Between 1910 and 1919, Boston played .579 ball, only finished under .500 once, and went 4/4 in their World Series appearances. A century later, are the Red Sox poised for another "Boston Teen Party"?
Well, actually, that's not the question I'm trying to answer today - this is a 2010 Preview, not a decade preview. But I can never resist terrible puns.
Before we get to the preview, though, let's continue with this decade theme because it provides a pair of interesting bookends to the Red Sox' history of the last 100 years. In the most recent decade, the "Aughts", Boston played .568 ball, never finished under .500, made the playoffs six times, and went 2/2 in its World Series appearances. A decade strikingly similar to the one previously mentioned.
And between those two periods? As you well know, not a whole lot went right for the Sox. Oh, they had some good teams and some Hall of Fame players, but the 80 years between 1919 and 2000 famously resulted in zero championships. (The dubious streak was actually slightly longer than that, but specifying the exact length would upset my motif here.)
So how will Boston march into the next part of its storied history? If I were to pick one adverb to describe how I think said marching will proceed, it would be "winnily". Boston does everything right: they have offense, pitching, and defense, a good farm system which constantly replenishes the major league roster with both stars and role players, a GM who makes shrewd trades and the right free agent signings, and a top tier payroll that enables said free agent spending. Dave Cameron's great Organizational Rankings series (featuring excellent work from Da Box' own Marc Hulet) over at Fangraphs isn't finished yet, but Boston is likely to be in the top two when it all shakes out.
If there's one cause for concern in Boston, it's that the other team likely to finish the top two of these rankings, which evaluate a team's ability to win both now and the future, resides in the same division. But that's a topic for tomorrow.
The Red Sox won 95 games in 2009. What's different this time around? Let's start with the position players, where much has changed.
Mike Lowell is out, Adrian Beltre is in. Jason Bay is out, Mike Cameron is in. Jacoby Ellsbury is out (of CF), Jacoby Ellsbury is in (LF). Nick Green/Alex Gonzalez/Julio Lugo/Jed Lowrie are out, Marco Scutaro is in. The ratio of Jason Varitek to Victor Martinez on the inness/outness scale tends more towards the Varitek-out/Martinez-in end of the spectrum. There are also a couple of new recognizable bench players, as Jeremy Hermida provides J.D. Drew Insurance, and Bill Hall provides Pretty Much Everybody Insurance. Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, David Ortiz and J.D. Drew remain at their respective positions for 2010.
In terms of run expectation, the offense looks about the same to me. The drop-off from Bay to Cameron is significant, but that should be more than off-set by more ABs for Martinez and the injection of a little Scutaro into the line-up. We can't expect Scoots to repeat his 2009, but he should still be able to upgrade the Sox' meagre SS production (656 OPS in 2009). Beltre may sound like an upgrade, but Lowell out-OPSed him in 2009 by about 125 points. Then again, 2009 was Beltre's worst offensive season in a while. As for the returning players, I don't expect much change aside from perhaps a little less production from Drew.
Baseball Musings' line-up analysis tool projects this line-up to score 895 runs (23 more than last year) based on 2010 ZiPS projections, an estimated .360/.400 OBP/SLG for Scutaro since I couldn't find a ZiPS on him, and a line-up order I made up off the top of my head. Of course, that doesn't take into account bench production, so a repeat of last year's offensive output sounds reasonable.
Defensively, the Red Sox have gone against conventional wisdom by moving a highly-regarded youngster out of an important defensive position in favour of a 37-year old. Despite how counter-productive this sounds, the numbers suggest replacing Jacoby Ellsbury with Mike Cameron in center field is actually a good idea. And even though Mike Lowell was an outstanding defender in his day, at this point Adrian Beltre represents another significant upgrade for the Sox' defense. Scutaro may not be quite as good as his collective predecessors, but he's solid. Overall, the defense looks better.
Boston's biggest move of the off-season came when they signed the best free agent starting pitcher, John Lackey, to an $82.5 million contract. A bit of an overpay given the recent free agent market if you ask me, but the Red Sox understand (probably better than anyone else) that, given their payroll freedom, they're allowed to overpay for premium talent (according to How to Build a Perennial Contender For Dummies). John Lackey is an excellent pitcher, and the Sox had no qualms throwing a bunch of money at him to form a fantastic top three along with Josh Beckett and Jon Lester.
Dice-K and Clay Buchholz form one of the best 4-5s in baseball, and Tim Wakefield unfortunately re-negotiated and will be with the Sox for the next 2 years as a 6th starter/long man type (not unfortunate because I don't like Tim Wakefield - exactly the opposite, in fact, who doesn't love Tim Wakefield - but because his previous contract, the Perpetual Motion Contract, was one of my favourite things in all of baseball). Michael Bowden and Junichi Tazawa could see some action in the rotation as well if a couple guys go down.
The bullpen is mostly unchanged: the quintet of Papelbon, Bard, Okajima, Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez return to form a very good core, who could be surrounded by aforementioned long men/spot starters like Wakefield, Tazawa, Bowden, or Boof Bonser.
The Red Sox have a great pitching staff. But you already knew that. The Red Sox have a great everything. I think they're the second best team in baseball. Unfortunately for them, the Yankees are in the same division. But you know what? I shouldn't be complaining on the Sox' behalf. They can still win the Wild Card. And this is a Blue Jays site. We get to compete with the 2 (or possibly even 3) best teams in baseball, and an Orioles' team that could be very good very soon. If you ever hear a Red Sox fan complaining about being in the same division as the Yankees, you have every right to punch them in the face.
One of the story-lines to watch out for this season will be the Red Sox' pursuit of Adrian Gonzalez. Over the last year, the rumours linking Gonzalez to the Sox have been sinusoidally unceasing. At this point, it looks like the Sox wouldn't have a place for the Padres' slugging first baseman, especially if David Ortiz hits, but it seems like Adrian will be moved somewhere, and there aren't many teams who have both the prospects to get him and the money to keep him. And the Yanks already have a first baseman. There's a reason Gonzalez and the Red Sox are connected in rumours on practically a daily basis. If they acquire him, they'll find a place - in 2011, Youkilis can move to 3rd, as Beltre is only on a 1-year contract.
Different year, same story. The Red Sox will be great. They will win.... oh, let's say about 98 games. They'll win the Wild Card, and, I boldly predict, the World Series, in order to keep up the "every 3 years" pattern.
So it goes.