The Red Sox were one of the bigger stories in the 2011 season -- and not in a good way. News of September's collapse and the emerging revelations coming out of the after-season autopsy left the organization with a lot of in-house examination. That meant the Red Sox were not heavy players in the offseason player-acquisition markets. At least the elite players. Boston has spent a relatively quiet (for them) offseason, tweaking its roster on the cheap. There have been major changes at the organizational level -- a new manager in Bobby Valentine, a new general manager (Ben Cherington), a change in the team's medical staff -- but roster-wise, aside from losing closer Jonathan Papelbon to free agency, it's been very minor. There is a sense that more than anything, the team needs an attitudinal shift. This is still a roster that produces runs and will be in the thick of the playoff hunt.
Signed catcher Kelly Shoppach to a one-year deal.
Shoppach will serve as Jarrod Saltalamacchia's backup at catcher. The signing seemingly means 2011 late-season callup, Ryan Lavarnway, will open the 2012 season at Triple-A Pawtucket. The former Red Sox farmhand returns to the organization more fully developed as a backstop and buys the team another year to work on Lavarnway's skills behind the plate.
Signed infielder Nick Punto to a two-year deal.
Punto is multi-position capable and will serve as Boston's utility guy entering the 2012 season. At the time, this signing didn't appear to mean too much beyond having a good defender ready step in for Boston's established starters. But since then, the Red Sox have shipped Marco Scutaro out of town and Punto figures to be in the shortstop mix with Mike Aviles until (or if) Jose Iglesias is ready. And depending on Kevin Youkilis' health, Punto could get north of 300 at-bats.
Acquired relief pitcher Mark Melancon from Houston for shortstop Jed Lowrie and pitcher Kyle Weiland.
Melancon will get first crack at becoming Boston's setup man for new closer Andrew Bailey. The plan at this stage calls for the Red Sox to convert established setup man, Daniel Bard, to starter. That's how Bard entered professional baseball, but he was quickly moved to the bullpen when he showed an alarming propensity to walk batters. Something that Melancon has in common with the Bard of three years ago. Melancon has issued 3.5 BB/9IP in his three-year major-league career.
Acquired relief pitcher Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney from Oakland for outfielder Josh Reddick, first-baseman Miles Head and pitcher Raul Alcantara.
The Red Sox shopped mostly in the bargain bins during the offseason, but they stepped out of clearance section to land a replacement for closer Jonathan Papelbon. Bailey has converted 89 percent of his save opportunities and, on paper, seems to be a worthy heir to Papelbon's brilliance in the role. The big question is durability. Injuries have limited him to 47 and 42 games, respectively, over the last two seasons. The most alarming of which are elbow and forearm injuries.
At 6-foot-4, 225 pounds, Sweeney looks the part of a hitter, but his body mass has never translated to home runs. Not even in the minor leagues. A platoon role in right field is in his future. He'll comprise the left-handed hitting half while Cody Ross handles the right-handed half.
Signed right-handed pitcher Carlos Silva to a minor league contract.
Silva is an inexpensive arm that will compete for a spot in the rotation, but is likely to start the season in Triple-A. He'll have an opt-out clause allowing him to leave if he's not on the major-league roster by a certain date.
Signed right-handed pitcher Justin Germano to a minor league contract.
Like the other arms signed to minor league deals, Germano is being brought into training camp to compete for the final starting spot in the rotation, but is more likely ticketed for Triple-A to start the season.
Signed right-handed pitcher Aaron Cook to a minor league contract.
Stop me if you've already heard this. Cook will compete for Boston's fifth spot in the starting rotation, but will eventually become a starter at Triple-A Pawtucket, where he'll be in a holding pattern until Boston needs a starter or his opt-out clause kicks in.
Signed right-handed pitcher Vicente Padilla to a minor league contract.
While Padilla has worked primarily as a starter during his career, the Red Sox are looking at him for the bullpen. There are a couple of reliever jobs up for grabs.
Traded Marco Scutaro to Colorado for right-handed pitcher Clayton Mortensen.
This move was more about freeing up a little salary, shedding Scutaro's $7.7 price tag. Mortensen has Triple-A Pawtucket written all over him.
Signed outfielder Cody Ross to a one-year contract.
