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MLB Team Previews: 2011 Red Sox Preview

John Clemeno

John Clemeno

John Clemeno writes about fantasy sports for RotoWire.

The popular notion entering 2010 was that Boston would lack offensive firepower and look to win games with run prevention. It turns out the Red Sox were second in MLB in runs scored, home runs, RBI and OPS, while their pitching and defense weren't as good as advertised. Health was a big issue, too, with the team getting little from Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Cameron, while dealing with a significant loss of games from Josh Beckett, Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis.

They made a big splash in the offseason, acquiring Adrian Gonzalez from the Padres and surprising us by signing Carl Crawford. The offense will be deeper in 2011 and more capable of surviving injuries to key performers. The question remains can certain members of the starting staff rebound? Much will depend on the years of Messrs. Lackey, Beckett and Matsuzaka.

Offseason Moves:

Acquired 1B Adrian Gonzalez from the San Diego Padres for RHP Casey Kelly, OF Raymond Fuentes and 1B Anthony Rizzo.

The Red Sox and Gonzalez are believed to have agreed on a multi-year deal that won't be announced until after the season begins. Gonzalez's arrival means Kevin Youkilis moves to third base, the position he played throughout his minor league career. No solid plans have been announced for the lineup, but you can expect Gonzalez to hit cleanup in the order.

Re-signed C Jason Varitek to a one-year contract.

Varitek gives Boston a modicum of stability behind the plate. In a perfect world, he'll be asked to catch 40-50 games while mentoring Jarrod Saltalamacchia.

Signed free agent OF Carl Crawford to a seven-year contract.

Crawford turned in another outstanding season, setting career highs in home runs (19), RBI (90), runs (110) and OPS (.851). These numbers were even more impressive considering that Carlos Pena and Evan Longoria had down years at the plate. With the Rays trimming payroll for 2011, there was little hope he would re-sign with them. He ended up signing with division rival Boston, landing a seven-year, $142 million contract. He'll fit nicely in the No. 2 spot behind Jacoby Ellsbury and in front of fellow newcomer Adrian Gonzalez. While it may take some time to adjust to "The Green Monster," Crawford remains an outstanding defender as his 18.5 UZR (good for fourth among outfielders) indicates. Expecting him to duplicate similar numbers from last season is very realistic, and he has the potential to slightly improve them.

Re-signed LHP Hideki Okajima to a one-year contract.

Although his career trajectory points downward, he was brought back to compete for the left-handed role in the bullpen. Okajima was relatively effective down the stretch after sitting out with a hamstring.

Signed free agent RHP Dan Wheeler to a one-year contract with a team option for a second year.

Wheeler remained one of the more consistent setup men in the league last season, posting his usual low ERA (3.35) and WHIP (1.067). He played a significant role in the seventh inning, bridging the gap to Joaquin Benoit and Rafael Soriano. Wheeler will be part of the Red Sox's rebuilt bullpen in 2011 after signing a one-year deal with Boston in December.

Signed free agent RHP Bobby Jenks to a two-year contract.

Jenks struck out more than 10.0 per nine for the first time since 2006 last season. However, he only made it into a career-low 27 games thanks to calf, back and forearm injuries. He also issued a career-worst 3.1 BB/9IP and was removed from the closer role a couple of times during the season. The emergence of other options in the White Sox's late-inning game plan rendered Jenks extraneous, and the club non-tendered him in the offseason, but he landed a two-year deal with the Red Sox where he'll likely transition the ninth-inning job from Jonathan Papelbon to Dan Bard.

Signed free agent LHPs Lenny DiNardo, Andrew Miller and Rich Hill.

These three pitchers, along with Hideki Okajima, represent a brigade of arms looking to stick as Boston's only left-handed reliever.

Signed RHP Matt Albers to a one-year contract.

Ideally, the Red Sox would like to add a lefty to the bullpen, so Albers is likely staring at a season in Triple-A Pawtucket.

