Spring training is about three weeks away, and the Red Sox still have three major problem areas. Let's take a look.
J.D. Drew is finally gone, and not a moment too soon for many Red Sox fans. His five year, $70 million contract will be remembered as one of the ill-advised investments of the Theo Epstein era, not because Drew isn't a good player (he's solid defensively and batted .264/.370/.455 with the Bosox, good for a 114 OPS+ and about 20 dingers a season) but because he's so prone to injury. He averaged just 121 games played per year in Beantown, topping out at 140 in 2007 and missing half of his contract year in 2011. Boston handed Cody Ross a one year, three million dollar deal, which will be a bargain if Ross hits like he did in 2008-2009 but won't do much good if he keeps hitting like he has over the past two seasons. If Ross (hopefully just a stopgap for next year's free agents Andre Ethier and Josh Hamilton) doesn't pan out or misses time like he did in 2011, new skipper Bobby Valentine will have to go with a platoon of Ryan Sweeney and Ryan Kalish. Sweeney (fourteen home runs in 472 career games) hits with about as much power as Juan Pierre, although in fairness he has decent on-base skills and wouldn't be the worst number 8 or 9 hitter in the majors. Kalish will be 24 at the start of the season and has much more upside, but with just 53 major league games under his belt he probably isn't ready to take over as the everyday rightfielder just yet. Drew is 36 and his best days are behind him, but I think I'd rather have him for another year instead of the Ryan tandem.
It's been seven and a half years since Epstein shipped Nomar Garciaparra to the Chicago Cubs, and the Red Sox still haven't been able to find a reliable shortstop in his stead. Orlando Cabrera, Edgar Renteria, Alex Gonzalez, Julio Lugo, and Nick Green didn't last long, and neither did Boston's most recent shorstop, Marco Scutaro. Trading him to Colorado for the purpose of dumping his six million dollar a year salary just doesn't make any sense for a team with such enormous financial resources, especially since it doesn't look like that money is going to be used on Roy Oswalt (reportedly close to a deal with St. Louis). Like Drew, Scoots just turned 36 and missed a lot of games last year, but when healthy he was still an above average shortstop at the plate with his 110 OPS+. There aren't any available shortstops to plug the gap, leaving a platoon of Nick Punto and Mike Aviles to man short. The 34 year-old Punto is your typical decent glove-no stick shortstop, and his wiffle ball bat offense makes Ryan Sweeney look like Ryan Braun. Aviles has career OPS nearly 100 points higher than Punto and is clearly the superior hitter, but he rates below average with the leather and has never been an everyday player, whereas Punto has appeared in as many as 150 games in a season. Shortstop looks like a real mess in 2012, and it seems as though Punto and Aviles are merely placeholders until Jose Iglesias can take over the job, hopefully in 2013.
The rotation is still top heavy; after Josh Beckett (durability issues), Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz (just one season with more than sixteen starts) the Sox don't have any reliable starters. John Lackey is out for the whole year and Daisuke Matsuzaka hasn't been effective since 2008, so the back end of the rotation is razor thin. I was really hoping Cherington could pull off a deal with Oswalt, but that seems unlikely, so perhaps he will make a run at Matt Cain or Cole Hamels next winter? A lack of starting pitching depth was the downfall of the 2011 Red Sox, and the front office hasn't done much to fix it. Aaron Cook is a longshot to regain his 2008 All-Star form, and he's not the answer to the team's pitching woes. Now that the Yankees have Hiroki Kuroda and Michael Pineda to go with C.C. Sabathia, and Tampa Bay has a loaded rotation as always, it looks as though Boston simply won't have enough pitching to compete with the AL Beast next season. If the Red Sox miss the playoffs again, it will be the first time since 2000-2002 that the team failed to make October in three consecutive seasons.