Boston Red Sox: 5 Questions Still Facing the Team
There has been very little to complain about during a monumental offseason for the Boston Red Sox. A team starving for interesting personalities and, more importantly, improved talent went out and landed a coveted slugger in Adrian Gonzalez and perhaps the best positional player on the free agent market in Carl Crawford. They are uniquely positioned for a major bounce-back season.
But no team enters a 162-game slate without a handful of questions. The Red Sox have plugged a handful of holes, but they are far from perfect. And, as the Sox learned last year when the team suffered through a remarkable rash of injuries, it often takes just a little bit of bad luck to derail an otherwise promising campaign.
The Red Sox may well be the favorites in the American League East, but that doesn't mean there aren't a few items to ponder as pitchers and catchers get ready to report in a little more than a month.
5. Will David Ortiz Hit?
David Ortiz has gotten off to brutal starts in each of the last two seasons, including one last year that had many in Boston calling for his head. But Sox management resisted the urge to overreact and instead got a 30-homer season out of the slugger. But how many bad starts will Ortiz be able to overcome?
He also struggled mightily against left-handed pitching, and a similar situation this year could lead to a platoon at the DH spot. The Red Sox are a decidedly better team with a healthy and productive Ortiz in the lineup, but he's going to have to hit, and hit the occasional lefty, for that situation to play out.
4. Is the Bullpen Good Enough?
The bullpen was a major weakness for the Red Sox last season, one that was never really addressed during the campaign. The Sox brass has taken a shot at rehabbing it this offseason, bringing in the likes of Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, among others. But has enough been done to shore things up?
Jenks, on paper, looks like a boon for the Sox. But he's an expensive gamble, and one coming off a worse season than Jonathan Papelbon, who himself went through his worst-ever year in the pros. Will Jenks be able to return to form? Will he accept a set-up role, sharing time with Daniel Bard and pitching before Papelbon? If not, he becomes an awfully expensive middle reliever.
Wheeler is a good addition, but the Red Sox will need better years from Papelbon and Jenks if things are going to work, especially in the wake of the Yankees adding Rafael Soriano to set up Mariano Rivera.
3. Do They Have Enough at Catcher?
Victor Martinez remains the one move the Red Sox didn't make that has many in Boston scratching their heads. Given the relatively affordable deal he took in Detroit, it's hard to imagine how the Sox wouldn't pony up for his services and roll out perhaps the best lineup in baseball.
Instead they enter the 2011 season with major question marks at catcher with unproven prospect Jarrod Saltalamacchia and aging veteran Jason Varitek.
Saltalamacchia has never emerged as the full-time starter after several trials in Texas, and he hit less than .200 in a brief stint in Boston last summer, albeit while battling a hand injury. But can he produce as the starting catcher on a daily basis? Perhaps more importantly, can he handle a Major League pitching staff?
Varitek, of course, can, but he is no longer capable of playing every day. He could prove a valuable mentor and comrade for Saltalamacchia, but one has to wonder what kind of production the Sox will get out of the pair.
2. Who Is the Starting Shortstop?
Terry Francona has said Marco Scutaro is his starting shortstop. But Jed Lowrie spent most of September making a case for a spot in the lineup. He stayed healthy, played steady defensively and produced some surprising pop.
Scutaro was a gamer last year, playing through pain and turning in an admirable year. And he is likely going to get the Opening Day nod. But it's hard to argue that Lowrie has more upside, and it would be interesting to see how he performed with consistent appearances as starter.
The guess here is that Scutaro enters the year as the starter, but expect Lowrie to make a push. Lowrie's greatest value may be as a utility infielder right now, but Scutaro has played that role before. He'd be a costly utility man, indeed, but if Lowrie plays like he did in September, it's going to be difficult to keep him out of the lineup.
1. Will the Starting Rotation Be Good Enough?
The only part of the team left largely untouched is the starting rotation. But when you really stop and think about it, there's only one sure thing in the entire bunch in Jon Lester, who has emerged as a legit Cy Young candidate and one of the best pitchers in baseball.
Clay Buchholz appears to be on that same path, but the question remains as to whether he will replicate or build off last season's performance or fall back toward the mean. The guess here is that he has emerged and will again feature near-ace qualities, but it's certainly no guarantee.
And beyond that, there are plenty of questions. Does John Lackey have any intention of living up to his contract, or is he content to be a mediocre fourth starter? He was a remarkable disappointment last year, and the Sox need much more from him.
And from Josh Beckett. He has had a roller-coaster career, so there's reason to believe he could have a bounce-back season. But it's no guarantee. Is Beckett on the decline? Have injuries and American League hitters caught up to him?
And then there's Daisuke Matsuzaka and Tim Wakefield. Both can be dominant at times, but both are wildly inconsistent. The Red Sox can't count on either to provide steady production all year long.
It's quite possible the starting rotation could wind up being a strength of the team. If Buchholz continues his ascension and Beckett and Lackey, or either one of them, regain their form, this becomes a formidable group.
But that was the prevailing thought heading into last season, too.
Further proof that no matter the offseason, questions will loom as the new year dawns.