Time to talk about the important stuff in life - The Boston Red Sox. What does 2010 hold besides increased ticket, food and parking prices? A few more seats have been added to Fenway along with much touch up to attempt to make a near 100 year old ballpark presentable. Just make the seats larger and get rid of the poles. Anyway the important thing is the team.
Woe is Red Sox nation over the loss of one Jason Bay who represents the ideal for multi generations of Boston fans - a right handed power hitter. The mentality in Boston has been ingrained for decades and that is to think hitting first. Sigh…you win with defense and the number one component of defense is pitching and that is where I will start.
This is a solid starting rotation with six pitchers capable of going into the 15+ range. Wakefield is restored to health, Lester was the best in the league from mid-May on, Beckett was 17-6 with an ERA under four and is pitching for a huge contract, Dice-K is in primo shape after looking like BB in 2009, Lackey is or was the ace of the Angels staff and Clay Buchholz is primed for a break out year. The starting staff has depth, experience and an excellent track record.
Papelbon remains a premier closer. One of the best and one of the soon to be wealthiest. To get to Papelbon the Sox will have holdovers Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima, Daniel Bard and Ramon Ramirez once he returns from exile to the minors. That leaves two more slots and one appears to be firmly in the grip of Boof Bonzer and the other up for grabs among a plethora of vets looking for another payday, including old friend Alan Embree, who played for the 2004 and maybe the 1918 championship team. This is a very good relief corps that could be great or just average depending on who steps up or who steps down.
The projected starting nine for the Red Sox scored 789 runs and had 675 RBI last season. The entire team was 872/822 in 2009 and that run total was third best in the AL. That 789/675 represents a very favorable figure when coupled with anticipated pitching and an improved defense. So I am not all emotional about any anticipated offensive drop-off. Cameron will make up for some of the offensive loss as will a full season of Victor Martinez. The fill in players should boast that run/RBI total up to 2009 levels.
The infield is solid with Scuturo a new comer at SS, the pest of pest Dustin Pedroia at second, former Gold Glover Kevin Youklis at first and new comer Adrian Beltre at Third. Defensively this is an excellent infield. Maybe among the best in team history. Mike Lowell may stay around until he is traded or until Ortiz can prove his poor start in 2009 was an illusion. Bill Hall provides further infield and outfield support. Mr. Hall was once a dynamite power hitter just a few years back and could prove a valuable asset if key injuries surface.
My pick for surprise of the year is Jeremy Hermida. This former number one pick has languished in mediocrity in Florida but this is his big chance to get back on track. Hermida will get his games in since “Day to Day” Drew is a lock to miss a bundle and Mile Cameron is 37 which in baseball years translates to O-L-D. Both Cameron and Drew do have some punch so I feel, again, the slippage with the loss of Bay will be less than anticipated. Ellsbury has shifted to LF to make room for former Gold Glover Cameron to handle CF. Ellsbury has twice led the league in stolen bases and is a nightmare to opponents when he is on base. Ells is a legit .300 hitter who could and should score 100+ runs.
The catching has both Victor Martinez and team captain Jason Varitek. Varitek’s bat is now as weak as a BB post so he is there for giving a good 60 games while VMart will handle another 100 or so. VMart is also in a walk season and is a superior hitter who will get his .300/25/100. Neither is great at tossing out runners as the team had a MLB worse 13% nabbing attempted steals. Much of that is more a reflection of team philosophy rather than liabilities by the catchers.
Last is Papi. David Ortiz. The Designated Hitter. Oh the bitter disappointment of HGH use. Papi may be 36 or 34 or 38 or whatever years old. But despite a lousy 2009 he still had 29 homers and 99 RBI. Not bad. If he can be consistent the entire season he’ll be fine. If not Lowell is waiting. Papi is playing for a 12 million option for 2011 so the incentive is there. Greed motivates.
The Sox have added substantial payroll but also stand to shed substantial payroll after 2010 when Ortiz, Lowell, Beckett and dead money from past mistakes is off the books. That means that during the season the Sox can always negotiate with some baseball unfortunate wishing to dump a high end contract.
The Sox have the best manager possible for Boston. With hindsight I can point out plenty of failings but the reality is he keeps things cozy for the talent, racks up wins, handles the minor and major issues and is accessible to the media. Tito will take a bunch of hits to insulate his players from the media and as the saying goes “He’s a players manager.”
This team could probably take any other division in baseball but they reside in the AL East with the yankee$ and Rays. Look for 95+ wins and another playoff appearance. AL East finish is NY, Boston, Tampa, Baltimore and Toronto. Sox get the Wild Card and win the ALCS.