Time for WEEI.com’s annual roundtable of 25 Red Sox, 25 questions. A panel of so-called experts examines the roster by addressing a number of timely questions -- um, what? Bailey had…surg…oh my -- about the 2012 roster.
Participating this year:
Kirk Minihane: WEEI.com ColumnistÃ¢ÂÂ¨
Mike Petraglia: WEEI.com Man on Every SceneÃ¢ÂÂ¨
Jon Rish: Red Sox Radio NetworkÃ¢ÂÂ¨
Alex Speier: WEEI.com Senior Writer
Rob Bradford: WEEI.com Site Editor
Disclaimer: The questions were circulated and, in some cases, answers offered, before the extent of Andrew Bailey’s thumb injury became known, and before Alfredo Aceves was named the fill-in closer.
So, some answers might be dated. Such is life.
Without further ado…
Where will Adrian Gonzalez rank among the pantheon of American League first basemen this year? (And, yes, go ahead and include both Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder for the Tigers.)
MINIHANE: Well, since I'm already on record with Gonzalez winning the Triple Crown this year I should probably put him at the top. Let's put him down for 42 homers, 134 RBI and a .328 batting average. Before we give that any weight, it's also important to note that this is the 20th anniversary of my Phil Plantier Triple Crown prediction.
TRAGS: Gonzo will have another sensational (if not quietly so) season of 30 homers, 120 RBI and an average north of .320. He is what he is, a painfully quiet superstar who will let his bat do the talking amidst chaos.
RISH: Gonzalez will be third. Behind Pujols and Cabrera, but ahead of Fielder.
SPEIER: Cabrera (a first baseman in a third baseman’s glove this year) was the best of the lot a year ago, and he now has backup with Prince Fielder hitting behind him. He’ll be the man, though Gonzalez – now able to swing with two arms – will be close behind as the second best hitter of the group, ahead of Pujols and Fielder.
BRADFORD: For some reason I'm putting Gonzalez ahead of Pujols, but behind Cabrera. I have a weird feeling about Pujols this year, and not in a good way.
In which category will Dustin Pedroia produce the highest total? Extra-base hits, RBIs, walks or strikeouts?
MINIHANE: He knocked in 91 runs last year, but that was with the leadoff hitter having an MVP season. Pedroia has seen his walk numbers increase in each healthy season of his career and I wouldn't be surprised if he's close to 100 in 2012.
TRAGS: Pedroia is a doubles machine. He'll lead the team and MLB with 50.
RISH: I’m going to go with RBIs.
SPEIER: Walks, especially when he ends up hitting leadoff.
BRADFORD: RBIs, although it will be interesting to see if the walks/strikeout ratio keeps remains the same as last year.
Kevin Youkilis: Over or under 120 games? Bonus question: where will he finish among AL third basemen in OPS?
MINIHANE: Under. It's spring training and who cares and all that stuff, but Youkilis has looked cooked so far. Maybe he bounces back and has a terrific season, but this is a 33-year-old with a significant injury history and a body that just doesn't seem able to hold up over 162 games at this point of his career.
TRAGS: Youk – if he makes it through the season in Boston and is not traded to Cincinnati – will wind up with 130 games and will finish in the upper third of 3B OPS at .935.
RISH: I’ll take the over, but not by much. Does Cabrera count here too? If so I’m going to put him third behind Cabrera and Longoria.
SPEIER: More, especially as the Sox find him some extra games at DH, and he will once again out-OPS Longoria and A-Rod to be the best in the AL. (Unless we count Cabrera as a third baseman, in which case Youkilis will finish second in OPS.)
BRADFORD: Over for games, third for third basemen.
Who finishes the year with the higher OPS: Mike Aviles or Marco Scutaro? And…how many starts will Jose Iglesias get for the Sox at short?
MINIHANE: The reality? Aviles will have an OPS right around his career number of .737, which isn't good enough to hold off what is clearly the inevitable promotion of Iglesias, who will be the starting shortstop by June 15. Scutaro will be OK in Colorado; wouldn't be surprised to see his OPS right at his career number of .727.
