I think the Red Sox did the right thing by making changes after last season. As a Mets fan, I initially did not think Willie Randolph should have been fired after the collapse of 2007. After thinking it over, it may have been best for the organization if there was some accountability for what had happened. The Red Sox had accountability. First, the mutual agreement that manager Terry Francona would not be coming back. Then, the organization allowing General Manager Theo Epstein to pursue the Chicago Cubs front office position. For the Boston players, they have to know they were responsible for the changes that took place and this year there are no excuses. The hiring of manager Bobby Valentine will put in place more of a general in the clubhouse. And character issues will be held against the player now.
The Red Sox operated this offseason under a budget. The only major moves they made were trades with the Astros and Athletics for RHP Mark Melancon and RHP Andrew Bailey, respectively. They signed INF Nick Punto, C Kelly Shoppach and brought in OF Ryan Sweeney in the Bailey trade with Oakland. In order to sign FA OF Cody Ross, they traded SS Marco Scutaro to Colorado for salary relief.
There is no problems with the way the offense in constructed here. The Red Sox have the best 1-6 in baseball, particularly the way the top two are tremendous run producers. Dustin Pedroia (.307, 21, 91) will be best suited to be the leadoff batter. Jacoby Ellsbury (.321, 32, 105, 119 RS, 46 2B, 39 SB) could have easily won the AL MVP and was the leadoff batter for the most of last season. Adrian Gonzalez (.338, 27, 117) is a hitting machine and plays stellar defense. Kevin Youkilis (.258, 17, 80) should be healthier this year and will probably bat cleanup to split up the left hand batters. David Ortiz (.309, 29, 96) continues to be a factor at the plate. Carl Crawford, on the second year of a historic contract, is a much better player than we saw last season (.255, 11, 56). As long as he is healthy, there is no question he will produce more this season. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (.235, 16, 56) will R/L platoon with newcomer Shoppach (.176, 11, 22) which should add production to the catching position both offensively and defensively. Don't be alarmed by Shoppach's low BA, he is a better hitter coming off of a bad season. They will miss Jason Varitek's leadership. Ross (.240, 14, 52) and Sweeney (.265, 1, 25) will play RF and Mike Aviles (.255, 7, 39) and Punto (.278, 1, 20) will split time at SS.
A healthy Clay Buccholz (6-3, 3.48 in 14 starts after winning 17 games in 2010) instantly makes the starting rotation better. Jon Lester (15-9, 3.47) and Josh Beckett (13-7, 2.89) give the Red Sox a strong top three. With the loss of John Lackey, likely for the season, and Daisuke Matsuzaka (who may be returning sooner than we may think, it was thought the Red Sox would be more active in their pursuit of a starting pitcher. Financial constraints may have kept them from being in on guys like Edwin Jackson, Roy Oswalt and even Yu Darvish, though the latter may have not been on their mind due to the Dice-K signing of a few years ago. They have moved hard throwing reliever Daniel Bard into the starting rotation. Bard was 2-9, 3.33 in 70 games as a reliever last season and has a 7.11 ERA to this point as a starter this spring. Alfredo Aceves (10-2, 2.61 55 G, 4S) was in consideration for a starting spot as well. The Bailey injury will guarantee Aceves will be a reliever at least until he comes back. Aaron Cook is coming off recovery from an injury suffered a couple of years ago in Colorado and scouts say he may be coming back to form. LHP Andrew Miller and Vincente Padilla are also in the mix, though both have only pitched as relievers this spring.
Bailey (0-4, 24 saves, 3.24 in 42 games) was acquired to be the closer and will be good when he is healthy. As Bailey recovers for the next two months, Aceves will fill in as the closer. Melancon (8-4, 20, 2.78, 71) is a solid set up man and can close if needed. Matt Albers (4-4, 4.73, 56) is expected to have a bigger role this year and Franklin Morales (1-2, 3.69, 50) will be the left handed specialist. Bobby Jenks may not pitch this year. Miller and Padilla can have big roles in the pen if they are not in the starting rotation.
Overall, I like the shake-up in Boston and it has allowed this team to move on from last year. Though 2011 will not be forgotten, this team is too talented to take steps back as opposed to forward from last year. I have the Red Sox in the playoffs again and finishing 92-70, two games better than their 2011 record. Vegas puts the O/U at 89.5, so I have them over, 2nd place in the AL East. They will play Tampa Bay in the Wild Card game, with the winner going to the ALDS.