Signed pitchers Tony Pena Jr, Brandon Duckworth, Jason Bergmann, Randy Williams, Clevelan Santeliz and Ryan Harvey to minor-league contracts.

Because it never hurts to bring in a bevy of arms. It seems unlikely that any of these five pitchers will break camp on the Opening Day roster.

Projected Lineup/Rotation:

Lineup (vs. RH/LH)

1. Jacoby Ellsbury CF
2. Carl Crawford LF
3. Dustin Pedroia 2B
4. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
5. Kevin Youkilis 3B
6. David Ortiz DH
7. J.D. Drew/Mike Cameron RF
8. Jarrod Saltalamacchia C
9. Marco Scutaro SS

We'll never get manager Terry Francona to commit to an order this early, so what you see above may not necessarily be what you see in April. Francona prefers to alternate lefty-righty, but the additions of Gonzalez and Crawford makes the team lefty-heavy in its top hitters (Saltalamacchia and Scutaro are ticketed for eighth and ninth). Francona likes Ellsbury's disruptive influence on pitchers, so expect him to bat leadoff. Crawford has very little experience outside the top three, so a move elsewhere would be new, but not impossible. Based strictly on past performance, Crawford's best spot is second in the order. The problem is that Pedroia's been the second-place hitter most of his career -- and performed quite well. It's likely those two will be 2-3 in some fashion. Given the manager's predilection for alternating lefty-righty, we suspect Ortiz might be dropped in order to accommodate Crawford and Gonzalez in the top four. Another option would be to have Ellsbury hit ninth, followed by Pedroia as the leadoff hitter with Crawford, Youkilis and Gonzalez rounding out the top four, but Francona thinks his lineup works best with Ellsbury at the top.


Rotation:

1. Jon Lester
2. Josh Beckett
3. Clay Buchholz
4. John Lackey
5. Daisuke Matsuzaka

The names on this list carry some pedigree, but there are questions. In the case of Beckett, it's health. Entering his age-31 season, he's coming off a back injury and his statistically worse season. Lackey was an innings muncher, but was hittable and allowed nearly as many walks (72) than he had in his two previous seasons combined (87). Matsuzaka continued a history of nibbling, injuries, some unhittable performances and bullpen-taxing pitch counts.

CL: Jonathan Papelbon

Papelbon's 2010 season was a down year by the standards he's set since becoming Boston's full-time closer in 2006, but he has the closer make-up and manager Terry Francona will gladly hand him the ball in 2011. The Red Sox do have Daniel Bard waiting, though he blew seven saves in 2010. Bobby Jenks is on board for the next two years and, in theory, he could handle the job in a pinch.

Notes of Import, Fantasy and Otherwise:>

Is Saltalamacchia Ready for This?

The Red Sox head into the 2011 season with Saltalamacchia as the team's No. 1 catcher. Questions should abound. He's opened the past two seasons as Texas' starting catcher, but has been hit by poor production, injury and the mysterious phenomenon of the inability to throw back to the pitcher. The organization's catching coach has worked hard with him this offseason and they are focused on improving his technique, including catch-and-transfer mechanics. With the bats added this offseason, Boston doesn't need “Salty” to hit a ton; just to get comfortable defensively and find a way to hit .260 is all they want.

A Lackey-Beckett bounce?

What can we expect from these two presumed front-of-the-rotation starters? Beckett's shoulder/back problems resulted in his worst season as a professional. And, entering his age-31 season, there aren't too many comparable pitchers bouncing back from injury and bad performance in their 30s. Lackey was eminently hittable in 2010, which isn't out of the norm, but coupled with a higher-than-normal number of walks, it made for an ugly 14-11 record.

