Are the Red Sox in trouble in 2013?
A special question and answer

Just a few days ago I shared a column -- “Who’s on first? The 2013 Boston Red Sox” – which, honestly, was nothing more than a way of saying: “Wow! By the time spring training arrives and Boston has settled all of their contracts, they’re going to have a payroll over $170 million!”

Or, more to the point… look at their roster right now, consider yourself running a ball club, and count the number of players you would sign for more than $10 million per season.

Now -- even as I ask that question -- I get the skepticism you may have.

After all -- just look -- they have Jacoby Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia. Those are game-changers and dirty-uniform-wearers and next-free-agent-big-contract kind of names right there. Or -- pitching, you want to remind me, you have to pay for pitching -- and they needed a Ryan Dempster and have what might be a bargain contract from Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester.

And -- I get it. I see what you mean. And, as I’ll mention in a moment, it’s actually not that bad an observation to have considering that Boston is quite possibly in the unenviable position of needing to overpay to get a signature from a free agent.

I’ll also respond.

The California Angels will not be paying Mike Trout $10 million in 2013.

Stephen Strasburg won’t cost over $10 million in 2013 for the Washington Nationals, and neither will Bryce Harper.

In short… not all the people that should be getting paid well are getting paid well right now… the same concept holds true that some people are getting paid way above what they deserve. Supply and demand… rules of the baseball payroll game… sign for what you can get.

Instead, my question was meant a bit tongue-in-cheek. It was a concept, not intended to look for specific examples. Because I believe that if you pay a player more than $10 million per season, that player should be a part of your regular lineup.

Mike Napoli? For $13 million per? Ok, forget the medical problems and other why-not-signed-yet subjects. We can keep it simple. If that’s what you are paying Napoli to play first base, I’ll shrug my shoulders and say ok. But every article I’ve seen talks about how he’ll be catching as well. Not emergency scenario, we’ve got no alternatives, break out his gear from the locked box in the clubhouse catching. Actual starting lineup on multiple days get him deeply exposed to the staff during spring training catching. And I’ll be darned if I’m going to see the value of paying him $13 million, primarily to be the solution to an opening at first base, when he’s likely to be at first for less than 75% of the season.

Shane Victorino? Wow. Let me ask you something… Ichiro Suzuki will play 2013 for $6.5 million on a two-year deal for $13 million total. How does $13 million in 2013 and $39 million over three years for Victorino sound compared to that?


I’ve got questions.

But are things all bad in Boston? Let’s find out, with a no-one-asked-me-this-but-let’s-try-it-anyway question and answer follow up to that essay of mine.

Are things all doom and gloom?

No. But it’s not bright sunshine with butterflies, lollipops and rainbows.

In the AL East alone, even if you don’t think Toronto is “better” than Boston right now, you have to admit they look very interesting. Baltimore may not repeat the amazing 90-plus wins of 2012, but they were playing in the postseason last year. In my mind, those two teams are Boston’s challengers for third place in the division. You know… from third place to the basement.

Hey… the Yankees signed Kevin Youkilis to basically play third base and shortstop. (That’s a little joke there. Just means that New York has injuries to contend with for the acknowledged leaders at those positions.) 2013 might not be cruise control to the playoffs for New York, but they still deserve credit as a division leader heading into camp.

Tampa Bay is good… a threat to take the division outright, if not just a playoff spot… but once again, the organization cannot afford depth.

Plus the balance of power is shifting in the American League. For the first time in years, I think you could quickly and, without much thought, successfully defend the idea that the top three clubs are all outside the AL East -- meaning that at least Detroit, Texas and California are all better teams.

Why do you call the team the California Angels? That’s not the name.

Sure it is. At least to me.

They always were the California Angels while I was growing up. Then they changed it… and I accepted it… to the Anaheim Angels.

The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim? It’s just ridiculous. (And yes, I am aware of the Los Angeles history and how the team began. Just pick a name though… pick a place. For this name, they could just as easily go with Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim near Nevada vicinity of Mexico. The inclusion of Anaheim, I believe, is nothing more than a contractual obligation because the city of Anaheim helped pay for the ballpark renovations.)

What looks good for Boston right now?

Well, I do like the bullpen.

Joel Hanrahan, Andrew Bailey, Koji Uehara and Junichi Tazawa form a pretty nice base for their staff of relievers.

I don’t need to tell you that relief pitching is notoriously unpredictable and shaky… but I do want to mention reliability before adding these names… hey look, it’s Alfredo Aceves and Daniel Bard.

