Can you see it? Well ok thats only snow and ice but if you have a television you can see the green grass, brown dirt, yellow foul poles and Red shirts. Yes spring training is here and everyone has a fresh start and a fresh set of questions that need answering.
In preparation for the start of Spring, ESPNBoston took a look at 10 pressing issues for the Boston Red Sox heading into the start of camp. In honor of spring training finally getting underway I decided to take my own look at these 10 questions and give my take on them.
No. 1: Who bats where?
ESPNBoston’s Take: Nearly 200 reader suggestions, no one knows, possible Francona hints Ellsbury lead off Gonzalez clean up.
This is easily the most interesting offseason question and the most fun to speculate about. But its also the most irrelevant at this stage. The additions of offensive powerhouse Adrian Gonzalez and all aorund offensive threat Carl Crawford to an already stocked offensive lineup give Francona a number of options.
Despite the speculation over the opening day or spring training line-up I don’t really care yet. We are going to see six months of tweaking and overhauls as Francona tries to find the most dangerous one through nine. Lets wait until September and October when the games really matter and we have solid examples to pull from before we start going crazy over the line-ups.
With all that said here is the starting nine I want to see:
No. 2: Lingering injuries?
ESPNBoston’s Take: Tons of injuries last season to many key players, all on track to return, only Gonzalez lingering into spring training.
Not really a question s much as something to keep in mind. Last year Daisuke Matsuzaka, Josh Beckett, Jacoby Ellsbury, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis and Mike Cameron all spent time on the DL, and of them missed at least 40 games. On top of that Adrian Gonzalez and Bobby Jenks are both joining the team after offseason surgery.
Only Gonzalez’s injury looks to be a factor in spring training but Sox top brass has indicated that everyone will be ready for opening day and no one (aside from Gonzalez) will be taking it slow.
No. 3: Is Salty ready?
ESPNBoston’s Take: Best the Sox have, been an underachiever so far, has a great mentor in Jason Varitek.
Jarrod Saltalamacchia has been on Red Sox general manager Theo Epstien’s radar for a few years now and he was finally able to land the young cacher last season. With Victor Martinez moving to the Tigers and Jason Varitek resigning late it would seem like the starting catchers spot is Saltalamacchia’s to lose.
However Varitek is said to have reported to camp feeling better than he has in the last few years and I expect him to get a majority of the playing time early on, which is not a bad thing. Varitek was also an underachiever and 26 years old when he was traded to the Red Sox. Both are also switch hitters with some pop.
Varitek is the perfect player to mentor Saltalamacchia to learn under and by the end of the season will be in line to take over the full time behind the plate.
Another thing to keep in mind is that there is virtually no pressure on the catchers spot to produce offensively so anything out of Salty will be considered a plus.
No. 4: Who’s on the bench?
ESPNBoston’s Take: Lots of players got a look last year due to injury, only Darnell McDonald and Jed Lowrie will contribute.
Fifteen rookies played for the Sox last year on top of a number of journeymen. The most pleasant surprise of all the players was Darnell McDonald, who was almost cut before Ellsbury injured his ribs. McDonald played all three outfield positions last year and could easily be the fifth outfield for this team.
Outside of that there really isn’t much speculation here as most of the roster is already set barring injury.
As for Jed Lowrie, we’ll get to him in a minute.
No. 5: How will Ortiz do?
ESPNBoston’s Take: Sox picked up extension, no market for a pure DH, contract year for Ortiz.
The 35 year old Ortiz is in a difficult situation with only one positive option, hit the cover off the ball all year. As this off season showed, there is no market for a pure DH as Vladimir Guerrero and Manny Ramirez’s minimal contracts this offseason show and instead of the contract extension he wanted, the Sox just picked up his club option for $12.5 million.
With a decent 2010 season behind him, the only way Ortiz will be able to make a splash after this season is by having a monster 2011. The additions of Gonzalez and Crawford will force Ortiz to be dropped down the order and take the pressure off. And is there anything better for a struggling star then a contract year for them to put up numbers?
No. 6: What’s Lowrie’s role?
ESPNBoston’s Take: Revolving door at shortstop over the last 10 years, Scutaro named started, Lowrie utility man.
Lowrie, as long as he can stay healthy, will see a good amount of playing time this year. All four starting infielders are coming off injuries from last year and the possibility of a struggling Ortiz and the DH spot being used to give them a day off, Lowrie will see the field.
He has played all four infield spots in the majors and even if he doesn’t like the term utility man, barring an injury, that will be his role this season and he will flourish in it.
No. 7: How strong is pen?
ESPNBoston’s Take: Fun to watch, lots of options, health a factor.
The Red Sox have a number of options in the bullpen this season and it should be fun to watch. The pen is headlined by a trio of closer options (more on that in a minute) as incumbent Jonathan Papelbon, young heater Daniel Bard and newcomer Bobby Jenks will all see time in the 8th and 9th innings.
The middle innings will be picked up by a number of battling pitchers. Hideki Okajima, Scott Atchison and Felix Doubront are all holdovers from last season and Theo has brought in veterans Dan Wheeler and Matt Albers as well as highly underachieving Andrew Miller, who was a teammate and higher draft dick than Daniel Bard.
As always I expect some of them to struggle, young guys in Pawtucket to get a look or two and trades to happen but the core group of this pen will be solid.
Also forgot in this mix is Tim Wakefield, who should be the long relief guy and spot starter, but will have a spot in this pitching staff.
No. 8: Sox closer by Sept?
ESPNBoston’s Take: Papelbon’s to lose, his last year regadless, Bard and Jenks are waiting.
The closer’s role in the Sox pen has the most pressure on it of any spot on this team. Papelbon has struggled in recent years and watching him pitch is almost as hard to do as watching Dice-K. Despite the pressure, Papelbon’s past performances have earned him the the job and its his to lose. As long as he pitches well he will be closing in September
With Bard and Jenks waiting in the wings and Papelbon trade rumors swirling all offseason I would not be shocked at all to the the Sox make a move near the deadline that involves some member of this trio.
No. 9: How key is Dice-K?
ESPNBoston’s Take: Kept away from Yankees, comes in as number five starter, season success does not hinge on Dice-K.
Watching Matsuzaka pitch is maddening. Despite that I’m fine with him being on the roster. When he is on, he is as good as any pitcher in baseball and his near no-hitter last year proves that. Barring any injury, Dice-K will be no higher then fifth in the rotation and for any team your fifth guy just needs to give you a chance to win.
If he does struggle or succumbs to another injury, the Sox have options. Tim Wakefield is still on the team and I’m sure he will have a few starts this year. Felix Doubront, who made a few decent spot starts last season is also waiting for an opportunity.
No. 10: Doubting pitchers?
ESPNBoston’s Take: Massive contracts to Josh Beckett and John Lackey last year lead to little in return, both need bounce back years but are not needed to carry them.
Both Lackey and Beckett are coming subpar years and need to rebound to put Red Sox nation behind them. Beckett has a history of doing this and his last down year in 2006 he roared back with a 20 win campaign and a World Series win but he is older and his recent injury history can be cause for alarm.
Lackey is given a partial past coming to a new team and a new division. He gave the Sox innings (215) but was hit around and was not fun to watch. he has arrived at camp in better shape then last year but talking to the media about how last season was actually better then we give him credit for. I’ll give him a small pass but he pressure is on now.
The one thing with Becket and Lackey that puts me somewhat at ease is that they are the third and fourth pitchers in the rotation as Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz sit on top.
Those are the major questions to watch as spring training feel free to debate amongst yourself.