Pap's Playing for a Contract

By many metrics, Papelbon had his worst season in 2010 since he was handed the full-time closer role. Most notably, he blew more saves and walked more batters than he had previously in his career. And batters jumped more on him early with good results in 2010 (.469 BAA on first pitch). However, 2011 is the year he's been dreaming about since he tasted big-league success: the final of his arbitration-eligible years. After earning a $12 million payday for the 2011 season, he stands poised to earn a long-term lucrative deal next offseason. That deal probably won't come from Boston, but he's got plenty of reason to produce this season.

Improvement in Bullpen

We all know the vagaries and vicissitudes of bullpens in major league baseball. Boston's pen was strong in 2009. And with many of the same pitchers returning in 2010, they faltered. The Red Sox had brought in prospects, retreads and four-A players to fill middle-relief roles all year long with varying degrees of success and failure. This offseason, they invested in Bobby Jenks and Dan Wheeler, who figure to handle much of the pre-setup work in the sixth and seventh innings, leading to Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon. Manager Terry Francona could still use a trusted lefty, but on paper, this unit should be better in 2011.

A Healthy Ellsbury

The situation surrounding Ellsbury's post-injury treatment and diagnosis turned somewhat sour with his agent (Scott Boras) getting a second opinion and seeking rehab outside the organization. Ellsbury was just never right following the initial rib injury and 2010 was a wasted year for the young center-fielder. Red Sox manager Terry Francona insists bygones are bygones and wants Ellsbury atop the batting order. All reports are that Ellsbury will be healthy for the start of the 2011 season, but you get the feeling there was some damage to the relationship between the player and club.

Strengths: Offense at batting order positions 1-6; speed in Jacoby Ellsbury and Carl Crawford; top-of-the-rotation starters Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz.

Weaknesses: Catching is glaring one; the lack of a right-handed power bat.

Rising: Jed Lowrie - Lowrie still has to prove he can handle a regular job day in and day out, but he's been a very good hitter for stretches of the 2008 and 2010 season when healthy. He's very steady defensively at the middle infield spots and can play third base. If Boston decides to move the very affordable contract of Marco Scutaro, Lowrie will get a full-time job.

Falling: J.D. Drew - Finally. After four years of minor injuries, minimal run production, but some very clutch hits, Drew enters the final year of his contract. It looks like pitchers were able to make his plate patience work for them in 2010 by getting ahead in the count. Drew had his lowest average, on-base percentage and OPS since becoming a member of the Red Sox. Watching him hit lefties at just .208 in 2010, we expect to see more Mike Cameron in right field when Boston is facing a southpaw.

Sleeper: Mike Cameron - Boston's lefty-heavy lineup creates the need for a capable right-handed bat. Cameron has played some right field in his career, and may platoon with J.D. Drew, who slumped against left-handers in 2010.

Supersleeper: Felix Doubront - The young lefty is expected to open the season as a starter for Triple-A Pawtucket, but he should be the first one called if injuries hit the starting rotation.

Here's a run down of the roster not mentioned above:

Scott Atchison - After bouncing between the major leagues and Triple-A early on, Atchison was finally allowed to stay in June. He served primarily as a long reliever for Boston with one spot start, and was effective going multiple innings. He has three pitches and throws them for strikes. He was the most reliable of the team's middle-relief corps. The Red Sox picked up his option for 2011, and he's assured of a similar role again this time around.

Daniel Bard - Close observers know all about Bard by now. He throws wall-to-wall heat and misses bats as one of the league's premier setup men. His 32 holds led the American League and ranked third in MLB, behind a couple of relievers from San Diego, who pitched at an airport. Bard was a dominant pitcher in 2010, getting both righties and lefties out while limiting batters to a .159 average with runners on. As Jonathan Papelbon enters the final year of his contract, Bard has no more than a year to wait to become Boston's closer. That could happen sooner if the Red Sox decide to trade Papelbon, who has made it known for a long time he's looking to make a splash as a free agent.

