The 2012 Boston Red Sox are truly starting to take shape.
As of today, the team has optioned shortstop Jose Iglesias and first baseman Lars Anderson to Triple-A, Pawtucket, making Mike Aviles the opening day starter at short, and well...obviously leaving Adrian Gonzalez as your first baseman.
There is still a few question marks that remain to be answered on this ball club.
I am not necessarily talking about who the fourth or fifth starter is going to be, or if a rift exists in management.
I'm talking about three very specific items that the team should be concentrating on and wishing for successful outcomes for.
Those three questions are:
1) Will Carl Crawford bounce back in 2012 and live up to his potential, earning some of that monsterous contract?
On The Dennis and Callhan radio show this morning on WEEI-FM, Red Sox chairman Tom Warner stated that Crawford's 2011 season was miserable. He wasn't wrong.
2) Can The Daniel Bard Experiment work?
The team has devoted a lot of time and effort in to the process of evolving Bard into the starters role.
3) Will Andrew Bailey be able to step right in to Jonathan Papelbon's shoes and be as dominant of a closer as the Sox fans are accustomed to?
It will certainly be no easy task. Let's have a look at how these situations can/could/should play out.
The Red Sox brought Carl Crawford in to be their impact left fielder.
While his Gold Glove defense is somewhat rendered useless playing in Fenway, his speed and range coupled with center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury's speed and range should nullify pretty much any ball hitting the ground in 65 percent of the outfield.
The team expected a lot of on-base activity out of the man as well. He is a career .293 batter with a career .333 OBP.
Of course those numbers were brought down slightly after his stinker of a season in 2011. A season that saw him put up career lows in triples, stolen bases, batting average and OBP.
His RBI total was a cellar-dwellar as well, driving in only 56 runs on this proficient offense.
As for stolen bases, the man managed to swipe seven fewer bags in 130 games in 2011 than he did in 109 games in 2009: 25 versus 18.
Needless to say there will be a tremendous amount of pressure on Crawford.
The front office wants to be sure that they didn't just waste $142 million on a player inept at playing in Fenway.
Historically that has never been a problem. He always seemed to hit well against the Red Sox and steal a tremendous amount of bases.
Obviously that can be attributed to the catcher, and the fact that as a team philosophy the Sox didn't use the slide step approach with runners on base.
While Crawford remains the butt of many jokes, I for one have a strong conviction that he will be back solid in 2011.
Will he ever be worth $20 million per year? No, of course not. No man is.
Will he be a solid contributor to this Red Sox team? You bet.
If you've read any of my articles this winter, especially since the start of Spring Training, you are fully aware of my take on Daniel Bard.
He is not the starter the team is looking for.
I don't think his stuff has been as good as others have observed. Call it a gut feeling, but he does not pass my eyeball test.
His fastball has been working for him, but his slider and two-seamer appear vulnerable.
In my personal opinion, I feel that this experiment will end abruptly. It is a shame too, I genuinely wanted this move to work. Read through the 'ole Christopher Benvie archives, and you'll see it to be true.
However, I have to go by what is placed in front of me, and what I see is a man that is not suited to be an everyday starter.
I want him to prove me wrong. All signs however are showing that I may be correct. You can't argue his effectiveness as a starter, though a small sample size, looks shaky.
His six strikeouts in 12 2/3 innings is much lower than his career average K/9 of 9.7.
Lord knows Ben Cherington wants me to be wrong.
The good thing is that the team has a plethora of quality arms to make this thing work: Alfredo Aceves, Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla and Felix Doubront.
Of the three items listed, I truly believe this to be the least likely to happen.
Andrew Bailey has undeservingly won a reputation of being often injured.
I've heard that excuse get thrown around this spring and it is just not true. Bailey has appeared in 157 games for the Oakland A's in three seasons. Only one of which was shortened due to an abdominal strain (2010) where he still appeared in 47 games.
The other important thing to factor in, for those just looking at his save totals—Bailey was on a bad Athletics team.
From 2009 through 2011 they posted a 230-256 record. Bailey saved 75 of those games for them, or 33 percent.
In that same span, the Red Sox went 274-212. Papelbon saved 112 of those games, or 41 percent.
Yes, there is a spike in those percentages, but Papelbon had significantly more save opportunities than Bailey as well.
Sox fans forget that Bailey is a two-time All-Star in his three seasons, and was the 2009 American League Rookie of the Year.
In Pap's first (official) three years, he was an All-Star three times, but came in second in the 2006 AL Rookie of the Year race.
Bailey will be just fine in Boston.
The front office made an excellent move acquiring him and soon enough the Red Sox fans will forget all about Pap, so long as he keeps his foot out of his mouth regarding Boston fans.