The Boston Red Sox in March 2012:
It's time to forget last season, especially Theo Epstein who left us for the friendlier confines of Chicago's north side, move on, and put every effort into winning this season. The Sox boast a strong, veteran line up that proves to thwart any pitcher standing 60 feet 6 inches away from home plate.
2012 Red Sox starting lineup:
So, offensively, going into the 2012 season the Red Sox had a powerful lineup. They returned young stud center fielder Jacoby Ellsbury, who was snubbed as the Most Valuable Player in 2011 in favor of Justin Verlander. In addition, the Sox returned staples at second base, third base, and designated hitter. Pedroia, Youkilis, and Ortiz have been Red Sox favorites for years, and have rarely disappointed on the field. In addition, juggernaut 1st baseman Adrian Gonzalez was coming off of a huge year for the Sox and set to man first base at Fenway Park for the next 7 seasons after signing a contract extension. Although Ryan Sweeney and Mike Aviles don't scare the boots off of opponents, Aviles, Sweeney, newcomer Cody Ross, and Jared Saltalamacchia all provided value for the Sox going into 2012.
Now let's take a look at their starting rotation in March of 2012:
The Red Sox returned three solid starters in Lester, Beckett, and Buchholz, who pending any health issues should each provide at least 190 innings pitched. Daniel Bard was the most talked about Red Sox player in the off-season due to management's decision to move the young fire baller from the bullpen, where he flourished, to the starting rotation. Dubront was a young lefty that the organization wanted to look at in spring training, and due to solid outings in the pre-season, made the rotation. This rotation compared well to the Sox rival New York Yankees, and came up not too short in comparison to the Tampa Bay Rays stacked young pitching staff.
For the Red Sox in March of 2012, the message was redemption. The team and it's fans wanted to redeem themselves after an historically tragic end to the 2011 season in which the team collapsed like a tent on which was dropped an elephant. Two players, LF Carl Crawford and RHP John Lackey looked to be on the disabled list for some time, and although Sox fans would have loved to see Crawford in the lineup, most happily waved goodbye to John Lackey who had just had his UCL reconstructed. The Sox also looked to rebound after losing their General Manager, Theo Epstein, who got out of his contract in Boston in order to sign with the Chicago Cubs. He left disciple Ben Cherington to navigate the rough and often cold waters of the Charles River by himself. With new manager Bobby Valentine at the helm, the Red Sox looked to prove to the Baseball world that 2011 was a fluke, and 2012 would be their sweet revenge.
The Boston Red Sox as of September 12th, 2012:
Looks different doesn't it? A lot can happen in 6 months, and in the Red Sox case, a lot happened in the last 6 months. To note, the Red Sox have two injuries from their starting lineup. David Ortiz and Will Middlebrooks are both on disabled list. If you put them in the lineup given their WAR's to date, the total for the Sox lineup would go from 10.9 to 15.6, which is considerably better. The rotation hasn't faired as badly as the lineup, but it has two new names, Aaron Cook and Daisuke Matsuzaka, and lost the member with the highest WAR from 2011, Josh Beckett. John Lackey remains injured, as Red Sox fans make for a collective sigh of relief. The most important fact of all this is, the Red Sox record as of September 12th was 68-82, 18 games back of the Yankees for first place in the AL East and 17.5 games out of the second wild card spot. Teams with a better record than the Red Sox include the Seattle Mariners, Baltimore Orioles, Oakland A's, Pittsburgh Pirates, San Diego Padres, and Milwaukee Brewers. Let's just say things didn't go as planned.
Looking to the future:
Obviously, the Red Sox need to figure something out, change, adapt, or all of the above, in order to get back to their winning ways. Every team's front office, players, coaching staff, and ownership group, have goals in order to either improve, or in the case of the World Series winning team, watch the video of their parade as many times as possible in the 150 or so days between November and April.
