Closer: Joel Pineiro
, 8-13, 6.36 ERA
RH setup man: Mike Timlin
, 6-6, 4.36 ERA
LH setup man: J.C. Romero
, 1-2, 6.70 ERA
The new guys
The courtship of Matsuzaka was storybook stuff. The Red Sox produced a record-setting bid of $51.1 million to the Seibu Lions just to win the negotiating rights to the Japanese pitching star. Then, amid the pressure of a 30-day deadline, Boston signed him to a six-year contract worth $52 million. Judging by what all the scouting reports have to say, Matsuzaka just might have the ability to live up to his considerable billing. Matsuzaka is a hard thrower, but one who relies on location and a wide variety of pitches.
If the Red Sox can just keep the oft-injured Drew on the field, they are confident he can be the No. 5 hitter they've lacked the past few years. Drew is both an on-base player and a run producer, a combination that every team looks for. Defensively, the Red Sox are excited about what he can do in spacious right field at Fenway Park. After signing a five-year contract worth $70 million, the microscope will be on Drew.
Energetic and fast, Lugo should provide a spark at the top of the order. He can steal bases and hit the ball out of the park. The Red Sox have long coveted Lugo, who has good range at short but can sometimes lapse in concentration. The Sox signed the free agent for four years at $36 million.
RHP Brendan Donnelly: After several years as a reliable member of the Angels' bullpen, the Red Sox will look for similar results out of Donnelly. He figures to be a setup man, but there's at least a chance that he could win the closer's job. Donnelly's delivery is sometimes hard for opposing hitters to pick up, and he has what has been described as a heavy fastball.
For sure a wild card, the Red Sox think that Pineiro can rediscover himself by making a permanent transition from the rotation to the bullpen. He showed flashes of success setting up for the Mariners late last season, and the Sox think that can carry over. Pineiro is a slight favorite to win the closer's job.
Not that far removed from being one of the best lefty setup men in the American League, Romero struggled mightily all of last season. The Red Sox are confident that he can rebound and give them the dependable lefty that they lacked in '06.
LHP Hideki Okajima:
Matsuzaka isn't the only player the Red Sox acquired from Japan. They think that Okajima can be an effective middle reliever. Not necessarily a lefty specialist, Okajima, with a polished repertoire, bears watching.
Prospects to watch
For the first time since 2001, the Red Sox will open the season with a rookie position player in the starting lineup. Pedroia was able to get acclimated by spending the last six weeks of 2006 with the Red Sox. There is hope from within the organization that Pedroia will emerge into a player similar to the Cardinals' David Eckstein.
OF David Murphy: The left-handed-hitting outfielder took some solid swings after being called up last September. Look for Murphy to start the season in the Minor Leagues. However, he could gain added responsibility if the Red Sox have an injury in their outfield. Murphy is a line-drive hitter and a solid defensive player.
Returning from injury/illness
The captain was never himself in '06, playing through injuries all year until he was shut down with left knee surgery in August. Varitek still didn't look right after returning to the team in September, but the hope is that Varitek will be back to his All-Star self after a winter of rest and rehab.
Always a rock of stability during his decade-plus in Boston, Wakefield finally had a breakdown in 2006, missing a good chunk of the season with a fractured ribcage. Wakefield looks forward to reemerging as an innings-eater.
LHP Jon Lester: The low point of the 2006 season for the Red Sox organization came in September, when Lester was diagnosed with a form of cancer called anaplastic large cell lymphoma. After six chemotherapy treatments, Lester has been declared cancer-free. He reported to camp early, but there's no timetable on when he'll be ready to pitch.
RHP Matt Clement:
Remember him? Clement underwent surgery to repair tears in his rotator cuff and labrum late last September. There's a chance he'll miss the whole season, but Clement is hoping to reemerge at some point. He is a free agent after the season.
On the rebound
Crisp: Last season around this time, the mere mention of Crisp created as much buzz as anyone on the team. Now, he's almost a forgotten man. Crisp fractured his left index finger in the fifth game in '06 and struggled the rest of the way. He looks forward to rediscovering his groove.
There were a lot of people who wondered why Lugo's numbers dipped so sharply after his trade to the Dodgers last July 31. Ask Lugo and he'll tell you it was the simple fact that he wasn't playing every day. Lugo fancies himself as a starter and had a hard time getting acclimated to a utility role. He'll be back playing every day for the Sox.
After returning from the World Baseball Classic, Timlin quickly suffered arm problems and his shoulder was never right the whole season. The Red Sox have expressed confidence that Timlin can get back to being a force in the late innings.
RF Trot Nixon:
After eight years as Boston's starting right fielder, the Red Sox opted not to bring back Nixon, who wound up signing with the Indians. Nixon will be missed in the clubhouse and on the field, where he was widely respected for his all-out hustle and "dirt dog" mentality. Nixon also produced his share of clutch hits over the years.
2B Mark Loretta:
Do a Google search for "Mark Loretta" and "classy" and you'd probably come up with countless matches. It would be hard to find anybody in baseball who doesn't like Loretta. A solid professional who plays the game the right way, Loretta will play for the Astros in 2007. Though he had interest in returning for a second season in Boston, the Red Sox opted to go with the younger Pedroia.
SS Alex Gonzalez:
Red Sox fans will miss Gonzalez's virtual highlight reel at shortstop. Looking for more offense at the position, the Sox opted to bid adieu to the free agent, who signed with the Reds.
RHP Keith Foulke:
He will forever be known as the man who threw the pitch that snapped an 86-year championship drought for the Red Sox. In fact, Foulke was probably the most underrated performer on that 2004 World Series team. That said, Foulke struggled mightily in the two years that followed, and the Red Sox didn't have much confidence that he would rebound. The Indians signed Foulke with the idea that he can be their closer.
Triple play: Three questions that need answers
1. Who will be the closer?
2006 hitting leaders (min. 200 at-bats)
Avg.: Ramirez, .321
OBP: Ramirez, .439
SLG: Ortiz, .636
Runs: Ortiz, 115
RBIs: Ortiz, 137
Hits: Loretta, 181
2B: Lowell, 47
3B: Eight players tied with 2
HR: Ortiz, 54
SB: Crisp, 22
2006 pitching leaders (min. 30 IP)
IP: Beckett, 204 2/3
W: Beckett, 16
L: Beckett and Wakefield, 11
Win %: Schilling, .682
S: Papelbon, 35
ERA: Papelbon, 0.92
K: Schilling, 183
K/9: Papelbon, 9.88
WHIP: Papelbon, 0.78
It is the question that probably won't go away until Opening Day. The derby is wide open. Pineiro, Julian Tavarez, Craig Hansen and Donnelly will all be in the competition. Don't rule out a trade.
2. Will Matsuzaka be as good as advertised?
All eyes will be on the man who has been described as a national treasure in Japan. Will the Fenway faithful treasure him just as much? That depends on how well he pitches. Matsuzaka has a lot to live up to.
3. Can Pedroia handle the second-base job?
The last position player to start for the Red Sox as a rookie? You'd have to go back to 2001, when Shea Hillenbrand won the third-base job in Spring Training. This time, second base is Pedroia's job to lose. If he falters, the Red Sox feel good about Alex Cora as an alternative.
The bottom line
The 2006 Red Sox were, as general manager Theo Epstein said several times, "an imperfect team." The front office went a long way toward fixing that in the offseason by emptying the vault for Matsuzaka, Drew and Lugo. Now, it's up to the players. On paper, the Red Sox look loaded. But paper doesn't win pennants. Performance does.