Where’s a five-minute guide to the 2011 Boston Red Sox when you need one? Well, look, it’s right here. (*Includes the pervasive bias of a blinkered fan.)
1. Jacoby Ellsbury (CF)
Young, runs like the wind, and really rather handsome. Good for 50 stolen bases, probably more – just so long as he stays healthy. Missed most of last season with several broken ribs (while sofa-dwelling onlookers called him soft and a cry-baby). Looks as though he plays a mean centerfield, but baseball nerds who run these things through computers are fond of saying otherwise.
2. Dustin Pedroia (2B)
Former American League MVP. Basically plays like an angry dog that’s just had its favorite bone stolen. All the time. Also known for being short.
3. Carl Crawford (LF)
Or: the very fleet of foot, model professional, and probably still improving star player we poached away from the Tampa Bay Rays, after the Yankees our next biggest rival. Now he just has to start earning the $142 million over seven years it cost to get him.
4. Adrian Gonzalez (1B)
Since the end of last season, the single biggest offseason trade (just ahead of the man now batting one place before him in the Sox likely line-up). By all accounts, will be awesome for ages – especially in Boston’s Fenway Park, a ballpark perfectly proportioned for his long-ball swing. Every Red Sox fan can’t wait for him to start; everyone else is dreading it. Which is nice.
5. Kevin Youkilis (3B)
Plays hard continuously, hits for power, hits for average, and is excellent defensively. If the man everyone calls the Youk looked more like Tom Brady and less like a serial killer, he’d be even more appreciated. And he’d have endorsement deals coming out his arse.
6. David Ortiz (DH)
The designated hitter, not as good as he used to be but still very good. Formerly the king of clutch (for delivering when it matters most), now increasingly known for struggling through April like he’s never held a bat before. Best when jolly, much less so, moody.
7. J.D. Drew (RF)
Overpaid and seemingly not a fan of the crowd-pleasing gesture (playing hurt, hustling, smiling…) A reliable source of irritation for many in Red Sox nation, but, in fact, just about as effective as right-fielders get. Either way, fact: if everyone in sport were like J.D. Drew, sport would be less popular.
8. Jarrod Saltalamacchia (C)
The new catcher, of whom management clearly have high hopes. Projected to be a defensive upgrade over last year’s catcher, Victor Martinez, and a big offensive downgrade. Also young and (relatively) cheap.
9. Marco Scutaro (SS)
Possessor, apparently, of the right stuff: solid at the plate; solid at shortstop; solid in the clubhouse. Dependable, in other words, in a position where that’s what you’ll settle for while secretly hoping for more.
1. Jon Lester
The staff’s new undisputed ace. A good early bet for the 2011 American League Cy Young award (for most valuable pitcher) and pretty much growing in stature with every passing day. Has already beaten cancer (lymphoma) and pitched a major league no-hitter. Can now spend the rest of his career moving up from very good to great. Is 27.
2. John Lackey
So far not really worth the large amount of money he cost to get from the Los Angeles Angels at the end of 2009. Over-promises, under-delivers – yet seemingly still capable of turning that around. Needs a good year, but will be paid crazy riches either way.
3. Clay Buchholz
Second-best pitcher on the staff last year, after Lester, with an ever-better command of the strike-zone to go along with his already stellar repertoire of pitches. Still has an awkward, gangly frame and a silly name, though.
4. Josh Beckett
Pitches better in odd-numbered years. Which is just as well, as the former ace of this rotation spent 2010 going rapidly backwards. Because of injury, hopefully, and not the start of a terminal decline. In 2007 post-season play, was practically un-hittable; if he plays like that again, the 2011 Red Sox could end up being practically unbeatable.
5. Daisuke Matsuzaka
Always wins a fair amount of games, but never ever easily. Has many different pitches at his disposal and mastery over precisely none of them. Still attracts the attention of the Japanese media, only not as much as he used to.
Lover of the limelight and incapable of ever being dull. [Almost certainly] last season for the Sox before he hoovers up someone else’s money. Not nearly as dominant as he used to be, but still every inch the closer you want the other team to face. Fond of a pseudo-Irish jig in moments of high celebration. Probable extrovert.