Clay Buchholz - Buchholz emerged as a top starter in 2010 after a couple of stumbles to begin his career. He didn't have problems with runners on base like he had in 2009, holding opponents to a .202 average with runners on (.161 with RISP) last season. He also increased his velocity (to an outstanding 94.1 mph) while maintaining a solid ground-ball rate (50.3 percent of balls in play). But there are some worries as he didn't have a great strikeout rate (6.22 K/9IP) or walk rate (3.47 BB/9IP) and a low .265 BABIP. He may see some regression in his ERA as a result. However, at age 26 and with strong run support behind him, he should be one of the top starters in the AL.

Adrian Gonzalez - Gonzalez once again had a great season as a member of the Padres. He stayed healthy, hit 30 homers for the fourth straight season, hit for a good average (.298), and was an on-base machine. He had better numbers on the road (.315/.402/.578) than at home (.279/.383/.438), but that's understandable considering Petco Park. In the offseason, he was finally traded to Boston. The improved park and lineup should boost his stats and finally show the world what he's capable of achieving. Few first basemen will have as much upside as Gonzalez heading into 2011.

Jon Lester - Lester won a career-high 19 games, threw over 200 innings for the third straight season, and finished fourth in the Cy Young voting in 2010. His 9.7 K/9IP led the American League and he held opponents to a .220 batting average (fourth in AL). Other than a slight uptick in walks, Lester proffered another dominant season as Boston's de facto No. 1 starter. All signs point to another big season from him at age 27 as he continues to be the most consistent of the Red Sox's starting pitchers.

Daisuke Matsuzaka - Matsuzaka dealt with a few injuries in 2010, but when healthy he was the same pitcher we've grown accustomed to over his first three years in Boston. He continued to confound, mixing nights of brilliance with nights of nibbling, high pitch counts and early dismissals. In May, he sandwiched a near no-hitter against Philadelphia with two outings in which he was pulled after 4.2 innings. That's a microcosm of Matsuzaka's career in Boston -- he's tough to hit against, but allows too many free baserunners which can lead to big innings. He barely averaged over six innings per start and can be hard on managing a bullpen. While there remains some level of disconnect between him and the organization -- and sometimes his catcher -- he will open 2011 with a spot in the rotation.

Darnell McDonald - Who knew McDonald would become such an important part of Boston's everyday lineup in 2010? Injuries to Mike Cameron and Jacoby Ellsbury, which turned out to be season-long dramas, afforded McDonald his best opportunity (117 games) at the major league level since his 2004 debut with Baltimore. His offseason thumb surgery is progressing as expected and he'll be ready for spring training. If he returns to Boston, you can bet your salary that he won't start the season as one of the starting three outfielders. Still, the Red Sox like that he can play all three outfield positions and he would be an ideal fit as a fourth or fifth outfielder.

David Ortiz - The Red Sox picked up the team option on Ortiz for the 2011 season after he rebounded from a disappointing 2009 season. Actually, Ortiz's 2010 season was remarkably similar to 2009, in that he rebounded following a horrendous April. In 2010, he rebounded sooner and hit for a higher average. The poor starts are certainly alarming and factor into the reasoning behind not giving him a long-term commitment. There's no doubt he's entering his decline years, but 30 homers and 100 RBI at age 34 is still very good power production, and overall he was among the team's best hitters. Now with a threatening bat behind him in the order in Adrian Gonzalez, Ortiz should be good for similar power production in 2011.

Dustin Pedroia - Pedroia played just 75 games in 2010 after suffering a non-displaced fracture of his left foot in June that eventually required season-ending surgery in September. It's a shame, too, because Pedroia was just getting his stroke back at the time of the injury and was on pace to post career-high power numbers. All reports are that he'll be 100 percent ready to go when spring training rolls around, but only time will tell. The biggest question is obviously how well the foot heals and if there are any lingering issues. Also whether Pedroia, an old-school gamer, will be completely honest about how the foot feels. If healthy, he offers a nice combo of power/speed from the second base position. He's expected to bat second in what should be a pretty stacked Boston order this season.

