Baseball Prospectus’ Pre-season Projection: 95-67, second place
Actual record: 95-67, second place
Buster Olney of ESPN.com’s Take
What went wrong: The Red Sox had an offensive powerhouse for years in the middle of their lineup, but now that Manny Ramirez is gone and David Ortiz is regressing, Boston’s attack has eroded, and the problem was illuminated in the series loss to the Angels, when the Red Sox needed 76 at-bats before they hit their first home run. And now Boston has an awkward collection of older sluggers whose defensive skills are diminishing, from third baseman Mike Lowell to right fielder J.D. Drew to catcher Jason Varitek. The Red Sox pitching should be set up well in 2010, with depth in the bullpen and the rotation.
Biggest puzzler on the drawing board: The Red Sox will want to upgrade their offense, but that won’t be easy to do. The presumption among many general managers is that Boston is going to wind up with one of the two premier corner outfielders on the free agent market, Jason Bay or Matt Holliday. But the Red Sox are on the hook for a lot of money with Lowell and Ortiz, without really knowing how much either will contribute. And they are looking for a shortstop-yet again-because they don’t know if Jed Lowrie can hold down the position. Everything that happened in 2009 underscored how crucial the signing of Mark Teixeira could have been for Boston, because the Red Sox need everything that Teixeira would have provided: youth, strong defense, and a worthy heir to the Ortiz/Ramirez legacy in the middle of the lineup. But the Yankees have him for years to come, and the Red Sox won’t.
The Baseball Prospectus Take
A first-round exit against the Angels makes their status as the Team of the Decade iffier, but a 95-win season and the AL Wild Card is nothing to be ashamed of. In a way it’s hard to believe the team was this successful-the Sox had major holes in the lineup and loads of pitching injuries and ineffectiveness to deal with-but dominance at home (a 56-25 record) pushed them over the top, as well as a 16-2 showing against Baltimore that buoyed both their record and their run differential (+62 against the O’s, +74 against the rest of the league combined). Their pitching staff was second in the AL in strikeouts, which helped them overcome Fenway’s hitter-friendly park factor, and they ranked sixth in the AL in walks allowed while they gave up the third-fewest homers. The offense was the star at home though, with a collective .284/.365/.498-this was accomplished despite having Julio Lugo, Nick Green, Casey Kotchman, Varitek and others generating little productivity. Some players, like Lowell, did all of their damage at home (.307/.344/.588 at Fenway, .276/.331/.382 elsewhere), so it’s no wonder the team was under .500 on the road where they hit .257/.340/.414 as a unit.-Marc Normandin, Baseball Prospectus
Key stat: .679
That’s Boston’s Defensive Efficiency for 2009, a reflection of the fact that Red Sox defense was three shades of awful.They ranked alongside the likes of the leagues’ worst in terms of Defensive Efficiency (converting just under 68 percent of balls in play into outs); this hurt them outside of Fenway, where their bats could not make up for this handicap by bludgeoning their opponents into submission. Lowell’s hip surgery restricted his movement to one side, cutting into his once-impressive range. Bay hasn’t moved well in the outfield since knee surgery a few years ago. Jacoby Ellsbury is fast and makes some impressive-looking plays, but he takes awful routes and plays deep because he can’t go back on the ball well — with Vladimir Guerrrero’s game-winning hit on Sunday a prime example. The biggest disaster may have been shortstop, simply because the Sox tried to fix it repeatedly. If you pieced together a Franken-shortstop from parts of Lugo, Lowrie and Green, the creature’s glove would still be its most horrifying aspect.-Marc Normandin, Baseball Prospectus
ESPN.com Rumor Central
Trades: Despite his Game Three meltdown, Jonathan Papelbon is a compelling closer, and this is an area where the Sox have plenty of system depth. Theo Epstein could dangle Papelbon and consider letting Daniel Bard try to nail down the job in the spring.
Free Agency: The Sox could very well offer identical deals to Matt Holliday and Jason Bay and see who faxes back a signature first. But they’re also going to have to consider other bats, and at prominent positions. Forget that Lowell and Ortiz both come off the books in 2010-what about a dark horse at, say, shortstop? Epstein could get Miguel Tejada on a “win now” discount deal to play short and spell Lowell at third. Why Tejada? Well, short is a hole for the Sox, as usual, and aside from Marco Scutaro, he’s the only serious free-agent bat at the position.
Who 2 Watch 4: Clay Buchholz, RHP
The Boston minor league system is in a bit of a transitional period. The Red Sox have an impressive array of talent at the lower levels, but those are players who are still multiple years away. Those who are close are back-of-the-rotation types like Junichi Tazawa and Michael Bowden, or outfielder Josh Reddick, who doesn’t really have anywhere to play. The good news is that many scouts believe that 2010 is the year that Buchholz becomes the star people have thought he’d become for more than two years. The Red Sox won nine of his last 10 regular season starts, as Buchholz found the confidence to trust his stuff, throw more strikes and not depend solely on his fastball alone. Josh Beckett and Jon Lester gave the Red Sox a good one-two punch in 2009, and next year, Buchholz could make it one-two-three.-Kevin Goldstein, Baseball Prospectus
Signed: 26 of 50
Spent: Around $6.5 million
Hits: Reymond Fuentes, CF (28th overall) and potentially Madison Younginer, RHP (228th overall): Fuentes is a potential difference-maker at the plate, on the bases and in the field and Younginer touched 98 mph this spring in high school.
Miss: David Renfroe, SS (107th overall): Renfroe received $1.4 million and could end up on the mound if his bat doesn’t develop, which would certainly delay any arrival in the big leagues.-Jason A. Churchill, ESPN.com
The Bottom Line
What started as a clear bid at contending morphed into a transition year. The Red Sox acquired Victor Martinez to help answer their needs at DH, first base, and catcher; he has a club option for 2010 that will likely be picked up. Lowell has one year left on his deal, but the Sox have been worried about his hip, so a dip into the free-agent market for a first or third baseman would not be surprising. Bay’s contract is up this year-if the Sox let the popular slugger walk to find a better-fielding corner outfielder (or switch Ellsbury to left to find someone for center), then you know they are taking improving the defense seriously. The pitching staff could use that assist, but at least it looks like Buchholz has earned himself a spot in the rotation for good, giving the Sox four strong starters. The Sox can compete in 2010 even without everything in place-2009 proved that-but given the talent coming up in the AL East and West, they’ll need to shore things up to be the best team in the majors again anytime soon.-Marc Normandin, Baseball Prospectus
A version of this story originally appeared on ESPN Insider .