Boston fans have a lot to look forward to this spring training.
With so much happening this offseason, there’s a lot for fans of the Boston Red Sox to look forward to this spring training. Fortunately, Boston’s pitchers and catchers are due to report on February 10, meaning the 2013 baseball season is right around the corner.
The 2012 Red Sox were a total mess, losing 93 games and enduring a storm of drama that always seemed to focus on former manager Bobby Valentine.
Boston moved quickly once the season was over, firing Valentine and making a number of acquisitions to shore up its roster in an attempt to contend this year.
While the Red Sox didn’t sign any of the bigger ticket free agents, WEEI’s Alex Speier reported that the team’s 2013 payroll clocks in at approximately $162 million, just $17 million under the luxury tax threshold.
No one really knows what the 2013 version of the Red Sox will be, but it can't be worse. If they rebuild the front-end pitching, they can come close to winning as many games as they did in '11, and if this winter's signings change the clubhouse and offensive cultures and transition to the next generation, the bridge will be a road well taken.
With the first regular season game nearly two months away, anything is possible and fans can dream big about potential, as the team plays its slate of spring games.
Click through to see what Boston fans have to look forward to most in spring training.
Farrell will have a lot of pressure to produce a successful season after last year's debacle.
After the debacle of the Valentine era, the importance of bringing in the right fit as manager became even more important.
John Farrell was Boston’s top target from the start of its search. He spent four seasons as the team’s pitching coach under Terry Francona before leaving to manage the Toronto Blue Jays following the 2010 season.
He was signed to a three-year deal after the Red Sox agreed to send shortstop Mike Aviles to Toronto as compensation.
Farrell was underwhelming as a manager during his two seasons in Toronto that produced a combined record of 154-170.
Despite the lackluster track record, the Red Sox are confident they got the right man for the job, as The Boston Globe’s Peter Abraham reported. Boston general manager Ben Cherington gushed about Farrell’s qualifications, saying “I have known him in various capacities throughout my career, and I hold him in the highest regard as a baseball man and as a person.”
According to the Boston Herald’s Michael Silverman, one of Farrell’s best attributes is his ability to command respect and lead a clubhouse—something that was absent in Boston in 2012.
Spring training will give the front office and fans a chance to see if Farrell can regain control of the team and prove that he was the right choice as new manager.
Lackey has done nothing but disappoint since coming to Boston.
There were big expectations for John Lackey in Boston when he signed a five-year, $82.5 million free-agent contract prior to the 2010 season. Unfortunately, the results so far have been an unqualified disaster.
Lackey was 102-71 with a 3.81 ERA in eight seasons with the Angels before joining Boston. He has been unable to sustain that production, going a combined 26-23 with a 5.26 ERA in 2010 and 2011, before missing all of 2012 because of Tommy John surgery.
In addition to the disappointing numbers, Lackey became an unlikable lightning rod of criticism in Boston.
In 2011, his divorce proceedings with his cancer-stricken wife became a much-maligned public news story.
That same year, The Boston Globe’s Bob Hohler reported that Lackey was a central figure in clubhouse dissension, including participating with other pitchers in consuming fried chicken and beer during games.
Now, more than a year after last pitching in a major league game, Lackey will look to redeem himself.
WEEI’s Alex Speier recently wrote that new manager John Farrell visited Lackey and came away impressed. The skipper announced on WEEI’s Red Sox Hot Stove Show that “I think he has a chance to have as big an impact on our club as anyone on our roster.”
The surgery provided Lackey with what may have been a much-needed break from the spotlight. If he can return and pitch well, his past indiscretions may be rapidly forgiven or at least forgotten.
David Ortiz was one of many players derailed by injury in 2012.
In addition to Lackey, the Red Sox had a number of other players who lost significant time because of injury, disappointing production or, in some cases, a combination of both.
Spring training should help reveal who among those players are primed to re-emerge.
Right-handed pitcher Daniel Bard struggled so mightily with a conversion to starting that it ultimately drove him back to the minors. Although he enters the season without a spot on the major league roster, John Farrell recently watched him throw and came away very impressed, according to The Boston Globe’s Nick Cafardo.
Center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury appeared in just 74 games last year because of a shoulder injury and contributed just a .682 OPS when he did play. He will be a free agent after the season and has missed significant time in two of the past three years, so he has extra incentive to produce this year.
David Ortiz missed nearly half of last season with an injured heel. The 37-year-old designated hitter will look to build upon the .316 batting average and 1.026 OPS he had last year before being sidelined.
Rookie third baseman Will Middlebrooks hit .288 with 15 home runs and 54 RBI in 75 games before breaking his wrist in August and missing the rest of the season. His return to form could be extremely important to the Red Sox, who were 43-32 when he played last season—and 26-61 when he didn’t.
Left-handed starter Jon Lester had the worst season of his career last year with a 9-14 record and 4.82 ERA. His return to being the pitcher who won a total of 65 games between 2008 and 2011 could go a long way in keeping Boston in contention.
Outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. is one of a number of prospects who are nearly ready for the major leagues.
Despite the large payroll, the Red Sox also have a number of young prospects who are on the verge of being ready for the majors.
The Boston Globe’s Craig Forde wrote that right-handed pitcher Allen Webster has been favorably compared to Derek Lowe, but looks like he could possibly be even better.
Rubby De La Rosa, another right-hander, is nearly ready for the majors and learned his changeup directly from Red Sox legend Pedro Martinez, according to ESPNBoston’s Gordon Edes. The youngster will continue to work with Martinez, who just rejoined Boston as a special assistant.
The Providence Journal’s Tim Britton described outfielder Jackie Bradley Jr. as “the face of the Red Sox’s future.” The well-rounded prospect could possibly replace center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who is just one year away from free agency.
Shortstop Xander Bogaerts is the team’s best prospect and was recently named as the 20th-best prospect in baseball, according to MLB.com’s top 100 prospect list. He will look to build on a 2012 season that saw him reach Double-A and hit .307 with 20 home runs.
These prospects should all get extensive playing time this spring. Playing well would give a glimpse of the future and possibly set the tone for them to play in Boston before the upcoming season is over.
Gomes is known as one of the best teammates in baseball.
Team chemistry was believed to be a major issue for the Red Sox for at least the past couple of years.
Former manager Terry Francona recently wrote a book about the tumultuous end of his tenure in Boston. MLB.com’s Ian Browne highlighted some of those lowlights, including players drinking during games and disrespectful treatment of the skipper.
Yahoo!Sports’ Jeff Passan detailed how the players loathed former manager Bobby Valentine so much that they played childish pranks and undermined him at every turn.
To address the toxic clubhouse environment, the Red Sox spent approximately $120 million this season to upgrade their roster with a number of new players.
Key additions included first baseman Mike Napoli, shortstop Stephen Drew, outfielders Shane Victorino and Jonny Gomes, closer Joel Hanrahan and starting pitcher Ryan Dempster.
One thing the new additions have in common is their reputation as good clubhouse guys.
Gomes could be the player who’ll play the most important role in restoring a positive team identity. Not only has he often been lauded for his virtues as a good teammate, but he recently told the Boston Herald’s Scott Lauber that he considers himself to be “the grease that runs the machine” when it comes to his presence on a team.
It should be almost immediately obvious in spring training if the Red Sox were able to build a better clubhouse environment this offseason. If they were, it could mean more wins and satisfied fans, making it a truly successful chemistry experiment.
Statistics via BaseballReference