Boston Red Sox Team Preview: Fantasy Baseball Gold Mine

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Boston Red Sox Team Preview: Fantasy Baseball Gold Mine

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RotoExperts Jeff Andriesse breaks down the Boston Red Sox

2008 in Review

It was a rather tumultuous year for the Red Sox on and off the field, culminating in an exciting American League Championship Series loss to Tampa Bay.

By that time, the Sox had traded longtime cleanup hitter extraordinaire Manny Ramirez (OF) for the less dramatic but more reliable Jason Bay (OF), a move that seemed to lift the cloud hovering over the clubhouse.

Boston wasn't as intimidating offensively, especially since David Ortiz (DH) had a sub-par season by his standards, thanks to a wrist injury. The lineup was balanced and deep, however, and breakout seasons by Dustin Pedroia (2B) and Kevin Youkilis (1B/3B) helped the Sox finish third in the majors in runs scored.

Injuries wreaked havoc throughout the year, as Ortiz, Mike Lowell (3B) and J.D. Drew (OF) missed significant time. The pitching staff remained one of the team's strengths. While ace Josh Beckett (SP) took a step back with 12 wins and a 4.03 ERA, a new one emerged, left-hander Jon Lester (SP), who turned out to be one of the season's biggest fantasy bargains. Lester was dominant with a 16-6 record, a 3.21 ERA and a much-improved 1.27 WHIP.

While many teams would kill for one ace, never mind two, the best statistics on the team came from Daisuke Matsuzaka (SP). His 18-3 record and 2.90 ERA more than made up for too many bouts of wildness. Veteran Tim Wakefield (SP) was serviceable, but the disappointment of the staff was prized right-hander Clay Buchholz (SP). He was drafted in many leagues with high expectations last year, yet struggled mightily to the tune of a 2-9 record and 6.75 ERA.

Jonathan Papelbon (RP) turned in another outstanding season as the team's closer, finishing with 41 saves, a 2.34 ERA, and 77 strikeouts in 69.1 innings.

2009 Boston Red Sox Fantasy Preview

THE BALLPARK:
Fenway Park remains a hitter's paradise, with the Green Monster looming like an oasis for free-swinging right-handed hitters, and a short foul pole in right field beckoning those on the left side of the plate. A player like Bay should thrive in this park in a full season, and most of the Red Sox hitters get a boost from the home environs.

Boston's pitching staff has done a remarkable job staying near the top of the league in ERA in recent years, but they do have a ton of talent to do so.

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THE MANAGER:
Terry Francona is one of those "player's managers" who likes to keep everything in-house. Some would call it letting his players walk all over him, but Francona has struck quite a balance in a very difficult position.

He commands the respect of his players, he has proved capable of handling waves of injuries, and he isn't afraid to get Matsuzaka out in the fifth inning somewhere between his third and 17th straight walk. Francona should be given credit for sticking with Pedroia two years ago when many wanted him replaced.

"Tito" will play the matchups and isn't afraid to use his bench. He should have a deep bullpen to work with and several new pieces in the starting rotation. It will be interesting how he uses the staff this year.

THE CHANGES:

  • KEY ADDITIONS: Brad Penny (SP), John Smoltz (SP), Takashi Saito (RP), Ramon Ramirez (RP), Josh Bard (C), Rocco Baldelli (OF)
  • KEY LOSSES: Coco Crisp (OF), Alex Cora (2B), Sean Casey (1B), Paul Byrd (SP), Mike Timlin (RP)

 

THE HITTERS:

Red Sox Hitters

Mixed League: Jacoby Ellsbury (OF) is potentially Boston's best fantasy option. He should lead off and flirt with 120 runs, 60 steals, and double-digit home runs atop this lineup. He even hit .295 against lefties last year, so there's no reason to worry about him not playing every day.

Pedroia won the MVP last year, and his high ranking among second basemen is deserved. A candidate for a 20-20 season who can also win a batting title and score 120 runs doesn't come along often at the position.

Youkilis made a great case for MVP himself, finishing with a .312 average, 29 homers and 115 RBI. That could be his ceiling, with maybe a slight increase across the board because he only played 145 games.

Rumors of Ortiz's demise are perhaps exaggerated slightly. He still managed 23 homers and 89 runs batted in in just 416 at-bats, but he is no longer an elite power hitter. If nothing else, he'll bounce back from an un-Ortiz-like .264 batting average.

Bay should enjoy another solid season, with the ability for 30 to 35 homers and 10 steals... Fantasy owners are understandably skittish about Lowell and Drew heading into the year, but they are both late-round mixed-league options because of their potential when healthy.

AL-Only: Boston brought back Jason Varitek (C), but certainly not because of his offense. Varitek's .220 batting average last year only begins to tell the story of how inept he was at the plate... It still remains to be seen how the shortstop battle will play out between Julio Lugo (SS) and Jed Lowrie (SS), limiting their values to AL-only formats.

