5 Things the Red Sox Need to Do Before Spring Training Games Start
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
Spring training games begin in a week, and the Red Sox still have work to do.
Boston is likely finished adding star players and major coaching personnel, but the team still has several tasks to complete before the games start on Feb. 21.
The Red Sox don’t have to figure out their rotation just yet. After Lester and Buchholz, the third, fourth and fifth spots are fair game. The order of the bottom half of the rotation will be determined during spring training.
The Red Sox also don’t have to figure out the official batting order just yet. It will evolve throughout the first weeks and vary pending on the throwing arms of the opposing pitchers.
The team has five other, more important things to worry about before spring training games start.
Foster Competition at Shortstop
Jose Iglesias won't go down without a fight to regain his role as the team's starting shortstop.
Jeff Gross/Getty Images
The Red Sox starting lineup is set for each fielding position at the start of the season.
However, playing time at certain positions could be split and competed for after the first months of the year.
The Red Sox should foster competition at the shortstop position. If competition brings out the best of players, two Red Sox players need to thrive during it, in order to start with Boston or another team after 2013.
Jose Iglesias was expected to be the starting shortstop after the 2012 season. That was assumed until the Red Sox signed Stephen Drew to a one-year deal this offseason.
Neither player hit greater than .225 in 2012. Neither player started half of the 162 regular season games.
Both shortstops are above-average fielders, but neither have hit well in each of the last two seasons.
Drew is the more expensive and experienced player, who will likely be the starting shortstop in April.
However, Iglesias claims he had "the best offseason of my life", according to ESPN Boston.The 23-year-old focused on improving his hitting and needs to hit above the “Mendoza Line” in 2013 to become a full-time starting shortstop.
Both shortstops will be competing for starting time in 2013, and the Red Sox should foster the competition before spring training games start.
Foster Competition at Catcher
Could David Ross start more games than Jarrod Saltalamacchia in 2013?
Scott Cunningham/Getty Images
Three catchers will also be battling for playing time in 2013.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia started 95 games at catcher in 2012. He also posted career-high numbers in home runs (25) and slugging percentage (.454).
However, he hit just .222, posted a low .288 on-base percentage and struck out 139 times. Salty also recorded a catcher’s ERA of 4.84, threw out just 18 percent of base runners and allowed 80 stolen bases last season.
The Red Sox noticed his inability to throw out base runners and his poor CERA, so the team added defensive specialist David Ross this offseason.
Ross is a surprising player who will be a big impact for the Red Sox in 2013, but for his defense instead of his bat.
Since 2009, the veteran has thrown out 40 percent of base runners and has not recorded a catcher’s ERA greater than 4.00. Ross posted a 3.43 CERA in 2009, 3.15 CERA in 2010, 3.11 CERA in 2011 and 3.59 CERA in 2012.
Similar to how the Red Sox allocated playing time to both Jason Varitek and Saltalamacchia in 2011, the Red Sox could do the same with Ross and Salty in 2013. Like Ross, Varitek was the better defensive catcher, but he did not hit well late into his career.
However, Varitek was a great contributor for his pitch calling. Ross could be that asset behind the plate.
Ryan Lavarnway is the third catcher battling for playing time. He likely won’t start nearly as many games as Salty or Ross, but the team’s former top-tier prospect will be competing for playing time beyond 2013. Lavarnway needs to prove that he's the slugger Baseball America projected him to be.
Salty is in need of a great make-or-break year during his contract season. Ross is a new addition who will better help the starting rotation.
Manager John Farrell should foster the competition for starting time between the two catchers and figure out who will catch for certain starting pitchers.
Allocate Rest Time for Recently Injured Players
Clay Buchholz is the most recent Boston player to get injured.
Jared Wickerham/Getty Images
The Red Sox have been decimated by injuries in each of the last two seasons. The countless injuries to stars allowed regular minor league players to be regular starting major league players.
Farrell needs a plan to rest his rest his recently injured players to avoid this recurrence at the start of the season.
John Lackey missed all of the 2012 season to rest his throwing elbow after undergoing Tommy John surgery. Despite throwing live sessions at the end of the 2012 season, the Red Sox kept the $85 million signing sidelined for the final weeks.
