Boston Red Sox 2013 Season Preview

With pitchers and catchers meeting in Fort Myers, FL this Sunday (Feb.10th) baseball season is officially back!! Well alright, “technically” it’s not back until Feb. 21st when the Red Sox  play Northeastern in their first scheduled Spring Training game. Nevertheless, with the season, and spring, right around the corner; I thought I’d give the Fenway Faithful a preview of what 2013 should look like for the Bo-Sox.

Likely Lineups:

1.OF Shane Victorino

2. OF Jacoby Ellsbury

3. 2B Dustin Pedroia

4. DH David Ortiz

5. 1B Mike Napoli

6. OF Jonny Gomes

7. 3B Will Middlebrooks

8. SS Stephen Drew

9. C Jarrod Saltalamacchia

Granted this is just a rough draft of what the lineup “could look like”. Only John Farrell will truly be able to assemble a proper lineup when spring training is complete. For now, the above lineup is my take on where Farrell may go with the batting order.

The lineup could very well have Ellsbury and Napoli batting Cleanup at 3 and 4 which would then likely shift Dustin Pedroia to bat 2nd in front of Ellsbury and have Papi batting 5th after Napoli. Also, Farrell may choose to have a healthy Ellsbury be the lead-off hitter, which Ellsbury has certainly had success at in seasons past. However if Ellsbury puts up 2011 numbers this season, having him 2nd or 3rd could be more beneficial for the Red Sox as far as RBI production is concerned.

Lastly, the bottom of the order is subject to change as well. Middlebrooks, Gomes, and Drew could all bat lower or higher based on their spring training results. Salty will stay at the bottom of the order until he can prove he’s the switch hitting prodigy he was supposed to be. Only time will tell what the everyday batting order will eventually look like.

5 Man Rotation:

1. Jon Lester. 2. Ryan Dempster. 3. Clay Bucholz. 4. Felix Doubront. 5. John Lackey

While the pitching rotation isn’t exactly terrifying to many teams in the majors, this assembly of arms can get the job done for Boston. Lester and Bucholz will have to bounce back, Dempster will have to pitch more consistently than in seasons past, Felix Doubront will have to prove he wasn’t just a one year wonder baller, and John Lackey will have to return to his prime if the Sox want to get the most wins out of this group.

The rotation may change throughout the season, as it often does, as the Red Sox have options should one of these guys fold. Boston can bring up the likes of Rubby De la Rosa or Allen Webster from Triple-A Pawtucket if those two show they are primed for a big league day job.

Also, Boston could add to the Rotation if they choose to sign still-free-agent starting pitcher Kyle Lohse (formerly with the St. Louis Cardinals). Again like the lineup above, only time will tell what is working, and what needs to be worked out.

The Pen:

Relievers: 1. Andrew Bailey 2. Koji Uehara 3. Daniel Bard 4. Craig Breslow 5. Alfredo Aceves

Closer: Joel Hanrahan

The Red Sox Bullpen as it stands right now is the strongest weapon Boston has entering this season. While the 5-man rotation could use some re-tooling, and our lineup is still missing a big bat or two, the pen looks to have great promise in 2013.

Boston went out in the off-season and added the likes of relievers Koji Uehara and Craig Breslow, and new closer Joel Hanrahan to sure up the 7th,8th and 9th innings for this year. All of which were inexpensive upgrades that should ultimately pay off for the Red Sox.

Win-Loss/ Post-Season Projections:

Though I’m a die-hard Red Sox fan to my very core, I must blog with a sense of realism in making these next few predictions.

Win-Loss Record: 85-77 (I didn’t just come up with this record out of thin air just so you know. I went through the entire schedule and chose game by game what I thought were wins and losses for the Red Sox.)

AL East Finish: I sadly have the Red Sox finishing third this year just ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays by a few games. I see the Toronto Blue Jays meeting everyone’s expectations and winning the east with the Yankees somehow frustratingly finishing in 2nd place. The Orioles return to their usual spot, in the AL East’ cellar in last place.

Postseason: With the Sox finishing third by my count, there will be no post-season play for this Red Sox group. I have the Blue Jays clinching a spot with the division crown and the New York Yankees beating out Boston for the final of two Wild Card spots by a few games.

Final Thoughts: I whole heartedly hope I’m way wrong about my season predictions for the Red Sox. I hope some how, some way, the Red Sox can bring back some of that 2004 magic and sneak into the post-season. Realistically though, I only foresee a minor improvement for Boston as this is a rebuilding year. I look at it this way, ANY results this season should be better than last seasons 69-93 last place finish. How do you see the 2013 season going for Boston? Leave a comment below.

