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Meet the 2013 Red Sox

They finished 69-93, last place in the American League East thanks largely to terrible pitching, particularly from the starters.

Sound familiar? Those 2011 Baltimore Orioles sure had plenty of problems. But they bounced back to win 93 games and qualify for the playoffs last season. Manager Buck Showalter was credited for helping change the ethos of a team that had become too accustomed to losing.

As the Red Sox prepare for the coming season, it is with the knowledge that while they have a long way to go, baseball offers express lanes to success.

The Los Angeles Dodgers threw the Sox a life preserver in August by agreeing to take on the onerous contracts of Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and Adrian Gonzalez. That allowed general manager Ben Cherington the financial flexibility to remake the roster.

In Ryan Dempster, Stephen Drew, Jonny Gomes, Joel Hanrahan, Mike Napoli, David Ross, Koji Uehara and Shane Victorino, the Red Sox added talent along with some much-needed professionalism and accountability.

Cherington also replaced manager Bobby Valentine and his cantankerous coaching staff with John Farrell and a group of well-qualified coaches.

Farrell has yet to show he’s another Showalter. But he does understand the depth of work to be done.

The best news might be that the farm system, after a fallow period of several years, is producing players. The Sox have Will Middlebrooks in the middle of the lineup and players like Jackie Bradley Jr., Xander Bogaerts, Bryce Brentz, Allen Webster and Rubby De La Rosa on the way.

There are issues, of course. David Ortiz has yet to get over an injury that happened in July and could be a month away. The rotation, while seemingly better thanks to the spring training improvements of Jon Lester and Clay Buchhloz, remains a question mark. The offense could struggle to score runs.

But after five years of decline since winning the 2007 World Series, there is a plan in place. The Sox have a manager they can trust, a flexible payroll and players who were picked to win games, not headlines.

Is it a playoff team? Probably not. But the 2013 Red Sox will be worth rooting for, and that represents progress.

Projected lineup


AP

Jacoby Ellsbury

  • Fast fact: Ellsbury has played in only 250 of a possible 486 games the last three seasons because of injuries to his ribs and right shoulder.

  • Lowdown: Ellsbury had a tremendous 2011 season. But he has been an average player otherwise in his career based on his adjusted OPS. He will be a free agent after the season and needs another big season to improve his value.

  • Chemistry component: How Ellsbury handles his pending free agency will be a yearlong story. Will he give the Red Sox his all physically?

AP

Shane Victorino

  • Fast fact: The Red Sox believe Victorino will save runs with his glove in right. A career 16.1 UZR in right field (compared to 13.5 in center field) suggests they’re onto something.

  • Lowdown: Victorino is capable of 15 home runs, 30 stolen bases and 30 doubles at Fenway Park, assuming he makes better contact then he did during his two months with the Dodgers last season. At 32, he’s not done as a player.

  • Chemistry component: Victorino is energetic and loud. In a Red Sox clubhouse that had become stale, those are two welcome qualities.

AP

Dustin Pedroia

  • Fast fact: thumb injury led to Pedroia having a career-low .347 OPB last season. Look for that to climb now that’s healthy.

  • Lowdown: Pedroia is eager to help lead the Red Sox back to respectability after last season’s debacle. His production hitting second or third will be vital for a lineup that could have trouble scoring runs. He also will be a key to the defensive shifts John Farrell likes to use.

  • Chemistry component: He’s the de facto team captain and has worked hard to pull the newcomers into the mix.

AP

Mike Napoli

  • Fast fact: Napoli has seen an average of 4.27 pitches per plate appearance in his career. That is fifth among active players with at least 2,500 plate appearances.

  • Lowdown: Napoli had his three-year contract chopped to one year because of a degenerative hip condition. But there was no sign of it in spring training. Napoli hit for power and the former catcher played unexpectedly well at first base. He could be a great bargain.

  • Chemistry component: Napoli worked out with Will Middlebrooks in the winter and that helped smooth his transition.