TRAGS: Mike Aviles – if he doesn't get traded – should and will settle into a nice role as the anchor of the lower third of the batting order and have a higher OPS (.870-.850) than Scutaro. Jose Iglesias is starting shortstop by Memorial Day and will wind up starting 100 games at SS.
RISH: Aviles. I’m going with 15 starts at short for Iglesias.
SPEIER: It will be close, but I find it hard to believe that a guy whose spring training OBP (.274) was lower than his batting average (.279) -- yup, Mike Aviles had exactly zero walks in spring training -- can have a higher OPS than a player who makes his home in Coors Field. As for Iglesias, I’ll go with early-July for his promotion date, and assume that he ends up starting about 70 games.
BRADFORD: Have to go with Scutaro because of Aviles' inability to walk. Twenty starts for Iglesias.
Last year, for the first time in his career, David Ortiz had a higher average (.329) and OPS (.989) against lefties than righties. What do you see Ortiz doing this year against lefties?
MINIHANE: Back to reality -- Ortiz has a career .813 OPS vs. lefties, .969 vs. righties -- has to be the call, right? I'll take 14 years of evidence over one season. But I still think Ortiz gives the Sox another productive season in 2012, even if it doesn't match his efforts of the previous two years.
TRAGS: Ortiz proved he can make adjustments with the best of them and he'll do so again this season, just not nearly with the same amazing success. He'll drop in average a bit and bat .310 against lefties but with more power. He'll have an OPS of .900 against lefties.
RISH: Regressing. His career OPS against LHP is .813. 2011 was the first time he’s bettered that since 2007. I think the 2007 number is realistic though: .852.
SPEIER: Ortiz was insanely good against lefties last year. No shame in the idea that such marks are unsustainable. I think he’ll be closer to an .800 OPS against lefties, which means he’ll still be in line for a very good, All-Star caliber season as a DH.
BRADFORD: Not as good as last year (that would be difficult to repeat), but he seems to have figured some things out when it comes to hitting lefties.
At which position will Nick Punto see the most playing time? And, will he finish closer to his 2011 OPS (.809) or career OPS (.652)?
MINIHANE: Punto will be filling in during the many Youkilis absences this season, wouldn't be at all surprised if he has more at-bats than Youkilis in 2012. As for his OPS, it was .809 in 63 games last season and his career number is .652 over 887 games. Again, I'm going with the outlier theory and putting him down for a number closer to .700.
TRAGS: Nick Punto will see the most playing time spelling Youk at 3B and will finish right in the middle of his 2011 and career OPS. Slot him at .750.
RISH: Most time at third. Closer to his career OPS. I think his OPS will be below .700.
SPEIER: I think Punto gets a fair amount of time at short, with an OBP in the high-.600s.
BRADFORD: I'll have to say shortstop. He is Plan B (not Iglesias) if Aviles goes into a rut. OPS will be in mid .700's.
Where should Jacoby Ellsbury hit? And…is he more likely to surpass last year’s home run total (32), steals total (39) or RBIs (105)?
MINIHANE: I just wouldn't mess with success -- why risk screwing with what worked so well last season? How much better can Ellsbury be? It's only fair to expect a decrease in homers and RBI, but I think he will go north of 50 stolen bases this year.
TRAGS: Why mess with a good thing? Leadoff. This is dictated more by what's NOT around him in the lineup. Ellsbury is the best lead off option the Red Sox have and since you don't want Gonzo hitting cleanup and Pedroia is one of the best No. 2 hitters in the game, you don't want to have Ellsbury hitting third. Of the three categories, Ellsbury is certainly most likely to surpass his stolen base total. Look for Ellsbury to be pitched around more. Hard to imagine Ells bettering his home run and RBI totals.
RISH: I would bat him second, behind Pedroia. He is most likely to surpass his steals total. He will not reach 32 home runs.
SPEIER: I think he could move down in the order to second or third at some point; if that happens, then the RBI total ends up being the mark. It’s easy to assume he steals more bags, but he did have just 11 steals in the second half last year because guys who hit for power (doubles, home runs) just don’t steal as much. While I see fewer homers for him, I think he’ll hit a ton of doubles, and so fewer steals are coming.
BRADFORD: Leadoff. Don't mess with success. Less homers, more steals, less RBIs.
Will Carl Crawford exceed his career .773 OPS? And how many games will he play?
