Well folks, it's that time of year again. Regardless of what that groundhog said, spring has sprung. MLB teams have reported to their Spring Training venues in Florida and Arizona and rosters are beginning to take shape and it is time to start making predictions.
Fort Myers, Fla. is abuzz with Red Sox fans both young and old. With so many new faces in addition to most of the core from last year, it is going to be a fun spring. Here are some things to think about as the Sox break camp this year:
—Is David Ortiz going to come back as the David Ortiz we used to know? Probably not. However, he has lost at least 15 pounds this offseason and has voiced his opinion on doing his best to silence his critics that he felt gave up on him too soon last season.
It will be interesting to follow his progress. Look for a .250-.270 batting average with 25-35 HRs and 85-105 RBIs. Not the Ortiz of old, but he should have the stamina and ability to play most of the season. He'll get a rest here and there when Jason Varitek catches and Victor Martinez is the DH.
—With Daisuke Matsuzaka, Tim Wakefield, and Clay Buchholz all competing for only two spots, how will Terry Francona deal with telling one of them that they can't start? This is going to be an interesting scenario to follow.
Wakefield has said that he feels he deserves to be in the starting rotation, and who can blame him? Buchholz voiced his discontent on playing in the minors last year before he had any real time in the big leagues under his belt. Matsuzaka is making over $8.5 million a year, which is a lot to have sitting in the bullpen just in case there is a need for a long reliever.
—What is going to happen to Mike Lowell? Is he going to stay and be a situational guy, or is somebody going to take a risk on him? This is going to be the situation that people are going to be following the most throughout the spring or however long it takes to play out.
It will be tough to trade him, both because of his injury and because he has been nothing but a model citizen ever since coming to Boston in the Josh Beckett trade. With that said, Lowell will still get plenty of playing time this spring in order to, hopefully, prove to teams around the MLB that he is healthy enough to last through the season.
Unfortunately, the Red Sox haven't left themselves or Lowell with much of a choice but to ship him somewhere. If anybody does decide to take the plunge and trade for him, the Sox will inevitably have to eat up most of his $12 million contract to complete the deal.
With all of that said, everything else seems to be falling into place quite nicely. There is a Gold Glove caliber player at first, second, and third base in Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, and Adrian Beltre, respectively. Centerfielder Mike Cameron is always a contender for a Gold Glove, and with Jacoby Ellsbury playing left field, there is another opportunity for some hardware.
The offense will probably not be as potent as last year with the departure of Jason Bay, but Beltre and Ortiz could look to bounce back in 2010 from injury issues in 2009. Not to mention that playing 82 games in hitter-friendly Fenway Park can't hurt the averages of Beltre and Cameron.
Josh Beckett, Jon Lester, and newly-acquired ace John Lackey should be pencilled in for at least 14 wins each. The best part about the trio is that no matter who is the ace and who is the No. 2 starter, one of those guys is going to have to be the third starter. This will presumably give the third starter a good boost in run support against a usually lackluster third starter for most other teams in the MLB.
If Matsuzaka can come back to even half the form he was in the 2008 season, he could be somewhere in the 8-11 win region, or maybe more, assuming he stays healthy. Buchholz is still on the rise, and Wakefield's knuckle-ball usually earns him 10 wins a year. The best part about having three pitchers for two spots is that if one of them ends up struggling, there is another one ready and eager to step in if need be.
If there are a number of injuries or any one area struggles, the Sox have left themselves with plenty of options to pick up the slack. Worst case scenario, the team has enough money and prospects to make a trade or to fill in for an injured player or try to distance themselves from the Evil Empire in the Bronx.
It should prove to be a fun season. There are no promises on the numbers that have been predicted or how the Red Sox will wind up performing, but it will definitely be entertaining.