Ryan Kalish was never part of the equation for opening day in 2012.
Even though Thursday offered the revelation (first reported by The Boston Globe) that the outfielder required surgery in November to repair his torn labrum (an injury incurred in April), Kalish never appeared likely to be the team’s opening day right fielder. At the winter meetings in early December, general manager Ben Cherington said that the outfielder -- whose season ended in September with neck surgery -- would be limited to DH duties for part of spring training while recovering from surgery.
Between the fact that he was going to be unable to play in the field and the fact that he missed almost all of 2011 -- a year that was supposed to put the finishing touches on his minor league development -- Kalish seemed destined for Triple-A regardless of whether Josh Reddick was a part of the 2012 Sox or not. Now, Reddick is not. He was the primary piece in the Red Sox-A’s trade that brought Andrew Bailey and outfielder Ryan Sweeney to Boston.
The Sox will continue to explore the market to see if there is an affordable outfield upgrade, whether a right-handed platoon bat or a player who deserves a larger role. That said, an opening day right field platoon featuring Sweeney and Darnell McDonald -- while lacking in name recognition -- could still represent an upgrade for the Sox.
While Reddick was obscenely hot for about a month when he wrestled the Sox’ everyday right field job from J.D. Drew, and Darnell McDonald was strong against lefties down the stretch, the bar was set low by Sox right fielders in 2011. The combination of J.D. Drew and Mike Cameron -- two players who seemed like they were at the ends of their careers in 2011 -- left the Sox with little to no production from right field.
That stood in contrast to the rest of the league. Right field was one of the foremost positions from which AL teams received offense in 2011 (the .768 OPS of AL right fielders ranked behind only first base (.791) and DH (.771)). But for the Sox, it was, relative to the league, the team’s worst position.
Sox right fielders combined to hit .233 (worst among 14 teams in the AL) with a .299 OBP (also last), .353 slugging mark (13th) and .652 OPS (13th). The team received just 40 extra-base hits from the position (13th).
Despite the team’s pitiful production from the position, the Sox still finished first in the majors in runs (875), runs per game (5.4) and OPS (.810).
That fact has two significant implications for the 2012 Sox. First, the team’s right fielders were so bad in 2011 that it isn’t that difficult to envision a combination of Sweeney and McDonald (and, eventually, Kalish) outperforming the team’s contributors at the position. Secondly, 2011 demonstated that the team can withstand deficient production from a position and still feature one of the best lineups -- and perhaps even the best lineup -- in the game.
Even so, poor production in right would be more difficult for the Sox to accept if they had reason to believe that they might be worse at several positions in 2012 than they were in 2011. That being the case, here’s the thumbnail sketch of how the team’s lineup performed in 2011 and what the team might expect in 2012, with a disclaimer.
Health is, as ever, the wild card. If, for instance, the Sox lose Adrian Gonzalez or Jacoby Ellsbury for any prolonged period of time, then they will find it nearly impossible to replicate their 2011 offensive performance. For all of their pitching woes, the Sox had relatively good health from their top offensive performers in 2011, with Gonzalez, Ellsbury and Dustin Pedroia playing virtually every game, and David Ortiz remaining in the lineup nearly all season.
Kevin Youkilis was the only star-caliber producer who missed meaningful time due to injury. If the Sox can feature their best players on an almost every day basis, their offense will be excellent. If they lose a couple of the aforementioned stars, then their lineup will be prone to greater inconsistency.
That being acknowledged, here’s how the Sox’ lineup currently shapes up:
2011: .229 (9th in AL), .291 OBP (9th), .446 slugging (4th), .737 OPS (5th), 29 HR (1st)
Jarrod Saltalamacchia hit .235 with a .288 OBP, .450 slugging mark and .737 OPS along with 16 homers last year. He bookended a very productive middle of the season with a pair of horrific stretches in April and September. With greater comfort, it is not unreasonable to expect improvement from him.
Jason Varitek has been replaced by Kelly Shoppach as Saltalamacchia’s tag-team partner. Given that Shoppach will primarily play against lefties -- a group against whom he has been excellent throughout his career -- he should be able to replicate (more or less) Varitek’s offense. And if he doesn’t, then the Sox can always summon Ryan Lavarnway from the minors.
Ultimately, the team is likely to get at least as much offense from this position as they did in 2011. And, if Saltalamacchia can emerge as a more consistent player as he enters his career prime (he turns 27 next season), then there is a chance for the Sox to get even more production from their catchers.
2011: .329 (2nd), .402 OBP (2nd), .541 slugging (2nd), .944 OPS (2nd), 28 HR (T-5th)
It seems almost unfair to suggest that Adrian Gonzalez can and should improve on a 2011 campaign in which he hit .338 with a .410 OBP, .548 slugging mark and .957 OPS. However, as hitting coach Dave Magadan recently noted,
Gonzalez’ surgically repaired shoulder appeared to wear down in the second half following the Home Run Derby. The Sox acquired him with visions of a potential 40-home run hitter, and with a healthy offseason, it will be interesting to see whether they might still get such a player, something that might allow Gonzalez to build upon his terrific 2011 campaign.
