Relative to last year, this offseason was somewhat quiet. There was no blockbuster trade for a slugger. The Sox didn’t make a huge free agent signing. This year, almost as if the front office were sending a message, was the complete opposite of the last. There were some losses, Papelbon primary amongst them. But there are some new faces around camp that the Red Sox hope will replace them and perhaps turn things around. Let’s take a look at some of the new members of the 2012 Sox.
We’ll start by examining the biggest player acquisition made this offseason. Bailey has the makings of an elite closer. He won Rookie of the Year back in ’09 and was an All-Star in both 2009 and 2010. His best pitch is his fastball, hands down. It sits in the mid-to-upper 90’s, moves well, and he can put it wherever he wants. Second is a low 90’s cutter that he often throws for the K. Finally is a pretty good curveball that he uses mainly to keep hitters off balance. At only 27, Bailey is one of the best young closers in baseball and should prove to be a force in the Boston bullpen. The trick of course is staying healthy. He has hit the disabled list more than once in his young career and for the Red Sox to get the stable closing presence they need, they are going to need him to stay off of it. The second caveat is the man that Bailey is replacing. Though he had rough patches last year, one Robert Andino comes to mind, Jonathon Papelbon was one of the best closers in baseball. Can Bailey replace Papelbon? That remains to be seen.
In another attempt to fix last year’s horrific bullpen, one of the first moves Ben Cherington made this offseason was trading Jed Lowrie for Houston’s closer, Mark Melancon. Red Sox fans may remember Mark Melancon from his early days as “the next Mariano Rivera”, a title that has been given to just about every new Yankee reliever regardless of talent or experience. Last year was Melancon’s first in the league fulltime, posting an impressive 2.78 ERA, 8.0 strikeouts per 9 innings, and a nice even 20 saves over 71 games. He’s got a good fastball which hovers in the low to mid 90’s and a lot of movement, but where he really shines is his curveball. He throws it in the low to mid 80’s and it is as good as anyone’s, a devastating out pitch. Melancon, according to numerous scouting reports, also has a phenomenal pitcher’s makeup, meaning he’s confident and tough as nails. If all goes well, the Melancon-Bailey combo could be one of the top in the AL.
Anybody who followed the San Francisco Giants in their improbable rise to world champions 2 years ago knows the name Cody Ross. His postseason performance, especially in the ALCS in which he hit .350 with 3 homeruns, 3 doubles, and 5 RBIs against some of the best pitchers in the game, was among the best in recent memory. He’s not a star by any means, his best season was probably 2009 in which he hit .270 with 24 homeruns and a .790 OPS, but he’s a solid right handed hitter who has a penchant for coming up big in the clutch. More importantly, Ross has grit. He’s a scrappy, likeable guy who, by all reports is fitting in easily in the Red Sox clubhouse already. He’s exactly what this team needs in the outfield, especially given last year, someone who will work for whatever he gets. I am a big fan this signing.
The other player acquired by the Red Sox in the Josh Reddick trade is, in many ways the opposite his probable platoon partner, Cody Ross. He’s 6’4 225 lbs to Ross’ 5’10 195 lbs. He hits left, Ross hits right. While Ross will surprise in spite of his smaller frame, the giant Sweeney’s season best homerun total is 6. What Sweeney will do, however is hit for average with a nice career average of .283. One thing Sweeney does have is potential. He’s still only 27 and he was regarded as the best prospect in the White Sox farm back in ’07. If the keen eyes of Bobby Valentine or Dave Magadan can tweak his swing to get more power out of that hitter’s build, he could become a force. Remember, before he fixed his swing in 2010 the most home runs in a season Jose Bautista had ever hit was 16. Not to say Sweeney will see that drastic of a jump at the age of 29 like we saw with Bautista, but you never know when something will click.
I saved the best for last. I am a big fan of Bobby V. Following the collapse of the 2011 Red Sox and the very revealing interview of Jon Lester in which he stated that because Francona was so laid back the players took advantage of him, the owners went out and got the complete opposite to be the new manager of the 2012 team. Critics will say that Bobby Valentine is a loud mouthed, egotistical, show off who will be very poor at handling his players and will be constantly offending and butting heads with his players. They may be right. Bobby is a bit of a narcissist; he’s gone so far as to claim he invented the wrap sandwich. But what everyone can agree on is that he is one of the keenest minds in baseball today. He can often detect flaws in the mechanics of pitcher and hitter alike and when he was an analyst for ESPN his comments were generally quite incisive and pointed.
While I loved Francona, I would peg him as the best manager in Red Sox history, it was a change that needed to happen. Valentine is as different from Francona as it gets and already players are noting that the spring training drills and games all have a sense of urgency to them. We won’t know if this is an effective coaching maneuver until the season starts. Hopefully it will allow the Sox to avoid the slow start that has crippled them the past two years. But I like that he’s making them work.
There weren’t too many changes to the roster this year, but that’s a good thing. As awful as 2011 ended, the Sox were the best team in the game from April 14th to August 31st. The talent is still there. The only thing they really changed up was the attitude. And after last year, that’s what really needed a shake up.