Could the Current Boston Red Sox Lineup Compete?

Dave Grotz@@dgrotzBOSContributor IINovember 14, 2012

Could the Current Boston Red Sox Lineup Compete?

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    The Boston Red Sox currently enter the offseason with only $60 million in salary, which includes John Lackey (the team’s highest paid player), David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz and Jose Iglesias. After factoring in players in arbitration like Jacoby Ellsbury and Andrew Bailey, and other players whose contracts have not expired, like Scott Atchison and Felix Doubront, the Red Sox will likely still have a payroll of less than $100 million with its current roster.

    Only nine teams had a payroll greater than $100 million last year, and the Red Sox will be removed from that list, unless they make free-agent signings.

    But without making any free-agent signings, could the current roster compete?

    Take a look at the break down of the current starting pitching, relief pitching, outfield, infield and designated hitter options with a poll at the end.

Starting Pitching

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    For a rotation that ranked in the bottom of the American League in losses (72), ERA (5.19) and WHIP (1.42), not adding players would make very little sense for the Red Sox. However, the team did hire their former pitching coach as the new manager, John Farrell, who can help certain starters rediscover their past form.

    Lester and Buchholz are recent Cy Young candidates, and Doubront is just 25 years old and showed flashes of dominance in 2012. But then, there’s John Lackey who posted an undefeated record underwent Tommy John surgery in 2012 and will enter the 2013 season healthy, and Franklin Morales who pitched as an emergency starter during the influx of injuries to the starting rotation.

    Lester and Buchholz certainly pitched better in the past with Farrell as their pitching coach, and both will need to rebound after a disappointing 2012 season.

    Lester had the worst season of his career in 2012, posting a 9-14 record, 4.82 ERA, 1.38 WHIP and 166 strikeouts. However, as a full-time starting pitcher from 2008 to 2010 with Farrell as the Red Sox pitching coach, Lester averaged approximately a 17-8 record with a 3.29 ERA, 1.24 WHIP and 200.7 strikeouts per season.

    In an interview with ESPN Boston, Lester displayed his excitement to work with his old pitching coach again:

    It will be good to have a familiar face (Farrell) and know what to expect coming into spring training...Last year we didn’t know what to expect. I know John, and I’m excited to get back working with him.

    Last year, Buchholz also struggled without Farrell, posting an 11-8 record with a 4.56 ERA, 1.33 WHIP and .263 opposing average. In Farrell’s final year with Boston, Buchholz also had a tremendous season, posting a 17-7 record with a 2.33 ERA, 1.20 WHIP and .226 opposing average in 2010. Prior to that season, Buchholz never pitched a full season. This year, he’ll enter the season healthy with his old pitching coach again, who he once thrived with.

    Doubront will get his first full season pitching with the new manager. In 2010, Doubront pitched both as a starter and a reliever in his rookie season, posting a 4.32 ERA. Since then, the southpaw has a 4.94 ERA. Doubront started 2012 with a solid 9-4 record and an average 4.41 ERA, but after the all-star break, he had a 2-6 record with a 5.54 ERA.

    The Red Sox should count on Lester, Buchholz and Doubront for improvements in the 2013 season, but three won’t be enough to carry the rotation that includes Lackey and Morales. The team certainly needs another starting pitcher or two, so Morales can be effective again in middle-relief and Lackey does not have to be a full-time pitcher.

    In 2012, the current starters were terrible. In 2013, the current rotation could be better than average, if Lester and Buchholz can pitch like aces again.

Relief Pitching

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    The relief pitching will already be more improved than last year’s without even having to make a free-agent addition or trade this offseason.

    Andrew Bailey, who was the expected closer to replace Jonathan Papelbon, made only 19 appearances in 2012 because of injury. His stats were well below average in 2012, posting a 7.04 ERA and 1.89 WHIP, but this year he will enter the season fully healthy and ready to close out games. Before joining the Red Sox, he recorded a 3.24 ERA in 2011, 1.47 ERA in 2010 and 1.84 ERA in 2009 with the A’s.

    Since Bailey will take over as closer, Alfredo Aceves will move back to middle reliever, where he is much more dominant. In 33 save opportunity games last season, Aceves posted a 5.89 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. In 34 non-save opportunity games from Opening Day until Sept. 8, the reliever posted a 3.15 ERA and a 1.18 WHIP, while averaging exactly 9 K/9. In 2011, Aceves was also effective as a non-closer, and in 2013 he should regain his form not pitching as a full-time closer.

    Daniel Bard will hopefully be a major addition to the bullpen, as well. His experiment as a starter was a failure under Bobby Valentine, posting a 6.22 ERA and 1.74 WHIP last season. As a set up man in Farrell’s final year, the right-handed flamethrower posted an incredible 1.93 ERA and 1.00 WHIP in 2010.

    The Red Sox will also have Junichi Tazawa for a full season. Tazawa only made five appearances before the All-Star break, not allowing a run over 6.1 innings. In 32 relief appearances after the All-Star break, the 26-year-old posted an incredible 1.67 ERA and 0.98 WHIP over 37.2 innings. Over his last five appearances, Tazawa tossed a perfect 5.0 innings with four strikeouts.

    Several other relievers will likely return who finished the 2012 season on a strong note. Atchison posted career-bests in ERA (1.58 ERA) and WHIP (0.99 WHIP) in 2012. In September and October combined, Mark Melancon allowed just four hits and one run over 10.0 innings, Craig Breslow allowed just four hits and no runs over 9.0 innings, and Rich Hill allowed five hits and no runs over 6.0 innings. Aside from one terrible October appearance, Chris Carpenter posted a 1.59 ERA in September.

