|Red Sox have a Tough Time in AL East|
Written by Jonathan Leshanski (Contact & Archive) on April 04, 2010
Sure the Red Sox have been successful in the last few years, bringing two World Championships home and ending the curse, but Terry Francona's Red Sox come into this season as underdogs after being upstaged and outspent by the Yankees once again.Â And if it were just the Yankees they were competing with, Red Sox Nation would be breathing a lot easier.Â But the AL east is probably the most hotly contested division in baseball -- and the Red Sox will have to contend with a Tampa Bay Rays team that is still on the rise and has been projected by more than one source to be the team to beat in the East.
But the Red Sox have a middle ground.Â They don't have the age of the Yankees, or the youth of the Rays, which suggest that their biggest weakness might not be injuries or inexperience, but how they manage to play the game, and in particular how strong their offense will prove to be.
After all, the Red Sox have one of the top rotations in baseball (a title contested by both of their division rivals) but an offense that hasn't been quite the same since the departure of Manny Ramirez and on paper seems to be a lot less threatening in the center of the lineup, and which took a step further back when Jason Bay signed with the Mets over the offseason.Â Bay after all was the team leader in both home runs (36) and RBIs (119) last year and was the biggest threat to change a game with a single swing.
Taking over Bay's cleanup role will be Victor Martinez who the Sox acquired last season from the Indians, not just for the playoff run, but who they've counted on to become a key man for years to come.Â Â Martinez however isn't the hitter, or the character, that Manny was and he doesn't have the power that Bay does.Â He's a quietly competent professional capable of hitting .300-25-100 provided he can stay healthy and doesn't need a lot of off days.Â That is always a bit doubtful when talking about a guy expected to play more than half his games at catcher, a position where getting banged up comes with the territory.
And since they couldn't replace Bay's bat with a single big free agent, the Red sox will be trying to do it by balancing their offense a bit more.Â To do that they added both Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre, both of whom came fairly inexpensively, both in the later years of their careers and both who still have 20+ home run pop and can protect the bottom of the lineup.
The arrival of these three hitters (Beltre, Cameron and Martinez) offer the team an increase in power and possibly in production, but there is a cost, though none of it really comes from adding Mike Cameron.Â But with Martinez and Beltre in the fold, fan favorites Mike Lowell and Jason Varitek have been pushed from key roles to bench players.
That might not sound like a big deal since both players have seen a decrease in productivity and both are older veterans (36 and 37 years old respectively), but they are the guys who've been team leaders, and Varitek is still the team captain.Â They've been the enforcers, the teachers, the guys who pull aside the rookies and quietly explain the facts of baseball life to them when they get out of line.Â They've policed the dugout and locker rooms, and while they understand that the game moves on, that doesn't mean they have to like it.
This season could be a challenge for both men (and they are notoriously good guys and team players from everything I hear) as they adjust to their new roles, and manager Terry Francona will have to do some juggling to keep them involved and an active part of team chemistry, or risk having disaffected, but very respected players who could inadvertently become distractions that this team doesn't need.
If Francona can manage both the baseball and the in house worries, the Sox will get past the loss of Bay, and remain contenders, but the situation, and the competition, will be challenging.Â And that's just the way it should be.