By late January of last season most Red Sox fans were already counting the days until Spring Training.
The Bruins and Celtics were both smack dab in the midst of the long NBA and NHL regular seasons. The New England Patriots had just absorbed a nightmarish ending to a promising season at the hands of their hated rival—the New York Jets.
The Red Sox were front and center. They had traded for Adrian Gonzalez and signed outfielder Carl Crawford. John Lackey had looked decent at the end of the 2010 season and Jacoby Ellsbury was healthy as well.
Winning the American League East had already become an almost foregone conclusion in the minds of many fans and baseball writers. The Red Sox were picked to make the World Series by numerous publications and predictors.
Things are a little different this January.
The Patriots, in case anyone was not aware, are preparing to play in one of the most heavily hyped Super Bowls of all time. A rematch of the 2008 Super Bowl loss to the New York Giants.
The Celtics are mired in an up-and-down lockout shortened season. It's possible that members of the "Big Three" will be dealt.
The Bruins are once again among the NHL's top teams and as the defending Stanley Cup Champions, they recently visited the White House. That routine action was made none-too-routine when goalie Tim Thomas chose to make a personal political statement and sit out the Oval Office appearance.
The Red Sox?
Well earlier this evening they inked former Met and Oriole John Maine to a minor league contract. If that seems somewhat underwhelming it's because it is, as was the recent signing of former Giant Cody Ross.
The Red Sox have made numerous moves this season. Fans can debate whether or not the moves are "good" or "bad". None of them have been earth shattering though. There's been no Carl Crawford type of signing, there's been no Adrian Gonzalez type of trade.
In the aftermath of all these moves the Red Sox are likely to enter the 2012 season with far more questions than they had at the outset of the 2011 season. New general manager, new manager, new closer, new right fielder, new shortstop and probably some new starting pitchers as well.
The 2011 team was at its best before it ever took the field. Its best baseball was played in the hopeful imaginations of Red Sox fans in January, February and March of 2011. That was before the team started 2-10. Before they battled back to move into first place through the summer and well before the cataclysmic collapse of September.
The 2012 team is nowhere near as good as the 2011 team was back in January, February and March of 2011. Will they start 2-10? Will they go 7-20 in September? It's hard to know. One thing Sox fans should remember is that being wildly optimistic one year ago had no bearing on the end results of last season. Entering the 2012 season pessimistic probably won't have much of an impact either.
The 2012 Red Sox are going to start the season with a lot more questions than the 2011 Red Sox did but hopefully they'll end the season with less questions and more answers.