12/31/12 10:00 AM ET
Red Sox look to rebound behind Farrell in 2013
By Ian Browne / MLB.com
For the second straight season, Boston has a new manager. John Farrell brings a lot more familiarity to the equation than Bobby Valentine did a year ago, and the Red Sox are hoping that makes a huge difference.
There are newcomers in the outfield (Jonny Gomes and Shane Victorino), at first base (Mike Napoli, whose three-year, $39 million contract is still pending), shortstop (Stephen Drew), closer (Joel Hanrahan) and in the rotation (Ryan Dempster).
Following Boston's worst baseball summer since 1965, general manager Ben Cherington knew that he needed to shake things up.
So here are the new-look Red Sox, who will surround a familiar core of David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Jacoby Ellsbury and Clay Buchholz.
Will Middlebrooks should also be a huge part of what Boston accomplishes. The third baseman was on his way to a stellar rookie season before breaking his wrist in August.
While the Dodgers got Zack Greinke and the Angels landed Josh Hamilton, the Red Sox focused on moves that were a little more subtle in nature.
"We're trying to add to the team and improve the team in as many areas as we can without being as focused on the headline and being as focused as we can on improving the team and building the roster in as many areas as we can," said Cherington. "We're trying to build as deep a team as we can and filling the clubhouse with guys we can believe in and building the team that way. We're going to continue to try to do that. The proof will be in the pudding. We'll see if we can execute it enough."
After making the American League Championship Series four times between 2003-08 and winning two World Series over that span, the Red Sox are now at a point where they've gone four full seasons without winning a postseason game.
But the tradition-rich franchise is hungry to return to top-contender status.
For the Red Sox, perhaps there is nowhere to go but up after a 69-93 nightmare in 2012. But there are some key questions going into 2013, including the following nine.
1. Will Lester bounce back?
Who was that left-hander who went 9-14 with a 4.82 ERA in 2012? Believe it or not, it was Lester, who had pitched like an ace the previous four years. The Red Sox didn't go out and get another ace this winter, so they need Lester to get back to what made him successful in the past. Lester's return to prominence will start with fastball command. But he will also need to regain the feel for his cutter. If he accomplishes those two things, the most important thing of all will return -- his confidence. Being reunited with Farrell -- Boston's pitching coach from 2007-10 -- should help Lester as much as anyone on the team.
2. Can Ortiz stay healthy?
For the first time in years, contract security is not an issue for Ortiz. The Red Sox signed him to a two-year deal. At the age of 37, Ortiz won't have to play for his next paycheck, but he does need to stay healthy. When Ortiz went down with a strained right Achilles last July, Boston's offense never recovered.
Some athletes begin to break down in their mid to late 30s. Ortiz will be out to prove he doesn't belong in that group.
3. Will Farrell hit the ground running?
In some ways, this seems to be a perfect setup for Farrell and the Red Sox. He left Boston for two years and gained invaluable experience in Toronto. Farrell acknowledges he did a lot of learning up in Canada, and perhaps the Red Sox will benefit from that on-the-job-training. After such a disappointing 2012, the Red Sox badly need the type of cohesion from the manager's office they had during most of Terry Francona's eight-year tenure.
4. Bounceback years for Victorino, Napoli?
When the Red Sox went after Victorino and Napoli as two of their main targets this winter, they did so because of their track records -- not the down years they both had in 2012. Both players had some physical issues, but don't want to use excuses. Sometimes a player can become energized by playing at Fenway Park on a daily basis. The Red Sox think that Victorino and Napoli both have the type of personalities that will thrive in Boston. But will their bats follow suit?
5. Can Middlebrooks avoid a sophomore slump?
Before a 96-mph fastball shattered his right wrist on that fateful night in Cleveland last August, Middlebrooks had evolved as the biggest bright spot in an otherwise disappointing season for the Red Sox. He could be on the cusp of stardom, but for now, Boston simply wants Middlebrooks to keep improving. As with any second-year player, Middlebrooks will encounter opposing pitchers who now have scouting reports to exploit his weaknesses. It will be up to Middlebrooks to turn the tables and make the pitchers have to readjust.
6. A return of the Angels' Lackey?
In his first two years with the Red Sox, John Lackey was unable to display the consistent form that once made him one of the best right-handers in the AL. Now that he's fully healthy following Tommy John surgery, the hope is that Lackey will have the same life in his arm that he had during his best years with the Angels. This would be a big boost for a Boston rotation that enters the year with some unpredictability.
7. Will Bailey perform well in new role?
The Red Sox never got a true glimpse of Andrew Bailey in 2012. Their former closer was hurt in Spring Training and didn't pitch until August, so the jury is out on whether he has the stuff to compete at a high level in the AL East. Bailey definitely has the East Coast mentality it takes to succeed, but he won't have a chance to prove he can return to top form in the closer role, which the Red Sox handed to Joel Hanrahan upon trading for the right-hander shortly before the New Year. The question is if Bailey can stay healthy enough to put up good numbers and give the Red Sox the sense of security they need in the late innings.
8. Will Doubront take the next step?
For the first four months of last season, Felix Doubront looked like a dependable middle-of-the-rotation starter. But he hit a serious wall in August and had a hard time emerging from his slump. With a full year of experience as an AL starter, Doubront should be able to raise his game another level in 2013. If he does, the rotation could go from a question mark to a strength for the Red Sox.
9. What will become of Bard?
Daniel Bard tried to transition from reliever to starter last year, and it went worse than anyone could have imagined. Not only did Bard find himself out of the rotation and back in Triple-A by June, but his confidence and mechanics were shaken to their core. Bard never got right in 2012, and he will be one of the pet projects of new pitching coach Juan Nieves for '13. Farrell should also be invaluable in trying to resurrect Bard, given his past history with the hard-throwing righty. When Bard is going well, he's a dominant setup man.