Marco Scutaro - Scutaro battled neck and shoulder pain all year, but managed to play 150 games for Boston last season. He received injections throughout the year, and it was really a grind for him, though the pain impacted his defense more than his offense. Scutaro had a career-high 20 errors. In the end, he maintained offensive numbers relatively stable to his career output. That is to say, nothing flashy, but good middle-infield production. He's penciled in as Boston's starting shortstop in 2011, though there's been some talk of teams being interested in him. Scutaro has one year remaining on a very affordable contract, and Boston might be willing to listen as it has Jed Lowrie in house to replace Scutaro in the short term.

Tim Wakefield - The 44-year-old Wakefield has another year left on the contract he signed in 2009 and says 2011 will probably be his last year as a player. He'll likely resume the tweener role he was given (and begrudgingly accepted) in 2010, when he appeared in 32 games, making 19 starts. The Red Sox appreciate the flexibility he provides for manager Terry Francona, who can trot him out there for multiple innings as a reliever or fill in as a starter when injuries inevitably hit one or more of the starters. At this point of his career, trends are well established. Wakefield is very streaky and an innings muncher when starting. If he's forced to start and can stay healthy (a big IF) and is backed by this lineup, Wakefield will give you double-digit wins. As a reliever, there's less fantasy value, though he had better rate stats as a reliever in 2010.

Kevin Youkilis - Youkilis' 2010 season was cut short by a thumb injury that required surgery. He's reportedly done with his rehab and can work his usual offseason routine to get ready for spring training. It's hard to project how those injuries to hands (or wrists) linger the following year, but Youkilis is an iron man. He grinds every inning and every at-bat, while playing 140 games a season, prior to 2010. His on-base success is legendary, and he's added the type of power production befitting a corner infielder. Aside from the health of his thumb, it appears Youkilis will need to adjust to a new position. Boston added Adrian Gonzalez, which will force Youkilis to move from first base to third. Fortunately, that's the position he played coming up through the minors, and it shouldn't be too much of an adjustment.

Top Prospects

Lars Anderson - Anderson made the move from Double- to Triple-A early on in the 2010 season and struggled initially. Though he was much better in the second half of the season, Anderson still had stretches where he didn't hit. He is striking out too much and the power we've been waiting for hasn't developed. But everything considered, he improved after a subpar 2009 that dropped him in many prospect rankings. Anthony Rizzo had moved ahead of him as a first-base prospect, but that changed when Boston traded Rizzo to San Diego as part of the package to land Adrian Gonzalez. The downside to that, obviously, is that Gonzalez should be Boston's first baseman for the next several years. Anderson, who spent September in Boston, is major-league ready and now doesn't have to carry the expectations that come with being the organization's top prospect. That may have played a role in his production drop in 2009. We may never see the big bat, but he is skilled defensively and could land as the backup to Gonzalez with Mark Grace-like production, but there's also still the chance he's part of a trade package and shipped elsewhere.

Ryan Kalish - Kalish has been a comer in the organization for a couple of years, but was promoted to Boston ahead of schedule when injuries struck and other available options in the system were less attractive. His season was split fairly evenly into thirds: two months in Double-A, two months in Triple-A and two months in Boston. While he had some moments for Boston, we can't help but think the organization would like him to play every day at Triple-A than have him as a fourth or fifth outfielder. He's developed some good habits in terms of his approach at the plate and plays the game with passion. Kalish has moved ahead of Josh Reddick as the most senior outfield prospect and is someone to keep in mind as the potential 2012 right fielder when J.D. Drew heads to free agency.

