Boston Red Sox: How Will Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez Help?
The Boston Red Sox are stacked.
When the New York Yankees' GM says his rival has the better team, as Brian Cashman did last month, something must be working in Boston.
They have a solid team returning, and added two All-Star hitters and a number of bullpen arms. Fans are expecting full-throttle effort—it's truly World Series or bust in 2011.
C: Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Catcher is likely to be one of the more competitive positions for the Sox this year. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is the frontrunner, but prospect Mark Wagner might also be given a shot in spring training.
Red Sox GM Theo Epstein has been trying to acquire Salty for years, and now that the deed is done, he will likely start.
A guy most famous for having the longest last name in baseball history, Saltalamacchia will not be an essential part of this Red Sox team.
His largest contribution will be calling games for the pitching staff—and he’ll be learning from one of the best in Jason Varitek, who will likely be his backup.
1B: Adrian Gonzalez
The Sox made a splash this offseason in trading for Gonzalez, the first overall pick of the 2000 draft. Gonzalez has averaged 34 home runs and 104 RBIs over his last four seasons, and won two Gold Gloves.
Red Sox fans hope Gonzalez will fill the hole in the middle of the lineup created by Manny Ramirez’s departure just a couple years ago.
2B: Dustin Pedroia
Quickly becoming the face of the Red Sox, this former Rookie of the Year and MVP will give Manager Terry Francona flexibility in the lineup.
Pedroia could bat second, third or even fourth. If Crawford or Ellsbury weren’t such shoe-ins for leadoff, he could bat there too.
Pedroia is a jack-of-all-trades for the Sox and gives them the hard-nosed leadership teams of stars often need to get over the hump.
Pedroia is the team’s emotional leader and a great guy to have in the clubhouse.
3B: Kevin Youkilis
The man immortalized by Billy Beane as “The Greek God of Walks” has been the premier power producer in the Sox lineup over the past couple years.
At third base, Youkilis will return to the position where he began his big league career, but as he gets up there in age (he's now 31), he'll start breaking down.
Youkilis missed significant time last season and must stay healthy to continue producing for the Sox.
SS: Marco Scutaro
Scutaro might be looking over his shoulder at Jed Lowrie for much of the season.
Lowrie will be waiting in the wings for any infield injury, but Terry Francona will be looking to get Lowrie some at-bats, especially against left-handed pitchers.
Scutaro is a solid option both in the field and at the plate—he won’t make many errors nor many spectacular plays. He won’t hit many home runs, but he’ll bat about .270 and score 90 runs.
Lowrie has a much higher upside, but Scutaro has been far more consistent over his career.
LF: Carl Crawford
The second big acquisition of the offseason was the speedster who gave the Sox nightmares when he played in Tampa Bay.
Crawford has disappointed fantasy owners for many years. He always seems to be a top pick in most drafts, and although he always has All-Star quality seasons he never quite lives up to his first-round hype.
His value might be inflated because of comments he made in 2006 regarding his motivation stemming from fantasy baseball.
Now that he's at Fenway Park in baseball’s modern Murderer’s Row, maybe he can finally live up to his fantasy potential.
CF: Jacoby Ellsbury
If Ellsbury can stay healthy, he remains one of the most potent baserunners and best fielders in the game.
With Crawford in left, Sox fans will be surprised to see any ball drop in for a hit anywhere near left or center field.
The Sox have not had two stolen base threats like this—ever.
No longer a team that plods along and waits for the three-run homer, they now have the versatility to run the bases with guys like Crawford, Ellsbury and Pedroia, or slug it out with Gonzalez, Youkilis and J.D. Drew.
RF: J.D. Drew
Drew has done little to endear himself to Sox fans over the past few years. Since he came to Boston, he has stayed pretty close to 20 HR/65 RBI numbers.
In other words, he has been a very average right fielder, and the Red Sox could replicate his production at a much cheaper price.
Drew's batting eye, however, is exceptional.
On this year's team, he won't need to produce much power to find success in the lineup. His OBP is exceptionally high and Boston's power producers should be able to drive him in often throughout the season.
DH: David Ortiz
Although not the player he once was when he was in the race for the MVP award in the mid-2000s, Ortiz will be an outstanding 5 or 6 hitter for the 2011 Red Sox.
Despite his perceived drop-off, he still hit .270 last season with 32 homers and 102 RBIs. No longer will he feel the pressure to bear the offensive load—Adrian Gonzalez carries the grand projections for run production this season.
Ortiz will remain one of the top DHs in the American League.
Even with all the offseason moves the Sox made, it's possible they improved in the bullpen more than anywhere else.
Although Jonathan Papelbon has been under fire from some fans, he's still one of the best closers in baseball. Daniel Bard was also one of baseball's best setup men last year.
This year, the Sox brought in former White Sox closer Bobby Jenks and former Rays setup man Dan Wheeler to solidify their relief corps.
The Sox had one of baseball's better rotations last season, and now that we're in an odd-numbered year, Beckett will be dominant again (comparison of his numbers between even and odd years is truly striking).
Daisuke Matsuzaka hopes to overcome his stunning inability to go deep into games, after pitching so much in Japan years ago.
Only a couple years removed from being sidelined with lymphoma, Jon Lester is the true ace of the staff and will compete for the Cy Young award this year.
Clay Buchholz has a chance to compete with Lester for top honors in the rotation. When he was given the opportunity last season, he dominated. In 17 starts, Buchholz accumulated a 2.33 ERA and 1.20 WHIP.
John Lackey was disappointing last season for the amount the Sox invested in him. He hopes to rebound, but Tim Wakefield will be waiting in the wings if Lackey's struggles continue and he starts costing the Red Sox games. Both pitchers will give the Red Sox innings, but Lackey had a WHIP of 1.42 and ERA of 4.40 in 215 innings last season.
Starting pitching remains a strength for the Red Sox, and they could easily have three All-Stars in their rotation.
The Red Sox should be among the favorites to win the World Series. With arguably the best lineup and rotation in baseball, even the ever-strong AL East will struggle to compete with such a juggernaut.
Yet, teams on paper are different than teams on the field. The Sox are a veteran team, so a fan would hope they can pull together over the season for a championship.
But you never can tell.
162 games from now, the Sox will likely be playoff-bound, but it's also possible they will be the worst team in baseball.
That's why they play the games—and that's why baseball season can't start soon enough!