Jon Lester and the Make-or-Break Players for the Boston Red Sox in 2013
Steve Janus of BetFirms.com had the Red Sox as one of the early favorites to win the 2012 World Series. Instead, the team went on to have its first losing record since 1997 and its worst season since 1965. To say fans were disappointed would be an understatement.
A lot went wrong for the Red Sox in 2012, including subpar performances by veteran staff ace Jon Lester and many others. It all came to a head in late August, when several of the team’s highest paid veterans were shipped to the Los Angeles Dodgers in a blockbuster trade in an effort to shake things up.
While the Red Sox have spent a lot of money and acquired a number of new players this offseason, there are no guarantees for 2013. WEEI’s Rob Bradford explains that some people have a hard time envisioning the team contending next season without having obtained any superstars.
The Red Sox's success next season will largely depend upon players who under-performed in 2012. In many ways, their play in 2013 will determine their future in Boston and the long-term direction of the team.
Click through to see 10 make-or-break players for the Red Sox in 2013.
Jon Lester: Starting Pitcher
Lester pitching like his former self would go a long way towards a successful 2013 Red Sox season.
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Any list of disappointing Red Sox players from 2012 has to start with Lester. The supposed staff ace threw 205.1 innings over 33 starts, but went just 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA and a career-high 25 home runs allowed.
Lester’s 2012 performance was quite a departure from his prior track record, as he averaged 16 wins, 17 home runs allowed and a 3.31 ERA in the previous four seasons.
ESPNBoston’s Gordon Edes detailed Lester’s struggles in an article written at the end of last season. Lester succinctly summed up his frustrations by telling Edes, “I’m glad it’s over.”
ESPNBoston’s Jackie MacMullan wrote that Boston decided not to trade Lester this offseason because the team believes he can be rejuvenated by new manager and former pitching coach John Farrell. The Red Sox will once again lean on the southpaw as their top starter in 2013.
Farrell already visited the left-handed pitcher at his Georgia home and, according to The Boston Globe's Nick Cafardo, came away impressed.
The Red Sox need an effective Lester to contend; making 2013 a truly pivotal year for the team and the pitcher.
Jacoby Ellsbury: Outfielder
An injured Ellsbury has been a common sight in Boston.
Ellsbury has personified Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde during his tenure with the Red Sox.
The left-handed hitting Ellsbury finished second in 2011 AL MVP voting, producing a .321 batting average, 32 home runs, 105 RBI and 39 stolen bases. Unfortunately, that is the only season he was healthy and produced such superstar numbers.
Ellsbury played in only 18 games in 2010 and 74 last season because of lingering injuries, hitting just .255 with four home runs and 21 steals.
Ellsbury will be a free agent following next season, and according to the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber, rumors have run rampant this offseason that he is a prime candidate to be traded.
The Red Sox have resisted trading Ellsbury thus far, as it’s not easy giving up on his tantalizing talent.
2013 will be a huge year for Ellsbury, as his play will largely determine if he is extended, traded or allowed to walk at the end of the season
John Lackey: Starting Pitcher
Red Sox fans have gotten fed up with Lackey during his time in Boston but might soften their stance if he pitches well in 2013.
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Despite the controversy, the biggest obstacles Lackey faces in 2013 are returning from Tommy John surgery and not having pitched since September, 2011. If he can come back and pitch effectively, it will go a long way towards repairing his reputation in Boston.
Since signing an $82.5 million free-agent deal with Boston prior to the 2010 season, Lackey has gone a combined 26-23 with a 5.26 ERA. The Red Sox would love to have the right-hander get closer to the 13 wins and 3.81 ERA he averaged per season during the eight years he spent with the Los Angeles Angels.
Lackey won’t need to do anything more than be an effective mid-rotation starter in 2013. Doing that may help salvage his tenure in Boston, which runs through 2015 thanks to his big contract.
Andrew Bailey: Reliever
Bailey had a rough first year in Boston.
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Bailey’s tenure as the Boston closer ended almost before it began, as the Red Sox just finalized a trade for Joel Hanrahan.
The right-handed Bailey pitched in just 19 games for Boston in 2012, going 1-1 with a 7.04 ERA and six saves. He missed over four months because of persistent injuries and was ineffective when he was able to pitch.
Boston manager John Farrell has already confirmed Hanrahan is the 2013 closer and that Bailey will assume a set-up role.
Unless he is traded, Bailey is under team control for at least the next two seasons. If he can remain healthy and pitch effectively, he will help redeem the trade that brought him to Boston in exchange for a package of players, including outfielder Josh Reddick, who became an All-Star in 2012.
Jose Iglesias: Shortstop
The slick-fielding Iglesias hasn't hit enough to stick in the majors.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
When the slick-fielding Cuban-born Iglesias signed a contract worth in excess of $14 million in 2009, Boston obviously thought he could be its shortstop of the future. Unfortunately, his standing in the organization has changed dramatically since then.
Since starting his pro career, Iglesias has played excellent defense but hasn't been able to hit a lick. He’s batted a powerless .264 in four minor league seasons, and combined to hit a measly .135 in 35 major league games.