AP

Jonny Gomes

  • Fast fact: Gomes has hit .284 against lefthanders hard in his career with an .894 OPS. But he has hit .223 against righthanders with a .732 OPS.

  • Lowdown: The Sox intended to give Gomes a chance to play every day in left field when spring training started. For the start of the season at least, he also he will help fill in as the DH until David Ortiz returns. The emergence of Jackie Bradley Jr. could bite into his playing time.

  • Chemistry component: Gomes is baseball’s chemistry professor, a positive clubhouse presence wherever he goes.

AP

Will Middlebrooks

  • Fast fact: The Red Sox were 41-29 in the games Middlebrooks started last season, 28-64 in the ones he didn’t.

  • Lowdown: Middlebrooks was having a memorable season until he was hit by a pitch and broke his right wrist on Aug. 10. He has come back strong in spring training and looks like a crucial player in the middle of the lineup. The Sox need his power.

  • Chemistry component: The veterans rib Middlebrooks a lot because of his relative youth. This year, he has been giving it back. He and Pedroia have become tight.

AP

Jarrod Saltalamacchia

  • Fast fact: Saltalamacchia has hit 41 homers over the last two seasons. That is tied for third among major league catchers.

  • Lowdown: Saltalamacchia was too all-or-nothing last season, hitting 25 homers and striking out 139 times. The switch hitter has improved from the right side, which should raise his .288 OBP. His defense, throwing and game-calling continue to evolve as he prepares for free agency.

  • Chemistry component: Saltalamacchia took the arrival of David Ross as a way he could improve by learning from an older player, not a challenge to his status.

AP

Jackie Bradley Jr.

  • Fast fact: Bradley was the 40th overall pick of the 2011 draft. It was a selection the Sox gained as compensation for Adrian Beltre.

  • Lowdown: Bradley forced his way into consideration with an outstanding spring training. He is a premier defensive player who has a 423 on-base percentage in two minor league seasons. His glove alone makes the team better.

  • Chemistry component: Bradley was a two-time NCAA champion at South Carolina and a supplemental first-round draft pick. He is unusually mature at the age of 22, having handled a lot of attention already in his career.

AP

Jose Iglesias

  • Fast fact: Iglesias has hit .135 with a painfully low .410 OPS in 35 major league games. But he looked much better at the plate during spring training.

  • Lowdown: Iglesias was headed for Triple A Pawtucket before Stephen Drew suffered a concussion. Drew is on the way back, but Iglesias will get a chance to help the Sox — and improve his future.

  • Chemistry component: Pedroia took Iglesias under his wing several years ago and the two are close, although the jokes are constant. In the Red Sox clubhouse, that marks acceptance.

Bench

AP

David Ross

  • Fast fact: Ross has thrown out 37.5 percent of base stealers the last eight years, second in the majors only to Yadier Molina of the Cardinals, who has caught 40 percent.

  • Lowdown: Ross, who played eight games for the Sox in 2008, has the experience to help turn the pitching staff around. He also has been an effective hitter against lefthanders in his career.

  • Chemistry component: Ross can help tie it all together for the Sox because of the trust he has developed among the pitchers and the respect he commands among the position players.

AP

Pedro Ciriaco

  • Fast fact: Ciriaco hit .415 with a 1.002 OPS in 14 games against the Yankees last season. He drove in seven runs and stole five bases.

  • Lowdown: Ciriaco was going nowhere with the Pirates when the Red Sox signed him as a minor league free agent. He proved to be a helpful bench player last season. His speed and defensive versatility kept him on the roster. But his days in the outfield, a Bobby Valentine experiment gone awry, are probably over,

  • Chemistry component: Ciriaco adds energy on the field. But he is quiet off it.

AP

Daniel Nava

  • Fast fact: Nava has hit .284 with a .404 OPB in 81 career games at Fenway Park.

  • Lowdown: Nava, a former independent league player, defied the odds when he made his MLB debut in 2010. He did it again last season, coming back from being designated for assignment and clearing waivers to playing in 88 games. He earned another chance in spring training and could help as the DH.

