Boston Red Sox
2009: Wild card, 95-67
Key additions: RHP John Lackey, SS Marco Scutaro, CF Mike Cameron, 3B Adrian Beltre, RF Jeremy Hermida, INF Bill Hall
Key losses: LF Jason Bay, RHP Takashi Saito, 1B Casey Kotchman, SS Alex Gonzalez, INF Nick Green, OF Rocco Baldelli (still a free agent)
• Like it or not, the Red Sox seem to have gotten better this winter. They haven’t individually replaced Bay’s production in the middle of the lineup, but a full season from Victor Martinez might help make up for that loss. Lackey should be a significant upgrade in the rotation, Scutaro should be a significant upgrade over Green/Gonzalez/Lugo at short and Hermida is a perfectly good replacement for Baldelli off the bench. It’s been written several times that the Red Sox have significantly improved defensively. The list of additions doesn’t include lefty Brian Shouse or swing man Boof Bonser, who add some depth to the pitching staff.
Youth on the way: The Red Sox top prospects — Ryan Westmoreland and Casey Kelly — are still in the lower levels, but outfielders Josh Reddick and Ryan Kalish are close to big league ready. They should be waiting in Triple-A if Boston needs one or both of them. Same with young starters Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden, each of whom has some big league time. 1B Lars Anderson remains an interesting young player despite an awful 2009 season in Double-A.
Experience on the slide: David Ortiz finished with 28 home runs last season, but he was awful early in the season. Mike Lowell seems to be falling apart, Jason Varitek has lost his everyday job and Cameron is entering his late 30s. Hideki Okajima remains a solid reliever, but he seems to have gotten a little bit worse year-by-year. Tim Wakefield is well into his 40s, but he also made his first all-star team last year.
Possible upgrades: Aside from unloading Lowell, there’s no obvious need for the Red Sox at this point. Their 40-man is full and all of their key roster spots are set. A bounce-back year from Ortiz would help, so would some continued development from Clay Buchholz.
• Age and injuries might be an issue with the Red Sox, but they’re no longer counting on Lowell or Varitek, and J.D. Drew made well over 500 plate appearances in three of the past four years. Boston also has six legitimate starters, which eases some concern about the health of the rotation.
Better than the Yankees: Not by much, but I’d take the Red Sox’ rotation ahead of the Yankees’ rotation. It might get me crushed to say this on a Yankees blog, but I really think Jon Lester is one of the best pitchers in baseball, and Lackey was a strong addition. I think the bottom of the Yankees’ rotation is better, but I give the Red Sox the edge at the top. Boston probably has an edge defensively, but I think it’s a small one.
Worse than the Yankees: By quite a bit, I’d take the Yankees’ offense over the Red Sox’ offense. Boston has more question marks, and I’m not sure the Sox have anyone who comes especially close to Mark Teixeira or Alex Rodriguez.
Yankee connections: Something about a rivalry. I don’t know the specifics, I’m new here. Oh, and Lowell was originally drafted by the Yankees (four hits in 18 at-bats with New York in 1998).
• Even after the Mariners strong offseason, the top two teams in the American League remain the Yankees and Red Sox. Boston brought in a lot of significant pieces this winter and they seem to be better than last year, but on the whole, I’ll stick with the world champs as the team to beat.
Prediction: Another wild card berth into the playoffs, where those top three starters could make things difficult.