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Red Sox might be better than you think

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  January 2, 2013 11:02 AM

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I can't think of a Boston sports team in recent memory that so needed the fresh start of a new year like the 2012 Boston Red Sox. Probably the 2001 collection of bitter misfits, but as despicable as that Everett/Lansing/Kerrigan/Offerman mishmash was, it did win 13 more games than the Disaster of 2012.

Not to digress too much on that 2001 team pack of buffoons, but the approach that offseason was somewhat similar to the one Ben Cherington is taking now -- collecting proven veterans who had good clubhouse reputations, from John Burkett, Tony Clark, and Carlos Baerga to the essential (and high-priced) Johnny Damon and beloved egomaniac  Rickey Henderson. The Red Sox improved to 93 wins the next year, which was seven wins under their Pythagorean projection. I suspect Grady Little remains blissfully unaware of this. pedroiafinn11220.JPG

Anyway, that's my long and winding way of saying that I think the 2013 Red Sox -- enhanced with competence this offseason if nothing else -- are going to be better than the current consensus projection in 2013. With the acknowledgment that some redundancy on the roster still needs to be addressed and they'll have more bench depth than I've accounted for, here's a rundown of what the 25-man roster might look like if the season began today. Which it doesn't. But I wish it did, don't you?

1. Jacoby Ellsbury, CF: Every time I hear how he's soft or too mellow for the Boston baseball scene, I think back to September 2011, and his .350/.400/.677 slash-line that month while pretty much everyone else sprinted away from the implosion, and I wonder how his perception would be different had the Sox somehow won two more games.

Thumbnail image for victorinofinnshane.jpg.JPG2. Shane Victorino, RF: Did you know he has a biography, which was available on the shelves during my pre-Christmas visit to the Portsmouth, N.H., Barnes and Noble? He has a biography.

3. Dustin Pedroia, 2B: His most similar player statistically thus far also happens to be someone who predated him by a few years as a Red Sox second base prospect -- yep, Freddy Sanchez. Bet you didn't see that one coming. He turns 30 in August, and I do worry about his long-term durability given his admirable but perhaps counterproductive refusal to play any other way but all-out, all the time.

4. David Ortiz, DH: His 1.026 OPS in 383 plate appearances last season was second in baseball (to Cincinnati's Joey Votto) among all players with as many or more plate appearances.

5. Will Middlebrooks, 3B: If he's what he appeared to be on his many good days as a rookie, he'll be the quintessential No. 5 hitter. But that 13/70 BB/K ratio suggests we should leave some room for occasional growing pains.

6. Mike Napoli, 1B: It'll get done. Why? Because ...

... and featuring Lou Gossett Jr. as Ben Cherington. Classic typecasting there, you know.

7. Jarrod Salmiddlebrookswillfinn12.JPGtalamacchia: He's a likable sort, but you know a season really went wrong when the team-leader in home runs had a .288 on-base percentage and whiffed 119 times against 24 walks. Can't imagine he's around come April 1 in the Bronx.

8. Jonny Gomes, DH/LF: In 1,100 career plate appearances against lefthanded pitchers, he has 50 homers and an .894 OPS. Now about finding him that lefty platoon partner ...

9. Stephen Drew, SS: He had 76 extra-base hits in 2008 -- 44 doubles, 11 triples, 21 homers. Derek Jeter's career-high for XBH is 70, set when he went 37-9-24 in 1999.

10. Jon Lester, LHP: The lefty, who turns 29 on January 7, entered September 2011 with the highest winning percentage among qualified active pitchers (75-31, .707). He's 10-17 since, and now seventh on the list, behind Roy Halladay, Jered Weaver, Justin Verlander, Tim Hudson, CC Sabathia and Johan Santana. Get it together, man.

11. Clay Buchholz, RHP: Buchholz was the only pitcher in the majors with an adjusted ERA of 95 in 2012. Slightly below average doesn't come close to cutting it for the presumed No. 2 starter in '13.

12. John Lackey, surgically repaired RHP: I'm not saying it's certain he was damaged goods when the Red Sox signed him, but I bet he felt some twinges in that right elbow picking up the pen to sign that contract. Healthy now, he'll help.

13. Ryan Dempster, RHP: In 12 starts for the Rangers, he had a 5.03 ERA -- but in seven of those starts, he pitched at least six innings while allowing two or fewer earned runs.

14. Felix Doubront, LHP: Pros: Lefthanded, struck out more than a batter per inning with 167 Ks in 161 IPs, and his 4.37 FIP looks a little better than his 4.86 ERA. Cons: Got into the Lesterian habit of letting presumably bad calls affect him, allowed more than a hit per inning, must lower 4.0 walk rate.

15. Joel Hanrahan, RHP: Top career comp through age 30 is -- gulp -- Todd Jones. Has a 203 adjusted ERA in his superb 2011 season ... yet it would rank as the third-best season of Andrew Bailey's career.

16. Andrew Bailey, RHP: One real conclusion I can draw from this exercise -- he's gone, outta here, adios, sayonara. Circumstantial evidence has suggested it for a while now -- the rumors that he would be the compensation sent to Toronto for John Farrell and the immediate decision to anoint Hanrahan the closer, for starters. But if you look at the depth and versatility of this 'pen and where everyone slots, he seems out of place. This is a guy who had 75 saves and an ERA slightly about 2.00 in his first three seasons and had a fluke injury last year that ruined his first season in Boston. I have eight relievers on the roster now including him and excluding Rubby de la Rosa (love PeteAbe's prediction for him), Daniel Bard, Clayton Mortensen and Chris Carpenter, among others. There's no chance of carrying eight. It sure looks like he's going to be one-and-done here, and I'm curious why they seem so ready to move on from him.

17. Junichi Tazawa, RHP: I think I've said this before recently, or at least some variation. In fact, I know I have. But I'm going to repeat it again, because it's the holiday season and you might have missed it and I think it's one of the more encouraging statistics regarding how the 2013 Red Sox will find success. Here goes ...

18. Koji Uehara, RHP: ... in a combined 74 appearances -- 37 each -- and 80 innings last season, Tazawa and Uehara allowed 57 hits, 14 earned runs, and 8 walks while compiling 88 strikeouts. That's a 1.57 ERA and a 0.81 WHIP.

19. Andrew Miller, LHP: Baseball America's No. 10 prospect in 2007, sandwiched between Justin Upton and Tim Lincecum (with Daisuke Matsuzaka No. 1. Yes, 1. First. Dice-K.)

20. Franklin Morales, LHP: Baseball America's No. 8 prospect in 2008, sandwiched between Clayton Kershaw and Homer Bailey (with David Price 10th).

21. Craig Breslow, LHP: No. 2 career comp: Hideki Okajima.

22. Alfredo Aceves, RHP: Your resident rubber-armed lunatic in the Julian Tavarez tradition, his 2011 season stands as the reminder of his capabilities when his focus is on pitching rather than insubordination.

23. David Ross, C: Career OPS+: 100. Career OPS+ with the Red Sox: minus-35. I expect that to improve.

24. Pedro Ciriaco, INF: Versatility and speed give the 27-year-old a chance at being a valuable bench player, but I'm surprised how many Sox fans suggest to me that he deserves a significant role. I figure most of them checked out on the season right around the time the BABIP-bumping flares stopped falling in (.560 OPS in 111 plate appearances in September).

25. Daniel Nava, placeholder: Gets on base against righthanded pitching (,369 career OBP), but doesn't offer much else and should probably abandon switch-hitting. Time for Ryan Kalish to become what he suggested he could be back in 2010.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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