  • Chemistry component: Nava isn’t just a good story. He has worked hard to improve over the last two seasons. Teammates have taken note, too.

Mike Carp

  • Fast fact: Carp has made only two errors in 82 career games at first base.

  • Lowdown: Carp was acquired from Seattle after the start of camp because he was seen as a bench upgrade. His performance in camp did not reflect that, but Carp could provide some power and a steady glove at first base behind Mike Napoli. In a pinch, he could play some left field, too.

  • Chemistry component: After being designated for assignment by the Mariners, a humbled Carp has tried to show the Sox he’ll do anything they’ll ask.

Starting rotation

AP

Jon Lester

  • Fast fact: Lester is seventh in Red Sox history with 1,060 strikeouts. Only 49 more will push him past Luis Tiant and Josh Beckett.

  • Lowdown: Lester has benefited greatly by John Farrell returning to the team as manager and the addition of Juan Nieves as pitching coach. The mechanical flaws that led to a career-worst 4.82 earned run average last season have been corrected and he looks primed for an All-Star caliber season.

  • Chemistry component: With Beckett gone, Lester has assumed a position of leadership among the pitchers.

AP

Clay Buchholz

  • Fast fact: Buchholz made a career-best 29 starts and threw 1891⁄3 innings last season.

  • Lowdown: Buchholz gave the Sox a scare when he strained a hamstring on the first day of spring training. But he came back quickly and pitched well throughout camp. His continued good health is a must for the Sox given their rotation woes last season.

  • Chemistry component: The easy-going Buchholz has a prominent role now. At 28, he is at a point in his career where he should take the step to becoming more than a solid mid-rotation starter.

AP

Ryan Dempster

  • Fast fact: Dempster has averaged 199 innings the last five seasons. The Sox have been starving for that kind of consistency.

  • Lowdown: Dempster had some rough outings when he was traded from the Cubs to the Rangers last July before adjusting. The Sox believe that will carry forward into this season. He’s precise on the mound and can keep the team in games.

  • Chemistry component: Dempster, who turns 36 in May, has the most experience on the staff. His presence (and sense of humor) has already made an impact.

AP

Felix Doubront

  • Fast fact: Doubront has struck out 196 batters in 1961⁄3 career innings.

  • Lowdown: Doubront was a surprise last season, pitching fairly well after earning a job in spring training. But he reported to spring training in poor condition and missed a start before getting on track. With the talent coming up in the system, Doubront can’t be complacent.

  • Chemistry component: Doubront may be the most talented of the starters, but he also needs the most prodding. The Sox are hoping he will follow the lead of his older pitchers.

AP

John Lackey

  • Fast fact: Despite missing all of last season, Lackey is third in innings pitched in the American League since 2002 with 1,876.

  • Lowdown: Lackey has Tommy John surgery on Nov. 1, 2011 and is fully recovered. The Sox installed him as their No. 5 starter and believe he can make 30 starts and carry a full workload. Lackey looked solid in spring training.

  • Chemistry component: Lackey, contrary to his image among fans, is hugely popular in the clubhouse. He even goes to watch fellow pitchers work in minor league games.

Bullpen

AP

Joel Hanrahan

  • Fast fact: Since becoming a reliever in 2008, Hanrahan has averaged 10.2 strikeouts per nine innings.

  • Lowdown: The Sox never found a closer they liked last season, so they traded for Hanrahan in December. He was a success in Pittsburgh but the road will be tougher in the American League East. Hanrahan should be plenty motivated by his pending free agency.

  • Chemistry component: Hanrahan has been quiet while getting to know his new teammates. He struck up a friendship during spring training with fellow newcomer Koji Uehara.

AP

Andrew Bailey

  • Fast fact: The first batter has reached base 22 percent of the time against Bailey in his career.