MINIHANE: $140 million for a guy with a career .773 OPS. Think about that -- Cody Ross signed a one-year, $3 million deal and his career OPS is .779. The Crawford contract is a disaster and will eventually be the reason Ellsbury signs somewhere else. As for 2012, I think the wrist issue lingers and Crawford plays 126 games, finishing with an OPS of .722.
TRAGS: Crawford figures to stay about the same this season if only because a wrist injury is so tricky to rehab. It's not his fault that Theo Epstein foolishly committed $142 million on a player who doesn't fit in Boston. Everyone – including Crawford – knows Boston isn't the right place for him. Crawford will wind up with a .800 OPS and play in 100 games.
RISH: 110 games for Crawford and an OPS close to but below his .773 career.
SPEIER: Players’ wrists are their livelihood. I think Crawford will have some very good seasons in Boston, but in 2012, his power will be hindered by the aftermath of surgery. So, a .740 OPS seems realistic in about 120 games. That said, I think Crawford will be a much better player this year than last -- vastly better defense and more of a presence on the bases.
BRADFORD: He will play 121 games (just to go all 'Price Is Right' on Alex). Go slightly below the .773.
Cody Ross and Ryan Sweeney in right field: Discuss.
MINIHANE: Right now it looks like Ross is the guy, though his hideous career K/BB ratio (571-197) should be a concern.
TRAGS: This is a no brainer. Ross is a far superior offensive player. Ryan Sweeney gives you a left-handed bat off the bench who is very good defensively but the Sox need Ross' OPS numbers. Ross is a massive offensive improvement than the last three seasons of J.D. Drew in right field.
RISH: I’m ok with a pretty straightforward left / right platoon. I’m more concerned with Ross being the everyday leftfielder until Crawford is ready. It’ll be a while, but it wouldn’t surprise me if at some point in the second half Ryan Kalish pushes Sweeney to the bench.
SPEIER: I’m guessing that when a manager says a player doesn’t understand his swing mechanics, as was the case with Bobby Valentine and Sweeney at the start of spring training, that said player’s hold on regular playing time immediately diminishes. Ross will have an OPS of .800-plus -- something worth keeping in mind amidst the canonizations of Marco Scutaro -- and eventually serve as the primary right-fielder, with Sweeney falling into the defensive replacement mold.
BRADFORD: I think Ross plays in the field, even when Crawford returns. That means he gets the majority of run in right. It will be interesting to see how patient Valentine is with Sweeney's hitting, perhaps wanting to play McDonald a bit more. Sweeney is the best defender of the bunch, but it should be noted that Ross can certainly hold his own, even in right at Fenway.
Darnell McDonald in the first half of last year: .143/.200/.257/.457. Second half: .310/.380/.517/.897. Which extreme more closely represents what he’ll do this year?
MINIHANE: Somewhere in the middle. The reality is this: As long as McDonald never plays against right-handed pitching he can be a useful major-league player. His career slugging percentage against lefties is .471, against righties is .264. If Valentine puts McDonald in the right spots he'll be OK.
TRAGS: Call me naïve but I think D-Mac has done what every big leaguer needs to do to be successful: Realize what his role is, embrace it and refine it. That's exactly what McDonald did in the second half of the season and explains why he did so well this spring. He realizes he's not always going to get consistent playing time so he is finding ways of staying sharp, studying more video and staying in shape. Easy to root for and here's a vote for .300/.375/.500/.875
RISH: Is it just too boring to split the difference? I think he’ll be closer to the his second half numbers. He should play regularly against lefties early on. I’m thinking an OPS in the .750 to .775 range.
SPEIER: McDonald’s struggles last year came at a time when he was playing irregularly, buried behind Mike Cameron as a platoon option. The guy raked in the spring and will get regular playing time against lefties early, but once Carl Crawford is back, I don’t see the Sox sitting him in favor of McDonald. His numbers will eventually suffer as a result. Even so, I can see him hitting .250-ish with an OPS in the low-.700s, modest numbers that would nonetheless put him slightly closer to his second-half numbers than his first half showing of 2011.
BRADFORD: I think Valentine really likes what he saw from McDonald this spring and will give him some at-bats. That will translate into numbers closer to the second half.
