That was Then...
So, maybe Bobby Valentine was a poor decision.
A year after the very public, very acrimonious end to the Terry Francona/Theo Epstein era, the Sox went out with most of its 2011 line-up intact and trusted Valentine to guise the team back to the playoffs.
If the lingering after-taste of the September 2011 collapse weren’t distasteful enough for Red Sox Nation, the 2012 season soon proved to not be much of a chaser.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Carl Crawford and Andrew Bailey got hurt early. Valentine came out and publicly criticized one of the best-liked members of his team and, despite later backtracking, Kevin Youkilis would be wearing Sox of a different colour by late June.
By the end of August, the team was so far gone from contention that it went into Fire Sale mode, moving over $250 million in contracts to the Dodgers by shipping out Crawford, Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett and Nick Punto to the Dodgers for a couple prospects.
Valentine would get canned after leading the Sox to a 69-93 season: their highest loss total since their 100-loss 1965 campaign.
...This is Now
Love That Dirty Water
John Farrell finally got his wish this off-season, getting out of Toronto and declaring Boston home once more.
The Red Sox circus came North in the autumn as reports began to surface that Blue Jays manager John Farrell – a former pitching coach for the Sox – was interested in managing Boston, despite having a year left on his contract in Toronto.
The Sox and Jays engineered a trade to get Farrell to Boston, tying the rebuilding fortunes of a 69-win club to a manager who won only 73 last year.
So, what’s changed on the field?
Joel Hanrahan has been brought over from Pittsburgh to close. The Sox added Shane Victorino and Mike Napoli on multi-year deals in early December, only to have Napoli’s hip problems derail the deal and have the two sides down to a one-year, $5 million deal by January.
The team is willing to take a shot on Lyle Overbay and Mike Carp and Stephen Drew on one-year deals while the likes of David Ortiz and Ellsbury will strive for a clean bill of health.
Dustin Pedroia was healthy most of last year and had probably the worst year of his six-year pro career.
Farrell was apparently well-liked in the Sox clubhouse, so he could well right the ship. That said, if he is unable to and the same core of guys struggles under a third manager in three years, the finger-pointing may focus itself on field-level this time around.
Every year, we look for players 26-years-old or younger that could make an impact on their team in the upcoming season. The player might have already established himself with a regular role with the team, or he could make their mark later on in the season.
Past Picks: 2012 - Mark Melancon, 2011 - Jose Iglesias, 2010 - Daniel Bard, 2009 - Justin Masterson, 2008 - Manny Delcarmen, 2007 - Daisuke Matsuzaka, 2006 - Jonathan Papelbon, 2005 - Hanley Ramirez, 2004 - Kevin Youkilis, 2003 - Casey Fossum
Starting the climb back after a miserable 2012.
He has to stay healthy, but Jacoby Ellsbury is the top-ranked Red Sox, at 27.
These aren't the powerhouse Red Sox, to be sure, but that doesn't mean there aren't individual players that can be difference-makers. Both CF Jacoby Ellsbury and 2B Dustin Pedroia are among the best options at their positions, though Ellsbury does come with an element of risk due to injuries. Promising young 3B Will Middlebrooks could be a nice value play, capable of hitting 25-30 homers, but lacking the widespread name recognition of some veterans.
Speaking of veterans with name recognition, DH David Ortiz and RF Shane Victorino can still produce power and speed, respectively. Ortiz has been dealing with a heel issue throughout spring training, but that could help drop his draft slot a little lower than it ought to be.
There was a time, not so long ago, when LHP Jon Lester was among the top starters and while he's not at that level right now, he's the best bet on Boston's staff. Ryan Dempster, Clay Buchholz and Felix Doubront are all worth considering, but shouldn't require significant investment. Closer Joel Hanrahan is worthwhile, but does have former closer Andrew Bailey peering over his shoulder.