Boston Red Sox: The Five Players Under the Most Pressure in 2012
After the debacle that was September 2011, when Boston completed one of the most spectacular implosions in major league history, the Red Sox have been in a state of transition this offseason.
Gone are the general manager, manager, captain, shortstop, right fielder and the majority of the bench and bullpen. The Red Sox have brought in a lot of new faces for 2012, but the fans will be focusing mainly on the familiar ones.
As Carl Crawford proved last year, playing in Boston is a high-pressure situation. Some, however, will find themselves under more pressure than most.
If one player epitomised the collapse of his team, it was Josh Beckett. Midway through the season, he was having the best year of his life and was a legitimate Cy Young contender. But his season was tarnished by a dire September.
In May, he threw 36 innings without giving up a home run; in August and September he was allowing almost two per game. Beckett failed to make a quality start in seven of his last eight outings and won just one game in September.
After the season was over, he was at the centre of the "beer and chicken" scandal that engulfed the team.
In 2012, he needs to find a way to put the end of 2011 behind him. He has never had a good season in a year ending with an even number; if that trend continues, Red Sox Nation's patience may be wearing thin.
If one looked solely at the numbers, it would appear Adrian Gonzalez had a great season in his first year in Boston. He led the league in hits, batted .338, clubbed 27 home runs, drove in 117 and finished seventh in AL MVP voting.
However, his campaign was very forgettable. Long stretches without a home run—he had droughts of 23, 14, 16 and 22 games—and a lack of clutch hits became common.
For his $8 million salary, which the Sox inherited from his contract with the San Diego Padres, he was a bargain. In 2012 his salary almost triples and will be more than $20 million.
27 home runs just doesn't look as good now, does it?
Theo Epstein might have left Boston's Back Bay for Chicago's North Side, but his fingerprints will still be on the team for years to come. One of the grubbiest marks he left was Carl Crawford and it will take the Sox another six years to wipe it off.
In his tenure in Tampa Bay, Crawford had put together the first half of a potential Hall of Fame career. In his first season in Boston, he was an abject failure.
Every good thing we heard about him proved to be false. Stolen bases, good average, great defense and level-headed attitude defined him in South Florida. In Boston, he stole only 18 bases, hit .255, was shaky in left field and looked totally rattled by the pressure of playing in Boston.
He is still owed $120 million over the life of his contract and has a lot of doubters to put right in 2012.
David Ortiz enjoyed something of a resurgence in 2011, proving to be one of the team's best hitters and undeniably the game's best DH. But for all of the good, there was some bad, too.
Annoyed at a decision by the official scorer to take away an RBI, Papi stormed into then-manager Terry Francona's press conference. When the team was falling apart in September, Ortiz was one of the biggest veteran voices to remain totally silent. Then there was the whining about his contract.
When his arbitration hearing is settled in the coming weeks, he will return to the club as one of the best-loved players in the franchise's history, but he will be under pressure to control himself better and replicate his production at the plate.
If you had asked Red Sox fans a year ago how they felt about the possible departure of Jonathan Papelbon, probably two-thirds wouldn't have cared. Partly this was because of his collapse in the 2009 ALDS and a poor 2010 campaign.
Also, it was because Boston had a ready-made, slot-him-in-and-you-won't-notice-the-difference replacement in Daniel Bard.
One year later, it's a different story. Firstly, Bard did not have a great season. His WHIP was below one and he had a two-month stretch when he didn't surrender a run but he still finished with a 2-9 record, blowing five saves. With men in scoring position, his walk rate was double that when the bases were empty.
That's not closer material.
Secondly, he has said he wants to be a starter. His poor numbers in clutch situations may actually have helped him here. If Bard still looked like he would be a perfect replacement for Papelbon, Boston might not even consider moving him. Now they'll let him try it out.
Bard has to find a new role for himself, whether it's starting games or finishing them. Both the rotation and bullpen are weak; it doesn't matter which, but he has to help one of them.