Ross will find a role in Boston's outfield. First, as a replacement for Carl Crawford, whose wrist injury is expected to cost him some time at the outset of the season. When Crawford returns, Ross will be part of the right-field solution, along with Ryan Sweeney.
Projected Lineup (vs. RH/LH)
1. Jacoby Ellsbury CF
2. Dustin Pedroia 2B
3. Adrian Gonzalez 1B
4. Kevin Youkilis 3B
5. David Ortiz DH
6. Carl Crawford LF
7. Ryan Sweeney/Cody Ross RF
8. Jarrod Saltalamacchia C
9. Mike Aviles SS
The bottom third of the order doesn't evoke much hope in the AL East, though Boston got by with a similar configuration in 2011 when they led baseball in runs scored while getting very little production out of right field. Aviles will carry a bigger load than he ever has previously in his career, and Saltalamacchia, entering his age-27 season, looks to build on the best season of his career. There will be some tinkering early on when Crawford is expected to miss some time after offseason wrist surgery. And we'll have to see manager Bobby Valentine's plans for Crawford, who did not have a great impact when batting lower in the order in 2011.
1. Jon Lester
2. Josh Beckett
3. Clay Buchholz
4. Daniel Bard
5. Alfredo Aceves
The top three spots are set, but all three will come under scrutiny. Lester and Beckett need to shed concerns about their professionalism and training habits. Buchholz is coming off a back injury that cut off his season in June. The fourth and fifth spots, which belonged to John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka in 2011, will have new faces in 2012. At this stage, Bard and Aceves will get the first cracks at joining the rotation, however, as relievers in 2011, both need to be stretched out. We suspect there will be some in-season rotation management. Names like Andrew Miller, Aaron Cook, Vicente Padilla, Brandon Duckworth and Carlos Silva will be bandied about during spring training.
Closer: Andrew Bailey
Bailey overcame a forearm injury at the start of the 2011 season and recorded 24 saves in 26 opportunities for the Athletics. In addition to the forearm injury, he's dealt with elbow (!), knee, back and oblique setbacks over the last two seasons, limiting him to about a 60-percent workload. His peripherals indicate there's a good closer capable of backstopping Boston's bullpen. Durability is the concern.
Notes of import, fantasy and otherwise
Who joins the rotation?
For the first time in years, the Red Sox face several questions entering a season. And perhaps none bigger than the starting rotation which faltered during last September's collapse. The bigger questions hover around the identity of the fourth and fifth spots, where the Red Sox are looking to convert relievers into starters, to replace John Lackey and Daisuke Matsuzaka -- both of whom are unavailable due to Tommy John surgery. Neither Daniel Bard nor Alfredo Aceves handled a starter's workload last season, so there will be long-haul concerns for each. Boston is bringing in a host of inexpensive starting pitchers from outside the organization to compete for depth roles, but one name not to lose track of is Felix Doubront. Injuries, perhaps the result of poor conditioning, hampered his 2011 season from the get-go.
Should we get a second opinion?
The Red Sox restructured its medical staff in the offseason, feeling the areas of player maintenance and care could use improvement. One needs only to look back on the last few seasons to see the examples of clinical care gone awry. Jacoby Ellsbury's rib injury in 2010, the extent of which was undiagnosed, and Clay Buchholz's back injury in 2011, which similarly was more serious than first diagnosed. There are two elements in taking care of players. The actual diagnosis and treatment of injuries is one area, but the responsibility for maintenance falls on the players themselves. The players' dedication to staying in shape was an issue for the Red Sox in 2011.
Is it possible to miss Josh Reddick in right field?
Right field was a scary position for the Red Sox in 2011. Boston's right fielders were last in batting average and next to last in slugging and OPS. Josh Reddick offered some production early on his callup, but he eventually regressed. And the outlook heading into 2012 doesn't suggest vast improvement. The Red Sox would like Ryan Kalish to eventually man this spot full time, but he's looking at rehabbing offseason labrum surgery and a likely stint at Triple-A when he returns. That means Boston will look for a stop-gap solution in 2012. Some combination of Ryan Sweeney, Cody Ross and Darnell McDonald will fill the position until Kalish is ready.
Doesn't having a shortstop matter?