Only in a League of Their Own: Rocco Baldelli (OF) appears to be a great fit as the team's fourth outfielder, but there are questions whether he can play every day should injuries strike (and they will strike Drew). Baldelli's strange neurological disorder seems to be under control, but we won't know for sure until he has to play regularly. He is probably best left alone in fantasy drafts until we know a lot more about his role and how he will handle it.

 THE PITCHERS:

Red Sox Pitchers

Mixed League: Boston has three no-brainer mixed-league starters, Beckett, Lester and Matsuzaka. All three have very high ceilings, and should help anchor any fantasy staff.

It's hard to imagine Beckett not improving, although the same can be said for Matsuzaka declining slightly. He was equal parts good and lucky in 2008... The No. 5 spot in the rotation will be interesting, and if Brad Penny (SP) is looking good this spring, he should be targeted... Keep in mind that John Smoltz (SP) will eventually get his shot to start once he joins the team in June (shoulder surgery)... Papelbon is one of the five best closers in fantasy.

AL-Only: Wakefield seems to annually bounce back and forth between rosters and free agent lists in mixed leagues. He is probably just a monoleague option this year, especially if Boston's retreads, Penny and Smoltz, both pan out.

The pressure is off Buchholz, so perhaps he can settle down and harness his outstanding stuff. The circumstances have to really be in his favor for him to have a major impact this year.

Boston's bullpen after Papelbon is strong and deep. While it is difficult to gauge how well newcomers Takashi Saito (RP) and Ramon Ramirez (RP) will perform, the primary setup man should continue to be the effective and reliable Hideki Okajima (RP)... Righthander Justin Masterson (RP) proved to be a sturdy relief option in 2008. He could be a solid AL-only reliever once again.

THE BATTLE BREAKDOWN:
It remains unclear who will man the shortstop position for the Red Sox in 2009. Chances are Jed Lowrie (SS) and Julio Lugo (SS) will be in some sort of platoon. Lugo has not lived up to his contract and the team would like to unload him. Lowrie performed admirably last year in real life, if not in fantasy. If there is any sort of platoon here, the fantasy values of both are extremely limited.

When Smoltz returns in June, it will be curious to see how the starting rotation shapes up. Penny has an opportunity to pin down a spot if he can get off to a good start. Neither player elicits much confidence due to their ages and injury concerns. Wakefield's No. 4 spot is probably safe, although it would be foolish to totally count out Buchholz making a bid for a starting spot at some point during the season.

THE INJURIES:
Lowell's recovery from a torn hip labrum is something to keep an eye on this spring. He had surgery to repair it, but at his advancing age he is no sure thing to get back to where he was a few years ago. Prepare for Francona to rest Lowell often this season... Beckett suffered through a myriad of injuries last year, but should be good to go.

Ortiz is battling seemingly never-ending wrist and shoulder injuries, and you have to wonder if his power has been sapped. We're taking reports of his improved fitness this spring with a grain of salt... Smoltz is out until June recovering from shoulder surgery... Penny claims he is 100 percent after spending much of last season on the DL... Name the injury; Drew either had it or is planning on taking it for a test drive.

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THE DEEP SLEEPER: It's hard to call any Red Sox player a sleeper, but we'll take a stab at it. Keep a watchful eye on Triple-A catcher George Kottaras (C). With an aging Varitek, backed up by Josh Bard (C), this position is volatile. A Varitek injury will likely vault Kottaras to the bigs, as will another Bard implosion while trying to pin down Wakefield's knuckleball. Kottaras isn't a primo prospect, but he did hit 22 homers in 395 at-bats last season in Triple-A.

FANTASY PROSPECT TO WATCH FOR IN 2009: The Red Sox have what appears to be a very deep pitching staff, but there are a ton of question marks littered throughout. If any pitchers are going to make the leap from the minors this season, the best of the lot are Michael Bowden (SP) and Junichi Tazawa (SP).

Bowden is a solid prospect who went 9-4 with a 2.33 ERA and good peripherals last year at Double-A. Tazawa is just 22 but has a wide array of above-average pitches. The Sox will develop him gradually, but he might end up being too good to keep down for long.

LONG-TERM FANTASY PROSPECT WATCH: Lars Anderson (1B) is the top hitting prospect in the organization. On top of his cool name, he projects to hit for both average and power, and should slide into the lineup as early as 2010 with Youkilis moving over to third.

Anderson hit .317 between Single and Double-A ball last year with 18 homers in 439 at bats and showed good plate discipline. It's doubtful he makes an impact at the big-league level in 2009, but keeper league owners should make him a priority.

BIG FAT CLAIM: Josh Beckett keeps up his tradition of dominating every other year and has a Cy Young-caliber season.

Jeff Andriesse is a life-long Red Sox fan who is angry that he lives 10 minutes from Fenway Park, yet could buy a ticket to any other ballpark in the U.S. with much greater ease. If you have thoughts on the Red Sox this season, or access to any decent seats, e-mail him at jeff@rotoexperts.com

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