If only beer and chicken wings were the worst thing to happen to the 2012 Boston Red Sox. Red Sox Nation had to be talked off the ledge after their team blew a giant lead to miss the 2011 playoffs, but little did they know that that was only the beginning. The franchise underwent a complete managerial overhaul in the offseason, shipping out curse-breaker Theo Epstein amid much fanfare and dumping Terry Francona as manager. In Francona's place, they brought in Bobby Valentine, last seen donning a fake mustache after being ejected from a game while managing the Mets. Yep, this was bound to end well.
Amazingly enough, the Sox were above .500 as late as August 1st. It was soon thereafter that they decided to nuke everything by sending Adrian Gonzalez, Josh Beckett, Carl Crawford and their dead weight contracts to the Dodgers. The team sank like a rock after the trade, at times fielding what was essentially a AAA lineup, as the team went into rebuild mode for the first time in recent memory. It was the first time since 1997 that the Sox had finished with a losing record, and the first since 1966 that they'd lost 90 or more games.
The team essentially gave up in the last two months, but they weren't going anywhere even before the blockbuster trade. The culprits were injuries and a pitching staff that utterly imploded. Oh, and to the surprise of absolutely no one, the disagreeable schmuck who they brought in to manage the team was a disaster who alienated a Boston favorite and then continued to throw his players under the bus even after he had been fired.
Top Fantasy Hitter: David Ortiz
David Ortiz was an absolute monster...in the 90 games that he played. Still, despite missing close to half the season, Ortiz was arguably more productive than any other Sox hitter in the games that he did play, and thus he merits placement here. When healthy, Ortiz can still hit, and is probably the best pure DH in the game. His .318/.415/.611 2012 line would fit right in to his mid-aughts heyday. He's a career .314/.412/.596 hitter at Fenway Park, and he re-upped with the Sox for two more years. If he's healthy he'll keep hitting, but he turns 37 in a week, so staying off the DL ain't gettin' any easier.
Top Fantasy Pitcher: Clay Buchholz
It was slim pickings among Red Sox starting pitchers, as bad starting pitching was one of the major reasons they were so bad. Jon Lester fell off a cliff, Daisuke Matsuzaka fell off the planet, and the Great Daniel Bard Experiment was a flaming, injury-ravaged disaster. The team was so desperate for quality arms that they signed Aaron Cook, whose only major accomplishment was in the area of comic relief, as he struck out an astoundingly low 1.9 batters per nine innings. For top Red Sox pitcher, I'll go with Buchholz because he was the Red Sox pitcher who hurt your team the least. Only he and Jon Lester threw more than 180 innings, and Lester was smoldering garbage for most of the year.
Buchholz's season was a tale of two halves. He was putrid before the All-Star Break, with a 5.53 ERA (despite going 8-2), but afterwards he was pretty good (3.76 ERA, improved walk rate), lending hope to the idea that he was simply rusty after missing a lot of 2011 with injury. He doesn't strike out enough batters to be the 2.33 ERA guy he was in 2010, but he isn't the train wreck he was in the first half of 2012. Encouragingly, his walk rate has dropped every single year, so if he keeps those gains while maintaining his (decent) strikeout rate, he should be an effective fantasy starter again in 2013.
Top Overachiever: Jarrod Saltalamacchia
Salty was a sneaky bargain pick if you missed out on the top talent at catcher. He was third among all catchers in home runs, with 25, and he did most of his damage with a breakout first half (17 HRs, .807 OPS). Of course, that meant that he was pretty much a cipher in the second part of the season, and his troubles making contact eventually ate him alive. No one thought Saltalamacchia was a star in the making even when he was swinging a hot bat , and he honestly really only had one good month (.308/.345/.628 in May). He was a nice placeholder but he's about to lose his job to a guy we're going to discuss a couple of paragraphs down.
Biggest Disappointment: Jon Lester
Most disappointing player? Take your pick. Adrian Gonzalez, Kevin Youkilis, Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Beckett, Andrew Bailey, and Carl Crawford can all stake a claim to that title. Lester gets my vote, though, because he's been a consistent fantasy star since 2009, and he was surely one of the Top 20 pitchers taken in most preseason drafts. Sure, there were warning signs in 2011 (like his diminished strikeout rate), but no one could have expected that the drop off would be so extreme. Like Tim Lincecum over in the NL, he went from being one of the top starters in baseball to being one of the worst, all in one season.