Instead of handing the 2013 starting shortstop position to Iglesias, the Red Sox signed Stephen Drew to a one-year contract. This is presumably a bridge to highly regarded prospect Xander Bogaerts, who has surpassed Iglesias in the farm system.
The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo wrote that Iglesias’ future with the team is now very much in doubt. He’ll likely start the season at Triple-A and will need to prove he can hit before he is given any more extended major league playing time.
Alfredo Aceves: Reliever
The fiery Aceves can be a huge weapon to a pitching staff when he's on.
Rich Schultz/Getty Images
Aceves went from starting 2012 as one of the most reliable pitchers on the Red Sox staff to being suspended three games for conduct detrimental to the team.
As a long man out of the bullpen and spot starter, Aceves went 10-2 with a 2.61 ERA in 55 games in 2011. He was made the closer last season because of Bailey’s injury and struggled to a 2-10 record with 25 saves and a 5.36 ERA in 69 games.
Aceves’ struggles coincided with the return of Bailey and losing his job security. Over the final two months of the season, he had an 8.42 ERA and earned his suspension after an argument with manager Bobby Valentine about his role with the team.
It appears Aceves will return to the same role he had in 2011. If he can be more like that pitcher, he will erase any lingering bad taste fans might have about his disappointing 2012 performance.
Shane Victorino: Outfielder
Many were shocked by the large contract Victorino signed with the Red Sox.
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Victorino has yet to play a game in a Boston uniform but is already under as much scrutiny as the team’s returners.
Earlier this offseason, Victorino and the Red Sox agreed to a three-year, $39 million contract, which immediately drew criticism.
Yahoo!Sports’ Jeff Passan was incredulous about the deal, writing, “How a .255 hitter with a .704 OPS and a 1980 birth date merits two of the biggest offers of the offseason is a testament to his good-guy perception and the Powerball that is baseball.”
In addition to his age, the switch-hitting Victorino is fighting a perception that he can’t hit righties, as he posted a .229 batting average and .333 slugging percentage against them in 2012.
If Victorino doesn't come out and immediately start producing, he’ll be a likely target of Boston fans. April will be as much make-or-break for him as the entire 2013 season.
Ryan Kalish: Outfielder
Kalish has been long on promise and short on production during his Boston career.
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In 2009 the left-handed hitting Kalish hit a combined .277 with 18 home runs, 77 RBI and 21 stolen bases between two minor league levels. Such production whetted the appetite of Red Sox fans, who have been waiting to see it translated on the major league level ever since.
Kalish has appeared in 89 total games with the Red Sox in 2010 and 2012, hitting just a combined .243 with four home runs, 29 RBI and 13 steals. His inability to stay on the field has undoubtedly stunted his development.
The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham detailed how injuries caused Kalish to miss significant time during the past several seasons and derailed a once-promising career.
Still just 25 at the start of the 2013 season, Kalish won’t start for the Red Sox, but he will likely play a pivotal role off their bench. This may be his final chance to prove he can stay healthy, be a productive player and remain in Boston’s long-term plans.
Daniel Bard: Reliever
The 2012 season was a nightmare for Bard.
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After three very successful seasons as a setup man for the Red Sox, Bard was given a chance to start in 2012. It turned out to be a spectacular failure.
Between 2009 and 2011 Bard made 192 relief appearances, racking up a 2.88 ERA and 213 strikeouts in 197 innings.
Bard bombed after joining the starting rotation in 2012, going 5-6 with a 6.22 ERA, while struggling mightily with his control.
The Bard starting experiment is over, and the Red Sox just hope he can recover some of his former effectiveness. He will enter 2013 with no clearly defined role or roster spot but will find one if he starts mowing down batters again with his high-90s fastball.
NESN’s Didier Morais believes that Bard’s best chance of getting his mechanics back is being reunited with new Boston manager John Farrell, who was his pitching coach during his best seasons.
However, if he continues to struggle in 2013, Bard’s time in Boston could rapidly come to an end.
Ryan Lavarnway: Catcher
Lavarnway's reputation for poor defense has impeded his ability to get playing time in Boston.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
Lavarnway entered 2012 known for his bat and maligned for his glove. By the end of the season, everything was up in the air.
In 2011, the right-handed hitting Lavarnway batted a combined .285 with 34 home runs and 101 RBI between the minors and a brief stint with the Red Sox. Unfortunately, his defense wasn't as good, as ESPN.com’s Keith Law summed up in one of his Insider chats: "If I had any scout anywhere tell me he thought Lavarnway could catch in the big leagues, I would tell you that and would offer more optimism. I don't talk to every scout or every team, but so far, no one is buying him behind the plate."
Lavarnway hit .295 in 83 games at Triple-A last season but faltered horribly upon being summoned to Boston, hitting just .157 with two home runs and 12 RBI in 46 games. However, he was named the best defensive catcher in the International League, giving some hope that his glove was finally starting to catch up.
With Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ross ahead of him on the depth chart, Lavarnway may not currently have a clear path to the majors in 2013. However, if he does play, he must start producing on both sides of the ball to avoid being bypassed by more well-rounded prospects.
Statistics via BaseballReference