Will Jarrod Saltalamacchia catch more or fewer games than the 103 he caught in 2011?
MINIHANE: Yup, he'll be right around 115-120.
TRAGS: Salty will catch 120 games and barring injury, should have no problem doing so.
RISH: More. Shoppach will play – especially against LHP and depending on Shoppach’s performance we may see Lavarnway at some point. However, I think Saltalamacchia will be given every chance to be the number one catcher. I’m thinking around 120.
SPEIER: More but not by a lot, since I think Saltalamacchia -- after catching roughly four of every five games to start the year -- will enter into something of a time share with Lavarnway once the latter is called up.
BRADFORD: He will catch more. Going with 115.
Kelly Shoppach is tied for the Red Sox franchise record for most at-bats (15) without a hit. On what date do you think he will remove himself from the ranks of the hitless?
MINIHANE: This is the least important question ever asked in the history of mankind. The nightmare finally ends on April 9 in Toronto, but TV viewers will miss it as Jenny Dell vs. local delicacy runs 15 seconds long.
TRAGS: He'll get the game-winning hit on the 100th anniversary of Fenway Park against the Yankees. Oh, the Shoppach flare for the dramatic.
RISH: April 11th.
SPEIER: Shoppach will not return to the country without a hit. He claims the knock in Toronto on April 10.
BRADFORD: Sept. 3 because it's my birthday. (April 10).
When do you expect to see Ryan Lavarnway in the majors?
MINIHANE: If he's hitting -- and Shoppach isn't -- you'll see Lavarnway up by Memorial Day. Which means you'll see Lavarnway up by Memorial Day.
TRAGS: When Bobby Valentine says he wants a catcher that can hit. Lavarnway will beat Iglesias on the call-up countdown watch but not by much. I say May 15.
RISH: I’ll guess June. Up for a short time, then back down. Up for good in late July or early August.
SPEIER: How the Sox manage the integration of Lavarnway into the big league roster in the middle of the year -- I’ll say June -- will be fascinating to watch, since it will be difficult to thrust him into everyday duty (especially since I think Saltalamacchia will hold his own), but the Sox can’t have him in the majors just to sit.
BRADFORD: I'll go with July, but I have no idea why.
Jon Lester: Over/under – 16 wins, 200 Ks, 200 innings?
MINIHANE: I think I've picked Jon Lester to win the Cy Young every year since 1982. I'm backing off this season. I'm starting to think that this is what Lester is. No shame in that -- Matt Cain just got $120 million for putting up basically the same numbers as Lester -- but I need to see 20 wins and a 2.60 ERA before I can place Lester in the elite class. 17-8 and 192 Ks in 194.2 IP.
TRAGS: 15-7. 3.00 ERA, 190 Ks, 220 innings … book it.
RISH: I’ll take the over on all three. I’m expecting a big year out of Lester.
SPEIER: It’s actually pretty extraordinary to think that Lester hits all three of those marks with a normal Jon Lester season. So, yes, he hits the over across the board.
BRADFORD: Push on wins. Over on K's. Over on innings.
Josh Beckett: Will he be an All-Star in an even-numbered year for the first time in his career, or will he continue to Saberhagen?
MINIHANE: Going to see two thumb specialists before Opening Day is a very real concern, despite what Beckett and Valentine are telling us. "Peace of mind" simply isn't believable. If it's not a serious injury, I think Beckett will have a very good year, 16-18 wins with an ERA right around 3.00.
TRAGS: Josh Beckett, more than anyone else, has something to prove and he's angry. That should be good for 17 wins, 200 Ks and 200 innings… and yes, his first even-year trip to the All-Star Game.
RISH: I do not think he’ll be an All-Star. I don’t expect him to completely tank in 2012, but I’m looking for just below All-Star level.
SPEIER: Isn’t there a taxi squad of about 30 starting pitchers on the All-Star team? So, sure, why not? I think Beckett will actually be very good again -- not 2011 good, but a low-3.00s ERA. But while he'll make the trip to Kansas City to the All-Star Game, he won't be available to pitch, since the Sox will want him to rest that "nothing to see here, move along people, even though it might eventually require surgery" thumb.
BRADFORD: I said he would make trip last year, and I'll say it again this time around. If healthy (and I'm not including the same thumb thing he had last year) he's an All-Star caliber pitcher.
Will Clay Buchholz make 30 starts?
MINIHANE: Nope. The Sox would sign up for 25 starts and 160 IP from Buchholz right now, there's too much injury history to think he'll suddenly make 30 starts or throw 200 innings this season.
TRAGS: No. Want to believe he can but his frame and common sense say 25 would be pushing it.
RISH: Yes, 30 exactly.
SPEIER: Yes. To my mind, the notion that Buchholz isn’t durable has been exaggerated. He had a freak injury while running the bases in 2010 that prevented him from getting to his 30 starts; in 2009, he made 33 starts in the majors and minors; in 2008, he would have gotten to 30 starts if he had been effective. He’ll finally get his 200 innings this year.
Rank in order of the number of games they throw for the Red Sox this year: Felix Doubront, Daniel Bard, Aaron Cook, Daisuke Matsuzaka, Alfredo Aceves.
MINIHANE: Aceves, Bard, Doubront, Cook, Matsuzaka, Smokey Joe Wood, Babe Ruth, Luis Tiant, Tom Burgmeier, Bobby Jenks.
TRAGS: Doubront 25 starts, Cook 15 starts, Matsuzaka 15 starts, Bard 15 starts, Aceves 10 starts
RISH: 1) Aceves 2) Bard 3) Doubront 4) Matsuzaka 5) Cook
SPEIER: Aceves (since he’ll be relieving all year), Bard (who will be relieving for part of the year), Doubront, Cook, Daisuke.
BRADFORD: Aceves, Bard, Doubront, Matsuzaka, Cook.
Speaking of Aceves…what is he? How many innings of relief will he throw after tying for the major league lead with over 90 innings out of the bullpen last year?
MINIHANE: What is he? He's the best beat reporter on the pitching staff. I didn't see Clay Buchholz or Mark Melancon breaking the Beckett story. The Red Sox (correctly) don't view him as a starter, he's just too valuable in his current role. I think he goes over 90 IP out of the bullpen this year.
TRAGS: He is what he's always been a valuable long reliever who is a spot starter. One of the best in the game at it. Leave him there. He'll throw 75 innings of relief.
RISH: At this very moment I think he’s the closer. Fewer than 90 innings – about 75.
SPEIER: What is he? In the words of Captain Renault in Casablanca, “Just like any other man, only more so.” Because he’ll open the year in a fixed role, his innings load will diminish, but the Sox will let him work a number of two-inning saves (the guy leads the AL in two-plus inning relief appearances for the last few years), so I’ll go with 80 innings.
BRADFORD: By sacrificing that octopus this offseason, he has guaranteed himself 80 innings.
More saves and lower ERA: Bailey or Jonathan Papelbon?
MINIHANE: I predict Bailey will not allow a single earned run in 2012. Of course, that's because I think Bailey won't pitch a single inning this season, which leads me to believe that Papelbon (never on DL) will probably win the saves battle.
TRAGS: Papelbon 40 saves, 2.45 ERA. Bailey 28 saves, 2.75 ERA
RISH: Papelbon on both. Before the injury I would have taken Papelbon for Saves & Bailey for ERA.
SPEIER: Yeah, this question ended up being a crappy one. Realistically, unless the Sox fail to find a closer in his absence, does Bailey get any saves this year if he’s not returning until August? Papelbon will also enjoy a nice bump in ERA as he goes to a new league. I don’t think it’s crazy to suggest he’ll be as good as any closer in baseball this coming season. But I think the Sox bullpen will be fine in his absence, and I still think that the contract that Philly gave him is nuts.
BRADFORD: I will have more saves that Andrew Bailey this season.
If Bailey is hurt or unavailable, who would you like to see the Sox use as their closer – Aceves, Mark Melancon or Vicente Padilla?
MINIHANE: Again, I'm not messing with what Aceves does for this team. Melancon isn't Mariano Rivera but he was more than adequate in the closer role for Houston last season.
TRAGS: Mark Melancon … Forget the fact that Houston was bad in 2011, he saved 20 games. What is the big deal? It's a no brainer since they're allowing Bard to dictate what kind of pitcher he is.