Is there hope for a bounce back? Maybe if you squint. He was much better over the season's final two months (3.76 ERA), though his strikeout rate wasn't substantially improved. He was absolutely abysmal at home, sporting a 6.31 ERA at Fenway. He'd never been that bad...ever...in his career at home, so some improvement must be in store just because of that. All in all, expect him to be better, but with his consistently declining peripheral numbers, I think it's safe to say Jon Lester the fantasy star won't be coming back.
Top 2013 Sleeper: Ryan Lavarnway
Lavarnway has met with zero success in two short stints in the big leagues, but everybody agrees he'll hit at some point, and the minor league numbers back him up. He's a career .286/.376/.506 hitter in the minors. Most importantly, though, his defense has improved to the point where scouts think he'll actually be playable at catcher. It was long assumed that at some point he'd have to be shifted to first base or DH. Saltalamacchia still projects as Boston's starting catcher in 2013, but Lavarnway should push him for at-bats and could even win the starting job with a hot spring. He'll likely be a solid fantasy catcher if he gets the at-bats.
2013 Saves Report
On December 28, 2011, the Red Sox traded frustrating outfielder Josh Reddick to the A's for closer Andrew Bailey and utility outfielder Ryan Sweeney. With Jonathan Papelbon leaving in free agency, the Sox figured they had plugged their hole in the ninth inning by surrendering a fungible asset. So how'd it pan out? Well, the fragile Bailey shocked the masses and got hurt almost immediately. He'd end up pitching in just nineteen games all season. Meanwhile, as Sweeney was busy hitting exactly zero home runs for the year, Reddick bashed 32 over the wall and helped lead the A's to the playoffs. You think they want to take that one back?
Bailey is the nominal closer again, but betting on him to stay healthy at this point is pretty much crazy. Alfredo Aceves saved 25 games in Bailey's absence last year, but his 5.36 ERA was atrocious and the Sox sent him packing after the season ended. It's not often a closer can truly hurt your fantasy team, but with the bad ERA and ten losses, Aceves was quite an exception. Mark Melancon was a closer in Houston, but only by default.
The most interesting player to watch in case of a Bailey injury would be Junichi Tazawa. Tazawa is a Japanese import who has actually been around since 2009, but has had most of his major league career derailed by injuries. Finally healthy in 2012, Tazawa had a minuscule 1.37 ERA in 44 innings, and struck out more than a batter per nine. This after an impressive showing at AAA in the season's first half. Since Bailey is one of the likeliest candidates in baseball to go on the DL at some point, Tazawa is a guy I'd stash on the bench if you're in a keeper league. In redraft leagues, pounce on him like a hungry hyena once the inevitable Bailey injury reports start to circulate.
2013 Fantasy Outlook
Once upon a time, the Red Sox were the place to go for fantasy stardom. They had one of the top offenses in all of baseball and power and walks at nearly every position. If it wasn't Manny Ramirez, it was Jason Bay. if it wasn't Mike Lowell, it was Kevin Youkilis. If it wasn't Dustin Pedroia, it was Mark Bellhorn. Wait...check that last one.
Bottom line, this isn't your granddad's Red Sox...or even your ninth grade nephew's. The once-vaunted offense is now full of question marks. Pedroia is still a rock-solid fantasy second baseman, but will Jacoby Ellsbury reach his 2011 heights again? Is Will Middlebrooks a flash in the pan destined to sink under some poor walk totals? Will Jose Iglesias hit? Who in God's name is going to play first base for this team?
The pitching is even shakier. Buchholz should be solid and Felix Doubront has a decent chance to blossom into a solid fantasy starter, but Lester has red flags all over and it's anyone's guess how John Lackey will perform once he comes back from Tommy John surgery. This once-dominant franchise has entered hibernation mode for the moment, and is as full of fantasy question marks as any team in baseball.