  • Lowdown: Bailey has appeared in just 108 games the last three seasons because of injuries. Then the Red Sox obtained Joel Hanrahan and removed him from closing. Bailey looked strong in spring training, spotting his fastball well. He could emerge as the primary set-up man or end up as trade bait if the Sox fall out of contention.

  • Chemistry component: Bailey handled his demotion well, drawing praise from Farrell and his teammates for his professionalism.

AP

Koji Uehara

  • Fast fact: Uehara has walked 16 batters unintentionally over 145 innings while striking out 183 since becoming a reliever in 2010.

  • Lowdown: Uehara turns 38 on Wednesday, so the Red Sox have to be careful with how they use him. He can be a valuable late-inning reliever given how he has dominated lefthanded batters in his career.

  • Chemistry component: Uehara is a low-maintenance Japanese player. He shares an interpreter with Junichi Tazawa and mixes in well with everybody. He’s the anti Daisuke Matsuzaka.

AP

Andrew Miller

  • Fast fact: The 6-foot-7 Miller is the tallest lefthander to ever appear in a game for the Red Sox. Presumably he has the longest hair, too.

  • Lowdown: After a wayward career as a starter and occasional reliever, Miller found a comfortable niche as a left specialist last season. Lefthanded batters hit .149 against him last season, striking out 33 times in 87 at-bats.

  • Chemistry component: Miller has a wry sense of humor and is comfortable in the clubhouse in what is now his third season with the team.

AP

Junichi Tazawa

  • Fast fact: Tazawa’s 9.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio was the best in the majors last season for pitchers with at least 40 innings.

  • Lowdown: Tazawa was a middling prospect as a starter then had Tommy John surgery. He came back as a hard-throwing reliever and is lined up to pitch in high-leverage situations this season. His performance was one of the few bright spots of last season.

  • Chemistry component: Because he played minor league ball in the organization, Tazawa has a lot of personal connections and understands English well.

AP

Clayton Mortensen

  • Fast fact: A supplemental first round pick by the Cardinals in 2007, Mortensen has been traded three times since 2009.

  • Lowdown: A tall righthander with a quirky delivery that is hard for the batter to pick up, Mortensen had a 3.21 earned run average in 26 appearances last season and saved the bullpen a few times. He’ll be the long reliever and perhaps a spot starter.

  • Chemistry component: Mortensen, after bouncing around a bit, is genuinely happy to be with the Red Sox. It shows in his attitude.

AP

Alfredo Aceves

  • Fast fact: Aceves has thrown 2692⁄3 innings of relief since the start of the 2009 season, the most in the American League.

  • Lowdown: Aceves competed to be a starter last year and suddenly became the closer. Then he lost the job at the end of the year and a series of behavioral incidents followed. The Sox have stuck with him and see Aceves as a long reliever who can also fill other roles.

  • Chemistry component: The pitchers are amused by Aceves and his antics, the position players not as much. But nobody denies his talent.

DL

AP

David Ortiz

  • Fast fact: Ortiz is 50th all-time with 401 home runs. That is eighth among active players.

  • Lowdown: Ortiz still isn’t recovered from a tear in his right Achilles suffered last July. The tendon, he says, is fine now but residual inflammation in the area will keep him on the disabled list. It’s uncertain when Ortiz will be back and the hole he leaves in the middle of the lineup is a big one.

  • Chemistry component: Big Papi’s loud roar was muted by his spring training injury issues. The Sox need that back, along with his bat.

AP

Stephen Drew

  • Fast fact: From 2007-2010, Drew hit .268 with a .772 OPS and averaged 147 games.

  • Lowdown: Drew, the brother of former Sox outfielder J.D. Drew, was signed to a one-year, $9.5 million deal. The Sox wanted a bridge to their young shortstops and Drew wanted to rebuild his value. That got off to a slow start when he suffered a concussion but he is not expected to miss too much time.

  • Chemistry component: A constant refrain from the Sox: Drew speaks a lot more than his brother ever did. This Drew is part of the mix.

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