Boston Red SoxManager: John Farrell
Stadium: Fenway Park
2008 Record: 95-67 (2nd in AL East)
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When John Henry bought the Red Sox in 2002, the Yankees' brain trust worried that Boston would finally leverage its resources to build a lush farm system and complement its best young players with the occasional big-money free agent. Now that Boston has made the playoffs five of the past six years, New York's worst fears have been realized. "They haven't even reached their full potential as an organization," says a Yankees exec, "and we're still way behind them." There are no better examples of Boston's progress than homegrown Kevin Youkilis, Jon Lester and AL MVP Dustin Pedroia. But if the Sox are to make another run in 2009, they'll need several vets to bounce back. A bum left wrist limited David Ortiz, who's now 33, to his lowest homer total since 2002. Mike Lowell, who's 35, is recovering from right-hip surgery. And then there's Jason Varitek, who turns 37 in April and last year posted an OPS below .700 for the first time. If that trio can't hold up this season, the Red Sox will again be looking up at the young and hungry Rays.
-- Buster Olney
HITTER TO WATCH:
Barring a trade, George Kottaras starts the year as the backup catcher with a chance to gain playing time if Jason Varitek hits the way he hit in 2008.
PITCHER TO WATCH:
Daniel Bard has a huge arm, sitting in the upper 90s as a reliever with great sink, and only command and aggressiveness are keeping him from becoming a top-shelf closer.
-- Keith Law, Scouts Inc.
Is Dustin Pedroia the American League's best second baseman? Will Josh Beckett or Daisuke Matsuzaka or Jon Lester be the top starter in the league? Is Jon Papelbon the best closer? Register your vote.
After a dominant spring, Clay Buchholz doesn't have a rotation gig, though he may take a couple of Brad Penny's early starts. Still, if he's as good as he showed in the Grapefruit League, he'll contribute.
Daisuke Matsuzaka boasted the AL's highest strand rate and a lucky BABIP in '08 to go with his league-worst 94 walks. You just don't see 2.90 ERAs on guys with a 1.32 WHIP. The possibility for a big-time correction exists here.
-- Christopher Harris
John Smoltz was my choice for injury comeback story of the year as of New Year's Day, and if anything, I'm even more encouraged three months later. Smoltz, who has shown his ability to come back from injury in the past (following multiple elbow surgeries), has been progressing even better than expected after significant shoulder surgery. The historical relationship between members of the Red Sox rehab staff with Smoltz's surgeon, Dr. James Andrews, inspires confidence that he will continue to be brought along at an appropriate pace, which is key to his successful return. Add in Smoltz's competitive fire, along with the fact that he has already thrown several bullpens with a full mix of pitches, and Smoltz could be a dangerous addition by June.
-- Stephania Bell
PRESEASON POWER RANKINGS
No. 1 overall
No. 4 overall
No. 2 overall
No. 2 overall
No. 3 overall