It seems like Bobby Valentine has been trying to get back into the majors for ten years, and when he finally he does he gets a job with... the Red Sox? I honestly thought that if and when he did return, it would be with a rebuilding club that's trying to shake things up, but instead it's with a World Series contender that's... trying to shake things up.
I actually like Valentine though, so I'm happy that he's in a situation where he can win now and be successful. In 15 years with the Rangers and Mets, Valentine has never won a division although he did make the World Series in 2000. He has spent the last decade in Japan and on television, but he could be returning to the playoffs this year. I'm happy for him.
As for the team? There are still a lot of stars on this roster and a lot of guys that could be going early in fantasy drafts, including a guy that came out of nowhere to finish second in the MVP vote last year. Let's take a closer look at the fantasy-relevant Boston Red Sox:
Best Hitter: Jacoby Ellsbury
He was so good last season that I completely forgot that Ellsbury had only played 18 games in 2010. Previous to that, he was the most prolific base stealer in baseball, having snagged 120 SBs in 2008-2009 and leading the league both years. What was odd about his 2011 campaign was that he hit 32 HR even though he had 20 career home runs going into the year.
During his entire career, including the minors, Ellsbury had never posted an ISO over .200, and then he went .321/.376/.552, 32 HR, .230 ISO, 7.1% bb, 13.4% k, 39 SB, .402 wOBA, and his 9.4 WAR more than doubled his career total. He did all of this on a sustainable .336 BABIP.
What's to be expected in 2012?
Common sense should dictate fewer home runs with a few more stolen bases. Typically when you have a season that's an anomaly towards the rest of the career, you veer back to the rest of the career. Though, there was nothing typical about 2011.
I think a fair estimation would be: .300/.350/.500, 25 HR, 95 RBI, 120 R, 45 SB, 35 2B and 7 3B. Which still makes him one of the top players in the game.
Adrian Gonzalez should come in around .310/.400/.530, 30 HR, 115 RBI, 100 R.
David Ortiz, is he finally done? I expect .280/.370/.500, 28 HR, 90 RBI, 85 R. He stopped striking out so much in 2011 and that will be a key for him.
Dustin Pedroia: .300/.390/.480, 18 HR, 90 RBI, 105 R, 30 SB
Lots of good here.
Best Pitcher: Jon Lester
There was some definite improvement in Josh Beckett last season, but not as much as you might expect from a pitcher that goes from a 5.78 ERA to a 2.89 ERA. In 2011, Beckett had a career-low .245 BABIP against and a career-high 80% left on base. He reduced walks and gave up a lower rate of home runs, but it's also important to note that he stayed healthy.
Beckett has had weird seasons in his career before (2006) and I feel that his 2011 season will sway further from center that most of his years. I feel more comfortable believing in Jon Lester.
Lester didn't strike out as many batters last year as he did in 2009-2010, but still posted a 3.47 ERA/3.83 FIP/3.62 xFIP over 31 starts and 191.2 innings. He may have lost a tick in velocity, but not nearly enough to be concerning.
I will expect over 30 starts, something like 17-8, 3.20 ERA, 200 innings, 200/70 K/BB. Don't forget that these guys have a great defense behind them, even though John Lackey can still post an ERA over 6.00 in Boston.
Potential Breakout: Mike Aviles, SS
I probably would have put Aviles here again back in 2009 after he was coming off of a .325/.354/.480 season with the Royals. He was one of my favorite "up and comers" even though he was already 28 years old. Of course, he hit .183/.208/.250 in 36 games for the Royals in 2009.
There's one major difference here though... the Red Sox aren't the Royals. You still have to be a good hitter, but it's somewhat easier to accumulate runs and RBI for Boston than it is for Kansas City. That doesn't mean that Aviles, now 31, will do that but I'll give him long odds to prove himself valuable in fantasy.
He hit .317/.340/.436 in 38 games for the Red Sox in 2011 with 4 SB. He can't draw a walk any better than I can draw a horse. (context: I am not an artist.) His ceiling in the stolen base department might be 20. But because he can play multiple positions, Aviles might draw 500 PAs for the first time in his career if he can stay healthy and productive. If there's anyone that's willing to play Jose Iglesias, a shortstop that could immediately be the best defensive and worst offensive SS in baseball, it's Bobby Valentine. But that doesn't mean that Aviles won't become a super utility (and hold multiple positions for you in fantasy.)
Even if he is an old man.
Potential Disappointment: Here's a few...
Carl Crawford because you're expecting a bounce back that we don't know is really coming, and because he probably won't be ready for opening day.
Kevin Youkilis because he hasn't played in 140 games since 2008 and has never played in 150 games. Has topped 100 RBI once, 100 R once, 20 HR twice, and is now 33.
David Ortiz because he's at least 36.
Clay Buchholz because you're still thinking about the guy that threw a no-hitter in his second major league start, not the guy who has posted a 6.4 K/9 in his last three years against a 3.5 BB/9. A 1.85 K/BB ratio over 58 starts is not very good.
Prospect Watch: Per BA
The Red Sox are one of the few teams that will be competing for a World Series this year while also having an excellent farm system. They can go deep and they have the pieces to trade for just about anyone available at the deadline this year.
Middlebrooks could be the future replacement for Youkilis and he hit .302/.345/.520 in 96 AA games last year at age 22, with 18 HR, 80 RBI, 25 2B and a 95/21 K/BB ratio. He needs to work a lot on his plate discipline, but he's young enough to get better on that, while also having strong defense at 3B. He could be a third baseman with 30 HR power.
I talked about Bogaerts last week, and though we don't know yet if he can stick at short, he could have a very special bat. He won't make an appearance in the majors this year. Neither will Swihart, the Sox 1st round pick in 2011.
Anthony Ranaudo went into the 2010 college baseball season as the top prospect, but struggled and slipped to the Red Sox at 39. He threw 127 innings in his debut with a 117/46 K/BB ratio and a 3.97 ERA. He'll start out in AA but if he dominates this year, could see the majors.
Joining him in AA will be fellow 2010 sandwich pick Bryce Brentz. He hit 30 HR in 115 minor league games last year. He's got holes in his game, but I could see a ceiling of Jay Buhner somewhere in there.
You're going to hear the name Brandon Jacobs a lot this year, and not the New York Giant. He could have a plus hitting tool.
Ryan Lavarnway hit 32 HR in 116 minor league games last year but the reason he won't push Jarrod Saltalamacchia off of the position right away is because he is limited in his catching abilities and will need to improve to be more than a part-time catcher at the big league level.
The Sox have a lot to work with here and a very solid farm system.