Catching up with the Boston Red Sox: Over the Monster

This off-season The Nats Blog will be conducting a series of interviews with sites from all thirty teams. One team a week leading up to the start of the 2011 baseball season. This week I spoke with Ben Buchanan from Over the Monster, one of the top Red Sox blogs on the net, to reflect on Boston’s season and what the future holds for the storied franchise.

TNB: The Red Sox were battered with injuries all season long with Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis missing significant time. How do you think your season would have been different had all your players been healthy?

Over the Monster: The injuries were definitely a huge factor throughout the season, and the general feeling is that we would have been right there in the playoff race if things were more reasonable.

To be sure, the team had dug itself a hole with it’s slow start while reasonably healthy, but on June 24, the Sox were in a tie with the Rays for the wild card, and just two back of the Yankees for the division. The very next day Dustin Pedroia goes down, and the Sox barely break .500 for the rest of the season.

We’ve had a few attempts to quantify what we lost, but the gist is “a lot”.  There’s obviously the big names, with Pedroia playing half a season, Youk missing the final stretch, Victor being replaced for a month by a group whose offensive production he matched in his first at bat after returning, Buchholz missing a few starts while Tim Wakefield actually makes 19 (I believe the Sox were 6-13 in said starts…), Beckett being arguably ruined by injury, Lowrie not being able to spell Scutaro due to mono for half the season, Cameron and Ellsbury missing the whole season…

You get the idea.

I’m not going to say we definitely would have made the playoffs, but it’s hard to imagine that erasing even half of that wouldn’t make a six game difference.

TNB: Clay Buchholz and Jon Lester have emerged as two of the best starters in all of baseball and both have a no-hitter to their name. Can we expect anything else from these young pitchers or has their full potential been reached?

Over the Monster: I don’t think this is all we’ll see from them, but I think expectations for at least Clay may have been raised artificially.

Lester is what he is: one of the best lefties in baseball. Every year his cutter and curve seem to get better, and this year his change took a huge leap forward. Over these next few years, as he enters his prime, I think he’ll have everything click all season long (with no typical slow start), and win at least one Cy Young award.

Clay, on the other hand, is something of an enigma. Always incredibly talented with all the promise in the world, something just didn’t work out that first year in the rotation for him. But we saw him settle down some in 2009, and now he’s 2nd in the league in ERA despite pitching in Fenway Park against the A.L. East.

The thing is that his peripherals don’t match the ERA. They’re good, just not that great. But that was sort of the case with Lester in 2008, and that proved to be the turning point for him anyways. With Clay always considered something of a “headcase”, having this really big season behind him could do wonders, though. We might not see him hit 2.33 ever again over the course of a season, but if he’s around Lester’s production, there’s not going to be a lot of complaints. And if he can get that curveball of his working consistently again, who knows?

TNB: David Ortiz has had some painfully slow starts in the past two seasons only to turn it on in the second half and finish close to 30 home runs and 100 RBI. How much more does he have left in the tank?

Over the Monster: One or two more years seems to be the consensus opinion. It’s odd how it’s not a matter of Ortiz wearing down as the season goes on, but there’s no doubt that he’s not quite the same player he used to be. 50 homers has become 30, 180 hits has become 130, etc. etc. Still, if he can just match even just his 2008 production for a few more years, the Sox would be happy to have him in the lineup day after day.

TNB: Being in the same division as the Yankees and Rays is bad news for any team. How frustrating is it to finish the year in third place with 89 wins?

Over the Monster: It’s definitely frustrating, but at the same time we Sox fans have to realize we’re incredibly lucky to have our team in the playoffs year-in and year-out to the point where missing out once is a huge deal. For teams like the Blue Jays, Orioles, or even a few years ago the Rays, I could see it being devastating, but Red Sox fans really shouldn’t complain.

That doesn’t mean there shouldn’t be something done about parity both in divisions and league-wide, but that’s a discussion for another day.

TNB: Left field remains a question mark for the Sox. Any chance of acquiring Carl Crawford or Jayson Werth?

Over the Monster: Whenever there’s big-name free agents on the market, the Sox are likely to be a player, and more and more it’s looking to me like they’ll be doing more than just kicking the tires.

While right now the Sox do have three potential starters for 2011 in Ellsbury, a hopefully-healthy Cameron, and J.D. Drew, after 2011 they have only Ellsbury and a group of prospects that they can’t necessarily rely on to fill spots. Of the various outfielders in the farm system, only Ryan Kalish can really be relied on to fill a starting role with the team come 2012.

Given the fact that the free agent market for outfielders just isn’t that impressive after this year, the Sox will have to act now or find a trade if they want to fill the remaining outfield spot with premium talent. With Cameron such a big question mark in 2011, moving him to platoon with J.D. Drew in right field and signing one of the big names just seems to make a lot of sense.

Between Crawford and Werth, I’d have to guess the Sox would be after Crawford. Werth is the better offensive player, but with Boras as his agent he’ll be looking for a long deal with lots of money, and the Sox might be reluctant to offer many years to position players already in their early 30’s after Mike Lowell. But one of the real sticking points might be how willing Crawford is to adjust for the Red Sox. Will he play center? Will he insist on batting third? The Sox might not be willing to pay for his defense if it’s confined to Fenway’s tiny left field.