1. In 2006, the Red Sox finished in third place for the first time since 1997. Have they done enough this offseason to close the eleven game gap that separated them from the first-place Yankees last season?
Over The Monster: It's been 11 years since the Red Sox placed first in the American League East - so yes, please yes.
A lot of people are questioning the signings of JD Drew and Julio Lugo, but they should be great additions to the Red Sox and really round out the club. Drew is definitely an upgrade over Trot Nixon and I think Lugo is going to have a career year. Lugo is going to see a lot of at-bats in a great lineup plus he's with his buddies, like David Ortiz. I'm one of those guys that believes you need a good clubhouse atmosphere to win games, and I really think Lugo is going to rejuvenate the ballclub. His defense is going to be an afterthought once we see him deliver at the plate and as a teammate.
The pitching staff is solid one through 12. The only question remains at closer where ... umm ... ahh ... someone is going to take over for last year's stud Jonathan Papelbon. The question, obviously, is who? Joel Pineiro, Mike Timlin and Julian Tavarez are in contention, but a sleeper like Kyle Snyder could earn it after a solid spring. That's the only real question the team is facing. It's a big question but it's still just one question.
Bluebird Banter: At this point, it's impossible to tell whether they have. To be fair, though, the gap wasn't quite as large as least season's final standings suggest, since the Red Sox are obviously capable of much more than they displayed in the second half. The major area of concern, as everyone knows, is the state of their bullpen. However, bullpens are difficult to forecast, as a few relief aces seem to rise out of the depths of obscurity every season to shoulder the load. In the end, I think the race between the Yankees and Red Sox (and maybe the Blue Jays!?) will be especially close this season.
Camden Chat: If Drew is healthy, that is a nasty stretch of land in the middle of that lineup. Who do you pitch around? It's three guys with power and good plate discipline. It's like Death Valley for an opposing pitcher. I don't see them winning the division, but the only reason they won "just" 85 games last year is they were beaten half to death by injuries and inconsistency out of the bullpen. I don't think they addressed their `pen enough, to be honest, but if the pitching can stay patched together with Schilling, Matsuzaka, Papelbon, Beckett, Wakefield, and whatever their bullpen winds up being, they're back in the game. The only thing that truly derails them is a significant injury to Ortiz or Ramirez.
DRays Bay: On paper, yes they did improve enough. On paper last year, however, the Red Sox were not a team that should have been 11 games behind the Yankees either, so who knows. But with the moves they have made over the course of the offseason, the Red Sox have certainly more than put themselves in position to compete with the Yankees this season, easily. The signings of Daisuke Matsuzaka, Julio Lugo, and J.D. Drew weren't good moves from a production for cost standpoint, but if you are a team like Boston that can afford to eat the loss on these contracts, you just look at these deals and say "well, this certainly improved our ballclub." I think that the Red Sox rotation will be one of, if not thee, best in the American League next year, and I think the addition of J.D. Drew (if healthy) to the middle of the order will improve the offense, as will the upgrade with Julio Lugo at short. The bullpen remains a big question mark, and they didn't really focus on that too much. If the Red Sox have an Achilles Heel, it is the bullpen, and it will be the bullpen that trips them up, if they fail.
Marc Normandin: The Red Sox should be able to close the gap with the Yankees this year, although with the lineup the Yanks put together, nothing is guaranteed. PECOTA sees almost no difference between the clubs, with the Yankees superior bullpen offset by a somewhat stronger Sox rotation, and the two offenses, although sporting different looks, should finish with roughly the same results. Adding Lugo and Drew were great moves for the team; if Drew gets injured for any length of time, Wily Mo Pena is there to fill in. Julio Lugo will probably have the best offensive year of his career in 2007, thanks to playing 81 games in a park built specifically for players of his type. It will be interesting to see how productive Dice-K can be, and how much the Sox bullpen will miss Papelbon-as well as how much the rotation will embrace him.
2. Jonathan Papelbon had a remarkable rookie season, posting a 0.92 ERA and striking out well over a batter per inning while walking less than two batters per nine. The Red Sox have decided to move him to the rotation this season. Do you agree or disagree with that decision? (note: this question was posed before the decision to return Papelbon to the rotation was made).
Over The Monster: I definitely agree with the decision to move Papelbon to the rotation. He was a great closer, but the Sox are going to get more value from him if he's pitching 200 innings rather than 70. His ERA isn't going to be a low 0.92 while he's a starter, but it should still float in the three range. All his numbers will suffer a little bit, but all in all he's going to be a quality starter. He should be one of the better #4 starters in all of baseball.
