2013 Opponent Preview: The Boston Red Sox are building for the future, but might still be competitive in 2013

J. Meric

The Red Sox made a few key offseason acquisitions to strengthen the incredibly raw team that finished the 2012 season, but make no mistake: they're trying to build a contender from the ground up.

The Boston Red Sox were a train wreck in 2012, to put it nicely. Then-manager Bobby Valentine was... well, we're not really sure what he was doing, but the team was losing and paying its players a lot of money to do so. Then, they pulled off one of the most ridiculous salary dumps trades of all time and are pretty much starting from square one in 2013. The offseason free agent signings of Mike Napoli, Shane Victorino, and Stephen Drew may keep the team competitive for a few years, but that's largely a cover up for the real truth: the Red Sox are in full-on rebuilding mode.

Manager: John Farrell (1st year)

2012 record: 69-93, 5th in AL East

SB Nation blog: Over the Monster

First series vs. Tigers: June 20-23 @ Comerica Park

Lineup

Will the real Jacoby Ellsbury please stand up? Ellsbury has been hobbled by injuries in two of the past three seasons, hitting just .238 with four home runs in a combined 92 games in 2010 and 2012. This wouldn't be much of an issue -- unless you're the Red Sox, that is -- if Ellsbury hadn't gone bananas in 2011, hitting .321/.376/.552 with 32 home runs, 105 RBI, and 39 stolen bases out of the leadoff spot. Ellsbury will be back at the top of the order this season in hopes of regaining his form with free agency looming in the offseason. A return to the near-MVP level of 2011 probably won't happen, but he can still be the 3.1 bWAR player he was in 2009 if he stays healthy.

Dustin Pedroia is under club control through the 2015 season, but I'd imagine that he will be in Boston for much longer than that, especially if he keeps dropping quote bombs like this. David Ortiz will likely miss the start of the season while he heals from the Achilles injury that plagued him during the 2012 season. He was hitting soft toss the other day, and could join the team in mid-April without any other setbacks. Mike Napoli has a nagging hip issue, but should put up monster numbers (pun slightly intended) if he stays healthy.

Speaking of Napoli, the Red Sox all but closed the book on the idea of him being the backup catcher when they signed David Ross to a two year/$6.2 million contract this offseason. Ross' numbers this spring are awful, but he hit .369/.353/.463 over the past four seasons with the Atlanta Braves. He will likely see plenty of playing time against left-handed pitching given Jarrod Saltalamacchia's horrible splits against southpaws.

I'm not a huge fan of the three year/$39 million contract that the Red Sox gave Shane Victorino this offseason, but let's face it: it's a heck of a lot better than the contract they gave to Carl Crawford. Victorino has only played right field so far during the spring, but has the ability to play all three outfield positions, a luxury for manager John Farrell given the fluidity of the other outfield spot. Jonny Gomes will likely play against lefties, but the other half of the platoon is still up for debate. Daniel Nava likely has the inside track to a roster spot given he's on the 40-man roster, but Ryan Sweeney has also been mentioned by Red Sox writers as a possible addition.

Jose Iglesias or Pedro Ciriaco will likely be the starting shortstop on Opening Day due to Stephen Drew suffering from post-concussion symptoms. Drew was concussed on March 7th, but has had occasional headaches and other symptoms ever since. Iglesias was slated to play in Triple-A Pawtucket while Ciriaco will probably be the team's utility infielder if and when Drew returns to the lineup. Neither player has much of a bat, but both are excellent defenders. Will Middlebrooks is the third baseman of both the present and future after hitting .288/.325/.509 with 15 home runs in 75 games last season.

Rotation

Jon Lester struggled mightily in 2012, going just 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA in 205 1/3 innings. This setback has many fans worried whether Lester can return to his pre-2012 form, in which he ran off four consecutive 15-win season with a sub-3.50 ERA. Luckily for Red Sox fans, his spring stats are very promising. In 20 innings, he has allowed just two earned runs while striking out 16 batters.

Ryan Dempster's arrival in the American League last season didn't go so well. In 12 starts with the Texas Rangers, Dempster had a 5.09 ERA and 1.435 WHIP, stats that belied his excellent 7-3 record. Prior to that, Dempster was as solid as pitchers get, racking up almost 1200 innings with a 3.74 ERA in a Chicago Cubs uniform.

They picked up a couple free agents in Napoli and Jonny Gomes that should play well in Fenway Park, and are all-but-guaranteed to be a better managed club in 2013.

Clay Buchholz is somewhat of an enigma. He can be insanely good, as his 17-7 record and 2.33 ERA in 2010 suggests, or he can be another mediocre pitcher, as he was in 2012. He posted the lowest walk rate of his career, but this also coincided with his highest line drive rate since 2008. He has been even better than Lester so far in the spring, allowing just one run in 13 1/3 innings.

While Felix Doubront showed flashes of brilliance in 2012, namely in his start against the Tigers on May 28th when he allowed two runs in six innings while striking out six. He had several other starts like that as well, but his overall numbers were done in by a poor stretch run. In August and September, he was 1-5 with a 6.04 ERA. However, he struck out over a batter per inning and had an elevated home run rate last season, giving many fans reason to believe that Doubront can be better in 2013.

John Lackey has been somewhat of a punch line in his three years with the Red Sox organization. He hasn't pitched since 2011, but the results in his first two seasons on the East coast weren't worth mentioning either. Lackey is in the middle of a five year/$82.5 million contract, and the Sox are hoping that he can be at least somewhat productive for them in 2013.

The 2012 Red Sox bullpen wasn't as bad as the unit that the Tigers decimated to open the season, but they weren't great either. Now that Andrew Bailey is back from injury and Joel Hanrahan has joined the fold from Pittsburgh, they should be much better. Junichi Tazawa was excellent in 2012 and, along with Hanrahan and Bailey, will comprise a formidable back-end unit.

Spring Training storylines

Shortstop Xander Bogaerts is ranked higher on just about every prospect list you can find, but center fielder Jackie Bradley Jr. has been the bigger story* in Red Sox camp this spring. Multiple writers, including Rob Neyer and our SB Nation colleagues at Over the Monster, have chimed in on Bradley's chances at making the big league roster this season. The consensus? Send him down, delay his arbitration clock, and then see where the season takes you. However, giving Bradley ample playing time this season could help the Sox determine whether he is ready to take over center field and let Jacoby Ellsbury walk in free agency.

Player to watch: Mike Napoli

Napoli isn't the most important player to the team's success in 2013, won't give the media classic one-liners, and probably won't even be with the team next season, but he's definitely the most intriguing, in my opinion. In 2009, Jason Bay hit .267/.384/.537 with 36 home runs and 119 RBIs in his only full season with the Red Sox. Similarly, Napoli could wall-ball his way to a fantastic offensive season with the Red Sox. He is a dead-pull hitter and career .306/.397/.710 hitter at Fenway Park, and will probably play more than the 108 games he appeared in last season now that he will no longer be used as a catcher.

Outlook

The Red Sox have the talent to make some noise in 2013 if things go right, namely the pitching and Jacoby Ellsbury. They picked up a couple free agents in Napoli and Jonny Gomes that should play well in Fenway Park, and are all-but-guaranteed to be a better managed club in 2013. If Lester and the rest of the pitching staff can keep up, the Red Sox may surprise some teams this season. Unfortunately, surprises probably won't go very far in a division as deep as the AL East.

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