A slow week in baseball, but a legend returned to Fenway.
So... Not the best week here in Boston. The Patriots decided to pull their recently patented "don't bother to show up for the last game of the year" trick. The Celtics are better left undiscussed. The Bruins are back, at least, and look solid, at least enough to distract us from the single-digit weather. Perfect time to look forward to a bit of baseball, actually. It was a bit of a slow week for the Red Sox, but really that's a good thing. With spring training not far beyond the horizon, it means we can start to really figure out what the team in front of us is capable of, and hope or panic accordingly.
Last week's big story was the final, long-delayed signing of Mike Napoli as Boston's new first baseman. Both sides had agreed to basic terms months ago, but some mysterious issue with the slugger's physical had apparently given Boston pause. Ultimately, that issue was severe enough to cause the re-working of the original deal down from three years and $39 million to one year and $5 million with heavy incentives. Why the massive cut? Napoli is, it turns out, the latest prominent athlete to suffer from avascular necrosis of the hip. In layman's terms, it means his hip's slowly decaying due to reduced bloodflow. Will this hurt him in 2013? Hard to say, but clearly it worried the Sox enough to make them completely rewrite Napoli's deal.
Quite a bit of focus was placed on the Boston outfield this offseason, and with good reason: the Sox spent much of last year depending upon Cody Ross (now a Diamondback) and an assortment of AAA retreads. Between the acquisition of Shane Victorino and the return to health of Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston is clearly expecting better production from the outfield slots this year. One possible contributor to that outfield was longtime Sox prospect Ryan Kalish, who unfortunately will be undergoing yet another surgery. It's possible Kalish is approaching Jed Lowrie status as a potential star who just can't stay on the field, although clearly we all hope that's not the case. Boston's signing of Ryan Sweeney to a minor-league deal may be a sign that the Red Sox are worried about exactly that.
One player who will certainly be counted on to provide innings and at-bats is fan favorite Jacoby Ellsbury, who is likely to return to the leadoff slot now that he's had a year to recover from his dislocated shoulder. However, given Ellsbury's relative lack of on-base skills and the composition of the Boston lineup, Marc wondered if perhaps leadoff really isn't Jacoby's ideal spot. Another widely discussed possibility for the Fenway outfield was Arizona's (now Atlanta's) Justin Upton. As Ben points out, however, Boston was on Upton's no-trade list, and it's likely he was sincere in not wanting to play here.
In other trade speculation: clearly we're a bit more rational about snagging Felix Hernandez than many of the other blog communities out there, but we all dream a little. Perhaps it's time we stop, with rumors swirling of an extension out in Seattle. Then again, Seattle did just trade a high-OBP catcher for their fifth injury-prone guy who can't really do anything but play first or DH. So perhaps that Lackey-Kalish-Aceves-Ciriaco package would be enough to snag the King away.
One place where the 2013 Red Sox look to be extremely well-set is the bullpen. Which, I'll freely admit, is pretty damn weird. "Probably filthy bullpen" is not the sort of thing we're used to thinking about in January. But there it is, and Boston made a solid step toward securing for a few more years, signing Craig Breslow to a two-year deal with an additional option year.
Will that bullpen make any difference in 2013? Hard to say, really. Part of this comes from the sudden uncertainty throughout the AL East. For a good decade now, the East has been the dominant division in baseball, first due to the monetary and offensive clout of the Yankees and Red Sox, and lately due to the rise of the Rays. However, the division now finds itself in relative disarray. The Yankees' vaunted offense has finally fallen off the aging cliff, Tampa never had an offense to begin with (and no, Wil Myers alone won't save it), Toronto is potentially amazing but very health-dependent, and Baltimore will need to find more magic beans if it wants to contend. It's a year of total chaos, as Matt Sullivan examines in more depth. Can the Sox win that division? Entirely possible, although as Matt Kory points out, it'll take a bit more than the clubhouse chemistry that the front office has clearly prioritized this winter.
If anyone can provide the necessary magic to bring the Red Sox back to the land of happiness, beer, and pennants, it's the greatest pitcher in baseball history, Pedro Martinez. Fortunately for all of us, Pedro's back in the fold, having taken a job as a "special assistant to the general manager." The job's a bit ill-defined, but we can all hope it consists of teaching Felix Doubront a better changeup, imparting bits of wisdom to the minor-league guys, and telling Jon Lester to stop whining at the umpire and just humiliate the batter. Matt Kory gave us a look back at Pedro's greatness this week, which is always a good way to improve your mood.
I will always admit freely to being totally irrational about Pedro, and will of course be proudly wearing the home #45 jersey my wonderful girlfriend bought me for Christmas to every game I attend this year. Having him back at Fenway is just the best thing I could have asked for this offseason. Short of trading Alfredo Aceves, John Lackey, and a basket of athletic supporters to Miami for Giancarlo Stanton, of course. (On the minute chance you're reading this, Mr. Cherington, there's still time. Promise Loria a tax break of some sort, he'll do it in a heartbeat.)
Enjoy the weekend, folks, and stay warm. 65 days till Opening Day.