What does the off-season mean to the Red Sox. First it means they can stop embarrassing themselves on the field, as was the case this past Wednesday night when the team lost 13-3 vs. the Rays. Second, a number of players on their roster will become free agents, thus allowing Sox management to either attempt to resign them or let them leave and obtain some salary relief. Here is a list of the Red Sox notable free agents:
Returning players include John Lester, John Lackey, Dustin Pedroia, and Clay Buchholz. Otherwise, everyone else on the Red Sox is either a free agent, under their rookie contract, or arbitration eligible. Those notable arbitration eligible players include, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Aviles. The others are mostly bullpen pitchers, and due to their replaceability, we are leaving them out. First, the easy one. Mike Aviles made $1.2 million in 2012. He can play multiple positions and 2.0 WAR and 9.5 UZR/150 at shortstop this season. My guess is, even in his second season of arbitration, his contract won't increase beyond the level at which the Red Sox shouldn't resign him. Offer him $5 million for one season, he will most likely accept it. He may not start every game, but he's a good fill-in player and definitely a solid bench option.
Next we come to the biggest offseason question for the Red Sox. What to do about Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury is arbitration eligible, and will become a free agent in 2014, at which time he, with the help of super agent Scott Boras, sign a monster deal in the range of the one Jayson Werth signed with the Nationals. Ellsbury has only had one incredible season in the big leagues, but it was stellar. When he has played he has been great, roaming the large and treacherous center field of Fenway Park. The Red Sox have a few options here. One, they could let Ellsbury go to arbitration and sign him to a one-year contract. If they do that, they have the option of trading him mid-season, signing him to a contract extension mid-season, or allowing him to play out his contract and leave via free agency. I can bet that the chances of them signing him to a contract extension mid-season are 1% likely. Trading him mid-season isn't out of the question, but a better haul might be gotten in return were they to trade him this offseason. Letting him play 2013 in a Red Sox uniform and then leave would provide them with one of the best center fielders in the game for a season and then no salary requirements for the next 5-7 seasons. It isn't a bad option, but it definitely isn't the best.
Were the Red Sox to sign Ellsbury to a contract extension, they would be signing a potentially superstar player who has been oft injured in his short career. It's a risk, and one I don't think the Red Sox are willing to take, especially with Scott Boras on the other side of the negotiating table. I think the Red Sox should look to trade Ellsbury this offseason. With one year of arbitration left before he becomes an unrestricted free agent, a team that trades for Ellsbury will either sign him to an extension or use him for a year and allow him to walk. Teams that might want to trade for Ellsbury include the Texas Rangers, Tampa Bay Rays, Atlanta Braves, San Francisco Giants, and St. Louis Cardinals. The Rangers, Giants, Cardinals, and possibly the Braves would be most likely to extend Ellsbury while the Rays would probably use him for 2013 and then let him go. If I were Ben Cherington, I would love to get at least one very good prospect and possible 2 other lesser ones in a deal for Ellsbury. If he could sway an MLB ready young pitcher in the deal, that would the best-case scenario. The best bets are the Texas Rangers, St. Louis Cardinals, and Tampa Bay Rays. For a look at all of the trade possibilities for Jacoby Ellsbury, see the adjoining article to this.
Other possible offseason trade candidates for the Red Sox include John Lackey and Jon Lester. Lackey spent all of 2012 on the DL after Tommy John Surgery, and didn't pitch well at all in 2011. On the other hand he has been a 4+ WAR pitcher for most of his career, and with his divorce behind him, should be more focused on baseball. In fact, Lackey's situation is very similar to what the Yankees faced with A.J. Burnett last year. The Yankees wanted to unload Burnett's big contract, knowing full well they would have to pay a large portion of Burnett's contract to whichever team made a deal for the righty. This would prove equivalent were the Red Sox to attempt to trade Lackey. Lackey has $30.5 million left on his contract. If they Red Sox took a page from the Yankees play book and paid between $17-20 million of Lackey's deal, I think a few teams would be willing to take a chance on the right- hander. Were I the Red Sox, I would actually keep Lackey, hoping he rebounds and pitches well. If he doesn't, try and trade him mid-season, with the willingness to pay a at least 2/3 of his contract, something they would have to have done this offseason, in order to unload him.
If I were GM and everything were to go the way I have said, this would be my 2013 Red Sox lineup and starting rotation in 2013: