Now then, let's get started.
This piece marks the halfway mark for the American League, and with that we turn our heads back East.
Welcome to a little town called Boston.
C- Jarrod Saltalamacchia
1B- Adrian Gonzalez
2B- Dustin Pedroia
SS- Jose Iglesias
3B- Will Middlebrooks
LF- Carl Crawford
CF- Ryan Kalish
RF- Bryce Brentz
DH- Ryan Lavarnway
1. Jon Lester
2. Anthony Ranaudo
3. Clay Buchholz
4. Josh Beckett
5. Matt Barnes
Closer- Andrew Bailey
First, let's address the obvious.
There's a Jacoby Ellsbury sized hole in centerfield. Ellsbury, 28, had the best year of his career in 2011. There's no reason Boston wouldn't want him as their long term center fielder.
But, want and can are two completely different things.
I'm sure Boston wants Ellsbury for the long haul.
Look at the extensions Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester signed early in their careers.
Boston likes to do business that way.
However, none of those guys had Scott Boras as an agent. There's also the fact that none of those players chose to go year-by-year in arbitration.
The last young Sox player to do that? Jonathan "bon voyage" Papelbon.
Come the end of the 2013 season, Ellsbury will most likely be a free agent. Now before you start pushing Mayan Calendar-Red Sox theories, press on and continue reading.
The one thing Boston had in 2011 was offense. The one thing the farm system will continue to produce is offense. If that means shaving off some of Ellsbury's production, the Sox can take it.
Look at that potential lineup and there are big things coming Boston's way. They already have a core made up of Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Gonzalez, two of the best at their positions. Then there's up and comers Will Middlebrooks, Ryan Lavarnway, Ryan Kalish and Bryce Brentz.
When I look at that lineup, I see six players capable of hitting 20 home runs. There's also five potential gold glovers.
Not too shabby.
Ryan Kalish is an ideal leadoff man and could be a 20-30 player with a .380-.400 OBP. Lavarnway and Brentz each eclipsed 30 minor league home runs last season. Will Middlebrooks is an aggressive hitter, but he has great hit tools. Then there's shortstop of the future extraordinaire Jose Iglesias, whose glove will save more runs than it costs.
Factor in the 2011 seasons of J.D. Drew, Kevin Youkilis, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Carl Crawford and you still get an offense that scored more runs than any other team in baseball.
I think the lineup of guys above can be even better.
But, that's not the biggest concern here. It's been rehashed more times than beers drank in the Sox clubhouse, but let's go over it one more time.
2011 Sox pitching from May-August = success.
2011 Sox pitching in September = ... BOOM!
Is there hope? You bet there is.
The long term core of the Sox rotation remains Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Josh Beckett. Despite the September collapse, those are three great pitchers I trust to build around. Not to mention the Sox will be shedding John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka.
Added into the rotation are young studs Anthony Ranaudo and Matt Barnes.
Both were drafted out of college. Both have 200-200 potential (200 innings, 200 strikeouts). If Boston turns their attention away from expensive free agents, and more towards developing their young starters, they could have an amazing rotation.
The X-factor in all of this is Theo Epstein's compensation for moving on to the Chicago Cubs.
Whether given an up-and-coming arm like Matt Garza, or a top prospect like Trey McNutt, the potential rotation's ceiling gets that much higher.
Post-September, it felt like Boston would never compete again. Now that we move into a new season, the future seems a little less bleak. Boston has a deep farm, with talent across every level.
Their offensive ceiling is prolific, and the rotation has a lot of potential as well. Boston's hungry to prove that 2011 was a fluke, and building off their prospects is a step in the right direction towards a bright future.
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