Marco Scutaro has given Boston above-average production at shortstop while maintaining adequate defense the last two seasons. After Boston picked up his option for 2012, Scutaro seemed to be the logical starter while defensive whiz Jose Iglesias got his bat ready for the majors. The feeling around Boston is that Iglesias needs to accumulate, not just at-bats, but good at-bats. Which is why trading Scutaro to Colorado came as a surprise. It leaves the Red Sox in a position to have Mike Aviles and Nick Punto getting significant at-bats this season. If Iglesias' bat develops in Triple-A Pawtucket early on, we'll likely see him up in Boston, playing an everyday role for Boston.
Run production, despite the holes that remain in right field and shortstop; top-of-the rotation starters, though each has something to prove in 2012; Financial resources to add players.
Depth in the starting rotation. Boston was hurt down the stretch last season and they'll be asking two relievers to train as starters in spring training; There isn't much roster and lineup flexibility. David Ortiz commands all the at-bats at designated hitter, but what happens if Kevin Youkilis can't handle the rigors of being the everyday third baseman? Where does Carl Crawford fit in the batting order?
Rising: Jarrod Saltalamacchia - Salty is coming off his best season as a major leaguer and is cemented as the team's No. 1 catcher heading into 2012, now that the specter of Jason Varitek is not hovering. Saltalamacchia faltered down the stretch, turning his pre-All-Star break .250 batting average into a .225 season, but he maintained adequate power numbers after a slow start. He may not be the organization's long-term solution, but there isn't a catcher at the minor-league level ready to step in and take over as the front-line starter. If Boston had the faith in Ryan Lavarnway to be that guy, it would not have brought in Kelly Shoppach as a backup.
Falling: Kevin Youkilis - A healthy Youkilis is a good middle-of-the-lineup bat, so it's hard to place him in the falling category. However, injuries have limited him to 111 games in each of the last two seasons. This comes after a stretch in which he averaged 143 games over four years despite a slew of nagging injuries. He continues to play the game hard and is now entering his age-33 season. Playing through injuries isn't as easy as it was. And the Red Sox can't limit his exposure by having him DH, because David Ortiz is around to gobble up those at-bats.
Sleeper: Mike Aviles - Aviles will open the season as the likely starter at shortstop, unless the Red Sox add another veteran to the roster. He hit well for Boston in 107 plate-appearances after coming over from Kansas City, and has battered left-handers during his career. It's conceivable that Aviles gets 400 at-bats this season, if the Red Sox opt not to call up Jose Iglesias, who has yet to put together a stretch of good at-bats in Triple-A. In the two seasons Aviles got more than 400 at-bats, he hit for moderate power and was a double-digit base-stealer.
Supersleeper: Felix Doubront - Doubront was the logical solution to replace any of Boston's injured or ineffective starters in 2011, but an elbow injury in spring training derailed his preparation for the start of the season. Once healthy, he was called on to help a beleaguered bullpen in April. He then suffered groin and hamstring injuries and was never able to build momentum. There is very little to like about his 2011 season in the minors; he allowed 10 homers and walked 26 batters in 70 innings at Triple-A. He'll need to re-dedicate himself and prove 2011 was an aberration.
Will Middlebrooks, 3B - The third baseman shot to the top of the charts in the organization once the Red Sox traded some key prospects for Adrian Gonzalez, and the 23-year-old from Texas didn't disappoint in 2011. He clubbed 23 homers with 94 RBI, most of that work while performing for Double-A Portland, for which he hit .302/.345/.520 in 397 plate appearances. Things didn't go so well after a promotion to Triple-A Pawtucket, but the story of a prospect needing to adjust to advanced pitching at higher levels is a long one in baseball. He'll never be an on-base machine, but is improving his strikeout rate and developing a potent power stroke. As Kevin Youkilis begins to show wear at the major league level, the organization is looking for Middlebrooks to put the finishing touches on his development this season, and step into the hot corner as early as 2013.
Xander Bogaerts, SS - Bogaerts made a significant splash into professional baseball in 2011, bypassing short-season ball and getting a mid-season placement at Low-A Greenville, where he hit 16 homers in 265 at-bats. The power stroke is there; he just needs to learn how to better manage his plate appearances. He's playing shortstop, and at just 19, the organization will leave him where he is for now, but his body projects to add more mass and he could find a position switch somewhere down the line. Look for him to continue to develop a plate approach at Greenville with a promotion to High-A Salem likely. He's a good name to stash away on your prospect charts.