Add to that some other names and a couple of guys that could be out when the rotation is settled or good enough to not get sent to Pawtucket… Andrew Miller, Franklin Morales, and Craig Breslow.

Basically I think you could get three very solid guys as your eighth and ninth inning options, plus the pen can go deep to four or five reliable players. The bullpen looks like it might just be Boston’s true strength. (Time will tell.)

What about the other pitching?

Ok… stay with me.

Let’s say we’re happy with Hanrahan closing, plus in some way you get terrific years from Bard, Bailey, Tazawa and Uehara. (Or a terrific year from Hanrahan and even just happy years from the others.)

An above average bullpen brings this to a point where Boston starters need to get through six innings, and possibly into the seventh. It’s an “if” that this happens. But not a truly impossible or not-a-chance possibility. (Say, like Ortiz playing 40-games at first base when Napoli isn’t. That’s an “if” that’s not happening, so no one even mentions it.)

I’m not impressed with Jon Lester, Clay Buchholz, John Lackey, Ryan Dempster and Felix Doubront if you believe you need them to pitch complete games or compete for a Cy Young Award. (Lester made 33 starts last year and pitched 205 innings… just over 6 a game. Buchholz… 29 starts… 189 innings… closer to 7 per. Doubront… 29… 161… less than 6 per. You need a bullpen for these guys.)

However, I do believe that all of those guys could potentially give you decent seasons. (There’s that idea again -- decent. Get this…)

Last year, Lester started 33 games… Buchholz 29 games… Doubront 29…. Becket (yes, Beckett) 21… Aaron Cook 18 (come on, Aaron Cook got 18 starts). That’s 130 starts from the five that made the most trips to the mound to begin a game for the Red Sox. Buccholz had the lowest ERA of the group with a stellar I-wish-I-was-making-this-up 4.56.

(Dig not-too-much deeper and you’ll see that this staff was just awful.)

Can we get closer to 140 combined starts and everyone’s ERA closer to 4 than 5 (or 6)? Yeah. I think you can.

So that’s your solution? Better pitching?

Well… yeah. Did you watch any of the games in 2012? Because that was kind of a big problem. Gasoline-on-the-fire-ugly problem.

What about the rest of the team? What do you think about that?

Ok… I don’t love the roster, but I don’t hate it.

I mentioned Victorino a minute ago. He’s fine. They overpaid. Probably by a lot. But guess what? The Boston Red Sox right now are light years away from the New England Patriots. Players aren’t taking a discount to come to the Red Sox for the atmosphere and winning ways. (They’re coming for the dollars and the idea that, unlike the Florida Marlins, you aren’t likely to dump them as a business practice.)

I’m concerned by Ellsbury and Will Middlebrooks. I admit it… I’m thinking too much and probably overly so… but both scare me as injury worries.

I think I’d be happier if Ryan Kalish seemed to have more of a regular role.

But… clean and simple… an infield of Napoli, Pedroia, Middlebrooks and Stephen Drew is ok… a batting order that looks something like Ellsbury-Pedroia-Ortiz-Middlebrooks-Napoli is fine.

And… you know… I’m not that opposed to forcing Jose Iglesias to prove something. Same idea with having three catchers (Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Ryan Lavarnway, and David Ross). Do something. Earn a spot. (Trout and Harper did.)

So, why did you make fun of their payroll?

Ok… I ask you… if you had to buy a team jersey right now, and wear it in 2015… what player would it represent?

I guess I just find it staggeringly amazing that for the amount of money they already have invested… again, more than the Angels have locked up in 2013 salary to begin the year… the Red Sox have no clear identity. That bothers me a bit. It makes me wonder… it doesn’t have me thinking postseason.

Fine. Do you have any specific concerns?

I hate saying this… David Ortiz worries me, but not in any way that I can defend.

Look over his history and you’ll see that he’s quite likely to hit more than 30 home runs and get on base at a rate that’s good enough.

Not too bad.

Look again though. Because he’s the reliable bat in your lineup.

Sure… Pedroia has carried the team before. And this is a batting order more likely to win in a different way with a different contributor from night to night.

The point is, I don’t believe there are any professional hitters in this lineup. (There. I said it.)

I think good to great pitching from the opposition is going to stop the Red Sox without really breaking much of a sweat. And that bothers me.

Then you’re predicting disaster?

Not yet.

2012 was a disaster. 2011 was a disaster. The team turned into a joke. The brand is damaged goods.

I don’t think fighting for a winning record would be a disaster, and this team could fight and clear 80-wins.

If you have any comments or questions, please e-mail me at