Calling the Red Sox's 2012 season tumultuous would be like calling rice grainy. The discontent from fans and bloggers could be heard as far away as the 67 moons of Jupiter.
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It wasn't supposed to be that way. After a historical collapse bumped them out of the playoff picture on the final day of the 2011 season, the Red Sox were supposed to enter 2012 with a new front office, a new outlook and a new attitude.
Instead, they got a circus in new manager Bobby Valentine. Between him, unexpected declines for Adrian Gonzalez and Jon Lester, and injuries to Jacoby Ellsbury (shoulder), Carl Crawford (elbow), David Ortiz (Achilles), Dustin Pedroia (thumb) and Josh Beckett (er ... take your pick), a market that tends to make every misstep out to be a blunder of Bill Buckner proportions had legitimate reasons to gripe.
This time, it really was that bad.
And so the Red Sox decided to start over, creating as close as they could to a clean slate by dumping their most restrictive long-term commitments -- specifically, Gonzalez, Crawford and, to a lesser extent, Beckett -- on the Dodgers late last season.
They did their best to keep the slate clean this offseason, committing their abundant resources to shorter deals for Shane Victorino, Mike Napoli, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes and Ryan Dempster. Granted, none of those players are superstars -- they wouldn't have signed short-term deals if they were -- but signing them at least gives the Red Sox a chance to be competitive. They'll ride it out with second-tier players for now so that they'll have the latitude to make big moves once Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley and Matt Barnes are ready to join Will Middlebrooks and Felix Doubront at the major-league level.
Besides, the Red Sox still have their superstars in Ellsbury, Ortiz, Pedroia and Lester. They're the ones most likely to redeem themselves in Fantasy. Maybe now that they've lowered the bar, they'll get the space they need to figure things out.
And they have to have better luck with injuries, right?
Bounce-back player ... Jon Lester, starting pitcher
Clearly, something went wrong for Lester last year. His 9-14 record and 4.82 ERA were both career worsts, and his strikeout rate was his lowest in four years. But a quick look at the usual culprits -- velocity, walk rate and BABIP -- reveals no obvious cause. He was essentially the same pitcher. He just got hit much, much harder. It's kind of like what James Shields went through in 2010, when he imploded with a 5.18 ERA and 1.46 WHIP despite relatively normal strikeout and walk rates and his usual velocity. Turns out he wasn't locating properly within the strike zone. He made the adjustment and has been fine ever since. Whatever went wrong for Lester last year is similarly correctable. Perhaps John Farrell, who is back with the Red Sox as manager after serving as their pitching coach from 2006 to 2010, can get to the bottom of it. If he does, Lester's potential for high-end production makes him well worth a middle-round pick.
Bust ... Shane Victorino, outfielder
When the Phillies traded Shane Victorino to the Dodgers last summer, they sent him from a hitter's park to a pitcher's park, and sure enough, his production suffered. His decision to sign with the Red Sox this offseason means he'll be playing half his games at Fenway Park, which is widely considered one of the most favorable for hitters. But that's mostly for fly-ball hitters who bat right-handed. Victorino is a switch hitter and he doesn't produce a high number of fly balls. His line drives may have carried over the short and close fences of Philadelphia's Citizens Bank Park, but at Fenway they're likely to fall short when he's batting left-handed and bang off the Green Monster when he's batting right-handed. The resulting doubles and triples might keep him among the top 30 outfielders in Head-to-Head points leagues, but the loss of homers could make him a one-trick pony in Rotisserie leagues, especially since he's no longer a certainty for even a .260 batting average now that he's in his mid-30s.
Buyer beware ... Mike Napoli, catcher/first baseman
Even though Napoli hit only .227 last year and has hit less than .250 in four of his seven seasons in the majors, some Fantasy owners continue to cling to the idea that he's actually the .320 hitter we saw in 2011 -- or at least that his 1.046 OPS that year is legit. His prolonged contract negotiations with the Red Sox this offseason didn't exactly temper expectations, given his favorable track record at Fenway Park, but instead of bemoaning how long those negations took let's focus on why they took so long. He failed his physical. A pre-existing hip injury makes him damaged goods. That revelation should negate any benefit of him moving to first base with the Red Sox, where he would presumably be out of harm's way. And if he ends up being a .230-ish hitter again, you'll be paying a pretty steep price for a banged-up J.P. Arencibia. At a time when catcher isn't as weak as it once was, with Wilin Rosario, Salvador Perez and Jonathan Lucroy entering the fold last year, why go the extra dollar on Napoli?
The Red Sox have done a nice job rebuilding their farm system since turning it over to the Padres in the Adrian Gonzalez deal prior to the 2010 season. The blockbuster with the Dodgers last season helped, landing them a fairly high-upside hurler in Allen Webster, but the real prizes here are Xander Bogaerts, Jackie Bradley and Matt Barnes. Bogaerts is a rare shortstop with middle-of-the-order potential whose ascension to Double-A Portland last year gives him a shot at being a September callup this year. Bradley is a center fielder in the mold of Jacoby Ellsbury, only with more patience at the plate. Barnes is a hard-throwing right-hander whose command of the strike zone should give him a relatively short path to the majors. All three are must-haves in long-term keeper leagues.
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