2011: .308 (1st), .388 OBP (2nd), .474 slugging (3rd), .862 OPS (2nd), 21 HR (3rd), 26 SB (4th)
Dustin Pedroia hit .307/.387/.474/.861 with career highs in homers (21) and steals (26). It represented one of the best years of his career, but was not a dramatic departure from his career line of .305/.373/.463/.837. In other words, Pedroia --now 28 and in the middle of his prime -- is more likely to sustain or even improve upon his production than to see it crater.
2011: .270 (3rd), .362 OBP (1st), .449 slugging (4th), .812 OPS (2nd), 20 HR (5th)
Can Kevin Youkilis stay healthy? In the last three years, he’s averaged 119 games per season. If he can give the Sox more than that -- and avoid the sort of injuries that devastated his production in the second half last year after a first half that saw him perform as arguably the top offensive third baseman in the game -- then the Sox will see an uptick in production at a position where they already enjoyed a competitive advantage.
That said, health can no longer be taken as a given for Youkilis after an array of injuries (adductor muscle, sports hernia, oblique, hip) has befallen him. And the dropoff from him to alternatives such as Mike Aviles or, later in the season, Will Middlebrooks (a very promising prospect who nonetheless is likely to face transitional challenges in his first taste of the majors) could be significant.
2011: .279 (6th), .330 OBP (6th), .401 slugging (5th), .730 OPS (6th), 10 HR (7th)
Marco Scutaro had one of the best years of his career in 2011, hitting .299 with a .358 OBP, .423 slugging mark and .781 OPS as he reclaimed his starting job from Jed Lowrie. He played just 113 games. If he remains on the field, he seems a good bet to at least replicate his career norms (.270/.338/.389/.727), which would allow the Sox to sustain their 2011 production at this position.
Instead of Lowrie, Scutaro will work with Mike Aviles and Nick Punto. It remains to be seen how Punto will perform in his return to the AL (it would be a stretch to expect him to replicate his .388 OBP of 2011 while no longer batting in front of a pitcher), but with Scutaro as the primary option at the position, it wouldn’t be surprising if the Sox are able to roughly replicate their production of a year ago from their shortstops.
2011: .258 (5th), .304 OBP (7th), .419 slugging (3rd), .723 OPS (5th), 16 HR (9th), 17 SB (6th)
It’s difficult to imagine that Carl Crawford will fail to improve upon the worst season of his career, a 2011 campaign in which he hit .255/.289/.405/.694). After all, he had an OPS of .800 or better in five of the previous six years in Tampa Bay. A bounceback near or to his pre-2011 levels seems reasonable; if that happens, then it would represent a significant offensive upgrade for the Sox at the position, something that could help the Sox to offset declines by players who had career years at other positions.
2011: .316 (1st), .371 OBP (1st), .548 slugging (1st), .918 OPS (1st), 34 HR (2nd), 40 SB (2nd)
It remains to be seen whether Jacoby Ellsbury can repeat his incredible 2011 performance. The likelihood is that it was the best year of his career, a breathtaking, MVP-caliber performance that is not sustainable. Even if it served as the point of departure for a future as a perennial All-Star, it would be asking a bit much to expect Ellsbury to be a 30/30 guy on a year after year basis.
The Sox should likely expect some dropoff. But how much? Before his 2010 injury, Ellsbury was being projected by some as a potential 20-homer hitter. If he can do that with an OPS -- perhaps with an OPS of 50-100 points below his 2011 levels -- he’ll remain among the best center fielders in the game, and his performance will be at a level where other Sox can make up for any drop off from a player who, at 28, is in his prime.
2011: .233 (14th), .299 OBP (14th), .353 slugging (13th), .652 OPS (13th), 14 HR (12th),
J.D. Drew offered brutal offense while playing half a season (81 games) in right. Platoon partner Mike Cameron was even worse in his 33 games before being designated for assignment. Josh Reddick offered a spark in his 87 games, performing above league-average levels, but the overall picture of the Sox in right field was of one of the least productive groups in the majors.
While Darnell McDonald struggled through the first half, he was quite good down the stretch, and ended the year with fine numbers against lefties (.260/.333/.471/.804). Even as the Sox continue to look for a potential right-handed outfield addition, he is a very viable platoon contributor.
As for newcomer Ryan Sweeney, his 2011 stat line (.265/.346/.341/.687) and career marks (.283/.342/.378/.720) are less than dazzling. However, if he produces an OBP in the .340s, he’d represent a steadier offensive contributor than anyone whom the Sox had in right field last year.
In other words, even with Sweeney and McDonald (as well as Mike Aviles), the Sox could be expected to enjoy an offensive boost from their 2011 levels. The team’s offense is unlikely to be anchored by its right fielders, but the team should do better than suffering through the worst right field production in the AL.
2011: .308 (1st), .394 OBP (2nd), .531 slugging (1st), .925 OPS (1st), 29 HR (2nd)
David Ortiz turned back the clock to 2007 with a dominant season as the best DH in the game. As with Ellsbury, his year was so good that there is likely to be some regression. As with Ellsbury, the question for the Sox is how much.
Ortiz, at 35, had his best year ever against left-handers. A lot of that had to do with adjustments in his approach (he did a great job of staying back on the ball and using all fields against lefties), but his .371 batting average on balls in play against southpaws will be almost impossible to sustain.
If Ortiz can perform somewhere between his 2010 levels (.270/.370/.529/.899 with 32 homers and 102 RBI) and his 2011 performance (.309/.398/.554/.953 with 29 homers and 96 RBI), then the Sox will be in excellent shape at the position.