Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Guide Preview: Boston Red Sox

Continuing alphabetically in the AL East, we find the Boston Red Sox. Five years ago, if you were to read a Red Sox preview, chances are there would've been some mention of the "long suffering fans" and maybe even a comment on how the team would "find some way to lose". Thankfully, though, that flavor of eternal pessimism is over. Now we just have to deal with a much-larger-than-ever-before Red Sox Nation and the extreme (some say overly) confidence that comes from winning two World Series in 4 years and having one of the best (and most expensive) teams in baseball. Overall, it's a change that's good for baseball. We'll see if it'll be enough this year, though, as the Rays and Yankees battle it out with the Sox.

As before, this preview is meant to be a summary of what the three main baseball preview magazines are saying about the team's 2009 season. I've included quotes and other information from each of the them - Sporting News, Athlon, and Lindy's. I've also included some statistics about each magazines' success at predictions over the last ten years. Be sure to check out the Team-by-Team Season Preview index for other guide previews over the next few weeks.

My original intention was to completely refrain from providing any opinion. I was afraid that I would have too much to say about some teams and too little about others. But, after doing a few of these now, I feel like there's room for some personal commentary. I think it'll add a little bit of personality to the preview. But I don't want to make my opinion the focus of the post, so I'll put it near the end. Please feel free to ignore it; I've never claimed to be the most knowledgeable person when it comes to all 30 teams. With that said, on with the "combined" team preview for the...

Boston Red Sox
Last Year: 95 - 67, 2nd Place, AL East

Since 1999

This YearLast Year
Avg Pred.Avg Finish
Sporting News2
* Sporting News average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2001, 2003 - 2004, 2006 - 2008
** Athlon average includes preview guides from these years: 1999 - 2003, 2006 - 2008

Team Notes

Coming into the 2008 season, the Red Sox were reigning World Series champions and the favorites to repeat. Finishing the regular season in second place, then, may seem to some like a failed season. But the Sox did play well into the postseason, taking the Rays all the way to Game 7 of the ALCS. Overall, it was a successful season, and bodes well for 2009.
"The Red Sox slipped only a little in 2008, reaching Game 7 of the ALCS, after entering the year as defending World Series champions. But even if the Sox hold their ground again in 2009, others appear to have gained on them. Though Boston returns virtually the entire roster from a team that has been the class of the AL over the last two years, it failed in its pursuit of No. 1 offseason target Mark Teixeira, who signed with the rival Yankees. Nonetheless, Boston still looks like a contender in 2009, thanks largely to a solid nucleus and productive farm system that has provided good balance and depth throughout the organization. (Athlon)"
The 2008 American League MVP award was won by Boston's second baseman, Dustin Pedroia, while his partner on the right-side of the infield, Kevin Youkilis, finished in third. Needless to say, the Red Sox feel pretty good about their infield (even with Julio Lugo at shortstop).
"Second baseman Dustin Pedroia has a big swing, an outsized presence, an MVP award and a new $40.5 million contract. He's emerging as the new face of the franchise. For a while, the knock on first baseman Kevin Youkilis was that he played with so much intensity that second-half fades were inevitable. But Youkilis put that rap to bed with a .998 OPS after the All-Star break. The Red Sox are hoping for the best from Mike Lowell, who's trying to come back from hip surgery at age 35. At shortstop, Julio Lugo has two years and $18 million left on his contract, but Jed Lowrie drove in 39 runs in 213 at-bats after the All-Star break. DH David Ortiz looked like a phusical wreck at times between his knee and wrist injuries, but still posted a solid .507 slugging percentage. (Lindy's)"
As good as Boston's infield is, the rotation isn't too shabby, either.
"[Scout's view:] 'Everybody's raving about the two No. 1 starters the Yankees got (CC Sabathia and AJ Burnett), but they forget the Red Sox already had three of them. (Josh) Beckett and (Jon) Lester are as good a 1-2 as anybody has. Dice-K (Matsuzaka) drive you nuts, but he knows how to win the game. And (Jonathan) Papelbon is the best closer going right now. I love that kid's stuff and his attitude. Like, 'I'm better than you and there's nothing you can do about it.' ' (TSN)"
Spotlight Quote

Athlon comments on Boston's management:
"Over the last several years, there have been few management teams as successful and shrewd as the Red Sox. As a big market team, Boston has the resources to spend with the big boys. Nonetheless, the Red Sox have emphasized the draft and player development since GM Theo Epstein took over, and they have built one of the best and most productive farm systems in the game. Three years after temporarily resigning from his post, Epstein agreed to a contract extension last fall that will keep him in Boston for the foreseeable future. Overall, the Red Sox operation is in very good hands with a talented, young baseball operations staff and committed ownership, which seems to make Boston one of the most stable organizations in the game."

In my piece on Manny last week, I had to go back and read some Red Sox preseason stuff from 8 or 9 years ago, before they finally won their World Series. It was so pessimistic, filled with snide comments from writers and fans alike. The Sox have been so successful over the past 5 seasons, with 2 World Series rings and a slew of postseason games, that I think we've forgotten what things used to be like. In fact, I think it's that - that the Red Sox can hardly be seen as a struggling or foresaken franchise anymore - that proves just how successful the Sox have been.

The Sox won 95 games last year, and finished second to the upstart Tampa Bay Rays. They were by far the most successful 2nd place team in baseball last year, and I see very little reason to doubt that it won't be something similar this year. The Rays are still as good as they were last year, of course, and the Yankees upgraded at some key positions, so it's going to be a hard-fought division race. In my opinion, though, the Red Sox are at least as good as those two teams, even without Manny, and so will likely find themselves still standing at the end. I expect to see them in the postseason, as either the Wild Card or Division winner. Their talent and experience just adds up to too much.


The Common Man said...

I think it's an understatement to say that the Red Sox "returns virtually the entire roster," as Athalon did. It's true that the core stays the same, while the Yankees beefed up. But their improvements at the margins (Smoltz, Penny, Bard, Ramirez, Saito, and Baldelli) show a smart gambler's tendency to minimize risk and maximize return. And failing to recognize the potential upside of these pickups suggests that Athalon really doesn't understand what has made the Red Sox so successful since Epstein's ascention.

Boston's approach to its farm system is relevatory, as they seem to view their minor leaguers as an investment to be nurtured, rather than as a resource to be exploited. The just keep pumping money into bonuses and facilities and making it that much harder for teams to compete from the beginning. They're winning before the players even get to the battle. It's very Sun-Tzu.

lar said...

That's a good point, TCM. In defense of Athlon, though, I'm pretty sure it went to press before some of those deals. I remember seeing that Smoltz was not on the roster, and, from what I can tell, the Smoltz and Baldelli signings happened around the same time.

The Athlon magazine comes out a week a later than the other ones, and you can usually tell - their rosters are usually more complete than, say, TSN's. But they still go to print a little too early for my tastes sometimes, and the Smoltz/Baldelli thing is a good illustration of that.