Bluebird Banter: The decision appears to be based on necessity rather than need. It appears counterintuitive, since he'll be forced to pitch more innings, but you can't argue with science.
Camden Chat: For a while, it seemed like people would leap off of a building to tell you that just about any good pitcher can close games, but it's not true. Lots of really good setup men and middle relievers have failed at closing, and most of that is probably just a mental thing. It's not going to be easy to replace Papelbon in that role, and the Red Sox are apparently having a tough time figuring out just who's going to do it, but it's really quite simple: It would be a complete and total waste of natural resources to not at least TRY to have Jonathan Papelbon start. It would be a crime. He's an incredible talent, and if you can get seven innings out of that arm instead of just one, why wouldn't you? Chances are Papelbon will be pretty good in his new role, and the Sox will find someone that sticks in the ninth inning, and everything works out well.
DRays Bay: I absolutely agree with the decision 100%. While it weakens Boston's bullpen, this move will not be the cause of any bullpen mishaps this season. Papelbon is exceptionally talented and did a great job in the bullpen last season, and while his statistics probably can't be replicated, the Red Sox certainly could have gone out and signed bullpen help that would have filled his shoes adequately. Who takes the closer's role? I don't know, but while I don't think closers are a dime a dozen, they are often overpriced by the market. A quality starting pitcher, which Papelbon should be, gives you so much more value than a more easily-replaced closer. A guy who can give you six or seven quality innings every fifth game is more valuable to the team than a guy who pitches in one innings stints on some nights, many of which involve scenarios that aren't really that necessary for a big dollar closer to be brought in for. But assuming Papelbon continues his minor league starting track record and it carries over to the major leagues, and there is no reason to think it won't, this absolutely was the right move.
Marc Normandin: I don't like the idea of moving Papelbon to the rotation, because the Sox do have other options for starters and the bullpen remains a mess. That being said, if doctors have said that his shoulder cannot handle the workload of a reliever, and that starting will reduce the wear and tear on his shoulder, then what can you do but comply? He should be a very good starter, maybe even an ace at some point, but he probably has more value to the team as a reliever. OF course, hypothetical value lacks use when your pitcher isn't pitching due to health concerns, so the rotation, sadly for the Sox bullpen, is the logical and right move.
3. The Red Sox spent more than $100 million to eventually sign Daisuke Matsuzaka. What will Dice-K accomplish in his first year as a Sox? What will his legacy be five years from now?
Over The Monster: It's too hard to say what Matsuzaka will be doing five years from now, but there's no doubt in my mind that he's going to pretty damn good this year. There are no stats to really support what I'm saying - I'm just going by what I've read and heard from experts - but he's got the makeup of an ace pitcher. He's got the determination to be the best and to do his best. And, like we all saw at the World Baseball Classic, he has some great stuff. It's going to be a circus ride this year and I can't wait to watch it.
Bluebird Banter: Most analysts project his ERA to be a touch below 4.00, though their basis is a tad more suspect than it is for players with lengthy track records in the majors. With that said, it's likely the best estimate, based on what we know, but we'll just have to take a wait and see approach with Matsuzaka.
Camden Chat: Unless every scouting report of Matsuzaka is wrong, he's going to be very good, and he's going to get there right out of the gate. It'll be interesting to see how he does after the league adjusts to him, and that's why I have no clue where he'll be in five years. It all depends on him changing with the league changing to him. I think the odds are pretty good he winds up being the best Japanese pitcher to play in the States so far.
DRays Bay: It is really hard to say. I don't think Matsuzaka will be an ace in his first year, but I think that he will be a quality No. 2/3 this year, and he will probably give the Sox a few more good years as an ace-caliber pitcher in the future. However in the short term, I do believe that there will be some adjustment to the major leagues, and Matsuzaka will struggle a little, but I still see him ending up with a high 3/low 4 ERA this year, and when you are playing your home games in Fenway Park and are competing for a playoff spot, this type of pitcher is certainly someone you want to have. But over the long haul, I see Matsuzaka's career featuring a few years with ERAs in the mid-3s, more years in the low 3s, and possibly a year or two with a sub-3 ERA, not Hall of Fame stuff as he is pretty well along in his career, but certainly a quality top of the rotation starter for many years.
Marc Normandin: I can see Matsuzaka posting an ERA close to 4.00 in his first year, which is excellent considering he is in the American League East. He'll probably pitch somewhat better in 2008, after a year of hype has worn down and he knows the hitters somewhat better, but I'm mostly interested in his production after that. Whether he will maintain a high level of effectiveness or crash and burn like Hideo Nomo before him remains to be seen; if I had to bet, I'd say he succeeds.