RISH: I would give the first shot to Aceves.
SPEIER: I would have assumed Melancon before the Sox named Aceves. It’s pretty fascinating that the Sox are naming a guy with no prior closing experience at any level of pro ball (aside from the occasional fill-in night) to be the guy at the end of games.
BRADFORD: Thanks to my DeLorean, I'm going with Aceves.
Will this be the first year in which Franklin Morales throws 50 innings?
MINIHANE: Sure, why not? There are bullpen questions, and if Morales can get righties out with some level of consistency and stays healthy he'll get to 50 IP.
TRAGS: Yes. Bobby Valentine will be pleasantly surprised to the point where he'll get some save opportunities.
RISH: Yes. I’m not completely sold on the improved control he showed after the trade, but I like him enough to see he being used for full innings and not just as a lefty on lefty guy.
SPEIER: He better, or else the Red Sox will be in some serious trouble against lefties in the late innings on the road to Aceves until Rich Hill is ready to return.
BRADFORD: I think they're going to lean on this guy a bunch, so yes.
Was the real Matt Albers the guy who dominated last year until the end of July, the one who struggled brutally in the last two months, or neither?
MINIHANE: Albers stunk for two years in Houston, three years in Baltimore and two months last season in Boston. He had three fluky months last year, nothing more and nothing less. The good news is if he gets released he could find work as Betty Draper's body double on "Mad Men" this season.
TRAGS: Unfortunately, Albers is what he is. A guy who has been blessed with a fantastic arm but no conditioning regimen. That has to change for him to be productive for a whole season.
RISH: Neither. Albers’ career ERA and OPS against is 5.05 & .773. Last year he ended up at 4.73 & .733. He is what he is, he just took an uneven way to get there.
SPEIER: He’s a reliever, so really, who knows? No chance he struggles as badly as he did in the second half, though. His stuff is too good.
BRADFORD: He was actually better the last few weeks, having seemingly figured something out. He won't be as good as the first half, but will be reliable most of the time, which is all you want from that role.
More appearances for the Sox this year: Andrew Miller or Rich Hill?
MINIHANE: If Hill's healthy he's proven he can have a role on this team, Miller is a titanic underachiever with a career ERA of 5.79 and WHIP of 1.75. If Hill can make 10 appearances he'll beat Miller.
TRAGS: Rich Hill wins, 15-14.
RISH: Rich Hill. I like Hill as more of the lefty match-up guy. Could easily see Hill with more appearances and Miller with more innings.
SPEIER: Hill, if only because there’s a clearer blueprint for his usage as a left-on-left guy. Assuming Miller ends up in the bullpen, it could be tough for him to find his way into regular usage as he adapts to a new role.
BRADFORD: Rich Hill. Will pitch in a minor league game on April 9 so his contributions shouldn't be too far away.
Mad Libs: Bobby Valentine is _____________ in 2012.
MINIHANE: Managing his last full season
TRAGS: The Enforcer
RISH: has the best manager’s pregame show
SPEIER: Manager of the Year, since right now, everyone has the Sox slated to finish with, like, a 60-102 record, while I think they'll make the playoffs; when teams exceed expectations to make the playoffs, the manager gets a ridiculous amount of credit for changing the culture around the team, whether accurate or not
BRADFORD: Kooky/Edge-of-your-seat entertaining.
What player not yet mentioned makes the biggest impact this year?
MINIHANE: Scott Atchison held opposing hitters to a .593 OPS in seven appearances last September and has a 2.84 ERA in 12.2 IP this spring. At some point this season -- maybe right away -- he'll have a legitimate role in the bullpen.
TRAGS: Junichi Tazawa comes out of nowhere to become a reliable 5th starter after Daisuke gets traded.
RISH: Can I take Ryan Kalish? He wasn’t mentioned in the questions, but I mentioned him in an answer. If Kalish isn’t eligible I’ll take Michael Bowden.
SPEIER: Alex Wilson. He’s a mid-year impact addition in the Papelbon-Masterson-Bard tradition waiting to happen.
BRADFORD: I didn't get paid to offer bonus answers, but since I'm a nice guy I'll go with Vicente Padilla.