Boston Red Sox: Predicting the Opening Day Starters
New manager Bobby Valentine did not mesh with the clubhouse, culminating in a July players' meeting in which Red Sox players expressed their frustrations. The Red Sox traded Kevin Youkilis in June, and---in one of the largest trades in history---they sent Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Carl Crawford to the Dodgers for prospects.
These trades created opportunities for a roster makeover this season. The Opening Day roster for the Red Sox will look much different than last year's.
Designated Hitter: David Ortiz
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The face of the franchise, David Ortiz started 2012 on a tear, hitting .312 with 22 home runs and 57 RBI in the first half of the season. However, an injured Achilles tendon derailed his phenomenal season. Although Big Papi recently stated his injury is not fully healed, he hopes to be ready for Spring Training.
He will be ready for the regular season, and to provide pop in the third-spot in the Red Sox lineup. If the Red Sox are to have a bounce back season, Ortiz must resume his All-Star play.
Catcher: Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ross
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While Jarrod Saltalamacchia will start again at catcher for the Red Sox in 2013, it is likely he will have company behind the plate.
The Red Sox signed David Ross to a two-year deal recently, and it seems unlikely they spent six million dollars to have Ross sit on the bench. It is more likely that the Red Sox want him to compete with Saltalamacchia for playing time.
Salty was a bright spot for the Red Sox early last season, putting up big power numbers. However, he struggled in the second half of the season, batting .200 and struggling to hit for power as he had in the first half.
The Red Sox called up prospect Ryan Lavarnway to compete with Saltalamacchia, but he struggled to hit big league pitching, batting .157 and striking out 41 times in 153 at bats. The Red Sox will likely keep Lavarnway at Triple-A Pawtucket to develop him more, sticking with Ross and Salty at catcher.
First Base: Mike Morse
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After the Red Sox traded Adrian Gonzalez to the Dodgers, Mauro Gomez and James Loney formed a platoon at first base.
The Red Sox chose not to re-sign Loney this off-season, and while that is still a possibility, it seems more likely the Red Sox will look outside the organization for a first baseman.
The Red Sox had a three-year $39 million deal in place for Mike Napoli, but a hip condition has put that deal on hold. The Red Sox could still end up with Napoli at first base, but the sides have not worked out a deal in 38 days since the issue came up. Apart from Napoli, the free agent market for first basemen includes Carlos Lee and Aubrey Huff, among a few others. But the Red Sox best option may be through a trade.
NESN suggested today that the Red Sox could make a trade for Nationals first baseman, Mike Morse, considering the Nationals just signed Adam LaRoche to a two-year deal. Morse has been productive over the past few seasons, and he would be a valuable bat in the Red Sox lineup. The report speculates that an offer for Morse would need to include a left-handed reliever or prospects, but the deal would help to replace Gonzalez's production in the Red Sox lineup.
Second Base: Dustin Pedroia
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No surprises here. The heart and soul of the Red Sox, Dustin Pedroia, will be back at second base next season. Pedroia's stats from last season indicate he will make noise next season at the top of the infield in 2013.
Pedroia battled injuries early last season, and his stats in June and July dropped because of them. In his healthy months; however, Pedroia was phenomenal, sporting an average well over .300 and playing his heart out as the Red Sox sank in the standings.
Pedroia will lead the Red Sox in 2013, and he will do so with his phenomenal defense and bat.
Shortstop: Stephen Drew
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After sending Nick Punto to the Dodgers in the aforementioned mega-deal and Mike Aviles to the Blue Jays as compensation for John Farrell, the Red Sox signed former Athletics' shortstop Stephen Drew to a one-year deal.
Drew has battled injuries over the past few seasons, but he provided valuable contributions to the A's during last year's playoff push, batting .250 and heating up toward the end of the season. The Red Sox hope that Drew's hot bat will carry over into 2013, along with his rock solid defense. If Drew can overcome his injury history and produce for the Red Sox, he may secure a shortstop position that has been in flux since Nomar Garciaparra left the Red Sox in 2004.
Third Base: Will Middlebrooks
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A big piece of the Red Sox future, Will Middlebrooks replaced Kevin Youkilis at third base last season, and he showed why the Red Sox were able to part ways with Youk.
Middlebrooks hit 15 home runs, and batted .288 until he broke his wrist in August. Middlebrooks will be back and healthy in 2013, ready to provide power in the heart of the Red Sox lineup. If the Red Sox are to make a push back into contention this upcoming season, Middlebrooks must continue his stellar production from last season.
