Red Sox 2009 - better or worse off?

Well, Spring Training is officially underway today, and despite the crappy weather, it's time to think a bit about baseball. If I had the time and the money, I'd be heading down to Fort Myers to see how the Red Sox are shaping up for 2009. I've never done that, but know people who do - it's on my bucket list for sure.

Can you imagine a WORSE time to be getting excited about this sport? Between A-Roid, Tejada and now this AIDS lawsuit with Robbie Alomar, it's sure hard to have faith in a game that seems more ruled by agents, owners and TV networks. Where's the fun gone? And for all this to be happening on Abe Lincoln's 200th birthday! He would not be amused.

Let's just suspend disbelief and hope that somehow the game will rise above all this. With Spring Training starting now, I'm going to put on my Boston sports fan hat for a sec - it doesn't come off very often. A year ago, the Patriots were supposed to win, the Celtics had a shot to win, the Sox were the defending champs, and nobody cared about the Bruins.

Today? It's pretty much the opposite. Pats lose to the Giants (but Tyree never makes another completion again) - and miss the playoffs this year with an 11-5 record, the Celtics get their 17th title, the Bruins are legitimate Cup contenders out of nowhere, and the Red Sox are a mixed bag following an offseason of big possibilities. Isn't sports fun? I certainly can't complain - I don't think there is any other major market anywhere with bona fide contenders these days across all 4 team sports. It's a nice problem to have.

Back to the Sox. I just wanted to mark Spring Training with a few thoughts on how their season looks to me. Some things are easy to feel good about. Starting pitching is probably the best in baseball, and the fire brigade will be pretty close to being tops as well. Not getting Texeira could be a big mistake, but there are no guarantees in NY, and with A-Rod being so toxic, Tex's talent could go to waste there.

The offence is definitely middling given all the question marks - is Ellsbury ready to be the killer table-setter he's supposed to be? With Pedroia and Youk getting big money now, can they sustain the career years they had in 2008? The heavy hitters - will Ortiz, Lowell and Drew be healthy and focused enough to return to championship form? Can Bay stay at this level in the AL and make us forget Manny? Is Lowrie ready to be their #1 SS? Is Tek done, or can he improve from 2008? Was trading Crisp a mistake? Can Baldelli contribute? If we get a lot YES's here, they should be good to make the postseason. That's a lot that needs to go right, and the Sox have a knack for getting surprisingly good production where you least expect it.

If the offence does not improve, I'd look for them to make a major trade to get a big bat. They've done a great job of stockpiling quality arms at a reasonable price, so they have lots of leverage in the pitching department, which every team needs. Regardless, it's going to be a 3 team race in the AL East, and I feel bad for my local team - the Jays - they haven't done much to improve and unless Tampa falls apart, it's going to be a long season for them.

At this point, I'd say the Sox will be good for 90-95 wins - just like last year - but it may not be enough if Tampa Bay is no fluke and if the Yankees get their money's worth for these mega-players. Nothing is a sure thing here, and frankly I think the Sox are the most balanced of the 3.

Tampa Bay lost some good players in the offseason and didn't do much to replace them. Of course their youth had great upside, but it remains to be seen if they're a one-hit wonder or the team of the future. The Yankees spared no expense to buy top talent, but we've seen how this has turned out before. And - mark my words - A-Rod has never won a World Series, and now that he's been exposed, the baseball gods will get even and make sure he never does.

The Red Sox didn't make any huge moves, and on the whole will be a similar team to last year. They're a pretty stable bunch, esp with Manny gone. They'll never replace his bat, but if everyone else plays their part, they'll be great to follow in 2009. Spring should be a pretty fun time for Boston fans - by the time MLB starts, the Bruins and C's will be making their stretch runs, and I'll likely be posting about more often on my teams. Sure hope so!