Daniel Bard stands on uneven ground heading into spring training.
This year, spring training for the Boston Red Sox will be equal parts fresh start and same old, same old.
There should be a different mood at Red Sox camp than there was in 2012, when the bad vibes of the 2011 season were still prevalent. The Red Sox have a new manager and new players who weren't around for the club's lost season in 2012, so it should be easier for everyone to look forward rather than back.
Beyond that, it's going to be business as usual. The established players will be looking to get their reps in before Opening Day, and the not-so-established players will be looking to prove they belong.
As there will be at every other camp across baseball, there will be players with much to gain and much to lose at Red Sox camp. Here's a look at eight guys in particular to keep an eye on.
Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com unless otherwise noted.
Offensively, Ryan Lavarnway is ready for the big leagues. He struggled at the plate in the 46 games he played in last season, but he owns an .882 OPS and has hit 85 home runs in five minor league seasons.
As much as the Red Sox would love to find a place for Lavarnway's bat on the big league roster, there's no clear place for him. He can't be the club's DH because that's David Ortiz's job, and he can't catch because the Red Sox have Jarrod Saltalamacchia and David Ross.
However, Lavarnway could convince the Red Sox to shake of their depth chart, either right away or down the road, if he impresses them with both his offense and his defense during spring training.
The Red Sox already know that Lavarnway can hit, but he'll open some eyes if he shows that he's improved defensively behind the plate since they last saw him. If he looks like an everyday catcher all of a sudden, the Red Sox could trade Saltalamacchia to a catcher-needy club to clear the way for Lavarnway.
If that doesn't pan out, Lavarnway could at least put himself first in line to take over DH duties in case Ortiz goes down with an injury again. And given Big Papi's age, it's a fair bet that he will get hurt at some point during the season.
It looked for a while there like Jose Iglesias was finally going to be Boston's starting shortstop in 2013, but that ship sailed as soon as the Red Sox signed Stephen Drew.
The Red Sox sent a message to Iglesias with the Drew signing that they don't trust his bat as far as they can throw it, and who can blame them? Iglesias is a terrific fielder, but he managed just a .391 OPS in a 25-game sample size at the big league level in 2012. He owns a .626 OPS for his career in the minors.
There's virtually no hope of Iglesias breaking camp with the Red Sox so long as Drew is healthy, as he doesn't have the versatility to challenge Pedro Ciriaco for a bench role. To boot, he'll have to show improvement at the plate just to stay on the big club's radar.
If Iglesias hits, he'll be first in line to replace Drew at short during the regular season if he gets hurt. If he doesn't give the Red Sox some offense to remember him by, they may just allow Ciriaco to play short if Drew goes down.
Things have also gotten to a point where Iglesias has to worry about the Red Sox favoring top prospect Xander Bogaerts over him on the organizational depth chart. Bogaerts had a very strong season in 2012, and he actually performed better at Double-A than he did at Single-A.
If Bogaerts continues to make progress and Iglesias continues to struggle to hit, his chance of making an impact with the Red Sox could pass him by for good.
The Red Sox desperately needed to shore up their depth at first base, and they've done so by agreeing to bring Lyle Overbay aboard on a minor league deal.
Overbay managed just a .727 OPS in 2012, but he was a solid producer for the Arizona Diamondbacks before his season came to a disastrous end as a member of the Atlanta Braves. In 45 games with Arizona, he posted a respectable .815 OPS.
Overbay has nothing to lose in giving the Red Sox a shot, as Scott Lauber of the Boston Herald says he can opt out of his deal if he isn't on the big league roster at the end of spring training. There's a good chance that he will break camp with the big club, however.
The Red Sox could come to view Overbay as a left-handed platoon partner for Mike Napoli at first base. It bodes well for Overbay that he has a career .821 OPS against right-handed pitchers, and he's also tended to be a solid defensive first baseman. He could therefore be used as a late-inning defensive replacement for Napoli, who is definitely not one of the league's better defenders at first.
All Overbay has to do is hit a bit and flash some leather, and he'll be in line to head north at the end of March.
Remember Daniel Bard? He's the guy who was awesome before 2012 came along.
This year, the pressure's on Bard to make the Red Sox remember how good he was, and he understands that he has to put on a show at spring training.
"I know I have a lot to prove coming into spring training, and I'm getting ready for that," he told Rob Bradford of WEEI.com. "Obviously my goal is to get back to the role I held for two or three years, setting up or better. Whatever I earn, that's my goal."
Based on these comments, Bard obviously feels he has much to gain. In reality, he has more to lose than he does to gain at spring training.
