The Boston Red Sox are in the midst of one of their strangest offseasons, removing general manager Theo Epstein and manager Terry Francona and replacing the duo with Ben Cherington and Bobby Valentine. Questions remain over the chemistry in the clubhouse, but many believe the Red Sox have the talent to return to the playoffs after losing their spot on the last day of the 2011 season. Boston has a few concerns heading into the 2012 slate, but they have the ability to repair those problems better than most teams.
The best of the best: Jacoby Ellsbury. Ellsbury is a five-tool player who finally delivered on the hype last season, finishing as a top MVP candidate and a legit cornerstone for Boston. The Red Sox have constantly been looking for an elite defender in centerfield, and adding an advanced offensive skill set like his, Ellsbury fits the mold and fills what used to be a gigantic hole in the lineup. The Sox will look to the youngster to lead the team into the future.
The new guy: Andrew Bailey. Jonathan Papelbon signing with the Phillies for an absurd amount of money allowed the Red Sox to move forward with a younger, more affordable option in Andrew Bailey. The Red Sox lost only a high-upside, high-risk pitcher in Raul Alcantara who is years away from the majors to acquire a difference maker in the 27 year-old Bailey. Along with the trade for Mark Melancon, Boston is revamping their bullpen for the long haul.
The fatal flaw: A weakness at shortstop. Fans of “scrappiness” will applaud the Red Sox decision to go with the platoon of Nick Punto and Mike Avlies at shortstop, but there are serious questions as to whether either of them can be effective in a role that holds plenty of scrutiny. Questions already loom on the health of Kevin Youkilis at third base, while Carl Crawford aims to rebound from a miserable 2011 season. The last thing the Red Sox need is a black hole at short.
Down on the farm: Xander Bogaerts. Bogaerts is very young, but has plenty of upside and the chance to become one of the premier prospects in all of minor league baseball. There are tons of questions as to where he’ll eventually land at in the field, but his bat can play anywhere, and many believe that when he grows into his frame, he’ll have plenty of power to spare. The Red Sox need to keep developing players like Bogaerts so they’ll have the next wave ready near the decline of players currently on the major league club.
Final verdict: The Red Sox can easily be the top team in the American League East next year, but they’ll need the rotation to bounce back, as well as Carl Crawford. Adrian Gonzalez is a steady run producer in the middle of the lineup, and Dustin Pedroia is an elite second baseman. The heart of the order, along with the presence of top ace Jon Lester can carry the team for most of the season.. If the Red Sox can add another starting pitcher and figure out what to do with the abyss that is shortstop, they’ll compete for a world series title. However, another late-season meltdown could put more heat on the players on the field rather than the general manager or the manager, leading to a massive shake-up of talent rather than talent evaluators. This will be a critical season for Boston.