    Two final notable returning pitchers include Andrew Miller and Clayton Mortensen. Prior to the All-Star break, Miller had a 2.75 ERA and Mortensen had a 1.33 ERA.

    The Red Sox could add another reliever, but with its surplus of arms, including at least four lefties, the current bullpen should be competitive and one of the best in the league in 2013.


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    Ellsbury will likely return to the team as one of the elite center fielders in the league, unless he is traded this winter. Ellsbury was hurt most of last season, playing in just 74 games, but he finished second on the MVP ballot in 2011. That year, he hit .321 with 46 doublers, 32 HRs, 105 RBIs and 39 stolen bases. Look for numbers similar to those in Ellsbury’s contract year, especially with Scott Boras as his agent.

    However, after Ellsbury, the Red Sox only have several young, average corner outfielders.

    Ryan Kalish has great potential, but he’s been hurt, playing in only 36 games since his rookie year in 2010. Daniel Nava had some nice months with the Red Sox, but he finished the season with a .243 AVG and .379 SLG percent in 148 games in 2012. And then, Ryan Sweeney started his Red Sox campaign strong, hitting .373 with 11 doubles in April, but he finished the season with 19 doubles, no home runs and a .260 AVG.

    Unless one (or two) of the three fill ins has a break out season in 2013, the Red Sox enter next season with just an elite center fielder and average corner outfielders.


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    The Red Sox are set at three infield positions for this upcoming season, but with a void at one and questions at another.

    Third baseman Will Middlebrooks only played in 75 games last season, because he started in AAA and missed the end of the season with a wrist injury. However, he made the most of his short time in the MLB. Prior to the all-star break, he hit .298 and slugged .538 with 11 doubles, 10 homers and 37 RBIs in just 48 games.

    Iglesias was not able to perform at the plate in 2012, batting just .118 with a .200 OBP and .191 SLG percent, but he showed his incredible, highly-scouted defensive skills at shortstop. Both Pedroia and Ortiz have invited Iglesias to workout with them in the offseason to improve his hitting.

    If Iglesias wants to be a full-time shortstop he needs the hitting help, or as Ortiz pointed out, “if he likes money he will (accept the offer),” according to ESPN Boston.

    Again, the Red Sox will enter with one of the elite second basemen in the league, Pedroia, who can hit and field very well. The former Gold Glove and MVP Award winner hit .290 with 81 runs, 57 extra base hits, 65 RBIs and 20 stolen bases in 2012. With better protection behind him for a whole season, Pedroia could put up MVP numbers again at the plate.

    Unlike recent years, when the team had Kevin Youkilis and Adrian Gonzalez, the Red Sox will enter 2013 without an elite, or even an average, first baseman, unless they make a move. International League MVP Mauro Gomez is the only listed first baseman on the current roster. In his only MLB season, the 28-year-old hit .275 with two HRs and 17 RBIs in 37 games. He did hit .321 in July and .348 in August, but he hit just .217 in September as a full-time player, in place of Gonzalez.

    The Red Sox currently have three catchers: Jarrod Saltalamacchia, David Ross and Ryan Lavarnway. None of them are above-average catchers. Salty crushed a career high 25 homers and 59 RBIs in 2012, but he hit just .222 with a .288 OBP. Even worse, the team’s starting pitchers’ ERAs were worse with Salty behind the plate. As a backup in Atlanta, Ross hit .256 with a .321 OBP and .449 SLG percent, and showed similar power numbers to Salty’s, hitting nine HRs and 23 RBIs in just 62 games. And then, Lavarnway was the worst of the three, batting just .157 with a .211 OBP and .248 SLG percent.

    The Red Sox are set at third base and the middle of the infield, but they have a huge hole at first base and a dilemma at catcher.

Designated Hitter

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    The Red Sox will return one of the best designated hitters in the American League for the 2013 season.

    When healthy, Ortiz is even one of the best hitters in the game, last year hitting .318 with 23 HRs and 60 RBIs in just 90 games. Between 2010 and 2011, Ortiz averaged 37 doubles, 30.5 homers, 99 RBIs, and he dropped his strikeout total from 145 to 83.

    More importantly, Ortiz is both the team's veteran voice in the line up and arguably Red Sox Nation's more popular player. It would've crushed the team and fans to see the designated hitter bringing his clutch swing elsewhere.

    Ortiz is currently the best power hitter on the team, but he alone does not provide enough power for the team to compete in 2013. He needs a big bat to protect him in the lineup, or he will take more free passes in the upcoming season.

So, Could the Current Team Compete? (Poll)

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    Without adding any players this offseason, the current Red Sox still have a solid team, when everyone is healthy. However, I wouldn’t say they’d be any better than a .500 team.

    The starting pitching has great potential with the return of Farrell to work with Lester, Buchholz, Doubront and Lackey again, but last year it still ranked among the worst in the league.

    The relief pitching should be dominant, but it wouldn’t be surprising if the Red Sox added an arm of two.

    The outfield needs help at the corners. Ellsbury is a great option in center, but are Kalish, Nava or Sweeney solid every-day starters?

    Also, the infield is solid at three of five positions. Middlebrooks, Iglesias and Pedroia are the current and future faces of the infield, but Gomez should not be an MLB starter and the team has three average catchers.

    At least the team still has the face of the franchise with Ortiz.

    The Red Sox and GM Ben Cherington have $60-80 million in spending money this offseason after arbitration and returning players are resigned. He could use that money to add players, or keep the Red Sox payroll at under $100 million.

    Given the team’s current roster, what position(s) should be addressed, if you think the Red Sox need help?

    - One Starting Pitcher
    - Two Starting Pitchers
    - One Corner Outfielder
    - Two Corner Outfielders
    - First Base
    - Catcher
    - None, leave the team as is