Next month pitchers and catchers report. That's the day when all the colors in the world seem brighter and depression levels in New England drop. Come April, though, there are five things to really watch for in Fenway.
1) Daisuke Matsuzaka
The hot question: Is he worth the money?
There's no doubt about it, Red Sox Nation is going to have some culture shock come February. The biggest news in the sports world will revolve around our number three starter: the Dice Man. Every start will be scrutinized. Every strikeout will be analyzed. Matsuzaka will bring a whole new world to Red Sox Nation and baseball will benefit greatly. If he does well, that $51.1 million will look like nothing. If he struggles, the Red Sox front office will be questioned every day. "The Gun from the Rising Sun" will, hopefully, overshadow all the steroid scandals and shine a bright light onto baseball and the Red Sox.
2) Curt Schilling's final season
The hot question: What kind of numbers will he put up in his last season?
With Matsuzaka all the hype, we haven't talked about our number one starter Curt Schilling. His contract is up after this season and he's said before he's not going to go the Roger Clemens-rout. He's done and there's no question in his mind. How will Schilling perform this year? Is he going to go out with a bang or will he fizzle out behind injuries? If we know anything about Schilling it's that he's a competitor. He doesn't quit and we're not going to see him quit this season. He's going to push the limit. He's going to be extremely fun to watch in what will be his final season (supposably - there's always that 0.01%, right Roger?)
3) Dustin Pedroia
The hot question: Can he be a successful starter in 2007?
Boston hasn't flat out given a starting position to a rookie in recent years. It took Kevin Youkilis two years before he got a starting gig. Pedroia has only 89 major league at-bats but it looks like he'll be our starting second baseman. He's had a great minor league track record but, as we've seen before, that doesn't mean much when you step into the big leagues. Pedroia has earned the faith of a lot in Red Sox Nation and I have a feeling he won't disappoint.
4) The new-look bullpen
The hot question: Will all these acquisitions pan out?
Epstein wanted to revamp the weak bullpen of 2006. He did so by acquiring arms like Brendan Donnelly, J.C. Romero, and Hideki Okajima. He's also reached deep into the back of the closet to sign talent like Runelvys Hernandez and Joel Pineiro, two pitchers who haven't lived up to potential but could serve purposes in the bullpen. Add those names to a bullpen that includes Mike Timlin, Manny Delcarmen, and Julian Tavarez, and we've got the makings of a strong bullpen. If things don't come together and some arms don't bounce back to previous success, we'll have a bullpen full of Rudys. And without a bonafide closer ready to come in the 9th, we could be doomed.
5) Jon Lester
The hot question: Is he healthy?
Last year we learned that Red Sox pitching prospect Jon lester had cancer. But recently doctors said that he was healthy and he's back to pitching. This is great news to Lester, his family, the Red Sox, and us as fans. We care about his health first and foremost but we still want to see if this young pitcher, who has loads and loads of talent, will get back on the mound in Fenway. I think he will, and when he does he'll get the biggest standing ovation in Fenway Park history.