With Bullpen Set, Red Sox Can Shift To Real Issues

The scoreboard in the bleacher seats displays an interleague matchup at Fenway Park in Boston, Massachusetts. The Chicago Cubs and the Boston Red Sox wore replica uniforms from 1918. Before this series, the two teams haven't played at Fenway Park since the 1918 World Series. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The trade for Andrew Bailey gives the Red Sox another option in the ninth inning, and Jonathan Papelbon might not be missed much. But Ben Cherington's work has just begun.

Yes, Ben Cherington's off to a lovely start as the Red Sox' new general manager.

No, the Red Sox haven't won 95 games yet. Nor are they likely to, unless Cherington does more lovely things.

The Red Sox lost their closer when Jonathan Papelbon took the Phillies' offer of a jugzilliion dollars. They're probably going to lose their primary set-up man when Daniel Bard tries to pull a C.J. Wilson next spring.

Cherington's got a new closer (Andrew Bailey) and a new set-up man (Mark Melancon) and all it cost him was the franchise's No. 16 prospect (Kyle Weiland), No. 21 prospect (Miles Head), No. 23 prospect (Raul Alcantara), an injury-prone utility infielder (Jed Lowrie) and a fourth outfielder (Josh Reddick).

I don't mean to suggest those deals were uneven; rather, they were the sort of deals that teams like the Boston Red Sox have to make, trading organizational depth for players who can help the club win today, right now. The Red Sox got what they needed, and the Astros and Athletics got what they needed (well, maybe not the Athletics so much; they needed a Grade A outfielder and instead they got Josh Reddick).

Actually, the Red Sox got some of what they needed. Bailey and Melancon allow the Red Sox to tread water, bullpen-wise. If Bailey's elbow holds up.*

* Before anointing him as Our Lord Saver, we should at least acknowledge that Bailey has pitched only 100⅔ innings over the last two seasons.

But the Red Sox' four biggest needs have not yet been addressed. Or rather, two of them have been lightly addressed, and two have been hardly addressed.

In rough order, those four needs are

No. 3 Starter
Right Fielder
No. 4 Starter
No. 5 Starter

Perhaps Daniel Bard will satisfy one of those needs. And Ryan Sweeney -- who's coming over from the Athletics, along with Andrew Bailey -- will presumably be asked to help satisfy another. Is Sweeney more than a fourth outfielder, though? His career line: .283/.342/.378. I can understand why Ben Cherington might be moderately fond of Sweeney. He's a solid defender and turns 27 this winter. Fenway Park figures to help him. If Sweeney's ever going to have a good year -- and he's not had one yet -- it's more likely to be 2012 than any other. Oh, and unless he stares into the sun on Opening Day or something, he'll be better than J.D. Drew was last season. So, there's that.

Even with J.D. Drew playing terribly when he was able to play, the Red Sox led the American League in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and (naturally) scoring. And that wasn't Fenway Park; the Sox led the league in road scoring, too.

They can't count on that happening again, and especially not without more help from their right fielders. Of the Sox' six best hitters last season -- Adrian Gonzalez, Jacoby Ellsbury, David Ortiz, Dustin Pedroia, Kevin Youkilis, and Marco Scutaro -- only Youkilis is a good bet to hit better in 2012 than 2011. To match last season's scoring, the Red Sox need a good right fielder and a good Carl Crawford.

About the pitching, it's easy to forget that the Red Sox finished with a 3.90 ERA, third-best in the American League. Worse than the Rangers and Yankees, but better than the league's other two playoff teams. It's also easy to forget that while the Sox finished with the league's fifth-best record, they also had the league's third-best run differential. It's easy to forget that the Red Sox' biggest problem wasn't right field or starting pitching or dissension in the clubhouse.

Their biggest problem was luck.

The starting pitching was a problem, too. That 3.90 ERA is nice, but the Red Sox' starting pitchers combined for a 4.49 ERA, just ninth best in the league. And of course, once you got past Josh Beckett (2.89) and Jon Lester (3.47) it got a lot lot worse.

I was looking at a depth chart and found this:

3. Clay Buchholz
4. Daisuke Matsuzaka
5. John Lackey

Over the last three seasons, Buchholz has averaged 116 major league innings.

Matsuzaka had Tommy John Surgery last June.

Lackey's slated to miss the entire 2012 season. Neither one of those guys should show up on anyone's depth chart at this point. It's a mistake. The depth chart should look like this:

3. Clay Buchholz + Prayer
4. Daniel Bard or Alfredo Aceves
5. Andrew "Oh the Humanity" Miller

Number of Red Sox prospects ready to step into the big club's rotation: 0.

Ben Cherington's probably not finished. Perhaps he will ask Bobby Valentine to cobble together the requisite performance from right field, from the materials already at hand. But the Boston Red Sox have no excuse for entering a season with only two reliable starting pitchers. And I don't believe that they will.

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