After years of trying to compete on the Yankees' terms, filling gaps on their roster with high-priced free agents, the Red Sox have taken a different approach in recent years, building one of the most stable organizations from top to bottom.
They still have money, but they spend it more carefully now, letting such notables as Nomar Garciaparra, Pedro Martinez, Derek Lowe and Manny Ramirez leave in recent years rather than signing them to long-term contracts. Meanwhile, their farm system has generated some of the most recognizable names in Fantasy: Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Jon Lester and Jonathan Papelbon all figure to go in the first 10 rounds of any Fantasy draft.
In fact, for Fantasy purposes, the Red Sox almost haven't been wasteful enough. Their constant surplus of young and affordable talent often forces some of their best prospects -- Clay Buchholz and Justin Masterson among them -- to bide their time in the minors, in the bullpen or on the bench, frustrating the Fantasy owners who expected them to make immediate impacts. Shoot, Papelbon only became a closer because the team didn't have an opening in its rotation at the time.
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So with success a virtual guarantee for the Red Sox, you have to expect their pitchers to demand high dollar on Draft Day. Josh Beckett battled some inflammation in his right elbow last season, skewing his numbers somewhat, but he remains a strike-throwing ace, albeit one still flirting with the injury-prone label. Daisuke Matsuzaka has his own faults -- high pitch counts and walk totals among them -- but his presence atop the Red Sox's rotation makes him a top-flight Fantasy pitcher.
Lester might end up the best bargain of the bunch. The 16-game winner a year ago has as much upside as any Red Sox hurler, but he tends to go just outside the top 20 Fantasy pitchers because he lacks experience. Even knuckleballer Tim Wakefield offers some underrated wins potential for AL-only and deeper mixed leagues. Brad Penny and John Smoltz, two All-Star veterans coming off shoulder injuries, will likely rotate in and out of the fifth spot all season, with Smoltz not making his first appearance until June.
Of course, the starting rotation wouldn't have nearly so much success if not for the stellar bullpen behind it. Papelbon's accolades go without saying, but in Masterson, Manny Delcarmen, Hideki Okajima and new addition Ramon Ramirez, the Red Sox have four plus middle relievers who could each make a Fantasy impact in deeper Rotisserie leagues.
In the lineup, the Red Sox have their fair share of veterans around their homegrown nucleus of Pedroia, Youkilis and Ellsbury. Jason Bay, acquired in the Manny Ramirez deal, doesn't represent much of a step back statistically even though he doesn't have quite the same star power. He'll go in the early rounds of any Fantasy draft. J.D. Drew remains an on-base specialist with above-average power, making him a serviceable Fantasy option when healthy. Third baseman Mike Lowell, coming off hip surgery, offers decent power. He's clearly on the downside of his career, though, and could end up on the move to clear a spot for top prospect Lars Anderson. Shortstop Jed Lowrie, a midseason call-up last year, potentially gives the Red Sox another Pedroia up the middle. He'll have to fend off Julio Lugo for the starting job, though, making him worth no more than a late-round flier in Fantasy. David Ortiz remains the centerpiece of the lineup and a Fantasy stud even coming off a disappointing, injury-plagued season.
Potential Breakout: Jed Lowrie, SS
Granted, on a team full of superstars, you won't find many players still waiting to break out. Of the confirmed Red Sox regulars, only Jacoby Ellsbury has any real growing to do. But at the undecided shortstop position, the battle this spring hinges completely on whether or not the latest of the homegrown talents appears ready to break out. That player, Lowrie, projects as one of the better offensive shortstops in baseball. He started half of last season with Julio Lugo hurt, and though he didn't hit many homers, he did produce at a 50-double, 100-RBI pace. Yes, he might need some time to find his power stroke in the majors, much like Dustin Pedroia did, but he projects as just as good an offensive player as Pedroia. And while he still has to defeat Lugo for the starting job this spring, he looks like one of the few high-upside middle infielders available in the later rounds on Draft Day.
