Dark were the days for Red Sox Nation after the 2011 season. But hope springs eternal.
Ben Cherington was named general manager after Theo Epstein and immediately began his search for Terry Francona’s replacement. He found it in ESPN’s MLB analysis and former Major League Manager Bobby Valentine.
With two major pieces down, the Red Sox front office could get to work with their offseason preparations. They filled the void left by Jonathan Papelbon with Andrew Bailey from the A’s and added some bullpen pieces and some infield and outfield help.
Now that spring training is nearly here, the Red Sox have retooled and reloaded for another MLB campaign and have the potential to make it back to the World Series for the first time since 2007.
Assuming that the Red Sox and their designated hitter David Ortiz come to terms on a contract (through arbitration or otherwise), the Red Sox are set with their position players.
Adrian Gonzalez will once again be the power hitter in the middle of the order for Bobby Valentine. He hit .338 last year which ranked second in the American League. He had 27 home runs and 117 RBI and is only 29 years old, so there is no reason to expect his production to drop, and he is still a Gold Glove contender at first base. With Gonzalez potentially batting fourth and Ortiz behind him at fifth, the Red Sox have fantastic power in the middle of their order.
Once again, Jacoby Ellsbury will be the leadoff man for the Red Sox. His combination of speed and (new found) power will make him a terror to deal with starting off the game and, with Dustin Pedroia batting behind him in the second position, there will be ample opportunity for him to score.
Even if Ellsbury doesn’t score, he still has Gonzalez and Ortiz waiting in the wings. Both Ellsbury and Pedroia have the defensive prowess to make seemingly impossible plays possible, and they both have good arms and see the entire field. Ellsbury has good range for a center fielder and uses his speed to get to the ball in the expansive Fenway center field. Pedroia has the same reflexes to make quick plays at second base that made him a Gold Glove winner in 2011.
Kevin Youkilis will continue to play average defense and have an average bat. There are times when he does something spectacular but they are becoming few and far between. He will do just enough to have people yell, “YOOOOOOUUUUKK” when he goes up to bat.
With Carl Crawford out until after the season begins, Cody Ross is going to have to step into the shadow of the Green Monster and play left field. He will be an okay presence for the Red Sox, but Crawford is going to have to come off the disabled list ready to go and make up for his horrendous first season with the Red Sox. On the other corner, Ryan Sweeny will most likely start until Crawford returns and Ross can take his spot back.
Jared Saltalamacchia will be the starting catcher with Kelly Shoppach backing him up. Salty has power potential and is a fairly good defensive catcher, better than Varitek was or could be.
With Jon Lester as the clear No. 1 and Josh Beckett right behind him, the Red Sox could have their top two pitchers win 16-plus games each. Clay Buchholz still has to prove that he can pitch around 200 innings but he certainly has the potential to be a good No. 3.
After the first three pitchers, the rotation becomes highly suspect. With Daniel Bard making the move to the starting rotation from the bullpen and the unknown who will fill the fifth pitcher spot, the back-end of the rotation has a lot questions still remaining.
The bullpen will feature newly acquired Andrew Bailey as the closer with Mark Melancon being the set-up man. Alfredo Aceves could very well be in the starting rotation, but if not, he will provide the long relief coming out of the bullpen.
How far will the 2012 Red Sox go?
The Red Sox also will have the ability to call upon some of its younger stars to fill some spots on the roster here and there. Will Middlebrooks is a promising infielder who has power and Jose Iglesias can turn into a great shortstop. Ryan Lavarnway is probably the most Major League-ready prospect in the system. Once he learns the nuances of catching, he will be a productive catcher who can also hit for power.
If the Red Sox can stay healthy all year then they will be able to compete in the AL East. The only thing that could prevent the Red Sox from advancing to the World Series would be the starting pitching.
With their powerful bats and their runners that are fleet of foot, the Red Sox have the personnel to win the American League Pennant and advance to the World Series.