As the Sox start swinging bats later today against the college kids, it's time to play a little catch up. A lot has happened this off season, and a lot remains unanswered as we enter spring training. Let's try to cover a lot of ground here and now, and then delve deeper later.
- Playoff Format - I love the new playoff format. I didn't write it down then but I can say with a straight face that this is exactly the format I wanted (the extra wild card with a one game playoff, not the home-away format issue). This will re-energize divisional races because it will matter so much more to teams that they win their division outright. That's the way it was for almost a century and it's the way it is supposed to be. It has been too easy for wild card "winners" - including the Sox - to glide into the playoffs and start the postseason on basically even footing with teams that bested them in the regular season. The new format will force teams to try harder to win the division because if you don't, you could easily lose a one game playoff and even if you win you enter the next round with tired arms and a less-than-ideal rotation alignment. Meanwhile, this system will energize more cities about baseball. I love it.
- Shortstop - I was surprised that the Sox dumped Scooot. I don't believe they really think of Aviles or Punto as an everyday shortstop. They must really be thinking Iglesias will start by midseason. I'm worried about his hitting but they should be able to hide him in this lineup and Bobby V. won with Rey Ordonez so maybe this will work out.
- Bobby V. - I haven't seen much reporting on his actually managerial philosophy which I'd like to know more about. He will probably be a very good manager, but I also feel that the local and especially the national media heap praise on him largely because he's one of them. They'd probably also anoint Kevin Kennedy as a baseball genius if he went back to the bench.
- Catcher - The Sox are in very good shape here. I expect a healthy Salty will make the all star team. Shoppach is a perfect backup. I think we'll be making Mirabelli references pretty often - and I mean that in a good way. Strong defense and an all or nothing approach to hitting. Did you hear? Kelly Shoppach eats raw steaks before every game and will not run to first base unless the ball clears the fence? He once argued his way into a 5th strike and was caught looking out of misguided spite!
- Rightfield - Ryan Sweeney and Cody Ross are pretty good players. That said, we have to hope that Ryan Kalish or J.C. Linares force their way into the lineup. Best case scenario is that the young guys force us to release one of the vets after the all star break. That said, I sort of doubt that will happen.
- Leftfield - I don't worry about Carl Crawford once he's healthy, but it sounds like we might be a bit thin in the outfield for a few weeks into the season. If we end up with a lineup that includes Sweeney, Ross/Darnell McDonald and Iglesias, that's pretty weak. Doubly so if a few of the better hitters (think Papi, Salty, and Youk) get off to a slow start. This could be a rough start to the season.
- Starters - The top three are great if they are healthy. I don't agree with the Bard transition but I think he'll end up a starter this year. He'll be fine but I think his desire to make this move is mostly about him collecting bigger paychecks down the road. I expect Aceves to be in the pen. The fifth starter will likely be Felix Doubront to start the season. If he fails, there are a bunch of almost-was starters the Sox will store in Pawtucket. Dice-K will also be back with a new arm for the second half and I think he might surprise us.
- The Pen - The key is of course Andrew Bailey's health. If he's healthy, they have a solid pen. Mark Melancon should be a great addition. Aceves will be good again - although no one should expect a repeat of last year. After that I expect Matt Albers, Michael Bowden (out of options) and lefty Franklin Morales. Again, I wish I knew Bobby V's philosophy. Will he go with Tito's 12 man pitching staff or the standard 11? The other possibilities are lefty specialist Rich Hill, the other Chris Carpenter, Andrew Miller or Junichi Tazawa (also with a new Tommy John arm). I am concerns about the lack of a reliable lefty as Morales has a big arm but hasn't been effective for an entire season yet and who knows what Hill has left in his arm or even which angle from which he'll throw?
- Hangover - Who knows how the Sox will react to an offseason that only Dan Shaughnessy could love. The Sox players lost a bunch of baseball games at the end of last season. A historic collapse - literally. But after years of having to tolerate Red Sox success, competent leadership and boring curselessness, Shaughnessy et al had a wet dream of an off season. Beer in the club house! For shame. The most successful manager in franchise history leaves? A crisis! The boy genius leaves the general managers office? Clearly that's not because he wanted to be a president of a baseball club - a position that Larry Lucchino will hold for the Sox as long as he can - it was clearly a sign that he was jumping ship! The 2012 Red Sox will have to recover from a tough 2011 season, but perhaps more than that, they will have to move past the ingrained negativism and tabloid mentality of the Boston media. Maybe Jon Lester could be asked about his curveball not his cocktails. Just a thought.