Potential Bust: David Ortiz, DH
Should have told you last year, right? Yes, Ortiz took a huge step backward already, his numbers falling to their lowest point since 2002. He was a first-round bust, an overwhelming disappointment and the cause of many should-have-been Fantasy titles across the country. But here's the rub: He might not get any better. Blame a torn tendon in his wrist if you want, but he didn't look like himself before the injury and actually hit better playing through it. While the injury likely had some impact on his numbers, Ortiz might also have fallen victim to his size catching up to him. From Cecil Fielder to Mo Vaughn to John Kruk, players built like Ortiz tend to fall apart in their early 30s, going from perennial All-Stars to non-roster invitees two years later. Granted, you shouldn't expect Ortiz to decline that fast, but if the decline has, in fact, already begun, the disappointment will only continue. Considering the number of Fantasy owners still willing to jump on Big Papi in the third or fourth round, banking on a big rebound, you might just want to let one of your opponents have him and select someone safer.
Potential Sleeper: John Smoltz, SP
When Fantasy owners think of Smoltz, they think of two things: injuries and age. Neither sounds particularly appealing, and the combination makes Smoltz a forgotten man on Draft Day following his most recent surgery -- this one to his shoulder. But that reputation as the injury-prone, over-the-hill hurler can go a long way to overshadowing Smoltz's accomplishments. The guy hasn't had a WHIP above 1.20 since 1995. When on the mound, he still dominates as well as anybody, still records strikeouts and still pitches deep into games. His soreness in recent years has stemmed from overuse, something he thinks he can avoid by beginning his season in June. Granted, nobody can say for sure what kind of effect the surgery will have on his stuff. It might completely ruin him. But considering you don't even have to draft him this season, why not stash him in a DL slot or monitor him on the waiver wire to see if he can perform up to his usual standard upon his return? Come June, he might just become your second- or third-best pitcher without even costing you a draft pick.
|Boston Red Sox Outlook|
| ||Pos.|| |
|1||Jacoby Ellsbury||CF||1||Josh Beckett||RH|
|2||Dustin Pedroia||2B||2||Daisuke Matsuzaka||RH|
|3||David Ortiz||DH||3||Jon Lester||LH|
|4||Kevin Youkilis||1B||4||Tim Wakefield||RH|
|5||J.D. Drew||RF||5||Brad Penny||RH|
|6||Jason Bay||LF||Alt||John Smoltz||RH|
|7||Mike Lowell||3B||Top bullpen arms|
|8||Jed Lowrie||SS||CL||Jonathan Papelbon||RH|
|9||Jason Varitek||C||SU||Justin Masterson||RH|
|Top bench options||RP||Hideki Okajima||LH|
|R||Rocco Baldelli||OF||RP||Manny Delcarmen||RH|
|R||Julio Lugo||SS||RP||Ramon Ramirez||RH|
|Stud will hit for average and power. Might force Red Sox to trade Lowell.|
|2||Michael Bowden||22||RH SP||Majors||Triple-A|
|Good stuff and exceptional control. Can become mainstay before Clay Buchholz.|
|3||Chris C. Carter||26||DH||Majors||Majors|
|Chance to make immediate impact places him high on this list. Legit power.|
|Not an OBP guy, but makes good contact. Could replace FA-to-be Bay in 2010.|
|5||Nick Hagadone||23||LH SP||Class A||Class A|
|Tommy John surgery set him back, but hard-throwing lefty has ace potential.|
|Best of the rest: OF Billy Bell, RP Daniel Bard, OF Che-Hsuan Lin, OF Jonathan Van Every, 1B Jeff Bailey, RP Hunter Jones, SS Casey Kelly, OF Ryan Westmoreland, RHP Bryan Price, RHP Kyle Weiland, SP Devern Hansack, C George Kottaras, SP Charlie Zink, OF Ryan Kalish, 1B Aaron Bates, SS Oscar Tejeda, OF Zachary Daeges, 3B Michael Almanzar, SS Will Middlebrooks, SP Stephen Fife, C Dusty Brown, SS Argenis Diaz, SS Yamaico Navarro, SP Stolmy Pimentel, OF Mitch Dening, OF Reid Engel, RP Lincoln Holdzkom, 3B Scott White and 2B Gil A. Velazquez.|
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