This series will evaluate one team per day, starting on January 23, 2013, and ending on February 22, 2013 (the first game of spring training). It is based on last season's performance, offseason changes since and the author's outlook for the team in 2013. Please keep in mind that rosters can, and will, change before Opening Day. We start in the AL East and go in ABC order; next up, the Boston Red Sox.
2012 finish: 69-93 (5th place, AL East)
RHP Ryan Dempster, RHP Koji Uehara, RHP Joel Hanrahan, OF Jonny Gomes, OF Shane Victorino, C David Ross, C/1B Mike Napoli, SS Stephen Drew
RHP Daisuke Matsuzaka, RHP Aaron Cook, RHP Vicente Padilla, RHP Mark Melancon, OF Ryan Sweeney, OF Cody Ross, 1B James Loney, 3B Danny Valencia
Why they will improve this year
Look, last year was an absolute disaster for the Red Sox. A lot of their big-name investments (i.e., Carl Crawford, Andrew Bailey) didn't pan out, and they suffered through a rash of injuries to their key players. Around August, they decided to clean house, sending Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Nick Punto and Josh Beckett to Los Angeles in return for a handful of prospects and Loney.
It's never safe to assume that a team will stay healthy, but it can't get much worse for the Sox, who saw Crawford, Bailey, Sweeney, David Ortiz, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Clay Buchholz and even Kevin Youkilis, before he was traded away, go down with at least a couple weeks of DL time each.
The rotation is better than a lot of people think, headed by former 19-game winner Jon Lester, Buchholz and a full season of Dempster. Though Dempster showed that he might struggle in the American League, he's still a guy who set the ERA standard for a while in 2012.
I fully expect Lester to bounce back from an uncharacteristically bad season and a steady improvement from Felix Doubront. Boston upgraded at shortstop, first base, right field and closer. And if they get a mostly healthy season from their star hitters (Pedroia, Ortiz, Ellsbury), they will be a force again. Also, don't sleep on the acquisition of Ross behind the plate.
Why they will regress
Let me start with a disclaimer: I do not expect the Red Sox to win less than 70 games again. But, even with John Farrell replacing Bobby Valentine as skipper, the new atmosphere might not be enough to take care of Boston's troubles.
The first, most obvious reason to me is that the players I listed who need to stay healthy this season never stay healthy. We've seen Ortiz, Ellsbury and Pedroia all go down multiple times in recent years with various ailments. I'm playing the odds here, but I think at least two of them miss significant time again in 2013.
Signing Gomes to play left field won't nearly make up for the loss of Cody Ross, who wound up with a nice contract in Arizona. And though Drew has high potential at shortstop, he's never really been someone you can lean on for offensive production.
Will Middlebrooks at third base is young and could hit the Jason Heyward-Eric Hosmer year-two wall, which is problematic because Middlebrooks was never as good as those two. And lastly, it doesn't matter who is pitching because the offenses in that division will churn out runs—the issue is, do the Sox really have firepower in their lineup to match up with New York or Toronto?
The outlook for 2013
It's a tough call on the BoSox for me. Before last season, I announced with authority that they would squeeze into the playoffs. Obviously, that backfired. But I feel myself falling for the same trap again and becoming very interested in the new-look lineup and the quietly brilliant pitching additions.
While I love that the front office went a different direction and avoided pursuing the biggest, most injury-prone pitchers on the market, I'm worried that Lester might really have just regressed that much. Similarly, it's a tossup with Doubront, who possess fantastic upside but no more than minor success to speak of yet.
But, as I wrote above, pitching is secondary in the AL East (unless you play in Tampa Bay). It's counterintuitive to think so, but it would take a rotation full of David Price's or C.C. Sabathia's to shut down most lineups in the division, let alone in the rest of the American League. So, here's where it gets tricky for me: Is an aging Big Papi, overrated Mike Napoli and presumably healthy Ellsbury and Pedroia really going to be enough?
It's the opinion of this writer that the Red Sox will see improvement in 2013. How much improvement is largely dependent on the health of most of their star players. Assuming the best, I believe the Sox can improve all the way to the high 80s in wins, which should put them within a few games of wild-card contention.
At worst, the BoSox suffer through another injury-riddled year, complete with underperformances from Napoli and Victorino, topped off by a very pedestrian starting pitching staff and a natural regression from Middlebrooks. The nightmare would be 70 wins. I think 77 is more likely.
Potential changes before Opening Day
UPDATE: Lyle Overbay has signed a minor league deal with the BoSox, giving them a little pop from the left side. If Loney struggles at first base, or Ortiz gets hurt at DH, the Sox could be seeing a hefty dose of Overbay in 2013.
There isn't a ton of action in the rumor mill for Boston right now, but word is that they are looking at potentially trading Jarrod Saltalamacchia, according to The Boston Globes' Nick Cafardo (h/t MLBTradeRumors.com), given their plethora at catcher. It would make sense, especially if they landed a left-handed hitting outfielder who can play first base.
Maybe a trade with the always-active Mariners for Justin Smoak or Michael Saunders could be worked out. And never count a team like the Dodgers out since they are relying on a rookie catcher to back up A.J. Ellis and have an itchy trigger finger on the trade market.
In the same vein, some, like MLB.com's Tom Singer, think the Pirates could be a good trading partner for Boston because they are willing to part with slugging lefty Garrett Jones for the right price. It's unlikely that both moves would be made, but if the Sox were able to acquire any one of the three hitters, it would give me hope that the offense had a little more depth, possibly earning them a few more wins if managed correctly.
Biggest surprise: David Ross
Biggest disappointment: Stephen Drew
Bold prediction: Doubront isn't the best young starter in Boston this year; it's Rubby De La Rosa.
1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF
2. Shane Victorino, RF
3. Dustin Pedroia, 2B
4. David Ortiz, DH
5. Mike Napoli, 1B
6. Will Middlebrooks, 3B
7. Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C
8. Jonny Gomes, LF
9. Stephen Drew, SS
2013 Red Sox Season Outlook?
1. Jon Lester, LHP
2. Clay Buchholz, RHP
3. Ryan Dempster, RHP
4. Felix Doubront, LHP
5. Jon Lackey, RHP
Projected finish: 76-86, 5th place
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You can follow Jeremy on Twitter @Jamblinman.