who is ranked as the organization's top prospect by MLB.com, has a big bat. His goal this year is to improve his speed and defense. If all goes well, Bogaerts will complete his development in 2013 and be ready for Boston the following year.
CF Jackie Bradley CF: Viewed as the heir apparent to Ellsbury in center field, Bradley seems to have all the intangibles necessary to succeed in the Majors. Ellsbury has one year left on his contract. That will give Bradley some time to fine-tune all aspects of his game.
RHP Rubby De La Rosa: The righty is the main piece the Red Sox got back in the blockbuster with the Dodgers last August. De La Rosa was considered one of the best prospects in the game before undergoing surgery in 2011. He should be healthy going into this season.
RHP Allen Webster: Another piece from the Dodgers' trade, Webster is known for having a nasty sinkerball and projects, at the very least, to be a middle-of-the-rotation starter once he completes his development.
On the rebound
RHP Lackey: In a way, this is like getting a new acquisition. Lackey didn't throw a pitch last season, but he is now fully recovered from Tommy John surgery. Lackey is determined to prove why the Red Sox spent so much money on him three winters ago.
RF Victorino: The outfielder never looked like himself at the plate in 2012, not even after a trade to the Dodgers. The Red Sox hope he can rediscover his stroke.
SS Drew: It was obvious that Drew had a tough time coming back from his ankle injury last year, but he seemed more comfortable by the end of the season. He has a solid bat for a shortstop.
RHP Daniel Bard: The righty tried to make the transition to the starting rotation last year, and the result was a breakdown of mechanics and confidence. He will be back in his familiar role of relief this spring, but Bard knows he needs to pitch his way back to a prominent spot in the pecking order.
RF Victorino: For the second time, Victorino (Team USA) will play in the Classic. Before that, he will take time to get to know his new teammates in Fort Myers, Fla.
RHP Alfredo Aceves: The fact that Aceves is willing to pitch in the Classic (Team Mexico) likely means that he has no thoughts of winning a spot in the starting rotation.
OF Cody Ross: The right fielder brought production and enthusiasm to Boston last year, but he couldn't find common ground with the club on a new deal. Instead, Ross will play for the Arizona Diamondbacks.
SS Mike Aviles: The Red Sox traded last year's starting shortstop to Toronto for their new manager (Farrell). But the Blue Jays then sent Aviles to the Indians, where he will be reunited with Terry Francona.
1B James Loney: The only Major Leaguer to come back to Boston in the blockbuster with the Dodgers, Loney didn't show much in his six-week trial run with the Red Sox. He was signed by the Tampa Bay Rays.
RHP Scott Atchison: An underrated member of Boston's bullpen for the last three years, Atchison signed a Minor League deal with the Mets.
RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka: It's hard to believe Matsuzaka came to Boston with so much hype six years ago. He left with hardly a whisper. Matsuzaka, who had a bad season following Tommy John surgery, remains unsigned.
RHP Vicente Padilla: Pitching in a relief role, Padilla did a pretty good job in Boston last year. He will pitch in Japan in 2013 for the Fukuoka SoftBank Hawks.