Lackey should have a schedule in place for him to ease back into being a regular starting pitcher. The Red Sox need the recently struggling starter to bounce back for for the team to be a playoff contender.
Like with Lackey, the Red Sox also have to schedule David Ortiz’s starts sparingly.
Big Papi was arguably the team’s best hitter in 2012, but he played just 90 games before injuring his Achilles. He signed a two-year extension this offseason worth $26 to $30 million.
Ortiz, who enters his 10th season with the Boston Red Sox, is healthy and poised to be a major contributor again in Boston’s lineup.
Lastly, Clay Buchholz is the most recent key player to face injury issues. The team’s No. 2 pitcher strained his right hamstring during fielding drills, according to ESPN Boston.
Buchholz is pivotal for the Red Sox to make the playoffs and reclaim the throne in 2013.
Farrell and the Red Sox coaches need to carefully allocate Lackey's, Ortiz's and Buchholz's playing time before spring training starts, so they can be healthy for the start of the 2013 season.
Plan Playing Time for Top Prospects and Future Stars
Red Sox personnel and fans eagerly await Rubby De La Rosa's team debut.
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
In order to rest the healing stars, the Red Sox need to dish out playing time to its prospects.
Playing the prospects will also give the managers and fans an idea of who could be seeing playing time later on in 2013 or in future seasons.
Xander Bogaerts was ranked the No. 5 prospect in Keith Law’s list of Top 100 Prospects for 2013 on ESPN.com.
The 20-year-old is a "pretty special commodity", according to Law, for his impressive hitting. Bogaerts could even unseat Jose Iglesias as Boston’s starting shortstop in 2014 and beyond.
Jackie Bradley Jr. is another highly touted prospect who could be a full-time starter as soon as 2014. If Jacoby Ellsbury is traded or signs elsewhere during or after the 2013 season, Bradley Jr. will likely take his spot in center field.
The 23-year-old ranked No. 40 and is listed and is "a potential Gold Glove defender in center" by Law.
Two starting pitchers should be on display during spring training, as well.
Rubby De La Rosa is boldly regarded as the "next Pedro Martinez." It would certainly be special for the 22-year-old Dominican to be a three-time Cy Young winner and post an incredible .687 W-L% (219-100 record) with a career 2.93 ERA.
However, De La Rosa still has much to prove in this spring training alone, and many would love to see his Red Sox debut.
Lastly, Allen Webster is regarded as the team's most MLB-ready prospect, according to Law.
The No. 63 prospect on his list boasts a fastball that reaches 97 mph and has three "plus pitches." Along with De La Rosa, Webster is another pitcher who could fill in for one of the current Red Sox, starting pitchers barring an injury or disastrous season.
Bogaerts, Bradley Jr., De La Rosa and Webster are four of many young players Farrell should plan to display during the spring training games.
Put to Rest the Distractions
The Red Sox should bury all talk and memories of Bobby Valentine and the 2012 season.
The Red Sox have had enough distractions in each of the last two seasons.
Distractions have already leaked before spring training games even started this year too.
The 2011 collapse and departure of Terry Francona needs to be put to rest. Chicken and beer in the clubhouse was so two years ago.
Bobby Valentine and the disastrous 2012 season should be in the rear view mirror, as well. The team and its fans should no longer suffer and cringe every time the former manager's name is mentioned.
David Ortiz blamed the recent Red Sox struggles on Bobby V in an ESPN.com article, but he and the other players need to focus on the 2013 season alone and reestablish the team as formidable again.
In addition to the team’s recent struggles, the Red Sox need to silence recent rumors.
John Henry consistently denies rumors of his intentions to sell the team, according to The Boston Herald. Despite his team not making the playoffs in each of the last three seasons, the Red Sox are still a very valuable and marketable franchise.
Lastly, the popular franchise is facing drug-related issues. Following comments from former closer Jonathan Papelbon, the Red Sox are reviewing their use of Toradol, an anti-inflammatory drug, according to CBS Sports.
It's time for the Red Sox to move on from previous struggles and current allegations. Before spring training games start would be a great time to rid those distractions and focus on a bounce back 2013 season.
What do you think the Red Sox need to address before spring training games start? Feel free to leave your comments below.