1. Jacoby Ellsbury (CF)
Thankfully for the Red Sox, after a historic September collapse which caused them to miss a chance at the playoffs for the second straight year, they still have one of the strongest lineups in baseball. The leadoff spot is perhaps their biggest strength.
After struggling through injuries for most of the 2010 season, Ellsbury had a gargantuan year statistically in 2011: .321 average, 32 homeruns, 105 RBI and 39 stolen bases, an MVP-caliber year to say the least. It would be a fool’s errand to slot anyone other than Ellsbury into the leadoff spot. I don’t believe the Red Sox future manager (Bobby Valentine, perhaps?) will be foolish enough to do anything different in this spot of the lineup.
2. Carl Crawford (LF)
Carl Crawford was perhaps the biggest surprise of 2011. He struggled mightily, and many believe that Crawford tried too hard to justify his huge contract (a seven-year, $142 million deal) and was pressing. Others have even speculated that Crawford wanted to play in Anaheim for the Los Angeles Angels but ended up in Boston because of the lucrative deal.
If that’s the case and Crawford really did not want to end up in Boston, but was pressured by his agent to take the money, it certainly showed in his first year. Nevertheless, Crawford can’t be worse than he was in 2011.
3. Dustin Pedroia (2B)
This is the spot where I probably differ from a lot of people. I slot Pedroia into the three-hole because he has more energy than a five-year-old on a candy and Red Bull binge.
In September, it seemed to me that Pedroia was one of the few Red Sox players who still cared about the season. This claim got backed up when news broke that pitchers Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and John Lackey were eating fried chicken, drinking beer and playing video games in the locker room during games. Not sure how you can bring on an appearance that makes you look as if you care less (short of wearing sweatpants and a mustard-stained T-shirt to the mound).
Anyway, Pedroia is going to give you 110 percent every single game, and there is no reason not to put him in a key RBI spot.
4. Adrian Gonzalez (1B)
It's a no-brainer putting Gonzalez in the cleanup spot. He struggled down the stretch in 2011; possibly due to fatigue, but let’s face it, everyone on the roster struggled in September. I’ve never seen an entire team slump together like that…
Anyway, Gonzalez had a fantastic year in 2011, and if I’m critical of anything it would be his power numbers, but I feel as if he’ll bounce back next year from that. Gonzalez was born to hit at Fenway Park.
5. Kevin Youkilis (3B)
Unfortunately for YOUUUUUUUK, he had a season riddled with injuries, which seems to be the general trend recently for Red Sox players. He is under contract for one more season with a team option for 2013. At least for next season I see Youk being the Red Sox everyday third baseman. He fits nicely in the five-hole putting a right-handed bat in between two lefties, which leads me to…
6. David Ortiz (DH)
I honestly think that Ortiz will be around for at least one more season. Red Sox nation freaked out when he entertained the idea of going to the Yankees, talking about escaping all of the “drama” in Boston, but Ortiz is a huge part of the Red Sox current identity. Unless his solid 2011 campaign (.309 average, 29 home runs and 96 RBI) persuades another team to give him an offer the Red Sox won’t match, I think he’ll be back to DH for the Red Sox for another season.
7. Ryan Ludwick (RF)
Now we get into some changes for the 2012 Red Sox. J.D. Drew’s contract is up, and after leeching $70 million away from Boston, many expect Drew to retire. I’m going to be honest; Drew was one of my least favorite Red Sox players.
It always bothered me that he had the same expression on his face all of the time. There was no emotional difference for Drew. If he hit a game-winning home run or struck out to end the game, he always had the same blank stare, and that always irked me.
Anyway there’s an ice cube’s chance in hell that Drew will be back playing right field for the Red Sox next season, so this opens up my interpretation. The free-agent move the Red Sox should make is in right.
There are a few options here, including outfielders Mike Cuddyer and Josh Willingham. I think Cuddyer will find a suitor willing to pay him far more than the Red Sox would, and Willingham is a less appealing option (although he could platoon with Josh Reddick by being in the lineup against left-handed pitchers to take some pressure off the Red Sox's hot prospect).
I have the Red Sox signing free agent outfielder Ryan Ludwick. Ludwick is just two years removed from a 37 homer, 113 RBI season with the St. Louis Cardinals and could be a cheap option due to his 2011 season. Ludwick had an abysmal year for the San Diego Padres in PETCO Park, which is far from hitter friendly. He was acquired at the trade deadline by the Pittsburgh Pirates but spent time on the disabled list after the trade.
Ludwick is a very intriguing option, especially if he could return to his ’07 or even ’08 form. Hopefully other teams will overlook him because of a down year, which would allow the Red Sox to swoop in and add a very formidable bat to their already solid lineup.
Alternatively, the debate is up in the air between prospects Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish. Reddick played out of his mind after being called up in 2011 but tapered off significantly. Nevertheless, he did finish with a respectable .280 average and would likely be in a position battle with Kalish if the Red Sox didn’t end up making a move in free agency.
8. Jarrod Saltalammachia (C)/Ryan Lavarnway (C)
The catcher position for next season is pretty self-explanatory. Saltalammachia, who had a successful 2011 will be back to take the majority of the catching duties. I think 2011 was the final season for Jason Varitek in a Red Sox uniform.
Why did it have to end like this? I mean, what the hell did that C on your jersey stand for Jason? At least three members of the starting pitching staff drank during games, and the team captain did nothing about that? When the news broke about that scandal this is probably what bothered me the most.
It wasn’t enough for Varitek to hit .221 with 18 more strikeouts than hits in 2011, but he ignored his duties as captain to right the ship when things were going down the tubes fast, and that bothers me. Tek was the heart and soul of this team for a long time, but I think the sun has finally set on his time in a Red Sox uniform.
Lavarnway will be called up to the majors to take some of the pressure off Salty, splitting time at catcher and replacing the longtime captain.
9. Jose Iglesias (SS)
Finally I have slotted in prospect Jose Iglesias to play shortstop. While Iglesias likely won’t raise any eyebrows at the plate, he should play stellar defense. (I wrote this article before Marco Scutaro’s $6 million option was picked up by the Sox, so it’s not unlikely that Scutaro will be the everyday shortstop to give Iglesias more time at the minor league level).
Nevertheless, I’d rather have a shortstop that is great in the field and mediocre at the plate as opposed to mediocre at both. Iglesias at least deserves a chance at the major-league level.
There have been some rumors that the Red Sox may try to make a huge splash in free agency by signing free-agent shortstop Jose Reyes. I think he’ll be out of the Red Sox price range, and Boston already has two similarly skilled players in Ellsbury and Crawford.
Reyes is also VERY injury prone. The guy’s hamstrings are made of Jell-O, and the Red Sox can’t afford another expensive free-agent bust (see: Crawford, Lackey). Reyes didn’t do himself any favors when he took himself out of the last game of the season in an attempt to win the batting title after getting a base hit in his first at-bat. (He eventually won the batting title when Ryan Braun went 0-4).
Reyes disrespected the game, his organization and his fans by doing so. Personally, I’d want a player with more integrity on my team who won’t shortchange the fans.