The Red Sox have brought in several free agents, led by 1B Mike Napoil, RF Shane Victorino, RHP Ryan Dempster, SS Stephen Drew, LF Jonny Gomes, RHP Koji Uehera and C David Ross. The Red Sox reallocated the money saved in the Gonzalez, Crawford and Beckett contract by signing the seven players. While none of the players are stars, I feel the team addressed several needs with these pickups.
Though I think Joel Hanrahan is a bit overrated, the trade with the Pirates gives the Red Sox a dependable option in the back of the bullpen. Andrew Bailey returns to be a setup man, and along with Uehera gives the Red Sox a solid top three relievers. Craig Breslow, Andrew Miller and Franklin Morales give the team strength from the left side. One of the more underrated relievers will be Junichi Tazawa (1-1, 1.43 in 37 games). He returned from Tommy John surgery and has a huge upside. Last year's closer Alfredo Aceves (2-10, 5.36, 25 saves) may be on the outside looking in. Daniel Bard, such an important part of the Red Sox pitching staff coming into last season, has no pressure to work his way back to the form of 2011. I see the Red Sox bullpen being up there with any in all of baseball.
The rotation adds Dempster, who has been a durable starting pitcher over the past five seasons. He was 12-8, 3.38 in 28 starts for the Cubs and Rangers last season. However, in spite of a 7-3 record with Texas, he pitched to a 5.09 ERA in 12 starts giving up 10 HR in just less than 70 IP. Questions do exist over whether Dempster can pitch effectively in the American League, previously spending his entire career in the NL. The key to the success of the Boston Red Sox will be what they get from there other starters, with Dempster slotted to be either the 4th or 5th starter. Jon Lester had a very down season last year (9-14, 4.82) and Clay Buchholz (11-8, 4.56) was ways away from his breakout 2010 season (17-7, 2.56). Felix Doubront (11-10, 4.86, 167 Ks in 161 IP) earned himself a spot in the rotation going into this season. John Lackey is expected to be a 4th or 5th starter as he fully recovers from Tommy John. Morales (3-4, 3.77 in 37 games, 9 starts) is an option as well as Bard. But the Red Sox are likely to depend heavily in Lester, Buchholz, Doubront, Dempster and Lackey. I think the rotation looks better than last season when the team relied on a struggling Beckett, Aaron Cook (4-11, 5.65) and Daisuke Matsuzaka (1-8, 8.18).
The Red Sox offense does not look as "sexy" on paper as it did with the track records of Gonzalez and Crawford, but I can see it being effective. David Ortiz, who hit .318 and drove in 60 runs in spite of playing in just 90 games last season, will be a major factor in how the Red Sox will be able to produce runs. Jacoby Ellsbury (.271, 4, 26 in 74 games) was a shell of his 2011 version when he hit .321, 32, 105. Even though he was hurt, it has to be discouraging how much his production fell off. But, Ellsbury is elligible for free agency after season and he and Scott Boras are looking for a big payday. I expect Ellsbury to be closer to the 2011 version as he tries for a nine figure contract. I'd line the team up like this Ellsbury CF, Dustin Pedroia 2B, Ortiz DH, Napoli 1B, Will Middlebrooks 3B, Jarrod Saltalamacchia C, Gomes/ Mike Carp LF, Drew SS, Victorino RF. The team lost RF Cody Ross and his 22 HR, 81 RBI, but the increase in overall on base percentage throughout the lineup will give opportunity for Pedroia, Ortiz, Napoli and Middlebrooks to have big RBI seasons.
Much as been said about the Red Sox top prospects, OF Jackie Bradley and SS Xander Bogaerts. Drew is simply holding the place for Bogaerts, who hit 20 HR last season and is expected to be a power hitter who should remain as a shortstop. Bradley may not have the power Ellsbury showed in 2011, but he is the five tool player that may take some of the sting of losing Jacoby to free agency after this season.
Many factors contributed to the Red Sox laying an egg last season. Valentine, the clubhouse and injuries led this team to perform worse than could have ever been expected. However, I think there has to be some concern with new manager John Farrell, especially after he was criticized for being a little soft as manager of the Toronto Blue Jays. I see the Red Sox rebounding this year though. Not enough to make the playoffs, but enough to challenge for a Wild Card. Vegas puts their over/ under at 79 1/2. I think the number is accurate, as I see the Red Sox finishing at 81-81, 4th place in the AL East.