CHICAGO, November 1, 2013 — In 2012, the Red Sox had their worst year since 1965, going 69-93 and finishing 24 games out of a playoff spot. This year, the Red Sox bounced back to post an MLB best 97-65 record and won the World Series beating the Cardinals in six games. This was the Red Sox third World Series title in ten years. Instead of wishing them better luck next year, this column will examine their season and see how they can get back to this spot next year.
What Went Right: The Red Sox overcame great pitching performances in the playoffs from their opposition to defeat the Rays, Tigers and Cardinals, but to get to that point, the Red Sox had a lot go right. Their farm system entered the year ranked sixth by Baseball America and provided players that made an impact in the regular season and playoffs, including Xander Bogaerts, Brandon Workman and Jackie Bradley Jr.
David Ortiz, 37, posted a regular season line of .309/.395/.564, good for a 160 OPS+, while posting 4.4 WAR. Jacoby Ellsbury posted a .298/.355/.426 slash line while leading the league with 52 stolen bases, while being caught a mere four times.
The pitching staff was hampered by injuries and ineffectiveness in 2012, but bounced back in 2013 and no one signifies that bounce back more than John Lackey. Lackey threw 189.1 innings and posted an ERA+ of 116 after missing all of 2012 recovering from Tommy John Surgery.
Finally, the Red Sox benefitted from their free agent signings greatly as Shane Victorino, Koji Uehara, Mike Napoli, Johnny Gomes, Ryan Dempster and David Ross all at least met expectations. Victorino and Uehara vastly outperformed expectations as Victorino posted a .294/.351/.451 slash line while providing 6.1 WAR, according to baseball reference. Uehara logged a career high 74.1 innings while posting a video game type 376 ERA+ while striking out a career high 38.1% of the batters he faced and walked just 3.4%.
What Went Wrong: A couple of the younger players the Red Sox thought might be ready to contribute did not post the types of results the Red Sox hoped for. Jackie Bradley Jr. tore the cover off the ball in spring training, but posted just a .189/.280/.337 line in his 107 plate appearances. Allen Webster started seven games but logged just 30.1 innings with a 48 ERA+. Both players will likely be expected to contribute more next year. Will Middlebrooks had a good debut in 2012, but struggled in 2013, even getting sent back to AAA for a stretch as he posted a .227/.271/.425 line and lost his spot in the lineup to Xander Bogaerts in the playoffs.
The Red Sox put a lot of effort into fortifying their bullpen, but 2013 proved that even the best laid plans can be foiled. Both Joel Hanrahan and Andrew Bailey succumbed to season ending Tommy John Surgeries, while Daniel Bard continued to struggle with his control issues and saw just one inning with the Red Sox and was claimed off of waivers by the Chicago Cubs.
How Can the Red Sox Get Back to This Spot in 2014? The Red Sox have some issues that will need to be addressed if they hope to repeat. Whether or not to re-sign Jacoby Ellsbury will be the most publicized decision. Ellsbury likely priced himself out of the Red Sox price range with a good year and strong postseason. There are not many great free agents this year and early projections have Ellsbury getting over $130 million, which likely means he will not be playing in Boston.
The Red Sox will likely turn to Jackie Bradley Jr. to replace Ellsbury in centerfield and although his defense is not in question he will need to produce at a better clip than he did in his limited plate appearances this year.
Next, the Red Sox need to decide if Will Middlebrooks is their answer at third base. If he is, they can put Xander Bogaerts at shortstop to replace Stephen Drew. If he is not, then they may re-sign Stephen Drew and put Bogaerts at third base similar to how the Orioles shifted Manny Machado to third base.
The Red Sox also seem to have too many starters for five spots. Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Jake Peavy, Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubrant and John Lackey are all proven starters with Allen Webster, Brandon Workman and Anthony Renaudo capable of taking turns in the rotation. It seems likely that the Red Sox will look to trade one of their established starters to fill holes elsewhere although you can never have enough starting pitching.
The final major question is whether or not they want to bring back Mike Napoli. Napoli has stated that he likes playing in Boston and would like to come back, and with the lack of quality free agent options and no real replacement in the farm system it will probably be in the best interest of the Red Sox to meet his contract demands if they are reasonable.
Free Agents/Options: Stephen Drew, Jacoby Ellsbury, Joel Hanrahan, Mike Napoli, Jarrod Saltalamachia, John McDonald, Matt Thornton
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