Bard won't really be trying to pitch his way into a prominent setup role. First he has to worry about pitching his way into Boston's bullpen, which is as crowded as can be. And to do that, he has to show that he's put his 2012 struggles behind him.
That's a matter of him showing off the velocity he used to have, and he also needs to prove that going through such a rough season hasn't permanently rattled his confidence.
If there are any slip-ups, the Red Sox could decide that Bard is better off starting the season in Triple-A. If spring training is a complete disaster for Bard from the get-go, the Red Sox may label him as a lost cause and move on.
Ryan Sweeney probably has Ryan Kalish's latest shoulder surgery to thank for his getting a second chance with the Red Sox, but he'll take it.
Sweeney will be looking to put a rough end to his 2012 season behind him in spring training. The last time the Red Sox saw him, he was mired in a bad slump and then had his season end when he hurt his hand by punching a door.
However, there is a golden opportunity lying in front of Sweeney. He'll be in a competition with Daniel Nava to be Boston's fourth outfielder, and he has a leg up in that competition for two reasons.
One: Alex Speier of WEEI.com pointed out that Nava has options left, while Sweeney's minor league deal with the Red Sox has an opt-out clause like Overbay's. If they want him, they have to break camp with him.
Two: Sweeney is a truer fourth outfielder than Nava. He can play all three outfield spots, and he can play them very well. In the eyes of both Ultimate Zone Rating and Defensive Runs Saved, Sweeney is an above-average defensive outfielder (see FanGraphs).
If Sweeney flashes his usual leather and shows off his line-drive swing at the plate during spring training, he should start the 2013 season on Boston's bench.
Not too long ago, Daniel Nava looked like a lock to break camp with the Red Sox as a solid switch-hitting utility player.
Now that doesn't look like the case. Boston's decision to re-sign Sweeney is going to make it hard for Nava to earn his way onto the roster as a fourth outfielder, and the club's decision to sign Overbay is going to make it extremely hard for him to prove he can cut it as a backup first baseman.
The Red Sox may not bother testing Nava out at first base now that they have Overbay, which will leave him competing with Sweeney for an outfield job. There's certainly a chance that he'll win the job, as the Red Sox may decide they want his bat even if he wouldn't be able to play center in a pinch.
If Nava doesn't make the cut as Boston's fourth outfielder, he'll start the season in the minors and may soon find himself buried on the depth chart. The Red Sox have two top outfield prospects in Bryce Brentz and Jackie Bradley Jr. who are quickly progressing towards major league readiness, and Speier pointed out in his article that Alex Hassan is a solid player as well. He's also already on Boston's 40-man roster.
Nava has been a nice story for the Red Sox over the last couple years, but it's clear that he hasn't done anything to convince the Red Sox that he belongs in the major leagues.
It's hard to tell exactly what role Franklin Morales is going to play on the Red Sox in 2013, but we know what role he's going to play in spring training.
Peter Abraham of The Boston Globe reported in December that Morales has been told that he'll be a starter this spring. The Red Sox mean to put him first in line to grab a rotation spot if one opens up.
Most of Morales' appearances in 2012 were as a reliever, but he showed some promise in his nine starts. He had a decent 4.14 ERA and held opposing hitters to a .225 batting average. His numbers would have been even better had it not been for two brutal starts at the very end of the season.
If Morales pitches more or less the same way he did in his starts in 2012 during the spring season, his place in Boston's rotation depth chart won't be compromised. He'll still be first in line to start in the event of an injury.
However, there's a sliver of a chance Morales will be put in a better position than that. If he pitches even better this spring than he did in his starts last year, the Red Sox will have to seriously putting him in their rotation right away.
Especially if someone else is struggling, of course...
If there's a pitcher in Boston's starting rotation who's in danger of falling out of the mix, it's Felix Doubront.
Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz certainly aren't at risk. The Red Sox won't be dumping Ryan Dempster from their rotation after agreeing to pay him $26.5 million. No matter how terrible he might be, John Lackey won't be going anywhere either.
That leaves Doubront as the potential odd man out, so he'll have to pitch well this spring to hold on to his spot in Boston's rotation.
It shouldn't be taken as a given that Doubront will pitch well. His rookie season got off to a strong start, but he experienced a rough finish. Over his final 16 starts, Doubront posted a 5.44 ERA and surrendered an .811 OPS.
The Red Sox could swap Doubront out for Morales if he pitches well while Doubront struggles. Even if the Red Sox decide to move forward with Doubront anyway, he'd surely be on a short leash for the first few weeks of the season.
The Red Sox made a lot of upgrades this winter, but their starting pitching could be just as much of an adventure as it was in 2012. Buckle up.
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