I’m not here to talk about the past. I’m here with hope for the future.
We all know how 2011 ended for Boston. There was much hand wringing and house cleaning. In the end, the team changed GMs, changed (and eventually firebombed) their manager, and stayed relatively quiet in free agency.
In fact, the 2012 Free Agency period was one of the quietest in recent memory for the Sox. Boston brought in a bunch of journeymen, and were not players on the biggest names of the offseason just one year after landing two of the biggest prizes in 2011. Three Red Sox players called it a career after 2011 – JD Drew (THANK GAWD!!!), Tim Wakefield and Team Captain Jason Varitek. The Red Sox also lost All-Star closer Jonathon Papelbon to a Phillies organization that was willing to open up their checkbooks and give him the moon.
Boston always had a plan in mind for the succession after Papelbon’s days were over; Setup man (and Holds machine) Daniel Bard was clearly the next in line to move into the ninth inning role and lock down the job. But Bard preferred to go to the starting rotation this year, as the fourth starter on a limited innings basis, leaving a void in the closer’s spot. Enter Andrew Bailey – imported via a trade with Oakland, he is now the de facto closer in Boston; or at least he will be until he blows consecutive saves at some point in May, and the Red Sox faithful begin calling for his head. Nobody knows what to make of Bailey quite yet. His numbers were off the charts good in Oakland – 75 saves versus only 9 blown in his three seasons with the A’s. But in 2011 his innings load doubled over the previous two years as he appeared in fifteen more games than he’d ever pitched in before.
Outside of the players on the field, the team brought in Bobby Valentine to take over the reigns in the clubhouse from Terry Francona. As far as public personalities go, the two really couldn’t be too much more different. But what matters more is how they manage the Boston clubhouse.
If Valentine can handle the personalities of the clubhouse, he’ll be in good shape as he’s already got a firm grasp on the local media. Bobby V’s years in Bristol bought him all kinds of goodwill from the media types, especially since he learned exactly what they wanted to hear from a manager. His interviews are short, but full of sound bytes. He’s not afraid to call a player out if need be – something that this team never had under Terry Francona. Of course, the team had Two World Series titles in the first four years under Francona, something Valentine cant say.
The biggest question for this team is going to be pitching – the offense will always be there, especially in the friendly confines of Fenway. But they didn’t get a quality start from a single pitcher for the entire month of September last year, taxing their bullpen and ultimately leading them to fall prey to the worst regular season collapse in baseball history. Going into 2012, Boston will be returning the same top three in the rotation – Jon Lester, Josh Beckett and Clay Bucholz. The loss of John Lackey to surgery may actually end up as addition by subtraction; you won’t find a single Sox fan that will be missing him this season.
The final two rotation spots look to be filled out by Bard and potentially Alfredo Aceves, at least until Boston can bring Dice-K back from his own surgery-lot season. But if the Red Sox season is riding on the Tommy John repaired arm of a starter who was never all that good anyway, then they’ve already lost. All I can say is, I’m thankful there’s a second Wild Card spot this year.
Prediction: 89-93 Wins, 2nd in the AL East, Second AL Wild Card Winner