Left Field: Jonny Gomes
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In addition to sending Gonzalez to the Dodgers, the Red Sox also shipped Carl Crawford leaving a void in left field. The Red Sox signed Gomes to a two-year $10 million deal, and John Farrell recently stated that Gomes will have left field to himself to start the season.
Gomes played well for the Oakland Athletics last season, putting up solid power numbers while keeping his average around .250. Gomes also played well near the end of last season, batting .279 in September. Like his Athletics teammate Stephen Drew, the Red Sox hope that Gomes will continue to produce at a high level in 2013, providing power at a position that lacked it in 2012.
Center Field: Jacoby Ellsbury
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2011 was Jacoby Ellsbury's breakout season for the Boston Red Sox. He finished second in MVP voting to Justin Verlander, batting .321 with 32 home runs, 105 RBI and 39 stolen bases. Ellsbury was set to lead the Red Sox in the 2012 season, but injuries hampered Ellsbury's production.
Ellsbury is healthy heading into this season; however, and his motivation to produce is higher, considering he is in a contract year. Many speculate that the Red Sox will trade Ellsbury to help in the rebuilding process, but general manager Ben Cherrington has been adamant that he will keep Ellsbury for now.
Assuming Cherrington does not move Ellsbury before the season, he will bring his MVP-caliber five-tool play to the Red Sox lineup. His play this season will be a large determinant in the direction of the Red Sox season.
Right Field: Shane Victorino
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The last face in the Red Sox field is also a new face: Shane Victorino. Many thought the Red Sox would resign Cody Ross after his great season, but they elected to go in a different direction, signing Vicotrino to a three-year $39 million deal.
Many consider Victorino to be a positive clubhouse presence, and his veteran presence will compliment Boston's roster well. In addition, Victorino will provide a solid bat for the Red Sox. Although Victorino's production dropped off a bit toward the end of last season, he still batted .255 with 11 home runs.
A recent article argued that the Red Sox picked up Victorino, among others, because their swings are built for Fenway Park. Victorino projects to hit well at Fenway, and---considering the Red Sox were worse at Fenway last season (34-47) than away from Fenway (35-46)---that is a good sign for the Sox in 2013.
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Some of the Red Sox problems last season stemmed from pitching woes. The Red Sox ranked in the bottom third of the league in most pitching categories. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz had lackluster seasons and they will bounce back, but the Red Sox need another arm in the rotation. John Lackey missed last season after Tommy John surgery as well, but his return to the rotation does not fill it out. Former ace Josh Beckett went to Los Angeles in the mega-deal, and his departure left a hole in the rotation.
The Red Sox signed Ryan Dempster to add more firepower to the rotation. Dempster sported a 3.38 ERA last season and was considered a Cy Young candidate for Chicago early in the season. The Red Sox hope his addition will stabilize their rotation.
In addition to the four aforementioned pitchers, Felix Doubront will also contribute to the rotation. Doubront was streaky last season, but he is still young, and will hope to secure a spot in the Red Sox rotation for the foreseeable future with more consistent starts.
Therefore, the Red Sox rotation will likely look like this heading into Spring Training:
SP1: Ryan Dempster
SP2: Jon Lester
SP3: Clay Buchholz
SP4: John Lackey
SP5: Felix Doubront
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The Red Sox bullpen had a rough start to 2012, compiling an 8.64 ERA in April. However, the bullpen turned it around after April, sporting the best bullpen ERA from late April through May.
Although the bullpen had rough stretches during the rest of the season, there is reason to believe the Red Sox unit will be a strength heading into 2013. Andrew Miller, Junichi Tazawa, Andrew Bailey, Franklin Morales, Craig Breslow and Alfredo Aceves will all return to the bullpen this season.
However, the Red Sox acquired even more firepower for an already formidable bullpen, signing Koji Uehara from the Texas Rangers. Uehara was phenomenal for the Rangers last season, pitching for a 1.75 ERA and a ridiculous 0.64 WHIP. Uehara will be a solid set-up man for the Red Sox bullpen this-coming season.
In addition to acquiring Uehara, the Red Sox traded for Joel Hanrahan, the Pittsburgh Pirates closer. Hanrahan has made the All-Star team the past two seasons as a closer, and he saved 36 games with a 2.72 ERA last season.
Barring more moves, the Red Sox bullpen will look like this heading into Spring Training:
RP: Andrew Miller
RP: Junichi Tazawa
RP: Franklin Morales
RP: Craig Breslow
RP: Alfredo Aceves
SU: Andrew Bailey
SU: Koji Uehara
CL: Joel Hanrahan