Josh Reddick - Reddick was a comer in the organization, showing good power at the lower levels and had a tremendous spring training in 2010. It was all looking good for him in April last season, but he started poorly at Triple-A Pawtucket and those problems lingered until a torrid August. Scouts said he looked tentative at the plate, which is surprising because he's such an aggressive swinger. The Red Sox still have confidence in him, but 2010 was a step back for Reddick, and he's moved behind Ryan Kalish as the organization's top outfield prospect. His 2011 outlook really depends on what the Red Sox do in the free-agent market. Reddick could stick as a fifth outfielder, but a return to Pawtucket is likely.

Junichi Tazawa - Tazawa emerged on the scene when Boston tabbed him to make a handful of starts in 2009, however, he required Tommy John surgery in April 2010. The usual caveats apply for pitchers after elbow surgery. We'll see him pitching sometime during spring training, but there is obviously no plan to have him in Boston for 2011. Expect some tempered pitch- and innings-limit on him to start. The main goal is to get the elbow strong again. He had a nice array of secondary pitches prior to the injury, with his fastball needing the most improvement.

Luis Exposito - The departure of Victor Martinez through free agency has led to scrutiny of Boston's catching depth in the organization. Jarrod Saltalamacchia is in position to be the No. 1, but he's by no means settled. Exposito, who was added to the 40-man roster in the offseason, may be the organization's most complete catching prospect, but hasn't caught above Double-A. He continues to improve his game-calling and has good production as a hitter (94 RBI and 39 doubles in 2010), though like a lot of prospects, swings at questionable pitches. After 500 at-bats in Double-A, look for Boston to promote him to Triple-A to begin the 2011 season. Further refinement of his catching skills are in order for 2011 and we'll be watching to see if those doubles turn into homers.

Jose Iglesias - Iglesias is seen as the Red Sox's shortstop of the future with a major league ready glove. The question remains as to how good his bat will get, but he started the season well before a knuckle injury wiped out June, July and half of August. That's two-and-a-half months of development lost. He's not very selective, does not handle pitches on the outside third of the plate well and is getting used to advanced pitching at the professional level. Developing a better approach at the plate and making up for those lost at-bats in 2010 are seen as his primary goals for 2011. Look for him to start the season at Double-A Portland and don't read too much into it if he stays there the whole season.

Yamaico Navarro - Navarro came up through the system as a middle infielder before making the transition to third base in 2010. He now offers Boston some position flexibility as a second baseman, third baseman and shortstop. Navarro is known as a free-swinger, but he worked on improving his approach at the plate and it paid off in the form of more walks, a higher OBP and developing power -- he hit 11 homers in two stops at Double-A Portland and Triple-A Pawtucket. His brief callup to Boston late in the season didn't show too much as he looked overmatched and went back to his free-swinging ways. He continued to show patience at the plate in the Dominican Winter League, perhaps proving the improvement he showed in the minor leagues is sticking with him. He'll start the year at Pawtucket, where he can continue to develop as a hitter.

Kolbrin Vitek - Vitek played at short-season Lowell and Low-A Greenville to kick off is professional career after being drafted in the first round by Boston in 2010 draft. All the hitting traits displayed at Ball State were certainly evident: good plate discipline, a smooth swing without unnecessary movement, some present power. There's still a need to find his best position. A second baseman in college, Vitek played primarily at third base in Boston's organization, but there are some mechanical issues (footwork, transfers) and he may eventually land in the outfield. Low-A Greenville appears to be his starting spot for 2011.

Stolmy Pimentel - Pimentel takes on greater import within the organization after Casey Kelly was dealt to the Padres as part of the Adrian Gonzalez deal. He made great strides in 2010, improving his curveball, his in-game adjustments and establishing more poise on the mound. Pimentel's change-up is a plus pitch with swing-and-miss results. He needs to learn to harness the fastball as he gets more velocity with it, but overall the Red Sox are pleased with what they are seeing from Pimentel, who pitched in the All-Star Futures game last summer. After having him pitch a full season at High-A Salem, and with an offseason promotion to the 40-man roster, the Red Sox will likely promote him to Double-A Portland for 2011.

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