State of the Sox
2011 was a miserable year for the Boston Red Sox. They failed completely to live up to the lofty expectations they themselves set, crumbling like a corrupt Wall Street Bank at the end of the season. The players, mostly the pitchers, a complete inability to perform when it mattered most. Ownership failed to insist on discipline and undermined their manager by not picking up his option year, thus making him a lame duck. The general manager failed — and was gladly shown the door when he indicated he might be willing to leave. The manager, probably the least blameless of all, was essentially fired and then was smeared by the Boston Globe. The new general manager’s regime got off to a feeble start when his choice for new manager was summarily rejected by the front office. But he managed to recover some with a couple of moves that at least appear shrewd as the year came to a close.
So let’s take a look at what 2012 may hold for this team.
How does this team stack up to last year’s? On paper, it should not be as good.
The rotation: Jon Lester was not great in 2011, and he was not good in September. I think there is the possibility that he could be better in 2012. Josh Beckett was great throughout most of last season — until it mattered that is. He has a history of having one good year, followed by one not so good year. He also has a history of injury. He also has a rocky relationship with his new manager. I think this all adds up to Beckett not being as good this year. Clay Buchholz is an injury waiting to happen. When he’s healthy, he’s good. But to think he’ll go a whole season healthy is optimistic to say the least. So, the big three for 2012, if we’re lucky, they’ll be as good as last year, and that’s not good enough. And we haven’t even examined the fourth and fifth spots. Fortunately, the fourth and fifth spots from 2011 really, really sucked, so it won’t be difficult to do better, but so far the only options are converting Daniel Bard and/or Alfredo Aceves, and some reclamation project.
The bullpen: Andrew Bailey is the new closer, and should be more than capable, but I don’t see him being better than Jonathan Papelbon, and Bailey has a history of injury. Mark Melancon should be a good set up man, but will he be as good as Daniel Bard has been the past two years? Not likely. The rest of the bullpen is going to be mostly the same crew as last year. Good, but not as good as 2011, especially if Aceves is moved to the rotation.
The offense: The Sox offense should be good in 2012, but as good as 2011 when it wasn’t quite good enough to get them into the playoffs? I don’t think so. First of all, their two best offensive players, Adrian Gonzalez and Jacoby Ellsbury, had career years in 2011. I expect both of them to be very good, but is it reasonable to think either or both will be as good as they were last year? Then you’ve got David Ortiz, a year older and probably not as good as 2011. Dustin Pedroia should be just as good as he was, and that’s very good. Marco Scutaro is a serviceable shortstop, but he’s in the second half of his 30th decade. It is not unreasonable to imagine a slight decline. Right field remains a black hole. Catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia is probably going to match or better his numbers from last year, but that’s hardly significant. That leaves Carl Crawford and Kevin Youkilis. Whether or not the Sox offense is better this year than last will sit on these two players’ shoulders. Crawford had a horrible season for someone making the kind of money he’s making. He should be capable of being much better. And Youk needs to stay healthy for a full season. If both those things happen, the Red Sox offense should be about as potent in 2012 as it was last year.
The manager: Bobby Valentine was the choice of Larry Lucchino, who forced him down general manager Ben Cherington’s throat. That might be okay. Everyone says the choice of Valentine is a bold one, but the Red Sox only gave him a two-year contract, and they only let him hire one coach. They forced Tim Bogar on Valentine as his bench coach. Bogar is widely seen as Valentine’s successor. In short, there doesn’t really seem to be a lot of confidence, and certainly not a lot of commitment to Valentine. The players will sense this and I think it spells his failure.
The off season continues and it is very likely Ben Cherington will make additions to the team. But by all accounts, the purse is pretty tight, so I don’t think the team can make a generally decisive move. The best they can do is plug some holes in the rotation and right field with competent players.
My prediction is the Sox will be a more consistent team in 2012 — not nearly as good as they were at their best in 2011, but without the complete collapses they faced at the start and end of the season. But that will not be good enough to propel them into the playoffs. Look for them to win 87 to 89 games.