The 2011 Red Sox were an exceptionally talented team laden with superstars and big names. Adrian Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, Dustin Pedroia, Jon Lester, Daniel Bard, Clay Buchholz, Jonathan Papelbon and Jacoby Ellsbury all entered the year seemingly in their primes. David Ortiz, Kevin Youkilis, J.D. Drew, John Lackey and Josh Beckett gave further reason for optimism, and many thought the squad would challenge for 100 wins and coast to a playoff spot, giving the Red Sox their best shot at a title since 2007.
As we know now, that was not meant to be. For as talented and star-studded as the team was that season, the organization lacked any semblance of depth, and it's not hard to argue that the lack of depth, more than any other factor, is what truly sank that team.
It meant that the Red Sox could not replace a struggling Crawford, with their lone adequate reserve outfielder, Josh Reddick, already filling in for the oft-injured Drew. It meant that Jarrod Saltalamacchia was allowed to post a. 288 OBP, with an aging Jason Varitek the only other option. When Lackey and Wakefield proved ineffective, only failed starter Andrew Miller and a rag-tag collection of Daisuke Matsuzaka, Kyle Weiland and mid-season acquisition Erik Bedard remained. Meanwhile the bullpen relied on an unimpressive Dan Wheeler/Matt Albers combo to serve as much of the bridge to Bard/Papelbon.
The lesson was largely lost during the turbulent 2011-2012 offseason, as the 2012 team entered the year perhaps even shallower than its felled predecessor. With Lowrie, Marco Scutaro and Reddick gone, Drew and Wakefield retired and Lackey out with Tommy John surgery, that team was even less equipped to deal with the injuries, regressions and attrition that a standard season will throw at an MLB team.
That long-winded, unpleasant stroll down memory lane serves as a reminder of how smart the Red Sox have been to emphasize depth over the last two seasons. This is still a team with some star power, to be sure, but what really sets the Red Sox apart from other organizations right now is their wealth of MLB-ready talent in the minors, their very deep bench and their financial flexibility, which should allow them to further add to the team should a need arise.
Photo Credit: Kim Klement
And if recent history isn't enough to hammer that point home, the rash of injuries we've seen this offseason should certainly suffice.
Consider what's happened to the Braves, Rangers and, to a lesser degree, the Tigers. Atlanta will begin the season with three-fifths of its projected rotation on the disabled list, with two players, Brandon Beachy and Kris Medlen, gone for the year. The Rangers have been even more snakebitten, losing Jurickson Profar, Geovany Soto, Derek Holland and Matt Harrison for the first portion of the season with Yu Darvish and Elvis Andrus facing early bumps in the road as well. And while the Tigers haven't suffered from the sheer number of injuries as the other two teams listed above, injury has struck its roster at its most vulnerable points: middle infield and bullpen. Jose Iglesias and Bruce Rondon are likely done for the year, and Andy Dirks should miss significant time as well.
That's three contenders who already face meaningfully longer odds to make the playoffs than they did two months ago, and this is before 28 teams have played their first games of the season.
This is not to suggest that the Red Sox are impervious to the injury bug this year. Were they to lose Lester and Jake Peavy for the entire year - a situation analogous to what the Braves face - they'd be in trouble. If Xander Bogaerts, A.J. Pierzynski, Lackey and Felix Doubront were all gone until June - a scenario similar to what the Rangers face - the first few months might be rocky. And if the Red Sox lost Jackie Bradley Jr., Junichi Tazawa and Jonny Gomes for the year, a la Detroit, it would have an impact on their ability to compete.
But when you assess the Red Sox depth chart, there are very few areas in which they'd be at a complete loss, and many of the names Boston would rely upon are far more attractive than the players being called upon in Texas, Atlanta and Detroit.
If the Red Sox suffer injuries in the rotation, they have Brandon Workman, Chris Capuano and Allen Webster all ready to step in right now, with Anthony Ranaudo and perhaps Matt Barnes and Henry Owns ready later in the season. Their list of bullpen options is too long to fully break down here, but when guys like Workman, Drake Britton and Rubby De La Rosa can't crack your roster, you're doing something right.
On the offensive side of the ball, David Ross, Jonathan Herrera and Mike Carp all provide non-embarrassing options should they be forced into everyday duty for short periods of time. Bradley is still waiting for his shot to play every day and players like Christian Vazquez, Garin Cecchini and Bryce Brentz all face potential MLB debuts this year on the farm.
There will be no Kyle Weiland, Erik Bedard, Darnell McDonald or Drew Sutton for the Red Sox this year. No last-minute push for Bruce Chen. This is a team built to withstand the test of a 162- game season, and a team built to capitalize on the weaknesses of others through trades if necessary, too.
It's a lesson I must remind myself of every time I concoct a dream trade scenario for Giancarlo Stanton, stare lustfully at a Jason Heyward box score or lament the loss of Ellsbury to New York. Having a superstar-heavy team like the ones in Detroit and Texas is quite fun, but it ebbs away at the corners of your roster and leaves less flexibility for in-season moves.
If Shane Victorino starts the season on the DL or Buchholz misses time yet again or age finally catches up to Ortiz or Ross or Pierzynski, the Red Sox may lose a win or two over the course of the season. But they will not have to panic and make a shortsighted trade, they will not have to rely on sub-replacement level players and they will not see their chances at an AL East title completely ruined.
It's a lesson that Ben Cherington seems to have taken to heart, and if this type of roster construction can be sustained over the span of several seasons, we could be talking about another long run of successful Red Sox baseball.