5 Reasons I’m Pessimistic About the Red Sox Season

Yesterday, I got a text from a friend of mine in Philadelphia. It read “Sitting on the bus on the way home from work. The Sox fan next to me is telling his friend how great Wakefield is gonna do this season. Thought you would enjoy!”

Just when I was starting to get optimistic about the state of Red Sox Nation, too. Come on, guys. Shape up.

Anyway, yesterday I shared with you the top five reasons I’m optimistic about the Red Sox season.  But as anyone who watched the team last year knows, it’s not all sunshine and daisies for the Sox. This is a team with real issues, and it’s unlikely that all of them (or even most of them) have been sorted out in just one offseason. Am I optimistic about 2012? Sure. But before we get carried away, let’s take a look at some reasons the Red Sox could fall flat this season.

1. Josh Beckett Will Continue to be a Disruptive Presence in the Clubhouse.Beckett will be playing with a chip on his shoulder after the way last season ended, which should hopefully translate into improved performance on the field. But if he’s playing with an “eff you” mentality, that means he’s angry. There haven’t been many indications that Beckett thinks he did anything wrong last season, and that he was angered by the negative coverage of the team.  In addition, Beckett was reportedly the first to gripe about the hiring of Bobby V.

If Beckett is booed the first time he pitches at Fenway, things could get ugly. The last thing that the Red Sox need this year is for the clubhouse to develop an “Eff Our Fans” mentality, and Beckett pushes the team in that direction more than any other player.

2. No One in the Bullpen Has a Defined Role. For the past few years, Papelbon and Bard formed one of the best one-two punches in any bullpen in baseball.  With the departure of Papelbon, the job of closer is unsettled, and with talk of putting Bard in the rotation, the position of setup man may be open as well.

Fortunately, the Red Sox did go out and acquire several solid bullpen guys, but who will fill which role is still very much up in the air.  Conventional wisdom puts Andrew Bailey in the role of closer, though don’t sleep on Mark Melancon, who could make a solid setup guy if Bard does indeed become a starter. The problem? Both Bailey and Melancon come from small market teams, and Cherington is betting an awful lot on the theory that they can make the transition to Boston. Matt Albers is the one returning reliever who has shown any flashes, but he’ll never be more than a middle relief inning-eater.

3. To Be Blunt: This Team Does Not Have a Shortstop. For reasons that escape me, Cherington traded away Jed Lowrie, an effective shortstop who showed occasional bursts of power at the plate, and followed it up by trading starting shortstop Marco Scutaro for a pitcher who might someday dream of being a 5th starter. Who did they bring in to replace them? Nick Punto, who has no business being a starting shortstop on any team, and Mike Aviles, who, despite some upside, probably isn’t ready for a starting role yet.

Punto is solid defensively, but will never bring the kind of dynamics to the plate that Lowrie and Scutaro did. Punto represents a significant downgrade for the Red Sox offense. Aviles is another career utility infielder who has had trouble staying in the big leagues. If you need some sort of basis for comparison, imagine starting Bill Hall at shortstop for an entire year. Yeah. It’ll be that bad.

The shortstop of the future is Jose Iglesias, but his bat is not ready. Bobby V seems determined to give him the opportunity to compete for the starting job, but don’t get excited. The kid is a defensive whiz but won’t be an impact player in 2012.

4. No One on This Team Can Stay Healthy. Even if everything goes according to plan for the Red Sox this year and they sort out their attitude problems, play hard for Bobby V, the starting pitching lives up to its potential…they still can’t stay healthy. Does anyone even remember the last time Kevin Youkilis finished a season?  How about Clay Buchholz?  Taking quick stock of guys who have missed significant time over the last two or three years brings up a list including Kevin Youkilis, Dustin Pedroia, Jacoby Ellsbury, Josh Beckett, and Clay Buchholz.  Recognize the names on that list? Yeah, they’re five of the Red Sox most valuable players.

The players’ conditioning came into question last year after reports surfaced that some of them were gaining weight and skimping on their workouts. But really, it should have been questioned long before that, when important players were going down with startling regularity. Hopefully last year’s debacle has prompted the front office to take serious stock of their conditioning programs, or we can probably look forward to hearing Adrian Gonzalez explain that it was God’s will that he tear his ACL.

Sweet cast, though.

5. Yes, It Can Get Worse.
“You think you got nothing to lose. But you haven’t thought it through. You haven’t thought about your lady-friend down at the D.A.’s office. You haven’t thought about your old butler. Bang!”

— Carmine Falcone, Batman Begins

Most Red Sox fans probably believe that last season was as bad as things can get for this team. But they haven’t thought it through. So let’s paint a worst case scenario:

Josh Beckett gets booed at home, mouths off about the fans, and sets the tone for a massive disconnect between the fans and the clubhouse. As a result, Jacoby Ellsbury publicly declares that he wants to leave Boston. David Ortiz collects his $15m paycheck and, realizing that the fans have largely turned on the team, phones in most of the season, ending with just 12 home runs. Saltalamacchia’s yips return, forcing the Red Sox to start a minor league catcher for large stretches. Bard fails to develop as a starter, while Bailey and Melancon struggle to adapt to the big stage in Boston. Carl Crawford does not improve, and barely flirts with .250 all year.

Of course, not all of those things will happen. But none of them are out of the question, either. Hopefully 2012 will be a good year for the Red Sox, but fans should be reminded that this is a team with a lot of questions.

Follow the author on Twitter at @Rescue_Shane

Next Week: 5 Fearless Predictions for the Red Sox Season

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