Anthony Ranaudo, P - Ranaudo had success starting the season at Low-A Greenville and received a quick promotion to the High-A Carolina League pitching for Salem. Consistent success at the advanced level eluded him, but the Red Sox are not worried. He's the top starter prospect in the organization and will stay on with Salem to open the 2012 season. The 22-year-old righty has three good pitches right now and needs to work on being consistent in his timing and repeating his delivery.
Bryce Brentz, OF - When Brentz first debuted after signing with the Red Sox in 2010, he had to adjust to wearing contact lenses. That accomplished, his next goal was to start hitting for power in 2011. That goal was achieved - he hit a combined 30 homers between Low-A and High-A last season. Next on the agenda for Brentz is to improve his defense (he committed 17 errors and took numerous bad routes on fly balls) and improve his batting eye - once he got promoted to High-A Salem, his contact rate dropped to 72 percent. All-in-all though it was a successful season for the 2010 first-round supplemental pick. He eventually could be a part of the Red Sox corner outfield picture, perhaps as a September call-up in 2013.
Ryan Lavarnway, C - Lavarnway made his way to the major leagues for the first time in 2011, hitting .231 in 17 games for Boston. His two-homer game on the next-to-final night of the season was the highlight. Looking ahead, Lavarnway has a real shot at claiming the backup catching job. He's worked hard to improve his receiving game, though there's still room for growth, and his right-handed power bat can provide some balance to a lefty-heavy order. Red Sox catchers wore down over the course of the season and they're unlikely to re-sign Jason Varitek, who will be 40 in April. The signing of Kelly Shoppach unfortunately clouds the playing time picture for Lavarnway.
Jose Iglesias, SS - Iglesias made his major league debut in 2011 with a brief stint in May when Marco Scutaro was injured and then returned in September. The consensus is that he's Boston's shortstop of the future due to his glove, but the Red Sox would like to see him produce some good at-bats at Triple-A. He showed better-than-expected offense in 2010 at the Double-A level, but it didn't sustain in his first full year at the most-advanced minor league level. A full season at Pawtucket is expected, though Boston's trade of Scutaro to Colorado could move his schedule up a half-season. A lot depends on how he hits.
Ryan Kalish, OF - Kalish lost a year of development in 2011 amid several injuries. He first suffered a partially torn labrum when diving for a ball in April. He was able to avoid surgery on the shoulder, but a neck injury suffered during his time rehabbing the shoulder eventually shut down his season and required a procedure, and he'll now be out until May or June. Prior to the injuries, he was on schedule to take over right field in 2012. With the trade of Josh Reddick, right field is open, but Kalish will need to get back up to speed before he can take the job. Until then, a combination of Ryan Sweeney, Darnell McDonald and Cody Ross will man right field, barring another offseason acquisition by the Red Sox.
Garin Cechhini, SS - Cecchini just started to get the hang of things at Short-Season Lowell in 2011 when a wrist injury cut short his season in July. This came after he missed all of 2010 with a torn ACL. The developmental delay has hampered his transition from shortstop to third base, but the 20-year-old already has nice swing mechanics with an ability to hit to all fields and power potential. The wrist injury healed and he participated in the Fall Instructional League with an eye toward Low-A Greenville in 2012.
Brandon Jacobs, OF - Jacobs continued his transition from a two-sport star to becoming solely a baseball player. He's re-shaped his body and it's made him a better hitter, as evidenced by his 2011 season when he was named the Player of the Year in the South Atlantic League while playing for Low-A Greenville. In the field, it's a different story. He needs to put himself in a better position to make plays and improve the angles he takes to field balls. He's likely to get a promotion to High-A Salem to open the 2012 season, but the Red Sox will want to see defensive improvement before he ascends the higher levels of the organization.
Blake Swihart, C - Swihart, a first-round draft pick in 2011, is an athletic switch-hitter who played both third base and catcher during his senior year in high school. The Red Sox will use him solely as a catcher as he enters his first full season in the organization, though he could move off the position as he matures. Swihart projects as a plus hitter for average, but needs to work on his approach and pitch recognition. And there's some power potential, but he's still on the lean side.