Monday, February 14, 2011

Red Sox Spring Training, Alfred E. Neuman ("What, me worry?") edition

I don't have time for the full analysis yet, but I'm working on it. What I do have, as pitchers and catchers report, is a quick look at the team from a "what am I worried about" perspective. I've listed the positions from biggest to least concern, with the following "concern level" meanings:
1 - Barring unforseen disaster, this is a strength
2 - Barring forseen disaster, this is a strength
3 - Strength if everything works, but it might not
4 - This is a strength only in an absolute best-case scenario
5 - There's a problem here with no obvious solution

The good news is that there are no level 5 concerns on this team, as I see it. So here's how I feel as ST opens:
  • Catcher - The one obvious trouble spot on the team. Varitek's old, Saltalamacchia's unproven. It might not be a disaster, but it's sure not an obvious strength. CONCERN LEVEL: 4
  • Designated Hitter - Has David Ortiz got another 2010 level season in his 35 year-old bat? It not obvious what 'Plan B' would consist of, so we hope so… CONCERN LEVEL: 4
  • Right Field - JD Drew is 35 and coming off a down year. That doesn't mean that he's done, but it does mean that it's conceivable. CONCERN LEVEL: 4
  • Starters - Jon Lester is an Ace. I expect a solid performance from Clay Buchholz, albeit at a higher ERA than he put up last year. Beckett and Lackey are each coming off down years, but have a history of success. And Matsuzaka has been frustrating but effective when healthy. CONCERN LEVEL: 3
  • Center Field - Ellsbury missed essentially the entire 2010 season. We can assume that the ribs are healed, at this point, but what effect does that missed time have on his development? Who is right about his defense, those that praise him or those, like the Red Sox, that think he not the greatest CF in baseball? Is there lingering damage to his relationship with his teammates? CONCERN LEVEL: 3
  • Shortstop - Marco Scutaro is a solid, competent major league shortstop, both offensively and defensively. There's a lot of evidence that suggests that Jed Lowrie, when healthy, is much more than that. This is the one interesting spring training positional battle, but there are two good options. CONCERN LEVEL: 3
  • Bullpen - The caveats are that relievers are notoriously inconsistent year-to-year, and that both Jenks and Papelbon are coming off of (at least superficially) bad seasons. That said, this group is deep, with a long history of being very effective. They've got at least four swing and miss pitchers to close out games. This should be a strength. CONCERN LEVEL: 2
  • Third base - Offensively, this is a tremendous strength. The question here is defense. I've seen mixed reports about Youkilis' 3rd base "D" and he's moving across the diamond in the opposite direction that players normally move as they age. The Sox will be strong at this position, but how strong depends on whether his defensive performance adds to his offensive performance or detracts from it. CONCERN LEVEL: 2
  • First base - Assuming that Gonzalez is healthy, and I see no reason not to assume that, he's an MVP candidate. Could it take a couple of months for him to adjust to the new league and new pitchers? It's possible. But he's an in-his-prime, great-fielding, great-hitting left-hander with a Fenway swing. He's going to put up monster numbers over the next five years, starting in 2011. CONCERN LEVEL: 2 (only because of the possible adjustment time)
  • Left Field - Like Gonzalez, Carl Crawford is moving to a new team and a new park. Unlike Gonzalez, there are no competition adjustments to make. CONCERN LEVEL: 1
  • Second base - Dustin Pedroia is two seasons removed from an MVP award, and while he missed most of 2010 with an injury, it was a fluke event injury, not a chronic or wear-and-tear injury. Second base remains a strength on this team. CONCERN LEVEL: 1

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