The Boston Red Sox made plenty of headlines off the field in 2012 with Bobby Valentine as manager, which almost overshadowed their on-field underachievement. With former pitching coach John Farrell back in the fold as the team’s new manager for 2013, here’s my look at the Red Sox from a fantasy angle.
Catcher- Jarrod Saltalamacchia set a career-high in home runs last season with 25, while also setting high water marks in plate appearances (448) and RBI (59). Other than that, his batting average (.222 last season) and on-base percentage (.288 in each of the last two seasons) leaves a lot to be desired. Fantasy owners should expect similar production in 2013, with somewhere around 20 home runs and 50-60 RBI with a batting average that will not help.
David Ross was signed as a free agent this offseason after spending the last four seasons with the Atlanta Braves. It would take an injury to Saltalamacchia for him to see significant at-bats.
First Base- After some delay over the health of his hip, Mike Napoli and the Red Sox have agreed to a one-year deal. He looks certain to move full-time to first base in Boston, which should help him stay healthier after spending most of his career as a catcher. Fantasy owners know what they are getting with Napoli, as he has five straight seasons with at least 20 home runs, and his multi-position eligibility (72 games at catcher and 28 games at first base in 2012) further bolsters his value. At minimum, his draft day price will not be as high as it was at this time last year since he is not coming off a career season.
Second Base- Dustin Pedroia battled injuries to both hands last season, but still put up solid numbers (.290, 15 home runs, 65 RBI, 20 stolen bases) to maintain his spot among the best fantasy second baseman. His 2010 season, in which he played just 75 games, looks like an outlier in terms of durability, but his style of play creates further risk for nagging injuries going forward. There could be an opportunity to buy-low on Pedroia this year, since he could be the top fantasy second baseman when it’s all said and done.
Shortstop- Stephen Drew’s career has been derailed by an ankle injury over the last two seasons, and his productive run from 2008-2010 (48 home runs) with the Arizona Diamondbacks seems like a distant memory. But due to potential alone, assuming he is healthy, owners in AL-only leagues can find some value here.
Third Base- A changing of the guard is complete here, as Will Middlebrooks’ emergence allowed the Red Sox to trade Kevin Youkilis last season. Middlebrooks did miss the final six weeks of the season with a broken right wrist, but his production when healthy (.288, 15 home runs and 54 RBI over 286 plate appearances) puts him firmly on the radar of fantasy owners as a potential sleeper for 2013. Those that set reasonable expectations for Middlebrooks should not be disappointed.
Right Field- Shane Victorino set a career-high in stolen bases in 2012 (39), but his other numbers across the board (.255, 11 home runs, 55 RBI) dropped off significantly when compared to his best seasons. His spot in the Red Sox lineup will dictate a lot of his fantasy value, but owners should expect nice contributions in runs scored and stolen bases along with production in the other three standard categories that won’t be a detriment.
Center Field- Jacoby Ellsbury missed significant time due to injury in 2012 for the second time in three seasons, but the healthy season in between in 2011 (.321, 32 home runs, 105 RBI, 119 runs scored, 39 stolen bases) will have optimistic fantasy owners hoping for full health in 2013. His 32 home runs and 105 RBI from two years ago and the peripheral numbers that brought those numbers are career outliers for Ellsbury, and may never be repeated again. There is a ton of upside here for fantasy owners and Ellsbury is toward the top of any list of bounceback candidates this year, but durability concerns make him a more risky option than most of the top tier fantasy outfielders.
Left Field- There’s no denying Johnny Gomes’ power production, as he had 18 home runs in just 279 at-bats with the Oakland Athletics last season. But he is essentially a platoon player at this point, as he has only topped 500 at-bats in a season once during his eight full big league seasons. Owners in AL-only leagues can find some value here, but anything beyond that is a reach.
Daniel Nava looks likely to be Gomes’ left-handed hitting platoon partner, but fantasy owners can safely ignore him.
Designated Hitter- David Ortiz had a productive, though injury-shortened, 2012 season, hitting .318 with 23 home runs and 60 RBI along with a .611 slugging percentage over 383 plate appearances. He is expected to be fully recovered from the right Achilles injury that eventually ended his season early, but durability concerns will not go away now that he is 37 years old. That said, fantasy owners that don’t expect the numbers of his prime should be satisfied with his production if he stay in the lineup.
The Red Sox starting rotation has some recognizable names, with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, Ryan Dempster, Felix Doubront and John Lackey looking locked into the five spots right now.
Lester had a dismal 2012 (9-14, 4.82 ERA) that was driven by some bad luck (.316 BABIP) and a declining strike out rate (7.3 K/9), but he has now made at least 31 starts in five straight seasons. A double-digit win total and an ERA below 4.00 is a solid expectation for Lester this season, making him a viable No. 2 or No. 3 starter in mixed leagues.
Buchholz had a very poor start to last season (a 7.19 ERA through his first 10 starts), but a solid finish after returning from an illness (3.76 ERA, 70:31 K/BB ratio over his last 15 starts) creates hope for a rebound in 2013. Fantasy owners should not expect Buchholz to return to his 2010 level (17-7, 2.33 ERA), but he has some sleeper potential if he can stay healthy.
Dempster, Doubront and Lackey are potential draft picks in AL-only or very deep mixed leagues, with Doubront carrying the most upside due largely to his youth (25 years old).
Joel Hanrahan was acquired via trade from the Pittburgh Pirates this offseason, and will step right into the closer role for Boston after an excellent last two seasons in Pittsburgh. Moving to the American League is likely to bring an increased ERA, but Hanrahan is still a top tier fantasy closer. A third straight season with 35-40 saves and solid peripherals looks likely in 2013.
If Hanrahan falters, Andrew Bailey would be first in line for save opportunities for Boston. He missed most of his first season with the team in 2012 due to a thumb injury, but the fact he had 75 saves for Oakland from 2009-2011 proves he could handle closing games if needed.
Brad Berreman is a contributing writer at Rant Sports.com. Follow him in Twitter @bradberreman24.