KFFL answers important fantasy baseball questions about each Major League Baseball team as spring training approaches. What must fantasy baseball players know about the Boston Red Sox?
How is this roster of misfits any different from the last one?
Ells Bells once again?
Obviously, one big departure from 2012 is Bobby Valentine's exit, which cleared the way for the club's former pitching coach, John Farrell. The change in atmosphere alone will result in a more positive outlook. It couldn't have been much worse. Believe it or not, the attitudes of players matter. Last year, the capricious state of the Red Sox was at least good enough to serve as a tiebreaker between players from Boston and many other franchises when you were drafting. This year, valuations rest almost entirely on the players, and there's even a bit of reason for optimism.
Incumbents Jacoby Ellsbury (subluxation in right shoulder), David Ortiz (strained Achilles' tendon) and Will Middlebrooks (fractured wrist) missed significant time. Ellsbury's medical chart at this point has to be taken seriously, but his abilities to hit 15 or 20 homers and swipe 50 bases mean that he probably won't come cheaply. Big Papi's remade hitting skills are totally reliable (and don't let anyone convince you otherwise), but the combo of his age (37) and the fear that his tendon will rupture again make him a perilous proposition. Middlebrooks supplied power immediately upon his call-up last season, but his awful control of the strike zone and the questionable strength of his wrist put a damper on his outlook. Still, the risk of all three is worth leveraging at some point, because the payoff could be sweet.
Newbies Shane Victorino and Stephen Drew are in good positions to make up for recent, sub-par outcomes and earn their owners a little money. The switch-hitting right fielder's game didn't agree with Chavez Ravine, but Fenway Park could be well-suited to his plus speed (even at age 32). This is assuming that he doesn't become an increasing liability from the left side of the dish. Drew, 30, is simply healthy after a long, winding road to recovery from a July 2010 fractured ankle. On the cheap, how can you pass him up? New left fielder Jonny Gomes ... well, perhaps he'll rap a bunch of baseballs off the Green Monster, but his platoon-only skill set opens the door for left-handed hitters to rob him of playing time.
Fantasy owners who invest in Jon Lester will place a certain amount of faith in the lefty's ability to recover from a precipitous skills decline and Farrell's influence. There are no overt statistical signs that a complete turnaround is imminent, but some metrics certainly indicate that Lester's bottom line paid a hefty price for his mistakes in 2012. Clay Buchholz could follow a similar path. A healthy John Lackey may warrant a spot in very deep leagues. And Ryan Dempster ... can't be as bad as he was with the Texas Rangers, but he won't be as good as his first half with the Chicago Cubs. The right-hander became reacquainted with his propensity to walk the opposition once he moved to the AL, and AL East teams cause pitchers to pay for their missteps just a bit more often than those from the NL Central.
What does this hip problem do to Mike Napoli's forecast?
Beantown is doing the responsible thing by protecting the club regarding his contract and bringing in some insurance at the position. Avascular necrosis can be a debilitating condition. We probably have a pretty large part of the explanation for why Napoli struggled in his final season with the Texas Rangers.
As has been reported, however, the discovery of AVN has come early in its development. The slugger could easily go on to have a number of productive years after the fact. Now that he and his doctors understand how to handle it, there's probably little reason to worry about buying Napoli much more so than one would with any other player.
The news regarding the 31-year-old could easily work to roto managers' advantage. He retains catcher eligibility, but he'll serve as the Red Sox's primary first baseman, so 500-plus plate appearances are well within reach. The combination of Napoli's poor 2012 and medical chart should drive down enthusiasm enough that the risk will be well worth taking.
Who's going to lead the BoSox in saves?
Bailey's value won't curdle
The Red Sox received Joel Hanrahan from the Pittsburgh Pirates this winter and then named him their closer. The 31-year-old followed up a breakthrough 2011 (1.83 ERA, 40 saves) by posting a 2.72 ERA and saving 36 contests. That settles that.
Of course, if it were that easy, then why ask the question, right? The ghost of control problems past visited Hanrahan prior to the break (4.76 BB/9). Apparently the spirit spooked the right-hander, perhaps reminding him of some past misdeed, because in the second half, he issued even more walks (6.31 per nine, to be precise). The ground-ball rate of 50 percent-plus from 2011? It's off to a good start on its way to anomalous. In the NL Central, and at spacious PNC Park, he could get away with a hefty dose of fly balls a little more frequently than he probably will for Boston.
Has Hanrahan made amends with the immaterial world? Rotisserie players will find out soon enough. Waiting to pick up the pieces is fellow right-hander Andrew Bailey, last year's closer who spent nary a day on the job because he needed thumb surgery in spring training and missed three-quarters of the season. What else is new? At least this wasn't an elbow problem. The skills should still be intact. Because of his 2013 title and poor health record, Bailey shouldn't cost much in AL-only leagues and 15-team mixed formats. Obviously, he should be of interest because of the foreseeable possibility of Hanrahan's struggles.
Bailey, 29 in May, is a potential bargaining chip for the Red Sox, too. As a result, there's a chance that Koji Uehara's name appears at the top of Boston's saves leaderboard when all is said and done. And, naturally, this being the Red Sox and all, don't rule out a scenario in which Hanrahan is a bust, Bailey is on the disabled list and Uehara is either also injured or stuck in a setup role.
In that case, Farrell would almost certainly visit the idea of placing an old pupil of his in the role this hurler once seemed destined to assume. (Please - please - forget Alfredo Aceves.) Righty Daniel Bard is a full-time reliever again, and Farrell has already given glowing grades to the 27-year-old's simplified, retrofit mechanics. This is AL-only reserve material that could really pay off.
A player the organization acquired in the offseason performs miserably and, eventually, demonstrates that he's not fit to keep his job? A couple of skilled players who are underappreciated but integral to the team's success end up unavailable for one reason or another? A player the club recycled but whom most fans and roto owners have already written off, only to emerge as the hero (relatively speaking)? This is Boston. Sounds about right.
Minnix is baseball editor and a fantasy football analyst at KFFL. He plays in LABR and Tout Wars and won the FSWA Baseball Industry Insiders League in 2010.
The University of Delaware alum is a regular guest on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio and Baltimore's WNST AM 1570.