Randy Booth of Over The Monster was kind enough to write this preview for us.
The Red Sox you'll see in 2010 is unlike any Red Sox team you've seen before.
The mashers are gone. The guys who go out and hit 40 home runs a season, knock in 120 runs and strikeout a ton have seen their day and it's gone. The only one left is David Ortiz and if you want to call him a masher then, well, you didn't see the first two months of last season.
Instead the Red Sox will rely on defense this season. General Manager Theo Epstein and his team put offense on the backburner and decided to bolster the gloves on the field. In, defensive studs like Mike Cameron and Adrian Beltre. Out, defensive black holes like Jason Bay and Mike Lowell.
This ain't your grandfather's Red Sox.
Not only was the defense bolstered, including moving Jacoby Ellsbury from center field to left field, a position where he should excel at considering he has less ground to cover, but so did the arms in front of it. The Red Sox signed the best starter on the market in John Lackey. Lackey will be the team's No. 3 starter behind All-Stars Jon Lester and Josh Beckett. With this 1-2-3 punch leading the way, I can firmly say this is the best 1-2-3 punch in baseball. CC, AJ and Andy be damned.
The back-end of the rotation is where the question marks reside. Clay Buchholz finished 2009 strong, but has struggled so far this spring. Daisuke Matsuzaka also finished 2009 strong, but has yet to throw a pitch that matters in spring training (is that even possible?). Tim Wakefield, on the other hand, is showing that age is no factor and is pitching well this spring. Three pitchers for two spots and no one is quite sure how it will break down yet.
Back to the offense, solid players fill out the rest of the lineup. Victor Martinez will provide great offensive pop in his first full season with the Red Sox. Kevin Youkilis and Dustin Pedroia make up one of the best defensive right sides in baseball. Marco Scutaro, the latest Red Sox shortstop, brings some stability to the position - something the Sox haven't had in many years. J.D. Drew, aka the most underrated player in baseball, mans right field while Ortiz returns as the DH.
An area of concern for the Sox is the bullpen. The usually-solid Jonathan Papelbon is once again the fireman of the Sox, but the arms around him are a tad different. Takashi Saito and Billy Wagner are gone, but regulars Hideki Okajima, Manny Delcarmen and Ramon Ramirez return. All three are solid bullpen arms, but have shown problems staying consistent in the past. Daniel Bard is a young, up-and-coming fireballer that could see some time in closing situations.
The final bullpen spots are dependent on the rotation filling out (Buchholz/Dice-K/Wakefield) and a couple other veterans. Boof Bonser could find himself slotting in, but a disabled list may be more likely. The last spot in the bullpen is really down to Joe Nelson, Brian Shouse and Scott Atchison. All three are veterans that have proved this spring they've still got some left in the tank.
The Red Sox might see some help from some young prospects this season if anyone struggles. The player most ready is Josh Reddick, an outfielder who saw considerable time with the big club last season but struggled. Reddick is a toolsy outfielder who doesn't quite fit the "get on base" mold of the Red Sox, but is working on it. The Sox may also see contributions from pitchers like Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden, who have had mixed success at the MLB level.
All in all, this is a new Red Sox team. The previous balance of hitting-pitching-defense may be a tad skewed this year, but in the end it should produced a team that can win 95 games. Will it be enough to hold off the Yankees and Rays? Red Sox Nation can only hope.
Thanks, Randy. Boston does look like the best team in the division (not counting our own, of course). The plan of defense over offense will be interesting to watch.