The Red Sox came within one win of their third World Series within five years last season, but although they maintained their core this winter (minus Manny, of course), they failed to sign or trade for any impact player, while the Yankees spent big this off-season and the Rays added Pat Burrell and will have a full season of David Price in 2009. Are the Red Sox good enough to hold off those teams and get back to October?
Finish: 95-67, lost ALCS in 7 games
The oldest ballpark in the majors is ready for another season.
Home Field: Fenway Park
Meeting the Green Monstah
OF Rocco Baldelli (Signed from Rays)
C Josh Bard (Signed from Padres)
OF Mark Kotsay (Re-signed with Red Sox)
SP Brad Penny (Signed from Dodgers)
RP Ramon Ramirez (Traded from Royals)
RP Takashi Saito (Signed from Dodgers)
SP John Smoltz (Signed from Braves)
C Jason Varitek (Re-signed with Red Sox)
OF Brad Wilkerson (Invited to spring training)
Leaving Wally the Green Monster
RP David Aardsma (Traded to Mariners)
SP Paul Byrd (Declined to play first half of season)
1B Sean Casey (Announced retirement)
SP Bartolo Colon (Signed with White Sox)
OF Coco Crisp (Traded to Royals)
C David Ross (Signed with Braves)
SP Curt Schilling (Announced retirement)
RP Mike Timlin (Unsigned free agent)
Strength – Pitching depth
The Rays receive the offseason adulation for their surprising run to the World Series and the Yankees won the headlines war, signing Mark Teixeira, A.J. Burnett and CC Sabathia.
The Red Sox, however, collected an impressive assortment of pitching talent. They are so deep in that department that they sent 100 mph flamethrower Daniel Bard -- one scout said Bard’s fastball was the best he’s ever seen -- and Junichi Tazawa to the minors with more than a week left in camp.
Filling out the rotation shouldn’t be complicated. Josh Beckett, Jon Lester and Daisuke Matsuzaka deserve the first three rotation spots and form perhaps the best trio in the American League. Behind them are some combination of Tim Wakefield, Brad Penny (who says his shoulder is feeling as good as it ever has) and Clay Buchholz (who has more no-hitters already then Greg Maddux, Tom Glavine and Pedro Martinez combined). John Smoltz says he has felt great this spring and is ready for a midseason return.
Jonathan Papelbon, Justin Masterson, Hideki Okajima and Takashi Saito (if healthy) form the nucleus of one of the better bullpens in the major leagues. They won’t be expected to throw many innings with such depth in the rotation, but the bullpen could definitely handle a heavy load.
Weakness – Health on offense
While there is an embarrassment of riches on the mound, where does the offense stand? David Ortiz, suffering from knee troubles last season, had a down year. Is he healthy? How does Mike Lowell’s hip look? Is Jason Varitek healthy? Can J.D. “Boo Hoo” Drew take the field 150 times this season?
If several of those answers are positive for the Red Sox, they could be unstoppable. Jason Bay, stolen from the Pittsburgh Pirates at last year’s trade deadline, is a top-notch outfielder. Dustin Pedroia, even if he can’t hit the high fastball, is the best AL second baseman, while Kevin Youkilis isn’t far from winning an AL MVP. Combine that with a healthy Jed Lowrie -- he suffered through a broken finger without knowing it last season -- and this could be a modern Murderer’s Row. If not, the pitching will have to (and likely will) carry them.
CF Jacoby Ellsbury
2B Dustin Pedroia
1B Kevin Youkilis
DH David Ortiz
LF Jason Bay
RF JD Drew
3B Mike Lowell
C Jason Varitek
SS Jed Lowrie
Tim Wakefield / Clay Buchholz
CL Jonathan Papelbon
RP Justin Masterson
RP Hideki Okajima
What is the status of David Ortiz? If he’s healthy and bopping the ball all over Beantown, the Red Sox should be considered World Series favorites. If he’s the lesser hitter he was last season (.264/.369/.507 with 23 home runs and 89 RBI), the Red Sox could still do very well. Don’t expect much of a decline from Ortiz beyond 2008’s numbers.
The Red Sox will win upward of 97 games, which should put them into the postseason, likely as the AL East champs. With their three-headed monster atop the rotation, it would be difficult seeing them eliminated in the playoffs. They could easily win the World Series, which is amazing considering the lack of offseason praise.
What are your thoughts on the Boston Red Sox? Who’s the key for them this season? Let us hear your comments below.