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Red Sox, Napoli Finally Agree To 1 Year Deal

Done Deal: The Boston Red Sox have finally come to terms with free agent catcher Mike Napoli as the two sides agreed to a 1 year deal worth 5 million dollars with Napoli potentially earning 13 million dollars based on his regular season performance.

The original deal from the winter meetings signing was a 3 year deal worth 39 million dollars. However, after a hip injury surfaced from a failed physical, the deal went stale. After 6 weeks of  re-negotiating, Nap is on board now and will be used to help out primarily at first base. Napoli will likely also be catching some nights to give Jarrod Saltalamacchia a rest.

Naps Numbers: Napoli’s numbers fell slightly last season with a .227 batting average and 24 HR from his career year in 2011 when he hit .330 with 30 HR. The Red Sox also hope his numbers at Fenway Park continue, as Nap has hit 7 HR with 17 RBI and a .710 slugging percentage in 19 games at Boston. Napoli is a career .259 hitter with 146 HR and 380 RBI.

Final Thoughts: Nap should be a solid addition to the Red Sox clubhouse. If nothing else, Napoli offers flexibility for the roster, and a solid bat in a lineup that could certainly use some pop. Also, getting Napoli for 5 million dollars is an inexpensive move by Boston that should ultimately pay off. Worst case scenario, he doesn’t pan out and is gone at seasons end. What do you think? Will Napoli help the Red Sox or be another Bean-town bust? Leave a comment below.

Red Sox Whip Up an Early Winter Meetings Deal

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Done Deal: The Boston Red Sox wasted no time on Monday in making a deal happen with free agent catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli, as the MLB Winter Meetings kicked off in Nashville.

The Sox and Napoli have agreed to a three-year contract worth a reported 39 million dollars. With the signing of Napoli, the Sox now have flexibility at both the catcher and first base positions. Napoli will most likely play first if Boston plans to keep Jarrod Saltalamacchia in the clubhouse. Should Boston trade Salty, Napoli would then likely catch with newly acquired back up catcher David Ross, and clubhouse young gun Ryan Lavarnway sharing time at the position.

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Nap’s Numbers: Napoli batted .227 with 24 HR and 56 RBI, he’s a career .259 hitter with 146 HR and 380 RBI. Also, Napoli should fit into the batting lineup during home games just fine, as he is a .306 hitter with 7 HR and 17 RBI in 19 games at Fenway Park lifetime.

Final Thoughts: In my opinion this was a great move for the Sox as they’ve added another experienced veteran at a good price to not only help bolster the roster, but add flexibility as well. As always, I want to hear back from the fans on this one. What do you think about the Sox signing Napoli? Who should they sign next?

Recap of the Red Sox Winter Meetings Moves

The Boston Red Sox broke out their checkbooks last week, and made some off-season deals that didn’t break the bank. The Bo-Sox came away with three players in the 2012 Winter Meetings held in Nashville.

Boston signed free agents Mike Napoli (catcher/first base), Shane Victorino (outfielder), and Koji Uehara (reliever). These moves will help to bolster some of the holes on the roster. Here’s a breakdown of what each player brings to the team:

Done Deals:

Mike Napoli: The Sox signed Nap to a three year deal worth 39 million dollars. Napoli batted .227 with 24 HR and 56 RBI in 2012. He brings flexibility, as he can play either catcher or first base, as well as a solid bat in the lineup for Boston. Which position he will spend more time at, depends on what Boston plans to do with catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia. If they trade Salty, Napoli would likely become the starter at catcher. If they rotate Nap and Salty, expect to see Nap on first some nights and Salty behind the plate. At age 31, Napoli brings veteran experience and a clubhouse presence. Something the Sox could certainly use.

Shane Victorino: The Sox also inked Victorino to a three year-39 million dollar deal. Victorino batted .255 with 11 HR and 55 RBI in 2012. His numbers were down from 2011 (.279 AVG, 17 HR, 61 RBI) however, Victorino is a veteran outfielder who offers years of experience and is well known for being active in community work around the city in which he plays for. Boston most likely looks at Napoli and Victorino (along with Jonny Gomes) as guys who can come in and set an example for the rest of the team. Victorino will mainly offer another bat to the lineup, and if his numbers have an uptick in 2013, he could prove to be a smart move by the Sox when it’s all said and done.

Koji Uehara Koji Uehara #19 of the Texas Rangers pitches against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim in the sixth inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on September 26, 2011 in Anaheim, California.

Koji Uehara: The Sox and Uehara agreed to terms on a one year- 4.25 million dollar deal. Uehara was regarded as one of the best relievers last year playing for the Texas Rangers. Uehara posted a 1.75 ERA with a 0.64 WHIP with 43 strikeouts in 36 innings of work in 2012. At 37, Uehara brings a veteran arm to an already solid bullpen. This was a nice, inexpensive move by Boston.

Less is More: Total Money Spent at the 2012 Winter Meetings: 82.25 million dollars. Which isn’t bad considering how much money Boston dropped in 2011 (roughly over 300 million dollars) and we all saw how that panned out. Maybe “Less is More” will actually be true for the 2013 Red Sox.

Final Thoughts:What Red Sox fans should take away from these deals is this. The Red Sox are trying to piece together a balance of talent and character in what is the first of many building blocks to rebuilding this team. Napoli, Victorino, and Uehara will help mold the foundation, but the Sox still need a few more pieces before they can begin constructing a house.

What do you think? Did the Sox make the right moves in this year’s meetings? What would your next move be if you were Ben Cherington? Leave a comment below.

Red Sox Sign Backup Catcher David Ross

ImageDone Deal: The Boston Red Sox inked career backup catcher David Ross to a two-year 6.2 million dollar deal this Wednesday. Ross spent the last four seasons with the Atlanta Braves, backing up All-Star catcher Brian McCann, where he compiled 24 HR, 84 RBI, and a .268 batting average in that span. Ross is a career .238 hitter with 84 HR and 248 RBI. BoSox fans may not remember Ross, but he has played in Beantown before. He made 8 game appearances back in 2008.

ImageRoss Can Be Resourceful: Ross gives the Red Sox a viable back up option to help give starter Jarrod Saltalamacchia a break during the regular season (pending the Sox don’t try to ship Salty elsewhere this offseason). Ross, a 10 year veteran, can also help give a few catching pointers to the Sox young catcher Ryan Lavarnway (1 year of MLB experience). This inexpensive move helps bolster the position and brings flexibility to the catching depth chart.

Your Thoughts: With the Red Sox recent off-season move, what do you think their next one should be? Leave a comment below.

O Captain! My Captain!: Varitek Set to Retire Thursday

On July 31st, 1997, the Boston Red Sox received Derek Lowe and first round pick Jason Varitek from the Seattle Mariners for reliever Heathcliff Slocumb. After being traded as a minor league prospect, there was no way Varitek could have imagined playing his entire 15 year major league career with one team. Similar to Tim Wakefield, it was assumed by many that V-Tek would walk away after the season ended last year. News has now broken out that Jason is set to announce his retirement Thursday at Fort Myers.

Throughout his long baseball career, Jason was always a winner. He is one of only two players in the history of baseball to play in the World Championship of the Little League Championship, College World Series National Championship, and the World Series in the MLB (Ed Vosberg is the other for those keeping track). His high school also won the State championship for Florida in 1990 and was ranked as the number one team in the nation by USA Today.

I hope your starting to get the “pitcher” (pun intended, horrible, but a pun nonetheless) because it was felt by many Sox fans that V-Tek knew some of the pitchers better than they did themselves. He was never the best hitting catcher, but not the worst either. Despite this, Jason was the perfect battery mate for every Sox pitcher (with the exception of Timmy and his knuckleball) and perfect teammate. He was crucial to both championship teams in 2004 and 2007 and Captain of the Red Sox from 2006 on. He caught a Major League record four no-hitters, which is a true testament of how well he could call a game behind the plate. I hope Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Ryan Lavarnway were able to learn a lot from Jason Varitek in their short time with him. His endless preparation and knowledge of the game was a huge benefit to the Sox pitchers throughout the last 14 years.

My favorite Varitek memory (along with many other Red Sox fans) came on July 24, 2004. In one of those summer games vs the Yanks at Fenway on Fox, A-Rod got pegged by Bronson Arroyo. Naturally, A-Rod started to bitch back at Arroyo, yelling “F*ck you, F*ck you.” There was no way Tek was having any of that and shoved his glove square into A-Rod’s face and starting a bench clearing brawl. The Sox went on to comeback from a 9-4 deficit and beat the Yanks 11-10 in the 9th by scoring three on the “invincible” Mariano Rivera. The game immediately went down as an all time great. That moment seemed to be the turning point of their championship season. The Sox posted the best record in the bigs from that point on and developed a much-needed swagger against the Yanks and Rivera that proved crucial when they were down 3-0 in the ALCS.

It’s going to be tough in the Sox clubhouse this year with all the crap that unfolded during their September collapse. Not having guys like Wakefield and Varitek won’t help, but as I have said before hopefully guys like Salty and Adrian will step up like they said. As I noted in my catcher positional rankings, I hope that the Red Sox can reward Varitek similar to how the Pats treated Kevin Faulk. The only difference would be since Varitek will be officially retired, his role will be a coaching job within the organization, not the player/mentor role Faulk had this past year. Either way, Timmy and V-Tek will be missed greatly, both in the clubhouse and on the TV screen. They are true heroes of Red Sox Nation and they deserved to be honored for their accomplishments.

Which brings me to this poll question, feel free to put in some comments.

 

AL East Position Matchup: Shortstop

Great news as pitchers and catchers reported for the Sox yesterday.The first workout will be tomorrow and position players will arrive February 24, a day before the teams first full workout. The Red Sox clubhouse is still talking to media about the epic collapse from last year, with Lester and Beckett openly taking blame. Also, guys like Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Adrian Gonzalez have already been vocal about assuming the leadership type of role this team needs.

Let’s get back to the matter at hand, ranking the shortstop’s in the AL East.

Find prior rankings here: C1B2B3B

1. J.J. Hardy, Orioles
2. Derek Jeter, Yankees
3. Yunel Escobar, Blue Jays
4. Nick Punto/Mike Aviles/ Jose Iglesias, Red Sox
5. Sean Rodriguez/ Reid Brignac, Rays

Derek Jeter is nearing the end of his career and the shortstop position has switched from a division strength during the late 90’s and early 2000’s to now the AL East’s weakest position. It seems like just yesterday Nomar was being called “The Human Vacuum Cleaner” by Sports Illustrated for Kids and featured with his shirt off on the Sports Illustrated cover labeled “A Cut Above.” Whether it was the cover jinx or not, injuries arose for the Beantown legend and the position has become vastly different from the days when Nomar and Jeter would duke it out as potential MVP candidates.

J.J. Hardy, Derek Jeter and Yunel Escobar all display plus gloves in the field, although Jeter is the only to have received a Gold Glove out of the three (he has received five total-his latest in 2010). Despite this, Jeter might now be the worst fielder out of three since his range has begin to diminish with his aging body. J.J. Hardy is ranked first due to his reinvented swing from the past two years. Hardy went from hitting 50 HRS in 2007-2008 combined to 11 in 2009 and 6 in 2010. Hardy was killed by pitchers (specifically lefthanders) in these two years, after Alex Eisenberg of Baseball-Intellect.com revealed some flaws in Hardy’s plate approach. He has spent the 2009-2010 battling through a wrist injury and other minor injuries. Hardy now has spent the end of 2010 and 2011 redefining his plate approach by shortening up his swing and lowering and extended his arms in the beginning of the approach. He has began pulling the pull more often and the results showed last year. In his bounce back year, he had 30 HRS and 80 RBI’s. I expect Hardy to hit around 28-34 HR in the hitter friendly Camden Yards.

Next up is Derek Jeter. In Big Nons story earlier this year, I chimed in the comments section giving my thoughts on Jeter: “Can’t call yourself a true fan of both the Red Sox and baseball unless you admit Derek Jeter is a great ballplayer. The guy hustles on the field and is the ideal team captain. Any time i see someone go full speed into a ball in the stands and dive in there with the fans the way Jeter did years back against the Sox, I’m impressed. “The flip?” One of the best heads up plays I have EVER seen a shortstop make. I mean “c’mon son” to any Sox fan that is not willing to have some respect for him.” Despite his declining skills, he is still a force as the leadoff man in the always impressive Yankee lineup. Due to his consistency in this leadoff spot in getting on base and getting himself in scoring position, he gets the nod for the second spot in these rankings. Yunel Escobar on the Blue Jays is the third ranked shortstop. Escobar has displayed the ability to consistently get on base throughout his four year career, even throughout his off year in 2010 (.366 Career OBP with .289 Career AVG).

