2013 Record and Finish: 97-65, first place in AL East (first overall); defeated St. Louis in World Series
2014 Projected Record: 92-70, third place in AL East
The Case For
The Red Sox are the defending world champions and tied World Series opponent St. Louis for the most wins the regular season in 2013. They did that despite getting just 16 starts from Clay Buchholz, season-ending injuries to two closers, and disappointing seasons from starter Ryan Dempster (who is now quasi-retired) and third baseman Will Middlebrooks.
The Case Against
The loss of Jacoby Ellsbury to free agency cost the Red Sox one of their most valuable players from a year ago, one worth nearly six wins above replacement according to Baseball-Reference’s formula. The team now has significant question marks at three positions. In centerfield, they will attempt to replace Ellsbury with some combination of rookie Jackie Bradley Jr., who hit .189/.280/.337 in limited exposure last year and has put up a similar line this spring, and former All-Star Grady Sizemore, who hasn’t played since 2011 due to injury. At third base, they are sticking with the 25-year-old Middlebrooks, hoping to get more than the .227/.271/.425 line he contributed last year. And at shortstop, they are going with another rookie, albeit a very highly regarded one, in top prospect Xander Bogaerts. Despite having those young players in prominent roles, and shedding the soon-to-be-37-year-old Dempster, Boston has some age issues. By replacing free agent Jarrod Saltalamacchia with A.J. Pierzynski, they got nine years older at catcher. World Series MVP David Ortiz is now 38, and closer Koji Uehara will turn 39 during the season’s opening series.
X-Factor: Stephen Drew
Boston’s championship shortstop remains unsigned, and with Drew having rejected the Red Sox’s qualifying offer, they are the only team that can sign him without forfeiting a draft pick. Injury and poor performance could expand the market for Drew as the season begins, as has already happened with the injury to Tigers shortstop (and former Red Sock) Jose Iglesias, but a return to Boston is not out of the question for Drew, and would improve the Sox’s outlook on the left side of the infield.
Number to Know: 13
That’s how many World Series have been played since the last time a champion repeated, that being the 2000 Yankees.
Most overrated: Jackie Bradley
"I hate to throw it on a kid, but I think they may have overvalued him as the next coming. They were hoping that he was a lock to walk in and be everything that Jacoby Ellsbury was, and I don't think he is. He's got some ability, but replacing Ellsbury is a lot of pressure."
Most underrated: Daniel Nava
"He's a sound hitter who's tough to get out. You put him at the fourth outfielder, and the next thing you know, when he's not in the lineup, you're saying, 'We need another guy.' Then you put him in and realize he's pretty damn good. He should get the lion's share of playing time in leftfield because I don't think Jonny Gomes is as good from the right side, except for the power."
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