All of the first three options display some sort of flaw; Jeter’s career is close to ending as he will turn 38 in June and both Escobar and Hardy have had issues with injuries throughout their careers. Despite this, all are better options than the situation the Red Sox and Rays are in. The Red Sox shortstop position opened up in late January when Marco Scutaro was traded. It will be temporarily fixed with Nick Punto and Mike Aviles. Both players are pretty good fielding shortstops, but have been utility infielders for the majority of their careers. Punto has just about zero power, but will reach base at a decent rate in comparison to other options (.249 career BA, .278 last year, .325 Career OBP-.388 last year). Aviles is a slightly better option offensively in terms of power and AVG, but he has a horrible OBP considering his higher AVG (.288 AVG and .318 OBP throughout his career). The real gem could be Jose Iglesias. He has been one of the top prospects in the Red Sox farm system for a few years now, with a glove that is very major league ready. He is touted as a future perennial Gold Glover. His only issue is batting, and its a big issue. He batted .235 in the minors last year, but he has slowly been improving throughout his short professional career. Due to his incredible fielding skills, he will most likely be forced to try and improve in the big leagues. As I’ve said before, I don’t care how good of a fielder he is, every Red Sox fan wants to see offensive production and there is no way he can last in Boston hitting barely above the Mendoza line.

Tampa Bay is in a very similar situation. Sean Rodriguez and Reid Brignac are both good options fielding wise, but both are worse hitters than Boston’s options, with the exception of Iglesias. Brignac batted .193 last year and Rodriguez batted .223. Unless one of these players figures out their troubles at the plate, Tampa Bay will have the worst situation at shortstop in the AL East.

For other position rankings click here: C1B2B3B

AL East Position Matchup: Catcher

Spring training is around the corner and it looks like all the rosters are pretty much set in the MLB. I will begin to evaluate how the Red Sox matchup against their four counterparts in the AL East in different positions.

First up will be catcher (remember this is primarily based on projected starters):

1. Matt Wieters, Baltimore
2. J.P. Arencibia, Blue Jays
3. Russell Martin, Yankees
4. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Red Sox
5. Jose Molina, Rays

Wieters was a no brainer here in the first slot. He was a can’t miss prospect since he was drafted 5th overall in 2007. He is not the superstar people once believed after a monster first year in the minors (.388 BA), but he provides decent pop (22 HR’s last year) and won a Gold Glove last year.

The next three were tough to call. I went with Arencibia next after his breakout campaign last year. He provided a bad batting average, but hit 23 Hr’s and had 78 RBI’s in 129 games in his rookie season. Arencibia is still a pretty raw talent, but with his good arm behind the plate and incredible power, he should have a pretty decent career. Third on the list is Russell Martin, who is not the player he was in the beginning of his career with the Dodgers. He has battled through knee and hip injuries since he broke out as a youngster in ’06-’08. He has had a declining batting average since ’08, although he saw in increase in HR and RBI’s for the Bronx Bombers last year. Even though Martin says he is healthy this year, I find it hard to believe he is a better option than Arencibia.

The Red Sox and Saltalamacchia are rated fourth due to the muddled cloud over the position and also an attempt to not be biased in this column. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the clear number one on the roster right now, although I think Ryan Lavarnway is the better long term solution. The Red Sox also signed Kelly Shoppach over the offseason, which confused me in terms of Lavarnway’s spot on the team. First off, Salty had a huge year for the Red Sox last year. He was a low risk young guy who had an incredible amount of confidence issues (to the point of him struggling to complete throws back to the pitcher). It looked like he found the stroke and confidence that he had as a good prospect growing up in the Braves farm system. Salty and Varitek combined to be some of the worst at throwing out runners last year (25.1% and 23.1%, respectively), and Shoppach should provide some defensive help. The true value of the Sox catcher situation lies in how they deal with Lavarnway. Lavarnway is a 6-4, 225 prospect with a very solid baseball IQ, which is very important behind the plate. The Yale-alum has average catching skills, but has a solid bat and could even provide some help from the DH spot. Sox fans immediately fell in love with Lavarnway when he provided 2 HR and 4RBI’s in a must win game on the second to last game of the season last year in which the Sox won 8-7. This was real impressive in such a high pressure situation in his rookie year and hopefully he will get a chance to build on his progress throughout this season. Also, as an end to the Red Sox section, I see Jason Varitek’s roster spot on the Red Sox gone. I hope they treat him in a similar manner as the Patriots with Kevin Faulk, by keeping him in the organization as a leader but not taking up a valuable roster spot with his declining abilities.

Lastly, the Rays are clearly the bottom of the pile here. I see them making some changes either in the season or during these last few weeks before camp. Right now they have 36 year old Jose Molina slotted behind the plate and he has never even had more than 268 AB’s in a season. Most Sox fans remember him from his days as a Yankees backup. He provides some help defensively (threw out 32.4% of runners), but it is always a good sign for opposing pitchers when he is in the on deck circle.

Stay tuned for more position evaluations throughout the next few weeks.